College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-10-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Megan Greeson

Second Advisor

Nathan Todd

Third Advisor

Christine Reyna


Intimate partner violence (IPV) continues to be a social problem with many survivors seeking assistance from their religious leaders. In order to understand how to improve the response of religious leaders to IPV, this dissertation explores the various ways religious leaders understand and respond to survivors of IPV and the religious beliefs that may contribute to their response. The responses of religious leaders vary as some may deny or justify the abuse while others may link survivors to resources within the religious congregation or local community. Furthermore, these responses may be shaped by particular religious beliefs such as beliefs about marriage or forgiveness. To pursue this research, I conducted 20 in-depth interviews with Protestant religious leaders. Religious leaders described IPV as certain types of violence that were on a gradation of violence from verbal to physical. This understanding of IPV also shaped religious leader’s responses to violence as physical violence was viewed as most severe and in need of the most immediate, safety-focused response. Throughout the interviews, religious leaders shared how specific religious beliefs contributed to their understanding of IPV, shaped their view of their role as a religious leader, and informed their response to individuals experiencing IPV. For instance, religious leaders understood marriage and divorce differently and this view shaped their views on how to handle IPV between married partners. In their role as a religious leader, leaders clarified their role as a supporter, but not as a counselor. Thus, many religious leaders emphasized the need for referrals to counseling professionals. Some leaders responded to instances of violence directly through pastoral counseling, accountability, or providing resources, while others emphasized more indirect responses such as prayer or mentioning IPV within their sermons. Lastly, religious leaders discussed what they needed in order to better respond to IPV. Leaders asked for training and resources on how to respond, specifically for responding to challenging cases, working with perpetrators, and for the LGBT community. Findings from this study inform research and trainings for religious leaders and congregations on how to respond to IPV in a way that promotes survivor safety and fosters greater understanding of IPV. Also, results may aid in the creation of protocols for congregations to respond to IPV in ways that align with the religious beliefs and values of the congregation. Finally, findings may provide concrete strategies for religious leaders and congregations to better realize their potential as safe, healing communities for survivors of IPV.

SLP Collection