Within the domestic violence movement, religion has typically been seen as a vehicle for keeping women in battering relationships. Many workers in battered women's shelters have heard stories from women who first went to their clergy about the battering only to be reminded about the importance of marriage and of their duty to uphold it under all circumstances. In light of these experiences, it takes some bravery and determination for battered women's service providers to consider the role of the clergy in changing the climate of public acceptance for battering and in becoming known as a source of supportive pastoral counseling. Recognizing that clergy have a large potential audience for these messages and knowing that they had several sympathetic clergy to work with, Range Women's Advocates in Northern St. Louis County has begun to explore avenues to reach clergy and bring them into the struggle on the side of ending violence against women.
RWA worked with three pastors to develop a day-long training session that began with an interpretation of Biblical scriptures that support respect for women and reject battering, and went on to detail the harm done by battering and ways that clergy could help end violence against women. These ways focused primarily on trying to change attitudes toward and acceptance of battering within their congregations by preaching on the subject, but also included ways to make themselves more approachable by battered women and more knowledgeable about services and supports that women could use in the community. Invitations went out to the more than 200 clergy in the entire community to attend one of three sessions held around the county. Nineteen accepted, attended, and emerged with considerably changed attitudes and a new determination to take the message further. One fundamentalist minister left saying he was determined to work with the other ministers of his acquaintance to convince them that even a literal interpretation of the Bible could and did support an anti-violence position, and he would try to get them to change their message to their own congregations.
At the same time, the three clergy originally involved in planning the workshops are continuing to develop ideas for how to work further with the religious community. Were other communities to experience equal or even greater success in recruiting clergy and religious communities to the cause of making the world safer for battered women, it could only contribute to changing the public's attitudes toward the acceptability of battering.