Evangelical Christian Pastors’ Lived Experience of Counseling Victims/Survivors of Domestic Violence

Abstract

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the lived experience of evangelical Christian pastors’ counseling members of their congregations who were victims/survivors of domestic violence. Evangelical Christians are the largest growing religious affiliations in the United States. Evangelical Christian members may have conservative views on marriage and gender roles that complicate leaving a violent marriage. The role of pastoral counseling in situations of domestic violence is one of the most unstudied aspects in the domestic violence literature. Following IRB approval, seven evangelical Christian pastors from the upper Midwest agreed to participate in individual interviews about their experiences with victims/survivors of partner violence. The narrative data were analyzed using van Manen’s interpretative phenomenology method of analysis. Findings indicated that none of the pastors felt adequately prepared to counsel victims/survivors of domestic violence. When the couple had children, pastoral counseling focused on keeping the children safe by calling child protective services. The evangelical Christian pastors were challenged when victims/survivors blamed themselves for the violence and chose to stay with a violent partner instead of leaving. The pastors worked to help the victims/ survivors understand that the violence was not their fault, and to empower the victims/survivors to remember how valuable they were to God. Findings from this study lend support to the important role clergy have in counseling victims/survivors of domestic violence.

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Correspondence to Barbara L. Zust.

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Zust, B.L., Housley, J. & Klatke, A. Evangelical Christian Pastors’ Lived Experience of Counseling Victims/Survivors of Domestic Violence. Pastoral Psychol 66, 675–687 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-017-0781-1

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Keywords

  • Evangelical Christian clergy
  • Pastors
  • Domestic violence
  • Partner violence
  • Counseling
  • Victim/Survivor