How Much Spouse Abuse is there in the Adventist Church?

No one really knows the answer to that question, but we do know that spouse abuse is a serious problem in our church according to the findings from a study involving 49 Adventist churches (1,431 individuals responded to the survey). The study has gone through a rigorous review process and the findings have been published in the professional journal, Social Work and Christianity. The table (on the next page) shows some of these research findings in the Adventist church as compared with national survey results. On the next page are types of physical or sexual assault. The numbers show the percentages of women and men in the SDA research sample who had ever been a victim of that particular category of violence by their spouse or an intimate partner, followed by percentages from national samples for the same category. From a research perspective, we would say that the Adventist church has prevalence rates that are about on par with national survey samples. While some of our percentages appear higher than national samples, the study methodology provided a safer environment for participants in the survey to answer honestly. Therefore, in all likelihood, in terms of the incidence of spouse abuse, Adventist populations are probably very similar to “the world.


Beyond the Statistics

In addition to the survey done in Adventist churches, in-depth interviews of 40 Adventist women who had been victims of spouse abuse were done to gain understanding of the impact of domestic violence on church members. Here are some of the voices of the interview participants, sharing pieces of their individual stories that relate to the types of abuse presented in the statistics.

Cheryl** suffered physical and emotional abuse from her husband, who was also an Adventist church member. She describes one incident: The next thing I know he was picking me up by the front of my clothes and shoved me through the wall. And I was yelling for help. I started to try to go to the door to get out and he knocked me down sideways at the end of the bed and there was a closet there that was open. And I am on the floor with his knees in my chest and he is just pounding at my face. I remember thinking, ˜This is ok, I can do this because I can breathe. It seemed so much better than a few minutes ago when I was being choked and couldn’t breathe. The older of the two girls was 8 or 9 and she actually jumped on her dads back and tried pulling him off of me and he wouldn’t stop.

Karla** and her husband were very active in their local church. He was a deacon and she held leadership positions as well. While they looked like a happy family at church, the truth was that Karla was being severely abused at home. She shares: I lived with being raped one to two times a day. I’ve been strangled. I’ve had socks put in my mouth where I couldn’t breathe. I was never safe in my own home.

These studies help us to open our eyes to the real problem of abuse in the midst of our church, and to motivate us to seek ways to create a caring response.

**All names are pseudonyms.

1. Tjaden, P. & Thonnes, N. (November, 2000). Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and consequences of Violence against Women Research Report: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. Coker, A. L., Smith, P. H., McKeown, R. E., & King, M. J. (2000). Frequency and correlates of intimate partner violence by type: Physical, sexual, and psychological battering. American Journal of Public Health, 90(4), 553-559.

3. Schaefer, J., Caetano, R., & Clark, C. L. (1998). Rates of intimate partner violence in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 88(11), 1702-1704.

*Unknown; not included in national studies