Home Christian News Wife Who Fought to ‘Save Saeed’ Says Christian Leaders Failed to Act...

Wife Who Fought to ‘Save Saeed’ Says Christian Leaders Failed to Act on Her Abuse Claims

The message that God can fix abuse is common in churches, says Justin Holcomb, an Episcopal priest who teaches clergy how to care for domestic abuse survivors.

While both survivors and abusers need counseling, said Holcomb, that counseling should not be done together. Survivors need safety, hope and healing. Abusers need to learn how to stop their abusive behavior and to take responsibility for their actions.

“They have forfeited their right to remain married,” he said.

Unfortunately, Holcomb said, many pastors and clergy focus too much on keeping marriages together and not enough on survivors’ safety. That leads religious women to stay in situations where they are unsafe, seeing it as an act of faith.

University of Georgia professors Y. Joon Choi and Pamela Orpinas recently teamed up on a project to train pastors on how to best respond to domestic abuse. Choi, an associate professor of social work, and Orpinas, a professor of health promotion and behavior, designed a series of online training modules for clergy of Korean American churches, which they hope will become a model for other church leaders.

Instead of trying to give advice, Choi suggests, clergy need to listen and then connect survivors with the help they need. As part of their training project, the scholars connected Korean pastors to local agencies that assist abuse survivors, something they hope churches and agencies in other communities will do.

“The best thing for you is to be there and listen to them and believe them,” said Choi.

Mariam Ibraheem, a friend of Panahi’s and co-founder of the Tahrir Alnisa Foundation, a small nonprofit that assists women facing domestic abuse, said Christian leaders often feel they need to investigate allegations of abuse before they can act. That can send a message to survivors that they are not trustworthy, said Ibraheem. Instead, clergy can offer help.

“You don’t need to hear two sides of the story when someone comes and tells you, ‘I’m abused and suffering,’” she said.

Ibraheem first met Panahi in 2014, when they were both in the religious freedom spotlight. A Sudanese immigrant, Ibraheem had been jailed in her home country for apostasy and was sentenced to death. After worldwide outcry, she was released from prison and moved to the United States. When she faced trouble in her own marriage, she turned to Panahi for help. The two later decided to work together on the issue of domestic abuse, which Ibraheem said is often misunderstood by churches.