“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak.
Not to act is to act.”
– Deitrich BonhoefferShe comes to her pastor trembling, testing his reaction to her tip-of-the-iceberg disclosure of the cruelty that persists behind the closed doors of her home. Not sure she will even be believed, she has forced herself into this vulnerable position because she is desperate. Inwardly, she fears that even telling anyone about her husband’s abuse must be a sin. What will her pastor say? How should he respond? The church is the first place to which a woman should be able to run for protection!
“A support group such as her church family can help her fulfil her role to “do good” to her abusive husband by coming alongside her with encouragement and being actively engaged in the process of confrontation and restoration. (Galatians 6:1).” 1
Sermons should regularly teach that abusing one’s authority for selfish gain instead of using it to protect the weak is evil, and that God hates physical and emotional violence. Church should be a safe place for people to tell the truth and be accepted with compassion and grace.
If There is Physical Abuse
Encouraging the wife to report this crime to the police should be the first action taken. If the pastor chooses instead to protect his deacon or church leader (as the abuser often is) by not looking into the facts or assuming the wife is over-reacting and complaining, he is aiding a criminal. The law does not allow for physical attacks and a marriage license does not change this fact.
The pastor/counsellor ought to assume (even just from national statistics) that her testimony is true (or likely much worse than she admits, due to the nature of abuse) and that the abuse has been going on for a period of time and is getting progressively worse.
Wisdom would encourage a temporary separation if her safety is in doubt. Help her and her children find accommodation and financial aid from the church family and abuse organizations. Help her get a Domestic Violence Protection Order to keep the husband from hurting her further since, realizing they’ve lost control, abusers typically get more violent after separation. (See previous posts in this series.) If the husband has violated a DVO in any way, the pastor should be the first to call the police.
Next, this couple needs the pastor to stay with them, but not to counsel them together (see post). It is vital to begin a process of analysis and encouragement for the wife. Taking the initiative to be educated well in the abuse paradigm is mandatory. Reading a few quotes on this link from Lundy Bancroft’s book will open a window of understanding into this unique world.
Both meeting with the husband from a biblical perspective and accountability, and connecting him to a counsellor who specializes in helping abusers, like Lundy Bancroft, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Brad Hambrick, and Mensline is recommended. Future posts will have more complete counselling ideas. Professional counselling should be required for him to avoid church discipline. His refusal indicates a non-repentant habitual sinner (as well as a criminal).
An accountability group could be provided for the husband in which concerned men will meet and pray with him and ask him about his behaviour on a consistent basis.
Provide phone numbers of accountability group members to the abuser’s wife so she can call whenever she senses tension building into violence.
Financially supporting other ministries and community service organizations is an option because many women are turned away from shelters due to lack of funds.2
Lundy Bancroft, past co-director of Emerge, a Batterers Intervention Programme (BIP) and author of Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men helps us further understand abusers:
Multiple research studies have demonstrated that a majority of participants in a BIP will not make large lasting changes in their behavior. Many participants actually increase their level of psychological abusiveness during the time they are in the program. She should be asked to contact the program if his treatment of her is getting worse. A program that expresses any reluctance to hold clients accountable for their actions is a program that is going to slip into collusion of various kinds, even if doing so is not its intention.3
The goal would be to reconcile this broken relationship, but not for a long period of time and not until there is genuine repentance and change. (see post)
In previous posts, we’ve seen that, statistically, the chances of emotional abuse turning physical are almost certain.
“The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps . . . the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.” 4
“Because she carries no bruises or open wounds, her friends, family members and pastoral authorities almost always tell her that there is no reason her abuser cannot be won over through prayer, a godly life and generous measures of compassion and understanding (which she has already tried). She is told that her faith has the power to incur change in her husband – thus, putting the pressure on her to fix the problem! In this, the church unwittingly becomes one of the abuser’s most powerful allies. Should she be shamed into remaining with her abuser, he wins. And should she leave, he still wins – because the abuser and her church family will no doubt identify her as the one who “gave up on the marriage.” 5
What Usually Happens
Upon approaching the pastor, too many wives have been told just to schedule a counselling appointment and bring her husband. In the session (IF the husband attends), the pastor entertains the validity of both sides, rather than discerning the exploitation and deception of the abuser.
“Because oppression, by definition, leaves the oppressed powerless, abused people need help from the outside.” 6
Mr. Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson) is a pastor and the leader of G.R.A.C.E., an group that is paid by Christian organizations to discern abuse within the ministry and then to suggest solutions. He well knows that:
“Perpetrators tend to use scripture to coerce, justify, and silence. When something does surface, all too often the church leadership quiets it down. Because they’re concerned about reputation: ‘This could harm the name of Jesus, so let’s just take care of it internally.’ . . . Keeping things in the dark and allowing souls to be destroyed by abuse, that shames the Gospel! Jesus is all about transparency. . . . God’s opinion should be reflected in His churches’ opinion, yet all too often, victims are silenced. . . . (institutions develop) an implicit philosophy that the reputation of the Gospel rests upon the “successes” and “failures” of the organization. . . (they) place institutional reputation over individual value. . . (they) silence members from even mentioning allegations of abuse . . . preventing “gossip”… A culture that silences its members from speaking with each other about suspected abuse is one where abuse will almost always flourish . . . Not only do these walls of silence communicate worthlessness to those victimized, but they also enable the continued victimization.” 7 (Bolding is mine)
People look to parliament to clean up corrupt politicians and parents to correct a child acting obnoxiously in public or dog-owners to keep control of their dog in a public place, so why do Christians think that ignoring abuse is going to “save the testimony of Christ?”
I looked and there was none to help and
I wondered that there was none to uphold. Isaiah 63:5
After over 30 years counselling specifically in this area, Leslie Vernick laments that she is “heartsick for the blindness of leaders to whom God has given the charge to protect the flock, yet remain blind to how they enable bullies to bully and fools to continue their foolishness because they refuse to support wives who want to implement consequences for destructive behaviours. . . God hates injustice, oppression, revilers, pride, liars and those who misuse their authority to hurt others. Why is it the church only thinks God hates divorce? Why support liars and oppressors just to keep a marriage together when the spouse (although not sinless) is screaming for help from those who are to protect her?”Too often the victim is told:
The world tells you that you should protect yourself from your abusive/destructive spouse by separating, but that’s not God’s way. You need to have your thinking transformed in order to think God’s way if you want to live holy, acceptable and pleasing to God. God’s way is to suffer patiently for Jesus by staying in your marriage because that’s what brings him the most glory.8And God says: “Woe to the shepherds.” They don’t feed their flock or strengthen the weak, heal the sick or bind up the injured, but, instead, rule with force and harshness. Ezekiel 34:1-6
“You yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Luke 11:46
Wives too often, are blamed for their husband’s actions and criminal offenses. “You are not submissive enough,” the pastor tells this hurting woman. “Work on your communication skills.” “God wants you to forgive and forget.” “Turn the other cheek”. “Stand with your man.”
It is claimed that I Corinthians 6 does not allow her to get the law involved, and her husband has often isolated her from family and friends. Therefore, the pastor has been her only recourse, yet too often he flings her right back into the danger.
Scolded, Shamed and Shunned
Pastors and church counselors should ask themselves, do we “encourage her to keep quiet, placate, and pretend? And, if she . . . gets persistent . . . in her plea for our help, do we start to label her aggressive, contentious, rebellious, unsubmissive, deceitful, or unstable?” 9
Jesus commended the persistent widow in Luke 18, who kept pestering the judge for legal protection against the injustice she was experiencing. 10
The wicked and him that loves violence his (God’s) soul hates. Psalm 11:5
The fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil. Proverbs 8:13
Abhor what is evil. Romans 12:9
Oh you who love the Lord, hate evil. Psalm 97:10
Why do we see so many pastors not agreeing with God in this area? Instead of remaining silent or failing to intervene, the church needs to take a bold stand against violence in the home. 11
“Does God Want me to Suffer Silently According to 1 Peter 3” and “Lessons from Sarah’s Story” will be of further interest.
2 FOCUS Ministries, Inc., PO Box 2014, Elmhurst, IL 60126 USA; ph: 630/595-7023, firstname.lastname@example.org
7 Walls of Silence: Protecting the Institution over the Individual By G.R.A.C.E