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Beth Lowry

“Love Shouldn’t Hurt”

Annual Conference of National Organization of Victim Assistance
Annual Conference, National Organization of Victim Assistance, Cheryl Cates, National Domestic Violence Hotline and Diane Stuart, Director of Violence Against Women Act
Perry Wiggins & Officer James Duke
 

Mark Wynn, Domestic Violence Expert

Grant Recipient from the Nashville Community Foundation
She speaks out to help churches see dilemma of the battered woman

LARRY MCCORMACK / STAFF
Beth Lowry is a survivor of domestic violence and now runs SAVE, a program for women of faith in need of help for domestic violence. 

By ELIZABETH M-K KRUSE
Staff Correspondent

THE TENNESSEAN – 2002

Beth Lowry has climbed many a hill in her life.

The first big one presented itself when her she kicked her drug-addicted husband out of their Denver apartment after he relapsed again. She changed the locks, but he came back, broke in and tried to kill her anyway. She escaped, barely, and came home to Nashville to start over.

The next big hill was letting a persistent church community help her heal her broken spirit and bruised body.

Today, the hill is convincing church leaders that if one in three women are abused, some of those women sit in their own pews.

Lowry, who directs SAVE — Survivors Against Violent Environments — a domestic violence program for women of faith, simply wants to educate congregations about the cycle of domestic violence and how it affects all types of families, rich and poor, black and white, faithful and not. Those are words Lowry says many a reverend doesn’t want to hear.

”They don’t want to deal with the issue,” Lowry said about why churches turn away her requests to educate their congregations. ”They don’t want to believe it’s going on in their church.”

The one-time abuse victim tries to use statistics to get the attention of uninterested church leaders.

”When you tell them one in three women are victims of domestic violence they say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it happened so much.’ ”

Still, after five years of trying, many church leaders aren’t interested in understanding the problem, Lowry said.

”They think they don’t need training. They think it’s physical, and often it’s emotional and control issues. You’ve got churches that believe women should be submissive and just work harder to make the marriage work.”

Lowry says it’s important that women of faith learn that abuse in all forms — physical, sexual and psychological — is not sanctioned by Scripture, which some batterers use to justify their harmful actions.

Jessica Guinn has been down that road before. Although she is not involved in the SAVE program, she is an abuse victim like many of those Lowry is seeking to help: She’s had people try to use the Bible to justify the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband.

Right out of high school, Guinn fell for a guy who said all the right things but later proved to be obsessive and abusive.

”It seemed in the beginning he wanted somebody to love him as much as he could love back,” Guinn said. ”It was an intense love. I thought this was a guy who wanted one girl. But it was an obsession. He wanted me all to himself.”

After dating for three months, Guinn became pregnant. She said her boyfriend then insisted they marry, although Guinn thought it was a bad idea and realized later it was a way for him to further extend his physical control over her.

”He wanted to get married the whole time, and I was trying to put it off. … He may have had control over me physically, but he could never control my mind.”

Guinn did relent and marry him, and it was then he began beating her. At one point, her husband hit her so hard that blood poured from her ear. After that fight, a family member encouraged her to realize her place in the marriage and quoted Scripture to justify the abuse.

”I just totally realized that no one in the situation cared about me or my daughter,” said Guinn. ”It was all about him. … He completely had you brainwashed, that was his plan to completely have you believe you’d never have anybody love you like he could. He told me nobody would love me because I had a child.”

After enduring the mental and physical abuse for more than two years, Guinn had had enough. Her husband was in prison for breaking parole from a previous crime. She packed up and left, but her husband’s attempts to control her wouldn’t end there.

”He sent letter after letter after letter, phone call after phone call. He was just psychotic. He said he was changing. He said while he was in jail he had found the Lord. He said that every time he got desperate.”

Guinn considered calling a domestic violence hot line while she was being abused, but she was unable because her husband monitored all her phone calls.

”He watched me all the time,” Guinn said. ”There was no kind of self. I felt like he wanted to swallow me whole. To get out of it, you have to grab your self back.”

Similarly, Lowry recalls the time her husband tried to kill her. It wasn’t the first time he had abused her, but when it happened, she knew this time was different, that he was trying to end her life when he put his hands around her neck, choking her, and yanked the phone out of the wall.

When she jumped out the second-story window of her apartment, shattering her ankle to get away from him, passers-by ignored her screams for help as her husband picked her up and took her back upstairs.

She somehow convinced him to take her to the hospital where she told a doctor what he had done and he was arrested.

After Lowry made it to the hospital, she had no idea how long it would take for her ankle to heal.

She then discovered two months after escaping the man who was trying to kill her that she was pregnant with his child. She moved in with her mother to try to get her life back together. But her ankle was getting worse.

Because of a bone infection, Lowry would need 13 more surgeries to heal physically. That left her in hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt her insurance would not cover, leading her to file for bankruptcy. She lost job after job because she was in and out of the hospital, she was raising a daughter and didn’t know what she was doing. She was slipping into a deep depression.

Lowry’s mother was desperately worried about her daughter, and she turned to her church for help. Her mother’s pastor began calling Lowry, but she was not even remotely interested in discussing her life with a preacher she didn’t even know. But he kept calling and calling.

”I was like, ‘Why are you bothering me?’ I wished I was dead at that point. It baffled me. I could understand one phone call. But he called week after week after week. Then people started sending cards and flowers.”

Finally, to pacify her mother, Lowry attended a small Bible study meeting at a church member’s home. Slowly, Lowry began letting the members help and love her. Within a year she started working to help other people suffering from domestic violence with SAVE.

SAVE mainly helps women of faith who have the perception that other shelters will not understand their religion or insist they divorce their husbands, although Lowry said that is mostly a stereotype. Although SAVE serves mostly Christian women, the door is open to women of all religious beliefs. SAVE doesn’t try to convert anyone to a particular belief system or denomination.

‘I don’t get into religious views,” Lowry said. ”We have a general belief in God, but I’m not trying to take anybody out of their church and bring them to mine.”

Questions about domestic violence

What is domestic violence?

A pattern of violent or coercive behavior exercised by one adult in an intimate relationship over another.

Who are the victims?

Ninety-five percent are women, but men are victims as well.

How prevalent is domestic violence?

Surveys from the United States and Canada indicate that violence occurs in 28% of all marriages.

What are the types?

Physical, sexual, psychological assault or attacks against property or pets.

Who is the typical victim and abuser?

Both victims and abusers come from all walks of life, all races, all educational backgrounds and all religions.

What can a church or synagogue do to help?

Form a committee to address the issue of domestic violence, invite staff from local domestic violence programs to educate congregation members, offer premarital counseling, designate a day or month to focus on the issue of domestic violence, offer written information to congregation and youth group members, offer space for local domestic violence support group meetings and programs.

Local shelters and programs

• Nashville YWCA, 242-1199

• Ujima House, 242-9260

• Madison Domestic Violence Program, 860-0003

• Franklin Bridges, 599-5777

• Murfreesboro Domestic Violence Program Crisis Hotline, 896-2012

• Metro Police Domestic Violence Hotline, 880-3000 (English and Spanish)

• National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) (English and Spanish), 1-800-787-3224 (TDD)

• Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Family Violence, www.tcadsv.citysearch.com, 386-9406

Source: The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence and the Metro Police Department

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