“Be Aware, Engage, and Support” — Annual Council Presentation Addresses Domestic Violence

Following a precedent established at the General Conference Spring Meeting earlier this year, a portion of the Annual Council session on Monday, October 12, was devoted to addressing abuse. During the April meeting, discussion was spurred by an announcement that each division had made a private report on how abuse is being addressed in its area. During the latest meetings, the focus was enditnow, a wide ranging, if at times slightly amorphous, program most strongly centered around combating domestic violence.

GC President Ted N. C. Wilson introduced the program. “It’s a vital subject that is absolutely essential,” he said, “that we help guard and protect, especially women, from abuse and challenges that are faced worldwide.”

In 2019, I wrote about the complicated history of enditnow for Spectrum, tracing its beginnings as a collaboration between ADRA and GC Women’s Ministries, to how at times it fell victim to political and leadership conflicts. For years after being introduced, the program stayed on the periphery of high-level denominational meetings. This year, however, enditnow had its own agenda item during Annual Council that brought a presentation by one of the most prominent Adventist scholars.

Dr. David R. Williams is chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard University, where he is known as one of the top experts in the world on topics such as the intersection of health with race and religion. He is also, as church leaders are keen to point out, a graduate of both Andrews University and Loma Linda University Health.

Williams began with a quick barrage of definitions and statistics. “In 2017, according to the UN, 87,000 women were killed in the world and almost 60% of them were killed at the hands of an intimate partner or family member,” he said. Although domestic violence affects all genders, women make up the majority of the victimized, and so Williams largely focused on addressing the concerns for women.

He was also unswerving as he spoke of the implications for Adventist leaders.

“Domestic violence is a problem even within the Christian community, and there’s reason to believe it could be especially acute among Seventh-day Adventists,” Williams said, going on to explain that some research has shown domestic violence to be worse among “small, theologically conservative religious groups.” He also then added the caveat that studies show rates of domestic violence are higher in families where spouses belong to different religious denominations. “That’s not very common in Adventism,” Williams said, and it might be a “protective factor”—an interesting point, even if such intolerance might raise other questions about Adventism’s effects on relationships.

Continuing to address the Adventist context specifically, Williams highlighted a 2006 study led by Dr. René Drumm and published in the journal Social Work & Christianity. The study received funding from an organization in the Northwest United States and gathered data from 49 Adventist churches in that region, after a fight to gain approval from church leadership. Results showed that the rates of domestic violence among Adventists were very similar to those of the general population, meaning nearly two-thirds of the over 1,400 Adventist women surveyed had experienced some type of abusive behavior in their lifetimes, and 10% had suffered from “severe physical violence.”

Having established the import of violence against women in an Adventist context, Williams closed with a call for more action to be taken. “The church needs to do at least three things,” he said. “Be aware, engage, and support.” A litany of potential actions he raised included individual churches bringing in local experts to speak, appointing designated church members to be available points of contact for victims, establishing or funding shelters, and referring people to appropriate experts outside of the church.

“Let’s develop programs that make a difference to protect all of God’s children,” Williams said.

***

To hear Williams present about domestic violence was a welcome element of the meetings that have largely shied away from difficult topics, but such a presentation in 2020 also brings to mind all the years when the issue could also have been further addressed—not to mention the gap remaining between awareness and more concrete action.

There also remains a need for transparency about what the church is doing to combat all types of abuse.

On April 15, Ted Wilson told Spring Meeting attendees that seven months prior he had asked each division to prepare a report on abuse, and that those reports had just been presented in the division officer meetings. An hour of discussion followed, even though the reports were not shared beyond the division officers.

“It was not our intention to develop a worldwide policy at this point,” Wilson said of the reports. “Our intention was to ask divisions to do their own research, to find out how best to arrange things in their context.”

After hearing many of the comments from other Executive Committee members, Heather Dawn-Small, director of GC Women’s Ministries, expressed some concern that there was not wider knowledge of the resources from her department regarding abuse, produced over the course of many years. “I am both excited and also saddened,” she said. “I’m excited for this initiative being taken by our leadership, but I’m also saddened because it seems as though there’s a lot that’s going on in the church concerning abuse, but there are many of us who may not know all that’s going on.”

For the nearly two decades that Dawn-Small has been at GC Women’s Ministries, there has been a yearly abuse awareness day; at the 2001 Annual Council it was added to the official church calendar. More recently, it was re-branded to become the enditnow emphasis day, which is now the fourth Sabbath of every August and includes materials put together by multiple GC departments.

Watching the April 15 meeting, I wondered along with some of the church leaders about what was contained in the division reports on abuse. Wilson explained that they were being kept private for “confidential reasons.”

“I would say anyone who would like to know more about a particular division and what they’re doing, they certainly could write to the secretary of that division,” he said.

So, this spring I did precisely that, writing to the secretary of every world division, so that I might be able to report on the worldwide picture. In the end, only two divisions provided any material about what was being done in their respective regions.

***

In the course of my reporting that began in 2018, I spoke with Dr. René Drumm about her landmark research that had, in 2006, finally given hard numbers to the prevalence of domestic violence for Adventists. Although the research wasn’t conducted for just an Adventist audience, as it was intended to provide data relevant to Christian denominations in general, it also raised many potential avenues particular to the Adventist context to be further explored.

Drumm acknowledged that there has been a lot of useful material created by entities such as women’s ministries departments, but that there was still a lack of data about implementation and effectiveness.

“I know that our church has a lot of good resources, but is it impacting anybody in the pews?” she told me. “I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t know.”

In recent years, church leadership has shown a penchant for data and research in some areas—the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of the GC’s 2020–2025 strategic plan, “Reach the World: I Will Go,” have been mentioned countless times in the recent meetings, and the church has previously commissioned third-party studies into member retention. Doubtless there is much more that could be done to support research that could guide the approach to abuse.

Yet even looking to the example of Drumm, there are questions about the church’s appetite to support academics who might do such needed work. For years, Drumm taught at several Adventist institutions, including Andrews University and most recently Southern Adventist University, where she was the dean of the School of Social Work. And then, around 2015, she was gone. When I asked Drumm, she was ever diplomatic and measured in discussing any of the reasons why she left Southern, but multiple sources told me that she didn’t leave just on her own accord.

One source, knowledgeable of the situation at Southern, said there came a point where Drumm was not supported by the institution, and that she had made “inconvenient discoveries.” Research into LGBTQ populations had been another focus of her research, and one that had likely created friction. Drumm was always thinking about the academics, not in the optics or politics of her work, the source said.

“It’s curious that when there are problems with faculty, they just disappear,” the source told me.

Since leaving Southern, Drumm has taught at the University of Southern Mississippi. She continues to do research into Adventist populations (among many topics) and to work with academics at Adventist universities. In 2019, she spoke at the North American Division’s annual enditnow conference. Drumm’s commitment to the work has always remained.

But it is telling that the church might not reciprocate the same commitment to the foremost expert about abuse in an Adventist context.

***

No matter the past, the latest efforts are no doubt welcome to the millions of Adventists worldwide who bear the scars of abuse.

“This is certainly not the end,” Wilson said on April 15 after the spirited discussion during Spring Meeting. “This is only the beginning. And it may be very late in coming. You can fault us for whatever you want. But we are trying to bring this to the forefront and get divisions, institutions, fully on board with what needs to be the proper biblical approach to the subject.”

At Annual Council six months later, there was only time given for one comment after Dr. David R. Williams’ presentation. Then the meeting moved on to its next topic.

 

Note: The North American Division will soon hold its annual enditnow Summit on Abuse, on November 13 in English, and on November 14 in Spanish.

 

 

Alex Aamodt is a staff writer and the Roy Branson Investigative Reporter for Spectrum. He can be contacted here.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.

 

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10797
2 Likes

"Results showed that the rates of domestic violence among Adventists were very similar to those of the general population…"

Not surprising at all. Other research has shown that the more conservative a denomination the more likely abuse, particularly clergy abuse, is covered up to make it “go away”.

"Watching the April 15 meeting, I wondered along with some of the church leaders about what was contained in the division reports on abuse. Wilson explained that they were being kept private for “confidential reasons.”

Why should this be so? My best guess is that there are parts of the world, particularly where Patriarchy is common, where abuse is endemic and accepted as a cultural “way of life”.

"“This is certainly not the end,” Wilson said on April 15 after the spirited discussion during Spring Meeting. “This is only the beginning. And it may be very late in coming. You can fault us for whatever you want. But we are trying to bring this to the forefront and get divisions, institutions, fully on board with what needs to be the proper biblical approach to the subject.”

By the time the “Brethren” get around to figuring out the “proper” Biblical approach…many more generations of victims will continue. It would be best not to hold one’s breath to see if anything substantial actually happens. Talk is cheap and doesn’t even begin to address even the clerical abuse that has happened in the SDA church.

4 Likes

proper biblical approach to the subject…perhaps a clue as to how long this will take? I call it the ‘phrase of delay’. Hope to be wrong!

1 Like

With the “proper biblical approach” in Adventism…it will take as long as Women’s Ordination has. :smirk:

3 Likes

I am appalled! …

  1. People who have no respect for women are looking into “domestic violence” issues? Seriously? Hey, they should be informed that discriminating against women in church has the same foundation as domestic violence at home. Defenders of WO talking about DV? This must be a joke, right?

  2. Domestic - or “church” - violence occurs for only one reason: the combination of POWER & CONTROL.

  3. Perpetrators of domestic violence (in any form) will never be successfully treated by someone who is not a Mental Health professional with SPECIFIC training in DV treatment.

  4. The most efficacious treatment for this PSYCHOLOGICAL disturbance is proper psychological treatment that has been available for many years in the legal system.

  5. Every State has a domestic violence treatment program implemented. The best ones are those that require 52 weeks of participation in group therapy, once a week, for 2-hour sessions. Total of 104 hours, uninterrupted.

  6. If the program is seriously followed and the therapist is experienced and competent, there is a high change that the perpetrator will change the behavior.

  7. Domestic violence is a serious crime and has to be treated as such.

  8. Forget about treating domestic violence perpetrators with pastoral counseling or prayers. It will never work. It’s a waste of time.

  9. Long-term group therapy is the only chance of successful diversion. Individual psychotherapy for DV perpetrators is very, very minimally effective.

I am curious, though: How many, if any, experienced Mental Health professionals are involved in this GC project?

@elmer_cupino @cincerity

===========
Note: As a Psychologist I worked for 12 years (full time, 1905-2007) running group treatment for Court ordered perpetrators of DV in Riverside, CA. It was a 52-week program. I graduated 1,854 men from my groups. I even developed a full set of 52-lessons (English and Spanish) for my treatment program.

6 Likes

Yes, appalling is a good word! They want to check out ancient cultures on how to treat this issue. I would suggest that leadership is seriously out of touch with reality! We only have to go by what has happened in the past when words such as, ‘what does the Bible say’ are used. If leadership doesn’t know by now , they never will. It is called a delaying tactic, sickening in reality…as if they have no clue on how people are to be treated!! Yech!!

2 Likes

Those people must be kidding, right? Did they ever disclose what the “biblical approach” is? The Bible is not a treatment book for psychaitric, mental health or disturbed human behavior. Domestic violence is not a spiritual problem, it’s a a pathological behavior that needs proper treatment.

No wonder they are working on this program for such a long time and nothing has been done. They are doing research?" On what? It has all already been researched by scientists in the field.

WOMEN, FYI:

  1. Women that are abused need to tell the perpetrator, “You either get treatment or I will call the police.” Guess what: NONE of them will get the treatment on a voluntary basis.
  2. If the violence continues, it will escalate. Starts with verbal abuse, may end up in killing if not stopped. No exceptions!
3 Likes

Everyone, men & women need to read this poem because it represents the tragic reality of Domestic Violence (abuse):

https://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/31491.html

1 Like

It is obvious that they don’t know what they’re doing. I wonder if this is just a façade to give the appearance that they are working hard on that. Those black-suited guys upstairs making decisions for women is the most absurd thing that I’ve ever seen.

The Church will never be properly equipped to treat domestic violence perpetrators. There is already a treatment program in place, people just need to get the help. Unfortunately I never had one guy coming on a voluntary basis for treatment. In 12 years, they were ALL Court ordered women batterers that were all “innocent” when they showed up for the first session. It takes about 20 weeks for the perpetrators to start admitting that they indeed have a problem… Fifty two weeks, and nothing less, to receive proper treatment.

2 Likes

George, we can feel your God-given passion for DM victims and giving voice to
their dilemma and trauma.
We hear and stand with you in your absolute conviction regarding the need for
necessary and mandated treatment for perpetrators.!

But, where is Ted’s TMI commitment for addressing this travesty??

Talk, tal, ta, t, … and a lot of window dressing.(The public might see our ‘soiled
washing’ and we might have to admit that we are not a PERFECT church, after all.)
“See no evil, hear no evil, speak …”

There appears to be an obvious culture of obfuscation, if not denial, at the GC level,
in relation to this serious issue.

On a lighter level, George, your long service in Psychology (“1905-2007”) is
to be commended. :smiley: :smiley: Keep the faith, and keep up the good work!

4 Likes

The EndItNow brochures should be in every church and all its institutions. They are very informative. The issue of abuse should be addressed and not swept under the carpet.

Thanks also for George for all your care and labor on this issue.

2 Likes

It’s amazing to see how entrenched denial is among the GC officers. Do they really expect us to believe what they say?

2 Likes

Thank you for the kind words.
Actually, in 2003 I started doing geriatric psychotherapy concomitantly, which from 2008 on became my full time job. I retired in Dec/2018, but I still work 2 days a week.

1 Like

They could at least read Spectrum to check how much credibility their delusional stories have among us. But they may be too busy for this kind of things… :roll_eyes:

2 Likes

They are too busy implementing their Compliance Committees and formulating working policies such domestic violence for others to adhere except themselves while tolerating financial mismanagement at the SID. If this were a movie, it would fit the genre of Comedy & Humor. I believe they have a psychiatrist available for consultation. I’d love to be that psychiatrist. Imagine being paid for providing no services just like all of them. I say DEFUND THE GC.

1 Like

And I say, DEFUND DEFUNCT THE GC.

(Remember my platform when I was running for GC Prez in 2015" :roll_eyes: “In six months to eliminate the GC” - putting myself out of work as well. But unfortunately I didn’t make it, and now we see the “grave consequences”

But Elmer, I believe that the Church in general is in great difficulty anyway. With the Covid came also the reality of “church by zoom.” What I am experiencing is a much better spiritual adventure than going to a building. I have a list of the advantages:

  1. Worshiping in the comfort of my home
  2. Not being forced to swallow unliked music style
  3. Total control of who I listen to and what I listen
  4. Great interaction with people; meeting people from ot other regions
  5. Less distraction, more concentration on the issues discussed

In my case, I am learning much more and having true spiritual moments. Going to live services would be a much less rewarding experience now. I guess I now belong to the ZSDA Church.

Now, consider the implications of the Covid to churches in general. Soon there will be empty buildings for sale (including furniture and equipment) and pastors/staff looking for new jobs. The influx of money will certainly decrease significantly. In the case of the SDAC it may be a real trouble for the whole administrative structure, that, by the way, is extremely expensive. The end is not justifying the means ($).

You mentioned DEFUNDING the GC…, well… it may be happening as we speak. Though, apparently, they have a reserve of $400 MI, so they have great job security I guess…

I see several Spectrumites, including yourself, attending two zooms meetings (or at least one), the “Faith & Reason SS” (Sligo) and the “Roy Branson Legacy SS” (Loma Linda). Man, I wait all week long for that experience on Sabbath morning. This never happened before. And, I am learning much more now than ever before.

I wonder if church will ever be the same again as before. The administration, in the several levels, better start to brainstorm about the future of the Church - and of their own jobs as well!

Covid is indeed bringing “grave consequences” to the Church!
:wink:

2 Likes

Just like the story of David and Bethsheba, out from the misfortunes of COVID came new venues for worship and new community. I cannot be more thankful…

1 Like

**"I am learning much more … Consider the implications of Covid to churches …"
George, yes we are all seeing a paradigm shift in organising/‘doing’ church and also in
our spiritual experience. Hopefully, as in your case, for the better.

"Defund the GC."
Given the current GC leadership, we understand your frustration George. However, is
this the only option? Sounds like an ‘echo’ of “Defund the police”? (Or are you only
referring to the ‘Compliance Police’? :grinning:)

The real problem might not be the organisation, but the quality of its leadership –
their mindset, decision-making processes, how finances are spent, and the whole
culture of the organisation/GC.

If the GC is abolished but the same culture continues to persist at lower organisational
levels of the church, surely, we are no better off!

Change the culture (and if necessary, the core leadership) and see what difference
it makes.****

What do you think, George?**

3 Likes

Eclesiastes, when you say, “… we understand your frustration George,” it immediately gives me the impression that you work at the GC. Why would you say, “we understand…?” Who is “we” in this case? So my question is easy, Do you work at the GC?
____ YES … … ____ NO

Regarding “Defund the GC,” those words are Dr. Cupino’s @elmer_cupino, not mine. As you could have noticed, I suggested the word “DEFUNCT the GC.” And that’s exactly what I meant: eliminate, dissolve, abolish. The GC became a completely irrelevant agency that consumes resources that should be used at local churches for evangelism. Regarding the “Kompliance Komrades” (aka “Compliance Police”), … well, they would be looking for a job as well if the GC were “defuncted”… :wink:

Easy: replace the President with someone who is younger, more dynamic, that understands current social and gender issues, who reads not only the “boox” but other books too, and who is not so obsessed with church politics. (I know that the chances for this to happen are very slim :roll_eyes:)

1 Like

*And I say, [DEFUND] DEFUNCT THE GC.
Apologies for my Freudian slip, George. And, ‘to boot, tarring you with someone
else’s brush’ is clearly not acceptable. :anguished:

**We **= (and includes) the readers of your post George; anyone who
shares your perceptions and feelings re the GC.

Do you work at the GC?
Most emphatically, NO! (Impressions may be misleading.) :confused:

Take care George.