Abuse is not something we like to talk about. It doesn’t make us feel good. It is something that sometimes we would rather just pretend does not happen. But sometimes we need to look at the ugliness of it, in order to do something about it.
October 19-23, 2015 is Domestic Violence Awareness Week.
So we should look at it.
It is a huge topic, covering many things, but for the purpose of this article, I will focus on domestic abuse in the Church, particularly that perpetrated by men against their wives.
In the setting of the Church, allegations of abuse can sadly be dismissed as an overly sensitive wife, or as coming from a wife who simply refuses to submit to her husband’s headship. Or perhaps we think that the wife must have done something to set him off. Or maybe we do care, but we just give thoughtless pat answers, and we prescribe Ephesians 5 and say, “You should submit…” If you dispense such advice to the abused, be careful, you may be well meaning, but you may also be aiding an abuser in destroying her.
Some, including men I admire like John Piper, would argue that the abused Christian wife should endure the abuse for a time as per Matthew 5:39. It is true that as Christians we are called to endure suffering for Christ’s sake. But on this point, I believe that John Piper is wrong.
Let me ask this question? Who determines how long the victim should endure? You? Me? John Piper? The local Church?
Let me ask, is 5 years long enough?
Consider how long most couples are together before abuse is revealed…at what point would you say that her season of enduring is of a sufficient length? Do you want the victim to begin a new season of enduring after the abuse is revealed?
I should hope not.
Shepherd boy carrying a lamb and herding the sheep. AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
To those given charge over the sheep, the pastors and elders – I am not an elder. I cannot claim to know the pressures you face when dealing with these situations. I know you are striving to be biblical and do all things to the glory of God and out of love for the Church, but please, please, please, never demand that an abused spouse return to an abusive situation before you will counsel them. And please don’t ask if the abused Christian wife has followed Matthew 18. That is just foolishness. The shepherd’s job is to protect the weak sheep, not to send them back to be devoured by the wolf. As I have written elsewhere, Matthew 18 does not always apply. It certainly no longer applies in an abuse situation, for the simple fact that an abuser is not a Christian, even if he is a member of the church. Consider the words of John,
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. ~ 1 John 3:6-10
That is pretty clear. Abusers live in a consistent pattern of unrepentant sin, therefore are not Christian. Edit:**To clarify, this is not to be confused with a true Christian who struggles with repetitive sin. This passage is not saying that we require sinless perfection in this life, but that the true Christian hates his sin and flees to God for forgiveness and grace, where as the abuser does not.** Feel free to look up these texts as well:
1 Thessalonians 4:9
1 John (all of it)
My heart breaks when abused Christian wives tell their stories of being advised by well meaning Christians “to turn the other cheek.” I am sure the one dispensing advice like this is only trying to help, but the problem arises out of an erroneous interpretation of Matthew 5:39. One I am sure a lot of people, including myself, have made.
I was thankfully corrected by my pastor on this point. Thank you pastor! (October is also Pastor Appreciation Month…so be appreciative and pray for your pastors!)
When Jesus says “turn the other cheek”, it may sound like he is saying, “be a pacifist.” He is not. Jesus is not saying that we ought to simply lie down and take abuse and violence and do nothing about it.
So what is he saying?
Striking a person on the right cheek suggests a right handed person striking with a backhand slap across the face. Jesus’ disciples would have understood that this was a Jewish form of insult, not a physical assault as such.
Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t defend ourselves or try to get away. In fact, in John 10:39 we read of Jesus escaping from the violent crowd. If Jesus was telling his disciples to not defend themselves against violence, he would not have later told his disciples to arm themselves in Luke 22. When Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek,” he is not speaking of someone punching you in the face.
He is not saying that we should remain in a dangerous situation.
He is not saying if someone abuses you, that you should stay there and let it happen over and over and over.
What Jesus is saying is that we are not to trade insult for insult, he is saying keep your mouth shut when people speak ill of you.
He is saying don’t responded to attacks on your character.
He is saying don’t waste your time defending yourself against evil, slander, lies, gossip, malice.
Do not trade evil for evil! Rather return good for evil.
To the victims of violence and abuse – please be aware, that in no sense does our Lord ever require you to subject yourself to physical danger or abuse of any kind.
And to the Church. My brothers and sisters – we are the Body of Christ.
We should not only be aware of the problem of domestic violence, we should also care so deeply about those members of the Body who have been, or who are being harmed by an abuser, that we actually feel their pain, and will do everything in our power to help them…but so often we just say, “but that’s none of my business”, or worse, we side with the abuser.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12, that we are all members of one Body and if one member hurts, we all hurt. The church should be a welcoming place of help and healing for the victims of abuse, not a place of hiding these evil atrocities and of coddling the abusers while the wounded sheep scatter across the pastures. We should stand up for and defend those who are abused, not tell them to suffer at the hand of the wolf for a day longer.
Granted, each case is different, and each case should be approached with much prayer, and treated with extreme care, and if the abuse is physical or sexual, by law, police must be involved. If you are a victim of a prolonged pattern of domestic abuse, you need to get out for your own safety and the safety of any children involved. The sixth commandment certainly mandates that you are allowed protect yourself from harm. Sure, leaving an abusive spouse creates the appearance of an unbiblical marriage relationship, as married couples ought to live together. But the responsibility for this distortion of the marriage relationship falls completely on the abuser, not the victim who leaves.
While the victim should get out to protect themselves from harm, I should clarify one thing. It is extremely rare, but an abuser can repent, and this is only the work of the Holy Spirit. To say that an abuser cannot change is to deny the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not saying to forgive and forget and just move right back in when the abuser says, “sorry” but has not shown evidence of genuine fruit of repentance. Most, if not all, abusers will fake repentance.
They will put on a show.
But if the abuser truly repents, that is, if the abuser confesses all sins, names them and calls them his own without deflecting any blame or minimizing his actions by blaming his victim or others, and if the abuser turns from the sin to Christ, and seeks professional psychiatric help (often perpetrators of domestic violence have personality or mental disorders),seeks real spiritual accountability, makes real amends, shows by his life over a significant period of time (many years) that he is a new creature regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and as such displays genuine fruit of repentance, then reconciliation may be possible.
Until then, stay away.
Now, we should also not be naive… this world is a broken, sinful, messy place full of hurt and pain and irritating, itchy, confusing grey areas.
Abuse may scar the victim for life, and that abuse may cause a permanent rupture in the marriage relationship. The victim may forgive a repentant abuser, but some hurts may never go away. Who are we to judge a woman who cannot go back to the marriage bed with the man who tortured and tormented her for years?
But this is not about what happens after surviving the abuse, it is about what happens now.
Right now, in the midst of abuse.
Right now, when your prayers are drying up, and you tears are drying up, and you are a broken shell of the person you once were. When love is just a nice concept that seems so far away from the truth of your reality… it is not your fault, and you do not deserve it, no matter what he tells you. You need to get help and get out to protect yourself and kids. But don’t go it alone…surround yourself with those who will help you and protect you – hopefully that includes your Church Body.
Let me be very clear about this, it is not a sin to protect yourself and your children from harm. Even harm which comes from your husband’s hand.
Don’t worry about the gossips or what people will think.
Don’t worry about those who say that a woman should submit to her husband in all things, including abuse…they are sadly misguided.
Don’t worry about the abuser playing the victim in your leaving and accusing you – of course he will do that, his father is the devil.
Protect yourself and your kids.
Remember that ultimately God is your refuge.