Exit Site Now!


Spiritual Response to DV Guide

Spiritual Response to DV Guide



In order to support individuals and families touched by domestic violence and bring awareness to the devastating effects of domestic violence on individuals, families, congregations, and communities, faith leaders can build knowledge to recognize the warning signs of abuse, build skills on how to respond effectively and safely, and learn where to refer for services and supports that have specific expertise to work with survivors of domestic and dating abuse in each community. This guide is designed to help you (clergy and lay leaders):

  • expand your knowledge and understanding of domestic abuse (also termed domestic violence or “DV”), including different forms of abuse and red flags;
  • support and guide congregants experiencing or witnessing abuse;
  • make appropriate referrals to and build partnerships with organizations that can help; and
  • if you choose, become proactive in working to prevent all forms of abuse.

Faith leaders who speak about domestic and dating abuse from the pulpit or in a public setting communicate to survivors and their families in the audience that the leader is a safe resource and that it is okay to come forward and seek help. (disclaimer) We welcome your feedback! Please complete our three question evaluation survey to provide feedback to improve this guide.

Table of Contents

1. Recognize the Signs and Types of Domestic Violence

2. Respond to Survivors, Abusers, and Guidance on What to Say and Do

3. Refer to Local Programs

4. Clergy Concerns: Confidentiality, Reporting, Legal Options, and Safety

5. Further Resources:


Faith Communities’ Unique Role

Training Resources

Worship Resources

Sacred Texts

Faith-Specific Resources

Special Populations (Immigrant, Older Adults, Disabilities, LGBT, African American, Hispanic/Latin@, Asian/Pacific Islander)

Prevention Efforts

Practical Steps to Build Your Response

Order Materials

Find a Speaker

Additional Resources (books and national websites)

Immediate Response

1. Recognize

back to top

2.  Respond

Responding to Survivors

Responding to Domestic Violence: An Interfaith Guide to Prevention and Intervention (Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Interfaith Committee Against Domestic Violence) (PDF Manual: See  the “How to Help” section on pages 27-30)

What Do You Say? (U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops) (weblink)

Responding to Abusers

Responding to Domestic Violence: An Interfaith Guide to Prevention and Intervention (Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, Interfaith Committee Against Domestic Violence) (PDF Manual: See “Characteristics of Abusers” section on pages 13-15)

Domestic Violence Resource Guide for Faith Leaders (Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Domestic Violence Council) (PDF Manual: See “The Offender in Your Congregation,” pp. 17-19)

Guidance on What to Say/Do and Not to Say/Do

Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence (one page PDF)

Addressing Domestic Violence in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) (weblink)

Responding to Domestic Violence: Guidelines for Pastors, Rabbis, Imams and Other Religious Leaders (FaithTrust Institute) (two page PDF)

Tipsheet Series for Faith-Based Organizations in Outreach and Training for Local Faith-Based Organizations (Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PDF Manual: See pp. 24-30)

back to top

3.  Refer Domestic Violence Resources


List of Domestic Violence Resources by Maryland County: Local comprehensive domestic violence programs focus primarily on victims’ safety; support victims if they decide to stay, leave, or go back to the relationship; provide information and education on domestic violence and safety; are sensitive to a wide variety of faith traditions; and want to cooperate with community partners, including pastors, in supporting victims in a faith-sensitive way. These programs are recognized by the State and MNADV as the comprehensive domestic violence programs, which provide services including: 24 hour hotline, safety planning, counseling services, emergency shelter, abuser intervention, and outreach. List of Faith-Based and Other Resources to Call in Maryland for Clergy Support disclaimer

  • JCADA is committed to providing high quality domestic abuse services to all residents of the Greater Washington DC Jewish community as well as the community at large.

  • CHANA offers a Jewish community response to people who experience abuse.

  • Muslimat Al-Nisaa provides help to victims of domestic violence in the Muslim community.

  • The Esperanza Center is a Catholic Charities program that provides legal representation to immigrant victims.

  • EndItNow.org  (Adventists Say NO to Domestic Violence)

back to top

4.  Clergy Concerns

Barriers to a Faith Response (Anne Weatherholt)

Mandated Reporting, Privileged Communications, and Other Legal issues

Everyone in Maryland is obligated to report suspected abuse and neglect of children to Child Protective Services and vulnerable adults to Adult Protective Services. Domestic violence between two current or former spouses or dating partners should NOT be reported to anyone.  If a victim wants to report domestic violence to the police or courts or to a friend, family member, or fellow congregant, you can offer to be present and supportive through that difficult process.

Privileged Communications

A minister of the gospel, clergyman, or priest of an established church of any denomination may not be compelled to testify on any matter in relation to any confession or communication made to him in confidence by a person seeking his spiritual advice or consolation (Md. Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. § 9-111, 2014).

back to top

Brief Overview of the Legal Response to Domestic Violence

Civil Options

Anyone who has experienced abuse (which includes domestic violence) in Maryland can request assistance from the justice system in the form of a Protective Order or a Peace Order. These Orders are tools to assist the survivor in obtaining relief to move them closer to a place of safety.  They can also be used to request that an abusive partner be ordered to an abuser intervention program. Visit the Maryland Judiciary website for more information.

Criminal Options

In Maryland, many forms of domestic violence are criminal acts. Even though there is no crime called “Domestic Violence,” the criminal system addresses the individual acts as crimes. For example, if a victim is kicked, punched, shoved or hit, the crime is assault. If a victim is forced to stay in a room against her will, the crime is false imprisonment.  These types of actions, even within an intimate relationship or marriage, are not permissible under the law. The police may file charges or the victim may initiate charges by going to a District Court Commissioner’s Office.

Safety in the Faith Community

When responding to issues of domestic abuse, there is always a chance that the actions of the abuser may present a danger to members of the faith community and perhaps even to the cleric. Care should be taken to hold conversations about domestic violence in private, away from an abusive partner as well as other listening ears. While most faith leaders want their community and its facilities to be open and welcoming, abusers may take advantage of normal boundaries. Be sure that your office and place of worship has a safety plan, which includes the following considerations:

  • When counseling victims, do you have a plan if the abuser shows up?
  • If you are alone in your building, do you keep the doors locked or have a way to be safe from unexpected intruders?
  • Do you have a way to screen callers and visitors before they enter?
  • Is there a way to lock the doors and quickly summon help from local law enforcement officials?
  • Are your ushers or other worship leaders and staff trained in emergency response and crowd control?
  • Do they know when and how to summon assistance and/or call 911?

Personal safety and the safety of the members of your faith community are responsibilities that should be in the forefront of any response to issues of violence and abuse. If you do not currently have a safety plan, make one. A good place to begin is by asking your faith headquarters for suggestions or talking to your local law enforcement officers. The National Crime Prevention Council has an excellent list of safety tips for the workplace.

back to top

5.  Further Resources (disclaimer)

A.    Additional Information about Domestic Abuse – Myths/Distortions

It Shouldn’t Hurt to go Home (MNADV)  (PDF Brochure: See pp. 6-7)

Dispelling Distortions and Misinterpretations

Myths and Realities of Domestic Violence from Domestic Violence Resource Guide for Faith Leaders (Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Domestic Violence Council) (PDF Manual: See pp. 9-10).

B.    Unique Role of Faith Communities in Combatting Domestic Abuse

Opening Doors (MNADV) (PDF Booklet)

A Commentary on Religion and Domestic Violence (FaithTrust) (PDF: 17 pp.)

Listening to the Voices of Religious Leaders (Religion and Violence e-Learning) (audio)

VAWnet Special Collection: Domestic Violence and Religion (NRCDV) (webpage)

C.    Training Resources for Clergy and Lay Leaders

Preview Clips from an Interfaith Documentary and Discussion Guide (video)

Domestic Violence Prevention and training (JWI) (webpage)

Training and Consulting (FaithTrust Institute) (webpage)

D.    Sample Sermons, Prayers, and Other Worship Resources

Universal Prayer (PDF: one page)

Jewish Prayers, Sermons, and Text Studies (JWI) (webpage)

2009 National Sermon Contest Winner: the Silence We Keep (FaithTrust Institute) (webpage)

Suggested Sermon Topics

Sermon on Domestic Violence (FaithTrust Institute) (PDF document)

Catholic Bishops’ Suggestions for Preaching about Family Violence (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) (webpage)

E.    Sacred Texts

Do Any Sacred Texts Excuse Wifebeating? (FaithTrust Institute) (blog post)

Domestic Violence in Islam: The Quran on Beating Wives (AnsweringIslam) (webpage)

VAWnet: Violence Against Women and the Role of Women (PDF document)

F.     Faith-Specific Resources

Christian (Catholic)


Christian (Protestant)




G.    Special Populations


Ethnicity and Immigration Resources (MNADV) (webpage)

VAWA: Immigration Relief for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Other Crimes (Immigrant Legal Resource Center) (webpage)

Esperanza Center (Catholic Charities) (webpage)

Older Adults/Elderly

Where Faith and Safety Meet: Faith Communities Respond to Elder Abuse (Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence) (webpage)

ElderSAFE (website): Safe shelter and services for survivors of elder abuse in the Montgomery County/DC Metro area (includes domestic violence)

CHANA (website): Safe shelter and services for survivors of elder abuse in the Baltimore Metro area (includes domestic violence)


Violence Against Women with Disabilities (womenshealth.gov) (webpage)


National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) (webpage)

African American

Institute on Domestic violence in the African American Community (website)


Domestic Violence, Catholic Realities, and Immigrant Latinos (FaithTrust Institute) (PDF: 2 pp.)

Casa de Esperanza (website)

Asian/Pacific Islander

Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence (website)


H.Resources for Prevention Efforts

What Men Can Do

Men and Boys: Preventing Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence (VAWnet) (webpage)

A Call to Men (Webpage: Ten things men can do, plus DVD and educational resources)

Coaching Boys Into Men (Futures Without Violence) (webpage)

Unclenching Our Fists (Futures Without Violence) (video)

Love Is Respect (Webpage aimed at empowering youth to end violence)

Healthy Dating Relationships/Working with Youth

Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence (JCADA): Prevention (webpage)

That’sNotCool.com (website)

Futures Without Violence: Children, Youth, and Teens (webpage)

  I.      Practical Steps to Build Your Response

A Call to Action: Top 15 Ways Faith Leaders Can Support Healthy Families  (MNADV) (PDF: 2 pages)

Opening Doors (MNADV) (PDF Booklet)

A Checklist for Readiness for Faith Communities Responding to Victims of Domestic Violence (PDF: 2 pages)

What You Need to Know About Domestic Violence Bulletin Insert (FaithTrust Institute) (PDF: 1 page)

  J.      Download or Order Materials from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence

  K.    Find a Speaker

Would you like to have a speaker or workshop leader come to a gathering?  Contact Suzanne Bailey at the Women’s Law Center of Maryland and she can suggest someone who can respond to your needs.  They have a list of survivors willing to tell their stories, clergy from various faith groups who are willing to speak or lead workshops, and many other leaders who work with survivors and domestic abuse programs.

back to top

   L. Additional Resources

NOTE:  There are numerous resources now available for faith communities.  This list is only a sample to help get you started.  Your own faith community will also have resources to share.  (disclaimer)


Cooper-White, Pamela.  The Cry of Tamar:  Violence Against Women and the Church’s Response.  Fortress Press, 1995. 352 pages.. This comprehensive resource begins with the story of Tamar from 2 Samuel 13.  Cooper-white engages the Christian Churches to examine their responses to the reality of abuse in the society and faith community.  She offers a framework, describes various forms of abuse and appropriate pastoral responses.

Domestic Violence Awareness Task Force.  Circles of Healing:  A Support Group Curriculum for Abused Christian Women. FaithTrust Institute, 2003. 25 pages. A three session curriculum including worship, discussion, and prayers.

Dopke, Cynthia Okayama. Creating Partnerships with Faith Communities to End Sexual Violence, FaithTrust Institute,2002, 61 pages.  A step-by-step guide with questions and resources to help Faith leader examine and access and form partnerships between community based organizations and faith communities.

Fortune, Marie.  Keeping the Faith, Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse, 1995, 128 pages. Questions and Answers, Prayers and Meditations, and practical suggestions for Christian women.

Fortune, Marie; and Joretta L. Marshall, editors. Forgiveness and Abuse:  Jewish and Christian Reflections, The Haworth Press, 2004, 164 pages. In this edited series of articles, Fortune and Marshall present one of the most important theological and spiritual issues for responders and survivors.

Kroeger, Catherine Clark & Nancy Nason-Clark. No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence, InterVarsity Press, 2001, 294 pages.  A sociologist and Biblical Scholar offer reflections and tools including scripture commentary and Bible study.

Miles, Al (Rev).  Domestic Violence:  What Every Pastor Needs to Know, Augsburg Fortress, 2000. A recommended reading for every spiritual and religious leader who wants to help victims and perpetrators heal. The author makes it clear that it is the responsibility of religious leaders to educate themselves so that they can help their parishioners. This is a comprehensive look at the many theological aspects of domestic violence.

Payne, Peach (Dr.).  Domestic Violence: The Awakening of the Church to this Important Issue in Today’s Society, Xulon Press, 2015. The effects of abuse and the response of faith organizations are addressed.

Volcano Press, Family Violence and Religion:  An interfaith resource guide. 1995, 303 pages. A comprehensive collection of resources for Faith Leaders, including checklists, guidelines, pastoral responses. Special sections for Asian, Hispanic, African American, Elders and Rural areas.

Weatherholt, Anne.  Breaking the Silence:  The Church Responds to Domestic Violence. Morehouse Publishing, 2008, 124 pages.  Facts about Domestic Abuse, the Role of Religion, How to provide support for the Abused, Prevention strategies, Suggestions for Advocacy, Worship and a Resource List.

Weiss, Elaine.  Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence:  How to Listen, Talk and Take Action When Someone You Care About is Being Abused. Volcano Press, 2003. Scenarios, signs of abuse and suggestions for action if you suspect abuse in someone you know.

National Websites

FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence. Founded in 1977 by the Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, FaithTrust Institute offers a wide range of services and resources, including training, consulting and educational materials..

Safe Havens (www.interfaithpartners.org) provides interfaith resources on a range of domestic abuse topics, including tips on safe and effective intervention and prevention, statistics, stories of abuse survivors, approaches to elder abuse, spiritual care protocols, and many other faith-based resources.

Archdiocese of Chicago Domestic Violence Resource Manual featured on this site is a collection of materials from a variety of sources. Divided into four sections:  awareness, services, prevention, and resources.

Jewish Women International website features multiple resources including domestic violence and the law, dating abuse, healthy relationships, advocacy projects, and training materials.

Peaceful Families (www.peacefulfamilies.org) is a national organization with international reach devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families by facilitating awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, providing training and technical assistance for professionals, conducting research, and developing resources.

Peace and Safety in the Christian Home is a biblically-based international network providing spiritual insights, practical resources and positive guidance to all those who in any way address domestic violence. Its outreach extends to victims, perpetrators, law enforcement, medical personnel, shelter workers, safe home providers, social workers, clergy, therapists and counselors.

Founded more than 30 years ago, Futures Without Violence features education programs, national policy development, professional training programs, and public actions designed to end violence against women, children and families around the world.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence’s Special Collection of information packets on the complex and varied issues that religion and faith present for victims and survivors of domestic violence and their advocates in both the faith and secular communities. Explores and supports innovative strategies created by faith communities and secular domestic violence programs to develop a collaborative and holistic response to domestic violence responsive to and respectful of victims’ and survivors’ expressions of faith.

back to top Disclaimer: This MNADV online resource is intended for informational and educational purposes and contains information that is created and maintained by a variety of sources both internal and external to MNADV.  As with any other service you seek, it is incumbent upon you, the users of this MNADV online resource, to conduct the appropriate screening before pursuing assistance. MNADV neither endorses, has any responsibility for, nor exercises control over the views of any organization or the accuracy of the information provided by any of these organizations. MNADV does not control, monitor, or guarantee the information contained in links to other external Web sites, and does not endorse any views expressed or products or services offered therein. MNADV shall not be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any such content or services available. MNADV provides links to other Web sites as a convenience to its visitors and tries to ensure that the links are current. Any links to external Web sites and/or non-MNADV information provided should not be construed as an endorsement by MNADV. back to top