Family Violence, Faith Communities and Secular Social Services

To date, little has been published about the place of spirituality in working with survivors of intimate partner violence. Overcoming Conflicting Loyalties examines the intersection of faith and culture in the lives of religious and ethno-cultural women in the context of the work of FaithLink, a unique community initiative that encourages religious leaders and secular service providers to work together. The authors present the benefits of such cooperation by reporting the findings of three qualitative research studies. Individuals in secular social services who work with victims of domestic violence, as well as academics in the fields of social work, psychology, and religious studies, will benefit from the insights, depth of experience, and range of voices represented in this valuable book.”

Overcoming Conflicting Loyalties: Intimate Partner Violence, Community Resources, and Faith by Irene Sevcik, Michael Rothery, Nancy Nason-Clark and Robert Pynn has a Free Methodist connection.  Irene Sevcik is a member of West Springs Free Methodist Church in Calgary, AB and I spoke to her to learn how the book came to be and why it is an important read.  


The four authors created FaithLink, a program which ran for five years in Calgary, AB, “The purpose of FaithLink was to help religious and ethnocultural communities understand the dynamics of family violence and raise awareness within their communities, and to work with secular agencies to help them understand the importance of religion/spirituality to women of faith who are victims and come to them for services.” 

Irene’s role was to work, “On both sides of that divide – and it was a divide – to raise awareness but also to bring religious leaders and service providers together to discuss, find common ground and understand each other.  To help religious leaders understand that service providers are not evil people, and to help service providers understand that religious leaders when they have knowledge and understanding also have something to offer.  The people in the middle of this conflict, who are most affected by the divide, are the religious women who are victims of family violence.”  

Irene and her co-authors did some groundbreaking research during this time and when FaithLink ended they recognized the value and uniqueness of their work and the book idea was born.  

Overcoming Conflicting Loyalties addresses philosophical, theological and practical questions.  It includes interviews with women from different faith communities about how their beliefs impact their definition of  family violence, how their faith community defines family violence and what resources they will need in order to gain their own safety.

It also includes interviews with secular service providers to determine how they view religion/spirituality and family violence, and how they work with a woman who comes to them with a religious perspective.

So why should a pastor have a deeper understanding of these issues?  “If pastors don’t understand the dynamic of what is happening then they can put a victim of family violence in greater danger by their response.  Responses like, “I know your husband and he would not do this” or “You should pray harder, he has repented so problem solved,” suggest the pastor doesn’t believe the victim and it may take her years before she seeks help again.”

Irene concluded with this, “Safety is the first priority, not the marriage.  There are a lot of theological issues that need to addressed.  But we also need to realize that family violence happens in our congregations, and the church needs to be prepared to respond and help women seek the services that provide emotional and physical support from a spiritual perspective.”