Peace Begins in the Family

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Content Warning: Child Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence

As a Mennonite, I am often inspired by stories of Anabaptist communities who courageously risked their own safety and well-being to testify that gospel of Jesus is one of peace. Our peace witness is most clear in the realm of military domination. We refuse to destroy the lives of God’s children around the world in the name of patriotism or nationalism.

But so often our peace witness begins and ends there. Violence takes many forms, and not all of them are so obvious or public in nature.

1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are survivors of intimate partner violence. The statistics are far higher in the trans and gender non-comforting community, among whom more than half of are survivors of intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence can include physical assault, psychological manipulation, sexual exploitation, and controlling or intimidating behavior, but usually involves a mix of all of these. Meanwhile, 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence, which has lasting psychological and health impacts.

Does nonviolence have anything meaningful to say about intimate partner violence and child abuse?

But here’s the most astonishing statistic– those rates are consistent inside and outside the church. Every single church community has members who are survivors of intimate partner violence. And nearly every church community has at least one abuser in its membership. What meaning does our peace position have, if we speak out against the evils of war but stay silent about the evils of rape or spousal battering?

Does nonviolence have anything meaningful to say about intimate partner violence and child abuse?

If so, then nonviolence must go far beyond mere abstention from violence. It must mean that we actively work to build peace in our world and in our communities. And that means that peace must begin in the family.

When a parent hits a child, or when a child witnesses one parent hitting another, they internalize the message which is at the heart of our society: that violence of the strong against the weak is perfectly reasonable and effective. But if our families are sites where justice is present, reconciliation is possible, and conflicts are resolved peacefully, then children will know that peace is a viable alternative to the violence of the dominant society because they have seen it with their own eyes.

Mennonites have a unique problem when it comes to addressing abuse and violence in our communities. We prefer not to rock the boat. We often choose a fake peace, which preserves the status quo, instead of real peace, which demands justice. But real peacemaking– the kind of peacemaking that Jesus demonstrated for us– demands rocking the boat. It means exposing the truth to the light so that justice may flourish.

Study after study has shown, the best thing any of us can do to help abusers is to hold them accountable for their actions. Otherwise, they will continue to carry out their destructive behavior.

Ultimately, child abuse and intimate partner violence are not carried out by individuals. They are carried out by entire communities who saw there was a problem but chose to stay silent. Imagine if those of us in ‘historic peace churches’ took child abuse and intimate partner violence as seriously as we took militarism and war.

Churches need to be places where victims of abuse and violence are protected, where education on intimate partner violence is offered, where abusers are held accountable, and where peace is fostered in families. Because our world will never have peace, if our families don’t have peace.

For stories of survivors of abuse in Mennonite communities, consider reading and donating to Our Stories Untold.

For a list of known Mennonite abusers, check out the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List.

Dove’s Nest is an organization that provides resources to faith communities about protecting children from abuse.
For an extensive list of resources for survivors and faith communities, click here.

Does nonviolence have anything meaningful to say about intimate partner violence and child abuse?

Scott Sprunger1 Comment