Pastor Lawrence Dove and his wife, Yolanda, have both seen domestic violence firsthand. As children, they each saw their respective fathers take out their anger on their mothers. When Lawrence and Yolanda married, they vowed not to perpetuate that cycle into a new generation.
So when a member of his congregation mentioned the work of the Jenesse Center, Dove was intrigued. The Jenesse Center is a domestic violence prevention and intervention organization near the church, Park Hills Community Church in Los Angeles, California. Six years ago, Dove had recently become the pastor and was discerning how the church might “help the community to flourish and grow and thrive,” he says.
Partnering with the Jenesse Center seemed like one way to make an impact in the community. Beyond supporting Jenesse financially, Park Hills also opens its facility for the organization’s fundraisers and has hosted occasional domestic violence forums. Dove speaks openly from the pulpit about domestic violence and sexual harassment.
“What fuels domestic violence is the false image of superiority and the need to control”
For him, it’s not enough to address domestic and sexual violence after the fact: “We’re trying to be in a preventative mode rather than a reactive one.”
How does a small church in metropolitan Los Angeles prevent violence within families and between partners?
The first step, says Dove, is to recognize that respect for women “is not just confined to your spouse or girlfriend. Any form of disrespect and especially violence is no way how you treat any woman.” So Park Hills helps its young men understand how to treat women well, as fellow bearers of the image of God.
“What fuels domestic violence is the false image of superiority and the need to control,” says Dove. “God made man and woman in his image. … The woman is not inferior, second class, an afterthought.”
To counteract this narrative, Park Hills educates its members on domestic and sexual violence, teaching young men about appropriate and respectful ways to interact with women.
“We keep a keen eye open for young men,” he says. “If we see anything contrary to [respect], we call them on the carpet.”
The church plans to host two breakfasts for men and teenage boys to increase their awareness of bullying, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in an effort to help prevent it. Each year during vacation Bible school, a representative from Jenesse speaks about domestic violence to the older children, who then bring in loose change to support the organization’s work. The church is also developing a sexual harassment policy for staff.
Abuse can go both ways, says Dove: “I am discovering that though the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, men can also experience the same from a spouse or significant other.”
Dove believes that healthy relationships between men and women are important to cultivate not just because of the cultural context but because those relationships are grounded in the Bible.
“Galatians says, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.’ It explains the reversal of the hierarchical relationship that was a result of the fall,” says Dove.
In the end, he says, it comes down to love: “Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. If I really love someone, it should constrain me as a Christian from manipulating someone through mental, emotional, verbal, or physical abuse. Dominance through fear does not foster loving relationships. Respect, honor, and submitting to one another is the catalyst that will cause relationships to thrive and flourish as God intended.”
Grace Claus serves as children's ministry coordinator for a church in the Seattle area, where she lives with her family. She holds an MDiv from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.