Religion and Violence: The problem of spiritualizing violence

My work as an activist draws upon my training as a divinity school student at Yale University in the 1970s.

For instance, after starting a hotline for battered women in the 1970s, I could see how urgent it was to train clergy around this issue. It broke my heart to think of how often battered women turned to their clergy, who were clueless about the issue. If you are a battered woman and you come to an untrained minister, he’s will
probably say, “Well, your husband called and he said he’s sorry, so I think it’s okay for you to go back.” Or he’ll do couples counseling, because the minister doesn’t understand domestic violence at all. You’ve got clergymen who say it’s not an issue, and then you’ve got clergymen who weep because someone was killed in their congregation and they were so unprepared. And the church is complicit in these tragic stories.

As well, people wrongly interpret the “dominion” over animals discussed in Genesis 1:26 to justify every cruel act they inflict on animals.

As I explain in The Inner Art of Vegetarianism, in becoming a vegetarian, “Something shifted inside and I never turned back. Honoring vegetarian consciousness integrated thought, belief, commitment, and practice. It ignited a positive energy in me that is still pulsating. It has led me in directions I didn’t know I would go. Indeed, without it I wouldn’t have known how to go. Because of vegetarianism, I became a writer. Because of vegetarianism, I became a cook, and then a better cook. Because of vegetarianism, I became a meditator; I had something within to nurture.” By deciding to change to become a vegetarianism and then by changing, I began to experience the world in a more positive way. I learned how to make a commitment through vegetarianism, and then I learned how to keep a commitment. Anyone who wants to change the world or themselves can learn this too. Vegetarianism offers this to everyone.... I believe that we human beings often fail to recognize that we are animals, that we are really a part of nature, that we are all interconnected and interrelated. Living a spiritual life, for me, means honoring these interrelationships.”

For me, doing the least harm possible is a very spiritual path and a path with integrity.


Woman-Battering is a volume in Fortress Press's Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series.

One reviewer called it "a wonderfully practical book to help clergy and pastoral counselors deal with abuse in intimate relationships....A major contribution is her insight as to how to make theological sense out of the horror and misery that has lain concealed in the midst of a congregation....An important contribution of the book is the development of an approach to the batterer....Its straightforward step by step treatment makes it a marvelous handbook for those who would be agents of change and want the tools to begin."