To Stop the Hurt
Pastors like me often want to solve others’ problems. We want to fix it, make it better, and help. We provide guidance through our own lens of experience, responding with empathetic listening, awareness, and patience.
A late bloomer to pastoring, I responded to the call to ordained ministry at age 36. Before then, from outward appearances, I had it all: a great job, home, car, and two beautiful children. Yet I was broken and needed healing.
In my brokenness, my husband became my protection. I created a false sense of happiness amid his controlling behavior. Verbal abuse turned into emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse in a matter of months.
Despite the violence, I wanted to fix my husband, so we went to counseling. We met with my pastor, a young man who was married with one child. Not understanding the persistent nature of domestic violence, my pastor spoke from his own limited experience, saying, “If he doesn’t stop, tell him he will have to leave, or you will call the authorities.” (Even though you never bargain with an abuser.)
In my ignorance, I followed his advice. It almost got me killed. My husband attacked me in our home. I thought I was going to die as he held his 220-pound body on top of mine. I realized a cell phone was nearby and was able to flip it open and hold number 9, the quickest way to dial 9-1-1.
The dispatcher sent the authorities to our home. My husband was arrested and later sentenced to jail. In the midst of all this, my pastor wanted to help but did not have the tools to do so. Once my husband was in jail, I relocated to Atlanta to attend seminary full-time. There, in 2008, a revelation hit me in the midst of my pastoral care and counseling course: I had been a victim of domestic violence. The tears streamed down my face. The community embraced me. From that point on, I attended a weekly support group.
For the protection of the victim and those around her or him, it is vitally important that wives call the authorities immediately after violent abuse. But do more than make phone calls. Take photos of injuries, get witnesses, and obtain an order of protection. According to the FBI, more than 90 percent of domestic abuse cases never go to trial, often because there is not enough physical evidence.
I have written elsewhere about my transition from victim to survivor. I stress the importance of postabuse reconciliation through Christ for all family members. Talking about domestic violence brings awareness to victims, survivors, pastors, laypeople, family, and friends. The authorities respond according to the law. But well-informed pastors can offer much more after the violence: long-term spiritual and emotional support to the survivor.
Tawana Davis is executive minister of Shorter Community AME Church, Denver.
To Punish Wrongdoers
Spousal abuse is not only an abstract wrong but also a sin at a cosmic level. The husband who abuses his wife images Satan, not Jesus. Satan wants to destroy the church. Christ wants to protect it.
If a man fails in his God-given role and abuses his wife, she should make two calls, one right after the other. First, she should call the police. The civic ruler, Paul says, acts as an “avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4, ESV). When churches teach otherwise, they not only fail to provide psychological and emotional care, they also fail theologically. Divine vengeance cries out to be exercised against evil. We must not restrain what God has loosed.
Next, the woman should call her pastor. The pastor should contact church elders to provide her with maximal care. The church acts in this way because it recognizes that Jesus never harms his bride. As her head, he laid down his life for her at the Cross, washing away her sin (Eph. 5:25–26). Men who justify evil by citing texts are twisting God’s Word, abusing Scripture as they abuse others. Jesus used his body to bless us. Likewise, husbands must use their bodies to strengthen, never weaken, their wives.
Once engaged, the church provides care to the woman even as it takes steps to formally discipline the man (Matt. 18:15–20). This process, of course, means that churches need a meaningful membership process, as the apostolic church had (1 Cor. 5:12–13).
There is no tension between church and state here. As Augustine taught, Christians are citizens of two cities: the city of man, under the oversight of the state, and the city of God, under the oversight of the church. Jesus rules over both but delegates different authorities for each city (Matt. 22:21). One orders society and punishes evil; the other orders spiritual life and preaches Christ.
We see in this dual response to evil how much God hates it. People who abuse others merit punishment from both state and church. Too often, church leaders haven’t engaged either of these methods of justice. Women suffer in silence, and the church may sweep evil under the rug. God intends to deal justice to the wrongdoer in two ways, but the person suffering abuse too often ends up without any justice at all.
To correct this pattern, elders must know and shepherd church members. Spiritual anonymity is the close friend of sin. Church membership is its dread foe. Fighting a culture of abuse means fighting a culture of anonymity. Further, elders must teach husbands the showstopping truth of marriage: in every respect, it embodies the gospel; headship means self-sacrificial leadership in the image of Christ. It means giving your body for your wife’s benefit (Eph. 5:28). It means loving her so much that you would never lift a hand against her. It means, if necessary, gladly dying before she comes to harm.
Of all the moral considerations opposing abuse, there is no greater enemy of domestic abuse than this: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.
Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is author of the forthcoming book The Colson Way.
To End the Abuse Cycle
Lindsey and Justin Holcomb
Following an act of violent abuse, a Christian wife should first turn to the police. We definitely support calling her pastor, too, but only after calling the police.
“Violent abuse” refers to physical assault or battering, which is a crime. The police have the power to protect victims from physical attack. And victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and any children involved.
The police are the best first responders because they understand that an act of violence is a crime. They understand that without proper intervention, this crime will most likely occur again. It is rare for pastors and their churches to have relationships with a domestic violence shelter, the police, or the public health department. What a Christian wife needs after an act of violent abuse is immediate intervention, emergency shelter, medical care, and legal support.
About one in four American women experiences violence from her partner at some point in her adult life, according to credible national surveys. And research shows that Christian women stay far longer in the abusive context and withstand far more severe abuse than non-Christian women.
One researcher states, “A woman is hit an average of 35 times before she calls the police, and she will leave her abuser 5 or 6 times before she leaves for good.” Psychologist Lenore Walker writes, “Women with strong religious backgrounds often are less likely to believe that violence against them is wrong.” Abused women who are Christians may try to understand their suffering by believing it is “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life.” Yet we believe this runs contrary to the biblical image of a kind, merciful, and loving God who promises to be present to us in our suffering.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey concluded that women who reported their abuse to authorities were far less likely to be assaulted again than women who submitted to the abuse and did not contact the authorities. Specifically, the survey found that 41 percent of wives who did not report their abusive husbands to the police were attacked again within 6 months. By contrast, only 15 percent of abused wives who reported the abuse to authorities were assaulted again.
The justice system is not an absolute guarantee. But if an abused wife is honest and upfront about the danger her abuser poses, the police can be a key to safety. If she takes that first step, the police can offer her resources—including people to talk to and make plans with—that can make all the other steps easier. They’ve done it before. An abused wife is not alone.
Lindsey and Justin Holcomb are coauthors of Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing
for Those Suffering Domestic Violence. Lindsey has worked as a case manager for victims of abuse. Justin is an Episcopal priest and professor of theology.
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