A Survey of Black Churches’ Responses to Domestic Violence

Main Article Content

Oliver Williams
Esther Jenkins


Domestic Violence, African Americans, church, religion


A high level of church involvement among African Americans suggests the potential of the Black church in addressing domestic violence. However, very little research has examined this topic. The current study is an exploratory study of how aware African American churches are of victims in their congregation and how they respond to them.  The survey was conducted with a convenience sample (N=112) of church pastors and lay leaders, ¾ of whom were senior or associate/assistant pastors, from 9 cities and various denominations.   The results showed that these churches may underestimate the number of members who are victims, infrequently address domestic violence from the pulpit, and sometimes provided interventions that are potentially harmful, i.e. couples’ counseling and/or lack of safety risk assessment.   Respondents thought that their church’s response to domestic violence could be improved with more training for clergy and more knowledge of domestic violence resources. This paper provides recommendations for Christian Social Workers working with Black churches around issues of domestic violence.

Abstract 1150 |


Bent-Goodley, T. (2006). Domestic violence and the Black church: Challenging abuse one soul at a time. In R. L. Hampton & T. P. Gullotta (Eds.), Interpersonal violence in the African- American community: Evidence-based prevention and treatment practices (pp. 107-120). NYC: Sprinter.
Bent-Goodley, T., St. Vil, N., and Hubbert, P. (2012). A spirit unbroken: The Black church’s
evolving response to domestic violence. Social Work & Christianity, 39, 52-65
Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G. ,Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J. Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Brade, K. & Bent-Goodley, T. (2009). A refuge for my soul: Examining African American clergy’s perceptions related to domestic violence awareness and engagement in faith
community initiatives. Social Work & Christianity, 36, 430-448.
Broman, C. (1996 ). Coping with personal problems. In H. Neighbors & J.S. Jackson (Eds.), (pp. 117-129). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage
Catalano, S., Snyder, H., and Rand, M (2009). Female victims of violence: Selected findings.
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adverse health conditions and health risk
behaviors associated with intimate partner violence – United States, 2005. MMWR 2008; 57:113-117.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Intimate partner violence: Consequences. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/consequences.html
Chatters, L. Taylor, R. Jackson,J. & Lincoln, K. (2008) Religious coping among African Americans, Caribbean Blacks and Non-Hispanic Whites. Journal of Community Psychology, 36, 371-386 .
Chatters, L., Nguyen, A., Taylor, R., & Hope, M. (2018). Church and family support networks and depressive symptoms among African Americans: Findings from The National Survey of American Life. Journal of Community Psychology, 46, 403-417.
Clark, R. (2015). Is there peace within our walls? Intimate partner violence and white mainline protestant churches in North America. In A. Johnson (Ed.), Religion and Men's Violence Against Women (pp. ). New York: Springer.
Cox, K. (2018). Black men are less religious than Black women, but more religious than white women and men. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/09/26/black-men-are-less-religious-than-black-women-but-more-religious-than-white-women-and-men.
Dillon, G., Hussain, R., Loxton, D., Rahman S. (2013). Mental and physical health and intimate partner violence against women: A review of the literature. International Journal of Family Medicine, 2013, 1-15.
Dyer, J. (2017) Just social work? Collaborating with African American clergy to address intimate partner violence. Social Work and Christianity, 43, 33-54.
Ellison, C., Trinitapoli, J., Anderson, K., & Johnson, B. (2007). Race/ethnicity, religious involvement, and domestic violence. Violence Against Women, 13, 1094-1112.
Ellsberg, M., Jansen, H., Heise, L., Watts, C., & Garcia-Moreno, C. (2008). Intimate partner violence and women’s physical and mental health in the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence: an observational study. Lancet, 371, 1165-1172.
El-Khoury, M.Y., Dutton, M.A., Goodman, L.A., Engel, L., Belamaric, R.J., & Murphy, M.
(2004). Ethnic differences in battered women’s formal help-seeking strategies: A focus on health, mental health, and spirituality. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 10, 283-294.
Fahmy, D. (2018). American are far more religious than adults in other wealthy nations. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/07/31/americans-are-far-more-religious-than-adults-in-other-wealthy-nations/
Faith Trust Institute (n.d.). A policy statement on domestic violence couples counseling. Retrieved from: https://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/resources/articles/Policy-Statement-on-DV-Couples-Counseling.pdf
Gillum, T. L. (2008). The benefits of a culturally specific intimate partner violence intervention for African American survivors. Violence Against Women, 14, 917-943.
Gillum, T. L., (2009). The intersectionality of spirituality, religion and domestic violence in the African American Community. The University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN: Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community.
Gillum, T.L., Sullivan, C.M., & Bybee, D.I. (2006). The importance of spirituality in the lives of domestic violence survivors. Violence Against Women, 12, 240-250.
Hamby, S. (2014). Battered women’s protective strategies: Stronger than you know. Oxford University Press.
IMA World Health (2014). Broken silence: A call for churches to speak out: Protestant pastors survey on sexual and domestic violence. Retrieved from: https://imaworldhealth.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014.07/PastorsSurveyReport_final1.pdf

Leone, J., Lane, S., Koumans, E., Demott,K., Wojtowycz, M., Jesen, J., & Aubry, R. (2010).
Effects of intimate partner violence on pregnancy trauma and placental abruption. Journal of Women’s Health, 19, 1501-1509.
Lincoln, C.E. & Mamiya, L.H. (1990) The Black curch in the African American experience. Durham, NC: Duke Univerity Press.
Mattis, J. , Mitchel, N., Zapata, A., Grayman, N., Taylor, R.,Chatters, L., & Neighbors, H. (2007). Use of ministerial support by African Americans: A focus group study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77, 249-2558.
Masci, D. (2018). Five facts about the religious lives of Africa Americans. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/02/07/5-facts-about-the-religious-lives-of-african-americans/
Mays, V., Howard, C.H., & Jackson, J. (1996). Mental health symptoms and service utilization patterns of help seeking among African American women. In H. Neighbors & J.S. Jackson (Eds.), Mental health in Black America (pp. 161-176). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage.

Nason-Clark, N, Fisher-Townsend, B., Holtman, C., McMullin, S. (2018). Religion and intimate partner violence: Understanding the challenges and proposing solutions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Nguyen, A. (2018). African American elders, mental health, and the role of the church. Generations, 42, 61-67.
Petrosky, E., Blair, J., Carter, B, Fowler, K. Shane, J. Lyons, B. (2017). Racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women and the role of intimate partner violence – United State., 2003 – 2014, MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017; 66: 741- 746 http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mm6628a1
Pew Research Center (2015). America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Pew Reserch Center, Washington, DC, 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
Potter, H. (2007). Battered Black women’s use of religious services and spirituality for assistance in leaving abusive relationships. Violence Against Women, 13, 262-284.
Shannon-Levy, C. & Dull,V. (2005). The response of Christian clergy to domestic violence: help of hindrance? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 647-659.
Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., Walling, M., & Jain, A. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
St. Vil, N., Sabri, B., Nwokolo, V., Alexander, K., Campbell, J. (2017). A qualitative study of survival strategies used by low-income Black women who experience intimate partner violence. Social Work, 62, 63-71.
Taylor, R., Ellison, C, Chatters, L., Levin, J. & Lincoln, K. (2000). Mental health services in faith communities: The role of clergy in Black churches. Social Work, 45, 73-87.
Taylor, R. & Chatters, L., (1991). Religious Life. In J.S. Jackson, J. (Ed)., Life in Black America, (pp. 105-123). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Watlington, C. & Murphy, C. (2006). The roles of religion and spirituality among African American survivors of domestic violence. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 837-857.
Williams, O. with Ellis-Davis, S., Thicklin, J.R., & Combs, L. (2011) Speaking of faith: Domestic Violence Programs and the African American Church.: A readers’ guide. Published by Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, for HHS/FYSB. Washington, DC. Available at: www.aadpp.
Williams, O. (2012). Speaking of Faith (DVD). Available at www.aadpp.
World Health Organization (2017). Violence Against Women: Key Facts. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women