Lighting the way to a better future a domestic violence prevention program for churches

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It can be difficult to determine whether to use the term Latino or Hispanic to describe this population. The term Latino refers to language origin while Hispanic refers to geographic origin. Be aware that most Hispanic/Latino individuals identify by country of origin. Which term individuals prefer will vary and may be influenced by their country of origin. The U.S. government’s official term for this population is Hispanic. It was introduced as a census category in 1970 to identify people with Spanish heritage. We have chosen to use both terms in these materials.

There are a number of cultural factors that are important if you are to successfully work with people from the Hispanic/Latino community. Individuals view personal relationships as more important than institutional relationships. They will place their trust in individuals rather than institutions. Because of this, it will be helpful if you can focus on establishing warm and friendly relationships with the pastors. Culturally appropriate behaviors that can help you establish relationships include using a firm handshake at your initial meeting. Once you have established a relationship, a hug and light kiss is the usual greeting. It is important to use titles of respect before first names (i.e., Don and Doña). Be aware that you will find a more relaxed and flexible attitude about time than is common among most native-born Americans. You may need to build a bit of extra time into your training session to allow for late arrivals.

Hispanics/Latinos show respect (respeto/humildad) by listening when a person is talking and following his/her advice. There is a great respect for authority which can result in individuals finding it hard to say “no.” They may agree to a request to avoid confrontation even if they do not intend to follow through. This could result in pastors agreeing to come to your training session even if they do not intend to do so or agreeing to use the materials you give them and not following through. When you ask questions, you may not get direct answers. Instead, they may “talk around” the issue and elaborate a great deal. You will need to listen carefully to what they say even if it does not initially appear related to the task or issue at hand. When they ask you questions, be aware that they do not necessarily expect you to answer all their questions or resolve all their needs. You will also want to be careful about making remarks that might be interpreted as critical. Some Hispanics/Latinos do not take criticism well and may react as though the remarks are directed at them personally rather than at the action performed

It can take time to connect and build trust with members of the Hispanic/Latino community. You can begin to reach out to Hispanic/Latino pastors by establishing a presence in the community. Strategies for doing this include:

        • Talking with members of the community to learn about their concerns, differences and skills

  • Attending cultural events in such as festivals and soccer tournaments

  • Developing personal connections with community leaders in organizations, churches, schools, and restaurants

  • Learning about the community and context in which people live and getting to know people as individuals

As you begin planning for your training sessions with pastors, be aware of the constraints they face. Many of them have “day jobs” in addition to their church responsibilities. As you contact them to invite them to participate in this project, you will want to ask them about the most convenient times to meet. You may need to be flexible about scheduling your training sessions; evenings and weekends may be the best times for them. You should also find out if lack of transportation will be a barrier to attending your training. You may need to consider their transportation needs when planning the time and place for your training.

To work successfully with this audience, consider doing the following for your training sessions:

  • Hang signs in Spanish directing people to the meeting room, restrooms, etc.

  • Serve food and/or snacks.

  • Offer door prizes.

  • Create a comfortable, informal environment.

  • Incorporate fun activities such as role plays, hands-on activities, drama, video, personal histories.

  • Allow participants to interact.

  • Use cooperative rather than competitive activities.

  • Remember that, for this audience, written material is a supporting player rather than the central focus.

  • If you need an interpreter, try to find a bilingual volunteer known by the community.

  • If you don’t speak Spanish, learn and use a few common phrases.

Remember that you are working with individuals who will value their relationships with you over your institutional affiliation. In your work with pastors, emphasize relationships over tasks. Make a firm commitment to maintain contact with pastors after the training and be sure a member of your team follows through. You may need to be patient. If the outcome of your training is not what you expected or hoped for, you may need to try again. Should this happen, you may wish to invite other Hispanic/Latino community partners to help you.

Part 4

Issues you may confront with pastors
Pastors who participate in your training will presumably agree on the appropriateness of church-sponsored domestic violence prevention and intervention activities. Nonetheless, some pastors may be more open than others to the material you present. Several factors may influence the degree of resistance you encounter. These include conservative religious and cultural beliefs about gender roles, the belief that maintaining the family unit should take precedence over the wellbeing or protection of an abused wife, and pastors’ own childhood experiences of being abused or witnessing domestic violence in their families. Each of these factors is discussed briefly below along with some general suggestions for responding to these issues should they come up.
Conservative religious and cultural beliefs about gender roles

Pastors may have biblically-based convictions that the man is the head of the home with church-sanctioned power and authority over other family members regardless of how he exercises that authority. Those who hold this belief expect women to submit to their husband’s power, even if they are being emotionally, physically, or financially abused. Cultural expectations of unequal power relationships between husbands and wives can reinforce and strengthen these biblical interpretations. Additionally, pastors’ awareness of the powerlessness and mistreatment that Hispanic/Latino men experience in the “mainstream” community may lead them to ignore or uphold men’s abuse of power within their families.

In responding to these issues, it is best to avoid arguing about biblical interpretations about the rights and power of men versus women in the home. It may be more productive to point out that families benefit when husbands and wives employ Christ-like attitudes and behaviors such as compassion, respect, and cooperation. It may also be helpful to acknowledge that, while the contributions each spouse brings to a relationship are different, they are equally important to family functioning. Focusing on these issues may help ministers overcome these kinds of concerns. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that Hispanic/Latino men may be very angry about the devaluation and dehumanization they experience in the community. With no other outlet, these men may redirect their anger onto family members. It is likely that pastors will acknowledge that such behavior is destructive. It harms family members and, ultimately, the men themselves. Abusive men may be so angry or depressed that they do not see how these dynamics contribute to the cycle of abuse. Assisting pastors to understand these dynamics may help them realize that they can confront abusive men without undermining their role in the family or denying that the men have legitimate reasons to be angry.
The importance of maintaining the family unit

The family is of primary importance in Hispanic/Latino cultures. Pastors are unlikely to approve of interventions that they see as undermining the sanctity of the family. Maintaining the integrity of the family unit may be their priority even in families in which vulnerable members are being harmed.

Suggestions for responding to these issues

This program supports the cultural and religious values of maintaining intact families. Its goal is to reduce the toll of domestic violence within those families. With this in mind, pastors may benefit from some discussion of quality-of-life issues for all family members. This includes pointing out the harmful effects of domestic violence on children. They can also be reminded that while husbands and wives have different roles in families, their roles are equally important. Women are human beings who require compassion, respect and protection. When their partners abuse them, it undermines their roles as wives and mothers. If a woman’s partner is harming rather than protecting her, one way for a pastor to express compassion and respect may to help her temporarily escape a potentially explosive situation. The goal is not to split the family but to offer the woman protection from immediate danger. This does not threaten the sanctity of the family unit. Compassionate aid from a pastor may help families to confront and reduce conflict.

Pastors’ personal experience with abuse

Patterns of domestic violence travel from generation to generation. Pastors, whether they are male or female, are as likely as their congregation members to have experienced or witnessed abuse when they were children. It is also possible that they could be perpetrators (if male) or victims (if female) of domestic violence. Male pastors who were abused or who witnessed abuse as children may, as adults, identify psychologically with abusers. If they witnessed their mother’s mistreatment, they may believe that because their mothers did nothing to stop the abuse, women like to be mistreated. They may also believe that when domestic violence occurs, it is the woman who is responsible for causing or stopping it. Be aware that female pastors who have witnessed or experienced abuse may hold similar attitudes.

Suggestion for addressing these issues

It is not your role to offer “mental health therapy” to pastors who are dealing with their own psychological wounds. However, it is possible to raise for discussion the issue of their experiences. You can encourage pastors to think about the impact of their own childhood experiences on their attitudes and behaviors as adults. A discussion focused on “healing the healers” might explore the relationships among pastors’ feelings of helplessness as children and their experience of abuse. Such discussion would seek to help pastors make the connection between healing from their own experiences and increasing their motivation and ability to help other men suffering from past abuse. It may be helpful to encourage them to discuss the positive attributes of machismo, a concept that represents strength and leadership in the family. Both Hispanic/Latino cultural values and Christianity endorse the idea that strong family leaders must be able to love others with gentleness, patience, kindness, and selflessness.

Part 5

Planning your training
Suggestions for finding pastors

One of your first tasks will be to locate and contact Hispanic/Latino pastors and lay ministers in your geographical area. To find churches affiliated with specific denominations:

    • For Catholic churches that offer masses in Spanish, The Catholic Diocese of Raleigh and The Catholic

Diocese of Charlotte

  • For Hispanic Baptist churches, the Baptist State Convention, telephone 919.467.5100 or 800.395.5102 or

  • For Hispanic Assembly of God churches, telephone 919 965-0225 or

To find independent churches:

  • Contact local Spanish-language Christian Book Stores. Store owners usually know many pastors and will be familiar with the Spanish language services offered by churches in the area.

  • When you drive by local churches, look for signs indicating they offer services in Spanish.

  • Create and post a flyer at the Hispanic tiendas (stores) in your town or county.

  • As you locate and speak with Latino pastors, ask them for the names of other pastors.

Multiple training sessions

Consider the possibility of conducting more than one training session. A small initial training may lead to more prospective trainees by word of mouth.

Determining participants’ preferences

  1. Once you have a list of pastors who are interested in participating, you will want to ask them about their preferences regarding the logistics of the training:

  • Location of training

  • Best day of the week

  • Best time of day (morning, afternoon, evening)

  • Preferred length of workshop

To request manuals for your training sessions:

Dawn Iglesias, North Carolina State University, Department of Social Work

CB 7639, Raleigh, NC 27695,, phone (919) 513-7957, fax (919) 515-4403. Be sure to allow enough time for the manuals to be mailed.

Developing your team

In this section, you will assess individual and team strengths, barriers to carrying out this project and potential strategies for overcoming barriers.

Assessing individual team members’ strengths

As you read the items below, think about how you do (or would) approach training. Put a check in the boxes beside the statements you feel describe your strengths. Circle the boxes beside the statements that describe areas in which you need improvement. At the end you will summarize the areas in which you feel most and least prepared.

�� I have experience doing training with a variety of audiences in the community.
�� I have professional knowledge of and/or experience with domestic violence.

�� I have personal or professional experience with Spanish-speaking churches.

�� I am fluent in Spanish.
�� I prepare for ahead for training by familiarizing myself with the subject matter.

�� I know and respect my audience. I listen to participants and call them by name.

�� I am neutral and non-judgmental. I value everyone’s experience and respect differences of opinion and lifestyle.

�� I am culturally sensitive. I am familiar with Hispanic/Latino cultural values.

�� I am self-aware. I recognize my own biases. I know my own “hot-buttons” and control myself when someone pushes them.

�� I am inclusive. I encourage everyone to participate and contribute to the group learning process.

�� I am lively, enthusiastic, and creative. I use humor. I keep my listeners interested.

�� I use a variety of vocal qualities. I vary my pitch, speaking rate and volume. I avoid monotones.

�� My comments are clear and easy to remember. I present one idea at a time. I show relationships between ideas. I summarize.

�� I use a variety of techniques to convey my subject matter.

�� I understand group dynamics. I am comfortable with conflict resolution.

�� I am flexible. I watch participants’ verbal and nonverbal responses and adapt my plans to meet their needs. I am in charge without being overly controlling.

�� I am open to new ideas. I am aware that I don’t know all the answers and recognize that I can learn from participants.

�� I am compassionate, empathetic and understanding about participants’ emotional reactions.

�� I am interested in evaluating my work and encourage feedback.

Summarize below the strengths you can contribute to training Hispanic/Latino pastors on domestic violence prevention and intervention:

Summarize below the areas in which you feel least prepared to train Hispanic/Latino pastors on domestic violence prevention and intervention:

Checklist adapted from: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research Health DATA Program—Data, Advocacy, and Technical Assistance

Assessing team strengths

Check each attribute that applies to your team as a whole. Note specific members possess each attribute

___ Experience coordinating a group project

Team members:

___ Experience with planning training workshops

Team members:

___ Experience implementing training workshops

Team members:

___ Knowledge of/professional experience with domestic violence

Team members:

___ Knowledge of Hispanic/Latino population

Team members:

___ Experience with/knowledge of Hispanic/Latino churches

Team members:

___ Spanish fluency

Team members:

___ Access to space for training

Team members:

___ Access to funds for refreshments

Team members:

___ Knowledge of/contacts with additional community resources that might be helpful.

Team members:

Identify any barriers your team faces:

Identify possible strategies for overcoming barriers:

Preliminary planning

Use the chart below to develop a preliminary plan.




Contact team members to initiate the planning process

Provide ongoing coordination

Locate Spanish-speaking churches and pastors

Contact pastors to recruit and inquire about best times and places for training

Request pastor training manuals from NC State project staff

Arrange times/places for pastor training

Plan training content and process

Implement the training session(s)

Provide information on completed training to NC State project staff

Developing a training workshop plan

When your team is ready to plan the training workshop itself, you may find the worksheet below helpful. Make multiple copies to cover your entire plan.

Time allotted


Materials Needed

Person(s) Responsible

Part 6

Educational resources for church-sponsored programs
If you establish relationships with local pastors, they may ask you for assistance with programs for their congregations. If you are willing and able to assist them, you may find the materials in this section helpful. We have provided materials in English and Spanish on the following topics:

  • Anger management

Managing Anger

What is anger?

  1. Anger is a secondary emotion, it is a response to an emotion. You usually feel a primary emotion such as embarrassment, sadness, frustration, or fear first, then go back to anger since it is a familiar and learned behavior. It is often difficult to realize what exactly is the emotion underlying the anger, but the fact that we respond with anger tells us that something is bothering us.

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