October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
My message today is about a serious issue - Domestic Violence. It’s a big problem, even for Christians. In recent years there have been more people speaking out against this problem, this crime, especially with the media drawing attention to both high profile cases and also the local stories. But, for the most part, Domestic Violence is still taboo to talk about among Christians, especially in churches. My purpose for this message is not only to draw awareness to the issue, but foremost it is to speak to the women who have been abused. My hope is to provide you with helpful information and helpful options for you to consider. And also to give you hope, real hope and comfort. But this message is for everyone else, too. Because if the statistics are correct then at least 1 in 4 women experience physical violence in their lifetime. So, the chances are - you know someone who has been physically abused. These women are not only suffering physically, but especially emotionally. And spiritually – they question God and they wonder why the church doesn’t help them. They need empathy, compassion, love, and good advice. This is a very serious issue and a Christian leader can make things worse by giving the wrong advice. So, please listen with an open mind and with a compassionate heart. Because we are the church. We need to reflect the love of Jesus. And 1 in 4 women in our population need to experience this kind of love.
A Secret Problem Among Christians
Chuck Colson boldly addressed this issue on his Break Point radio show April 19, of 2009 in his message called – An Ugly Secret: Domestic Violence within the Church.
This is what he said: “A woman I’ll call “Marleen” went to her pastor for help. “My husband is abusing me,” she told him. “Last week he knocked me down and kicked me. He broke one of my ribs.”
Marleen’s pastor was sympathetic. He prayed with Marleen—and then he sent her home. “Try to be more submissive,” he advised. “After all, your husband is your spiritual head.”
Two weeks later, Marleen was dead—killed by an abusive husband. Her church could not believe it. Marleen’s husband was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon. How could he have done such a thing?
Tragically, studies reveal that spousal abuse is just as common within the evangelical churches as anywhere else. This means that about 25 percent of Christian homes witness abuse of some kind.
These numbers may shock you—and they certainly shocked me—so you may be wondering if the studies were done by secular researchers hostile to the church. I can assure you, sadly, they were not.
Denise George, a gifted writer and the wife of theologian Timothy George, has published a new book called What Women Wish Pastors Knew. “Spouse abuse shocks us,” George writes. “We just cannot believe that a church deacon or member goes home after worship . . . and beats his wife.” Tragically, however, George notes, some of these men justify their violence “by citing biblical passages.”
Well, obviously they’re misinterpreting Scripture. In Ephesians 5:22, husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church; beating wives black-and-blue hardly constitutes Christian love. First Peter tells husbands to live with their wives considerately. And the Bible makes it clear that the church has no business closing its eyes to violent men. In 1 Timothy 3:3, the church is told that when it comes to choosing leaders, they must find men who are “not violent but gentle,” sober, and temperate.
The amount of domestic abuse in Christian homes is horrifying, and the church ought to be doing something about it—not leave the problem to secular agencies. But this is one mission field where the church is largely missing in action. And sometimes pastors, albeit with good intentions, do more harm than good.
George sites a survey in which nearly 6,000 pastors were asked how they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence. Twenty-six percent would counsel them the same way Marleen’s pastor did: to continue to “submit” to her husband, no matter what. Twenty-five percent told wives the abuse was their own fault—for failing to submit in the first place. Astonishingly, 50 percent said women should be willing to “tolerate some level of violence” because it is better than divorce.
Advice like this, George warns, often puts women “in grave danger”—and in some cases, can be a death warrant.
I appreciate Chuck Colson and other Christians who are bravely addressing this issue. But, it’s a hard problem to deal with. Not only is it a huge embarrassment to the church. But there is so much fear involved about knowing what to do and wondering if we will do it right. It’s much easier to just ignore the issue and hope that God will help each woman individually. But a lot of women need someone to talk to and most of them don’t know if they can even go to their pastor. And that is because in the majority of churches the problem remains a secret. No one really wants to talk about it or admit to it.
Characteristics of Domestic Violence
Christina Fox, a licensed mental health counselor, wrote an article for Today’s Christian Women – a magazine published by Christianity Today. I’ll read a portion of her article from the March 2015 issue entitled: The Hidden Problem of Domestic Violence. In her words, Christina clearly explains the common characteristics of domestic violence and how it differs from typical marital conflict.
She says - “Domestic violence is about controlling another person. The abuser uses whatever means necessary to gain and maintain that control. This includes the use of threats, manipulation, intimidation, and force. If emotional and psychological abuse is effective, there might not be physical abuse, but once the victim resists or stands up, the physical abuse is certain to begin. The abuser (may) breaks things, punch his fist into the wall, hurt the family pet, and do other intimidating actions to show her that he can and will do the same to her. The victim lives her days walking on eggshells, never knowing when her abuser will explode.
The abuser uses threats to manipulate and control his victim. He may threaten to hurt himself, to leave the victim, to take her children, or to tell lies about her to others, including the authorities, if she doesn’t do what he tells her to do. The abuser also tries to control all areas of the victim’s life.
The victim is constantly belittled, put-down, and humiliated. Her abuser makes her feel stupid, inferior, and worthless. She doubts herself, and over time she may even think she’s crazy. She could be very well-educated and well-skilled, but as a result of psychological abuse, the victim will grow to believe that what her abuser tells her is true: (that) she is worthless.
The abuser often appears to be different in public (than) at home. He may be a charismatic, upstanding citizen. He may hold positions of respect in the community. This makes it hard for people to believe (that) he would hurt the people in his home whom he’s supposed to love.
People often tend to believe the abuser over the victim. In some cases, they may even tell the victim that she brought this situation on herself in some way. They may encourage her to be a “better wife,” hoping (that) if she “improves,” everything will be okay.
All of these factors play a role in keeping a victim from leaving or trying to get help. She doesn’t think anyone would believe her. Because she’s often financially dependent on her abuser, she is unsure of where she would escape. She is fearful of what he might do and believes it is safer to stay. Not only that, but as a result of the constant psychological abuse she has endured, she might believe that she is deserving of such treatment.
The difference between a marriage in which conflict occurs and one in which there is domestic violence is the issue of power and control. In such a relationship, there is no working things out. The abuser is always right and always gets his way. It’s not a matter of him needing to learn effective communication skills; it goes much deeper than that. It’s a relationship ruled by fear, not love. It’s one where the victim is controlled, not cherished. It’s a relationship that doesn’t simply say unkind things in the heat of an argument; it’s one that leaves deep and abiding scars, both inside and out.”
I am so glad that Christina Fox spoke about the control issue. Domestic violence is not about anger. The abuser does not need to learn how to manage his anger. He does not get so angry that he loses control. Actually, the abuser is very much in control and he purposely uses anger to intimidate his victim in order to get his way. If the abuser truly had an uncontrollable anger problem than you would see him acting violent toward people in his workplace and in his community also. But, he knows that violence wouldn’t be tolerated outside of his home, that there would be consequences for his violent behaviors. But, the abuser believes that he is entitled to have power and control over the victim, especially in his own home, especially if he is the head of the home. So, domestic violence (left unaddressed) will not just “get better”. And it won’t get better, because the wife is praying for him. It won’t get better because she learns to become more submissive. It won’t get better through marriage counseling or relationship seminars. It won’t get better by binding the attacks of Satan. And it won’t get better if she learns how to forgive him. Abuse is not marital conflict. It is a cycle between the abuser and his victim that continues to grow and escalate in frequency and intensity. The violence needs to be addressed. The abuser will not get better until he learns how to deal with his issues of control and manipulation. And most abusers won’t to do that, because their ability to control has worked well for them for a long time, and many don’t want to give that up. There are programs available for abusers to get help, but they never go to them unless they are ordered to by the court.
Characteristics of an Abuser
Are you being abused? Many women question if they are. They feel like it might be abuse, like it’s wrong. But his behavior isn’t to the same extreme that they’ve seen in some movie. The abuse may not have given you visible bruises or a broken bone. So you question if it’s really abuse. Well, if you have to question it -then it probably is abuse. I’m going to give you a list of a few of the things that an abuser will do with the hopes of controlling you. He will start out with emotional and spiritual abuse. But if that doesn’t work, then he will move on to physical abuse. If that doesn’t work, he may get other people involved with the hopes of setting you straight. - He may seem to have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, may twist around your words and play mind games, force his opinions on you, blame you for anything that goes wrong, give you a “look” that instills fear, undermine you in front of your children, disrespect you with sarcasm or humiliation, throw things or punch walls to scare you, destroy your personal property, threaten to hurt you, your children, or your pets, coerce you to have sex against your will, uses the Bible to excuse his behavior, uses stress or alcohol as an excuse to hurt you, blames you for his destructive behavior, controls the money so you don’t have any to leave, threatens to get custody of the children, threatens to harm himself or kill himself if you don’t obey, makes it difficult for you to work or attend school so you won’t be able to provide for yourself, accuses you of destroying the family, demands that you not talk to someone about family problems, makes you feel like you have to walk on eggshells when he’s around, behaves in ways that make you think you should call the police, manipulates you into keeping silent or dropping the charges against him, throws things at you, physically hurts you without leaving evidence, pushes you, restrains you, slaps you, grabs your neck, or chokes you, throws you down the stairs, kicks you, hits you. Those are some of the common characteristics of an abuser. He may do some of them or most of them.
Help is Available
There is help is available for you. Every woman’s situation is different and very unique from the others. There isn’t just one way to solve your problem. You have a variety of options and only you can decide which ones are best for you and your children, if you have them. It’s important that someone doesn’t choose for you. A professional should not tell you what to do, but will tell you what your options are. You’re used to being controlled. But, you get to make this decision for yourself. You know your situation better than anyone else.
Here are some more options for you to consider: confide in a friend or family member, get counseling from a pastor or counselor, call the 24 hour domestic violence hotline number at 1-800-799-7233 or go to their website at thehotline.org, talk to someone at your local domestic violence organization (they have a wealth of information and free help, a lot of times even free legal representation), attend a support group for victims through your local organization, call the police and press charges, get a protection from abuse order, seek medical attention and have your injuries documented, go to a hotel or women’s emergency shelter, move out, if you decide to stay – it’s a good idea to develop a safety plan in case you have to leave in a hurry which includes extra car keys, cash, and important documents. You can find out more about a domestic violence safety plan by searching for it on the Internet.
A lot of people don’t understand why abused women stay with a violent person. But there really are a lot of reasons why they do. For some women separation or divorce isn’t a realistic option due to their cultural and religious beliefs. Some women believe that leaving may cause even more serious or life-threatening violence. Some think that it’s better to stay so the children can have a father, or a complete family. While some are afraid that he will get custody of the children and she won’t be able to see them very often. Some don’t have the financial means to provide for themselves or their children. She might think that she can’t survive on her own. Some women don’t leave because they feel helpless and powerless due to years of being controlled. She may be hoping, praying, and believing that things will just get better. And some women don’t have the support of family, friends, or a church that she many need in order to take that huge step away from her abuser.
I hope that this has been helpful to you. I wanted to provide you with some practical and useful information. But I understand that you have emotional and spiritual needs, too. And I’d like to offer you some comfort and hope, real hope –found only in God.
An Attribute of God - Love
God cares about you. He hasn’t forgotten you. And though it may be hard for you to feel or believe - He does love you. One of God’s attributes is love. He’s not just loving. He is love. His love is pure, holy, and supernatural and it flows out of His goodness and it positively affects all of His other attributes. He loves us freely and it’s not something that we earn. There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more or any less. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from God’s love – which includes our fears, our worries, spiritual attacks from the enemy, and even other people. An abuser can do a lot of harm, but he can never stop God from loving you. God shows His love to us unconditionally, which is so different than how humans love. A parent may have threatened to stop loving you. A boyfriend may have promised to love you if only you would meet his demands. And an abusive partner may have shown you a selfish, manipulative and controlling form of love which really isn’t true love. But God loves you perfectly. Only He can love you the way that it is described in 1 Corinthians 13, because He is love. And “4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, (it) is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” Only God can love you like that - perfectly, all the time, without error.
And you can trust God to sustain you through your adversity- no matter how bad or hopeless it seems. God can even use the abuse that has been done to you (despite it being so evil) to build your spiritual faith and to refine you and to transform you into the child of God that He wants you to be. Your abuser may tear you down and maybe even want to destroy you. But God can use all that to strengthen you. God knows your pain, your emotional suffering, and your feelings of hopelessness. Please trust God. Everyone else in your life may fail you. But trust God because only He knows your future and how things will really turn out for you. God has a plan for your life - a destiny for you to fulfill that is not contingent on what anyone else does to you. God’s will for you will happen despite what an abuser may or may not do. You have to trust God, and find you hope in Him. God will give you the love and acceptance that you so desperately need. Just look for it.
God doesn’t want you to be suppressed by fear. You need to overcome of your fear, because you have some really big things that you need to do. Abuse will not just go away on it’s on. The key to stopping the abuse - is you. You need to stop the cycle of abuse that is being done to you. And I suggest that you talk to a professional about your options. A professional would be a representative at the Domestic Violence organization, a counselor, and some pastors. Then, with guidance from God, you need to figure out which options are best for you and your children, if you have them. You know your situation better than anyone else. You get to decide – not your spouse, or your boyfriend, or your pastor, or your mother, or your friend. As you set boundaries in your own life and make your own choices, you will become stronger and that fear will start to leave. Just starting to talk about the abuse with someone that you can trust will weaken much of the power that is being held in your secret.
Now, your abuser will not be happy with the new decisions you are making. But you will be proud of yourself for admitting the truth and enforcing the truth. You will become empowered to continue standing up for your rights. Don’t expect your abuser to respond well to your boundaries. But if you set them and enforce them, he will learn real quickly that you are serious. So that means that if you say you will call the police the next time he hits you, then you had better call the police. Boundaries only work when you enforce them, but they can work well.
Biblical Text and Conclusion
I’ll conclude with the words of David from Psalm 71 and 34:18. David became a king. However, there was a time when he feared for his life. He hid in caves from men who wanted to kill him. But He kept going to God for strength and comfort. You might be able to relate to David. Some of His words might be your words.
“1 O Lord, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. 2 Save me and rescue me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me, and set me free.3 Be my rock of safety where I can always hide. Give the order to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.4 My God, rescue me from the power of the wicked, from the clutches of cruel oppressors. 5 O Lord, you alone are my hope. My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. 8 That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long. But I will keep on hoping for your help; I will praise you more and more. Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens. You have done such wonderful things. Who can compare with you, O God? 20 You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. 21 You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again. (from Psalm 71). The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)
Are you brokenhearted? Do you feel like your spirit is crushed? Please put your hope in God. He will come to your rescue. He will give you the strength that you need to address the abuse being done to you and to do what you think is best to protect yourself from future abuse.