Gloria Steinem, an icon of feminism, often speaks—with irony and humor—of male oppression and patriarchy. She describes the persecution, oppression, and domination women have suffered throughout history at the hands of the Christian church. So goes the criticism of the relationship between Christ's church and women. Abuse, and yes, even violence.

While we can't change such one-sided characterizations of the institution we know represents our risen Lord, our Deliverer from oppression, we needn't make it so easy for them either.

We must face an unwelcome truth: Many of the attacks on the church come from women who have experienced great pain in their lives, either because someone in the church caused their pain or they found the church impotent in response. One woman tells of being counseled to be "more submissive" so that her husband would quit battering her. Another describes a Christian organization covering up the abuse of children by a powerful executive. Yet another describes her abuser as a wealthy, well-respected leader in her church and community. Another woman, in telling about her journey of escape from domestic violence, reports that when she finally found the courage to approach a pastor, he responded: "God never gives us more than we can handle."

It is, of course, true that God gives us grace to handle the circumstances of our lives. However, it is also true that in his calculations of what we can handle, God intends that, in our earthly frailty, we will have earthly support.

As Christians, we are meant to be burden-bearers. We are meant to have a heart for the hopeless, for the weary, for the abused. And yet, the church needs to do better in this area. Too often, we have had our heads in the sand.

While recent federal data indicates that family violence has declined over the past decade, too many women still suffer violence. An estimated 1.8 million women are assaulted each year by the men they live with—mostly by boyfriends. Husbands account for only about 2 percent of violent attacks on women; strangers account for 44 percent.

The only hope of redeeming those who suffer is through the love of Christ. And how will they learn the source of hope except through the body of Christ, his church?

And yet, our churches are not always safe havens.

Social respectability—and outward piety—don't indicate the condition of the human heart. Jeremiah expressed wisdom for the ages: "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked." Depravity easily coexists with respectability, sometimes for a very long time.

We don't want to believe it, but in the church we should be able to face that truth squarely. Even God's beloved King David became a murderer when he wanted Bathsheba. Scripture includes that story, and others like it, to remind us of what the human heart is capable.

Indeed, Scripture begins with a tale of violence, brother against brother, and ends with the vindication of the oppressed when Christ returns in glory to wipe away all tears. The psalmist tells us in the interregnum to:

Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and
Rescue the weak and needy;
Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
—Psalm 82:3-4

We have a job to do. Paul told the Galatians, "Bear ye one another's burdens." This was, Paul said, "the law of Christ."

The weak and powerless are among us—sometimes just in the next pew. Some are so cowed by the hand of the wicked that they don't know how to get help.

Scripture uses the marriage relationship as a primary tutorial of Christ's love for us. The church is the bride of Christ.

This bride is not meant to be battered—neither are any of her members!

If we leave victims with nowhere to escape, the serpent will sidle up to them, spreading his evil snare by saying, "You're worthless. You're worthless."

"No," the church replies. "You are created in the image of God. You deserve our care and protection."

Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, writes regularly on cultural, family, and religious issues.

Related Elsewhere:

More about Janice Shaw Crouse is available from Concerned Women for America.

CT articles on how biblical headship prevents abuse include:

Affectionate Patriarchs | In the popular imagination, conservative evangelical fathers are power-abusing authoritarians. A new study says otherwise. (Aug. 6, 2004)
Headship with a Heart | How biblical patriarchy actually prevents abuse. (Feb. 10, 2003)

Our sister publication, Today Christian Women has articles on domestic violence.

The Silent Epidemic | Countless Christian women are battered every day. Here's how to respond if you or someone you love is abused. (September/October 2004)
I Was Sexually Abused | But I'm finally healing from the pain of my past. (November/December 1999)

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