Because religion is a personal and institutional reality in the lives of the majority of the population in the U.S., it is no surprise that religious teaching and affiliation provide a significant context for many women as they address experiences of victimization. Through texts, traditions, teachings, and doctrine, religious communities and institutions convey values and belief systems to their members. In addition, members often have direct support or counseling relationships with religious leaders who may provide guidance or instruction. Religious texts and teachings can serve as resources to assist those who have experienced abuse in finding safety and in the process of healing.
Yet, religion also can be misused to excuse or condone abusive behavior. In the context of violence against women, religious teachings and communities will play a role; they will never be neutral.
At the outset, it is important to acknowledge the tremendous diversity of beliefs, teachings, and traditions that exist among the many religions of the world. Within pluralistic societies such as North America, we need to be aware of Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American or First Nations beliefs and practices, as well as many others.
In addition, within any one particular religion, there may exist various denominations, movements or traditions, with their own distinct institutions, cultures and teachings. A comprehensive exploration of the relationship between religion and violence against women is beyond the scope of this article. 1
Yet, there are some basic issues and questions, which confront religiously identified women who have experienced abuse. It is our intention to address some of these areas of concern. Stated simply, the reality is that regardless of the particular religious affiliation, alongside the trauma of violence, a majority of women will be dealing with some aspect of religious beliefs and teachings which will serve either as a resource or a roadblock (Fortune, 1987).
The task for both religious and secular leadership is twofold: 1) to recognize that religious beliefs, texts, and teachings can serve both as roadblocks and as resources for victims of violence and 2) to deepen our examination of religious texts and teachings and explore new interpretations so that we minimize the roadblocks and maximize the resources for women. No woman should ever be forced to choose between safety and her religious community or tradition. She should be able to access the resources of both community-based advocacy and shelter and faith-based support and counsel. For her to do so, she needs these two resources to work collaboratively so that they can provide consistent advocacy and support for victims and survivors and participate in the process of holding perpetrators accountable.
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