October is domestic violence awareness month. Recently I learned of outstanding research that Ally Kern is conducting in the field of neuroscience, women’s studies, and theology to create resources for women to heal from domestic violence. Ally Kern is an Adjunct Professor in Theology and Global Studies and Ph.D. student at Claremont. She has started a movement to #EndDomesticViolence and Empower Women to be #FreeToHeal. Ally and I sat down recently to discuss what she believes it will take to break the silence of domestic violence and empower survivors to be restored and set free.
Amy: Ally, thanks so much for meeting. I’m glad to talk with you about your passion for overcoming violence against women and girls. For most of us, personal stories have birthed a calling to build peace and safety in Christian communities. Would you share a little of your story. Why are you passionate about this issue?
Ally: It is a delight to connect with you, Amy! This vital issue of gender-based violence (violence against women and girls) has been a key theme of much of my work in the past 15 years. As a pastor who has also worked overseas for international development agencies, I have heard the heart-breaking stories of hundreds of women and girls who have experienced relationship abuse. To be honest, though, I didn’t realize how prolific the problem was until I became a survivor of domestic violence myself. As I began to share my story with my friends, they would tell me about other women they knew who were also survivors of domestic violence. I was shocked to discover that I had gone to seminary or church with many of these women and yet never knew that abuse had been part of their life.
As I met with these women over coffee and they shared their stories of “intimate terrorism,” I realized a common thread to our experiences: the church had not been a safe place to either identify or heal from relationship abuse. I had unknowingly entered into the invisible underground of Christian survivors of domestic violence. From within the deafening silence of DV, I heard God call me to create pathways to freedom for other survivors of relationship abuse, and that is now my primary vocation.
Amy: Intimate partner abuse and violence affects 1 in 3 women (globally). The statistics speak of sobering realities. How does this have bearing on our own faith communities?
Ally: Despite my work with women in developing nations, I thought that as a white, middle-class, educated Christian I was protected from domestic violence. Many fellow pastors, theologians, and believers such as myself are similarly unaware that the women and girls in the pews next to us have, are, or will experience relationship abuse in their lifetime. Sadly, the statistics on violence from an intimate partner is no different for the Christian church or other faith communities.
We need to understand that the only common factor in domestic violence is being female. The truth is that each one of us knows a survivor of domestic abuse: it could by your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend, your neighbor. As people of faith it is vital that we speak out to break the silence of domestic violence. We must rise up together and take action to end abuse against women and help survivors heal from the intense trauma of intimate partner violence.
Amy: In recent decades, we’ve seen an increase in research on domestic and sexual violence. What is unique about the research you (plan to do) are doing?
Ally: Domestic violence affects people physically, psychologically, and spiritually. While the vast majority of women and girls who experience intimate partner violence identify as religious, survivors struggle to find recovery resources that recognize the fundamental element of integrating their faith or religious traditions. In fact, most of us in the church have never heard a sermon on domestic violence, and have never seen a book or recovery program for domestic violence that integrates spirituality with psychology. The truth is that a woman who has been subjected to domestic violence experiences the same level of trauma as a person in a war zone.
I am developing cutting-edge new research integrating spiritual and psychological interventions that are scientifically proven to address the profound trauma of intimate partner violence. Specifically, my research recognizes that the misuse and misinterpretation of religious texts—particularly the Bible—contributes to both rationalizing the abuse of women, as well as inhibiting the journey of healing for survivors. Through my research I am creating resources that will enable churches and individuals to help rebuild the personhood of survivors as women made in the image of a good, loving God.
Amy: How do you envision this work benefiting global faith communities?
Ally: Women who have experienced intimate partner violence need complex trauma-informed care that frees them towards full restoration: heart, soul, mind, and body. This is the vision of Free To Heal: developing my groundbreaking academic research into practical resources that anyone can use to empower women and girls to flourish after domestic violence. Housed on my website www.allykern.com, I will be offering these resources for free to faith communities around the world. Ultimately, my hope is to create a transformational domestic violence recovery program for churches to offer free to survivors.
Free To Heal also serves global faith communities by raising awareness of this issue, in addition to mobilizing and equipping churches, Christian organizations, and individuals to act against violence against women and girls.
Amy: For most people, the problem of global violence against women and girls sounds overwhelming. What steps can we begin to take to make a difference?
Ally: Mother Teresa said that, “None of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” The woman you know needs your voice to speak into her painful story, letting her know she is not alone and healing is possible.
By joining with Free To Heal, you and your church will have tangible, practical ways to speak into the life of a woman you know, enabling you to take small, but powerful, steps of love on her journey to full healing. Would you consider being one of our funders to help women around the world be free to heal?
Ally Kern is a survivor of Domestic Violence who uses her voice as a public theologian and scholar to advocate for the end of gender-based violence. An Adjunct Professor in Theology and Global Studies, she is also a Ph.D. student at Claremont, where she is doing cutting-edge research in the field of neuroscience, women’s studies, and theology to create resources for women to heal from Domestic Violence.
Join the movement to #EndDomesticViolence and Empower Women to be #FreeToHeal at http://bit.ly/2bXhHw8. Together we will break the silence of domestic violence and empower survivors to be restored and set free.