The Common Good
March-April 1998

Acceptable Responses to Abuse

by Jennifer L. Joslyn | March-April 1998

I AM WRITING in response to Harry C. Kiely’s article on the movie Sling Blade (November-December 1997).

I AM WRITING in response to Harry C. Kiely’s article on the movie Sling Blade (November-December 1997). I completely agree with Kiely that portraying violence as redemptive is dangerous, contrary to the message of Christianity, and far too common in our society. However, as I read the article, I found myself thinking that it seemed a bit too simple.

As a Christian feminist who is particularly interested in issues of violence against women, I often struggle with the question of when, if ever, it is acceptable to respond to violence with violence. I have heard numerous stories of battered women who ultimately killed their partners, and such women virtually always try everything they can think to do in order to escape the violence before they resort to such an extreme.

Kiely proposes that the larger community in the movie should have intervened and come to the aid of the woman and child in danger, thus also sparing the abuser’s life. Clearly, the community should always respond to domestic violence with support, protection, and justice for the victim and with compassion without indulgence or denial for the abuser. Unfortunately, however, this rarely happens. Battered women, time and time again, are failed by the criminal justice system, their religious communities, and their families and friends.

I have no answer to the question of whether the murder portrayed in the movie in particular, or violence against abusers in general, is ever justified, but I do know that we do not yet live in a society that is willing and able to deal constructively with violence against women and children.

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