Overcoming the “Holy Hush”: A Qualitative Examination of Protestant Christian Leaders’ Responses to Intimate Partner Violence

Jaclyn D. Houston-Kolnik, Nathan R. Todd, Megan R. Greeson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Described as a “holy hush,” past research has noted a general silence about and reluctance to address intimate partner violence (IPV) in religious congregations. To explore this, we interviewed 20 Protestant Christian religious leaders about how they understood and responded to IPV. Based on a thematic content analysis, our study revealed some of the challenges, tensions, and complexities that may be barriers to leaders speaking about and responding to IPV, and also the ways religious leaders in our sample attempted to overcome these challenges. For example, results revealed religious leaders understood violence on a gradation from less to more severe, and linked a need for and type of response to the level of violence. Throughout, religious leaders expressed a tension between their leadership role and responding to IPV. Furthermore, religious leaders acknowledged their need for greater training and connections to service providers, however, they reported not currently being connected to other IPV resources or organizations in the community. We discuss how the findings illuminate challenges and tensions for religious leaders in responding to IPV and how some leaders in this study were navigating these tensions to respond. We also discuss how findings may inform future research and the development of trainings and protocols for religious leaders and congregations on responding to IPV, promoting survivor safety, and fostering a greater understanding of IPV. Implications for collaboration with other community-based IPV organizations are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-152
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican journal of community psychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Coordinated community response
  • Gender-based violence
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Protestant Christianity
  • Religious leaders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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