In part one of this article (link here), I shared a little of my own personal journey through domestic violence within a Christian marriage. I provided information about domestic violence and how and why it occurs, and provided some statistics about domestic violence within the community and the church family.
In part two, we’ll look at some of the common mistakes that are made by the church, Christians and people in general, in dealing with domestic violence – especially in dealing with the perpetrator and the victim.
This series of articles were not written as a means of criticising the church, but as an endeavour to make people aware that domestic violence is far more common than we realise within many Christian marriages. I am also hoping that the information provided here will bring insight both to church leaders and Christian adults about domestic violence, as well as suggestions about how the Church can truly help its victims.
Due to the lack of reliable data on domestic violence against men in marriages, I am focusing on female victims of domestic violence within intimate Christian relationships or Christian marriages in Australia. Should further information become available, a more complete article could be put together.
As more churches change from traditional ways to modern concepts that nowadays often seem to be more about being a perfect social club than a group of believers striving to grow more Christ-like, the gulf between the compassion and love of Christ, and judgements and opinions of those within the walls of the church/club grows ever wider. This is often shown in the ways that some Christian people treat those around them.
The question needs to be asked – are we able to effect change and growth through the work of the Holy Spirit rather than being influenced by what each church wants their club to be? Is the example of Christ while He was on earth, and how he treated men and woman, the way we treat others?
What we think of others, the importance of our desire to be part of a club, and the way we treat others, often affects how the congregation deals with the more difficult issues that arise among its members.
This leads us to ask, is God changing our lives completely and do we love others in a way that changes our words and our actions?
One evident reflection of this is within the Christian family where problems exist in the Christian home that shouldn’t exist. Why is this? I would suggest that it’s behind the walls of the home that people become who they really are. While many people seek to hide who they are in public, this isn’t able to be hidden within the four walls of a home nor in the relationships of those within those walls.
Family members are the ones that know who a person really is, and in domestic violence situations it’s someone who is very different to the person that walks out the front door. For many victims of domestic violence or abuse it is like living with a street angel/home devil or Jekyll and Hyde.
Outside of the home, few others truly see the person’s real persona which is why it often remains hidden, and why the victim finds it difficult to reveal the true picture to others in the outside world. The perpetrator’s ‘Christian’ behaviours that are seen in public are witnessed by far more people than the real behaviours shown within the home.
Domestic violence is one of those hidden problems because the perpetrator wants to appear to be a loving, Christian person to those outside of the home. They don’t wish the truth to be known possibly because they fear rejection or dislike, or even censorship. This will be one of the areas I will touch on later – where we examine how to reach the perpetrator while providing accountability and the need to change fully and completely.
Any leader, pastor or counsellor who becomes involved in these broken and troubled lives needs to be aware of the very real danger of the mistakes that they can make. From my own personal experiences and the research that I’ve undertaken, I believe that for every pastor and Christian person who has dealt with domestic violence in the wrong way, there are an equal amount that are dealing with it in the right way. I have dealt with and spoken to a lot of ministers about the subject of domestic violence and most are simply overwhelmed in dealing with the problem. My purpose here is to provide some tools to work with.
Some Mistakes to Avoid
What then can we do? First, it is necessary to understand where most churches and church leadership struggle, and here are a few glaring mistakes of which we should remain aware:
1. Confusing personal beliefs and opinions with Godly or biblical instruction.
A person’s own background and what was taught to them in childhood and/or as young adults, remains with us as we venture into adulthood, so that what we’ve been taught becomes our belief. Here is an example from my own life:
My father abused my mother. He controlled her life and my own life, and I married a man that was like my father because I believed that was what love and marriage looked like.
If anyone had come to me in the early years of my marriage to help me with domestic violence, I would have responded that it’s what a good wife is supposed to do. I believed that a good wife never angered her husband, and that submitting to my husband would result in him showing better behaviours. My understanding was that if my husband was unhappy, it was my fault alone.
I went through eight years of domestic violence in my marriage before I began to see things differently.
For those eight years, I would have counselled any other victim in a domestic violence relationship, that they should remain. This was based on what my father believed from his own interpretation of scripture, and then what he taught me. This was also the cultural belief of many people prior to twenty to thirty years ago.
There are still theories and beliefs floating around the Christian church and the world, that the husband will be a good husband when firstly, the wife is a good wife. Another belief is that a husband’s needs and desires come before everything else, and here are some examples:
These beliefs are often ingrained into generations of family members, without giving any thought to whether the belief is in fact, correct.
Recently a lady (not a Christian), was told by a Christian counsellor that she should stay with her alcoholic husband even though her children were sometimes going without food because of his costly addiction.
Another woman was criticised by her pastor because she stopped her gambling-addicted husband from drawing money from her own personal account. She was told that this was not what a “good wife did.”
One victim was personally contacted by a Christian leader, who told her that he had received a “word of knowledge” for her, which is supposed to mean that God personally gave this leader a profound Christian truth to share with her. His wise words were that she should listen to the song “Stand by your man” by Tammy Wynette so that she would understand how a good Christian woman is supposed to behave towards a less than perfect husband:
But if you love him you’ll forgive him, even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him oh be proud of him, ’cause after all he’s just a man
Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to,
And something warm to come to when nights are cold and lonely
Stand by your man,
And show the world you love him keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your man¹
The leader then went on to say that he believed that if she stood by her estranged husband than he would change, and that her husband needed her to believe in him and stand with him.
The fact that she had already stood beside her husband for many, many years, didn’t even enter into the leader’s thinking. To hear that male leader saying to her that he believed that God was telling her “stand by her man,” simply added further pressure when she was receiving condemnation from many others anyway.
The claim: “thus sayeth the Lord,” was strongly applied to the word that leader gave her and also ended with the warning that she needed to heed his advice …or else.
Later it was revealed that this leader didn’t even believe that her husband had a problem nor did he accept that her husband had ever hit her. The leader’s own beliefs and opinions were actually his own “word” from God, and not the work of the Holy Spirit at all.
When we give advice as a friend, pastor, prophet, counsellor or mature Christian woman, in the congregation, our own beliefs and judgements need to be put aside if we are going to speak wisely. When we read the book of Job, the words that the ‘friends’ spoke sound good and sensible, but we learn otherwise towards the end of Job when God reveals that Job’s friends were unwise.
2. Not wanting to upset the abuser or are fearful of the abuser coming after them
People are often fearful of the abuser, especially if they have had to deal with them in a social situation where they may have seen the abuser’s anger surface unexpectedly.
The old saying “let sleeping dogs lie” is not quite true for dogs or people with anger issues. Just because someone is not confronted about their problem does not mean that they aren’t going to become angry. Oftentimes their anger is a means of controlling the situation and the people within that situation, because it has worked effectively on others in the past.
Not only are people afraid to upset the perpetrator when they are a witness to their anger, but often when it becomes known that someone is an abuser, people can sometimes become afraid that they themselves may become their target.
Another issue for abusers is that aside from their violent behaviours, they can often be vindictive in words or actions which impact negatively upon others.
Vindictive behaviours are a common tool of abusers, and following is an example:
I personally know of an incident where the pastor was threatened and intimidated by a parishioner who had been accused of physical abuse. The Pastor was too afraid to stand up in court. Deciding instead to step back from the situation, he used the “private confession of a parishioner” to keep the information a secret.
This pastor had both the ability and the knowledge of abuse and the woman’s predicament but chose to stay quiet and unmoved by injustice. He remained concerned that the perpetrator might act upon their threat of harm, simply because he was personally afraid of what had been shared with him.
3. Wanting the couple to reconcile quickly and repair the marriage
Women that I have spoken to, have found that most pastors are both:
While these are both admirable and understandable, it shows that there is a lack of understanding of the root of the problem. If it were simply a matter of repentance and reconciliation, then the abuse would have not recurred in ongoing cycles within the relationship in the first place. The cyclic image here and the link here, further explains the cycle of abuse:
Please allow me to explain a little further. The abusive partner creates cyclic phases within the relationship in order to maintain dominance of their partner and to feed their own addictive need for power and control.
Two of the stages of the three phase cycle is “remorse/ repentance” and the “honeymoon stage.”
Most women who have been abused will recognise that these are part of the ongoing abuse. Even with all of their hope for change, they are likely aware, even if it’s only unconsciously in the early stages, that any change will never likely be permanent.
While patterns can be similar, the passage of time through these cycles will differ in all relation-ships. Sometimes it moves quickly through the stages, while at other times it moves more slowly. A cycle may take two weeks or last for six months.
It’s vitally important that a counsellor or minister recognise that during the period when the abuser seems to be showing repentance and attempts to woo their partner, that this is a common and repetitive response within this unhealthy relationship and doesn’t mean that they have any intention of changing other than to make a token gesture.
4. Not knowing what to do or not having the ability to deal with the problem.
It is impossible for one person to have the ability to deal with every problem that can occur within the members of a congregation. Most pastors are overworked and very underpaid and simply cannot handle everything that comes their way. Many that I have spoken to simply cannot cope with the problem of domestic violence let alone help the people involved. They have neither the people to do the required work nor the time or energy to help.
If you have neither the understanding of domestic violence, or the personnel to help deal with the people involved, it is necessary to guide them towards the people who can.
Generally what happens instead of finding appropriate people to help them, for many leaders it’s easier to just believe that God will fix it all with prayer shared with the couple in the confines of an office. This is often the simple way out – leaving the troubled people in the hands of God and trusting that God will save them.
I have seen enough of what God can do to know that He is a God of miracles, and can move mightily in the lives of those who long for His touch and the power of His work of mercy and grace, but there will be those that neither seek to change nor wish to have their sins forgiven and won’t sincerely repent of their problems. More so, the desire to be accountable to anyone is something that the foolishness of pride will usually not allow in the perpetrator. It is only the work of the Holy Spirit that brings about a true desire for change once revelation takes place. Even then, they need to seek forgiveness, make restitution and reconcile over a period of time once trust has been re-established. I am yet to see this happen in these kinds of relationships.
5. Faulty understanding about forgiveness and love
Too many Christians believe that if you love someone enough, that they will change, and so it’s important that we talk about the concepts of changing behaviour.
For many of us, we see a tearful heart as being a sign of repentance, yet been caught doing something wrong and being sorry for oneself is different to true repentance. Repentance is not about a surface and temporary change of behaviour – a change of behaviour must be both long lasting or permanent. True repentance brings about a complete about-face that remains because of true conviction and godly sorrow.
Luke 3:8 talks about producing fruits in keeping with repentance. In this verse, John the Baptist is speaking to the crowds who came to watch him. He was saying to them that being the sons of Abraham was not what God was interested in. God wanted repentance and people whose hearts obeyed Him, and true repentance results in other changes such as how people think, speak, and act.
An old farmer once said to me, “if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and lays duck eggs… well, it’s probably a duck.” This is what John the Baptist was referring to, that people’s actions, words and fruit demonstrate their true nature and desire for repentance and he was baptising the truly repentant and not those who wanted to remain unchanged.
If repentance of the abuser is not real, it will soon become evident. I cannot state this clearly enough: only time will tell if the abuser’s contrition is real. This is not a personal judgement of abusive people, but rather being realistic about the real intention of many abusers.
Other Beliefs that May Cause Confusion
It may seem easier, in difficult and emotional times, to attempt to find a quick answer to a complex problem, and it’s not uncommon to find that there are things that people believe deep down that arise in these circumstances. Every church leader I know, tries to do their best using what they have and what they know. Please understand that I am not overtly critical of what I see in most churches today.
There are so many issues in dealing with domestic violence and abuse, that most church leaders are likely to find the situation overwhelming. This is a difficult and emotive issue, and they’re likely to see a number of other problems brought into the mix which include a combination of statement and belief systems within both church beliefs and the personal beliefs of some Christians. Hopefully this information will be of benefit both to Pastors and church leaders, as well as other Christians who may come in contact with believers who are victims of domestic violence.
1. Domestic violence is not a problem of submission nor one of obedience
This is a subject about which I could write an entire article on its own. It would amaze and probably horrify most people about what I personally have been advised to do over the years by both Christian leaders and pastors. After four months of being married I was admitted to hospital due to domestic violence. In talking to a pastor a few months later, on I was counselled to “submit to my husband and be a Godly wife.” Years later this same pastor wrote a Statutory Declaration on behalf of my former husband’s legal case stating the same kind of thing.
Many women have shared with me that leaders within the church, both male and female, had verbalised to them that in ‘their opinion’ the problem behind the abuse was lack of submission and obedience by the woman. The use of the words ‘unsubmissive’ and ‘disobedience’ are a regular excuse for poor behaviour by Christian men who abuse. In fact, be aware that if any person you come across uses the words submission and obedience regularly in the context of marriage, it should cause you to consider that abuse may be occurring in that relationship.
From my personal experience and that of other women, I have learned that when the wife is obedient and submissive to their abusive husband, the wife’s submissive behaviour did nothing to quell the abuse, and often caused it to increase.
This is such a vitally important fact that I must restate it here:
It is never the fault of the wife that her husband is abusive – ever!
There is nothing which can excuse abusive behaviour and the issue of the wife’s obedience and submission does not even touch on the problem, let alone the deep roots of its cause.
It has also been my personal observation that women I’ve known in an abusive relationship are sometimes excessively submissive in the marriage. The need to be obedient often comes within the territory of abuse whether it’s within a Christian marriage or not.
In those relationships, any form of disobedience is punished swiftly. I have heard of cases where the way a meal was prepared was likened to an act of disobedience! One lady I knew had to stand aside when her husband walked through a door or down a hallway. To stand aside showed that she respected him, and any other behaviour was not worth the resulting punishment inflicted upon her.
Submission will not solve the issues of financial and social abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse is about control and manipulation and its purpose is to make the women feel responsible for every negative situation and to increase her feelings of powerlessness.
Domestic violence does not start because a wife is disobedient or not submissive, and yet I’ve heard it repeated many times over the years including church leaders who use it to bring the wife ‘in-line.’
I am horrified by what I’ve heard said to abused women and I cannot say this strongly enough:
Be aware that if any person you come across uses the words submission and obedience regularly, it should cause you to consider that abuse may be occurring in that marriage.
“It is never the fault of the
2. Sexual abuse is not the fault of the victim
Sexual abuse is one of the areas that also has a taint of the idea of ‘submission.’ It is this area that indicates some of a perpetrator’s selfish ways and beliefs.
A man may accuse his wife of being unresponsive or frigid, but often the problem doesn’t stem from her. I have spoken to women who have been sexually abused by their husbands because of the man’s serious problem with lust and pornography. Submission has nothing to do with that. Submission only permitted the sexual abuse to continue.
I personally know of one wife who was raped by her husband for a slight mistake in communication. Then there were two other women who were constantly forced to have sex because the husband threatened to find a prostitute if they didn’t.
The church leaders and counsellors need to make sure that the victim of abuse – the wife – is not blamed for the behaviour and actions of the abuser.
3. It is not about problems with alcohol and drugs
There are many people who believe that alcohol and drugs cause domestic violence. Research figures indicate that when domestic violence occurs, there is more often than not some form of inhibiter that affects the perpetrator.
My understanding is that domestic violence is not about hitting or physical violence or verbal abuse – it is a personal belief that if an abuser can force someone by words, actions or restraints, to do what they want them to do, then the abuser will do it. The abuser sometimes lacks the understanding that people have their own free will and should be allowed to exercise that free will.
Domestic violence is about control, intimidation and fear, and not about drugs or alcohol.
While domestic violence and abuse can and does happen when the person is drunk or high, it usually still exists when they are sober. It can be seen in their words, attitudes and actions. It may also be visible when the perpetrator be-comes upset, though more restrained when out in public.
“Domestic violence is about control, intimidation and fear, and not about drugs or alcohol.”
I will only touch on this briefly, as I am still undertaking further research on this matter. Simply put: a Christian woman and man are not owned by their spouse.
The couple belongs first to God and they are united together as one under God’s direction. God’s ‘ownership’ of us does not include force, intimidation and the removal of our free will, and therefore this should be reflected within the marriage. For some abusers, this understanding and thinking goes awry and many believe:
The abuser believes it’s about his rights as her husband and has nothing to do with shaming or domination.
In these kinds of marriages, often the woman believes that her husband’s domination and control is correct within a Christian marriage, because they were told (sometimes from birth) to believe that the Scriptures also taught this.
It is through the Holy Spirit that many women from abusive relationships begin to understand what God truly desires within a Christian marriage. Biblically there are many examples of men who were dominant to some degree, over their wives. Many of these references are in relation to corrupted cultures, particularly those of Israel, where the women had become subjugated after being influenced by sinful and corrupt nations outside of their own, something that God continued to warn Israel about when they were first becoming a nation. This was not what God ever intended for marriage.
Once again if we take a look at God’s relationship with us we can see both control and love, domination and service. While Jesus came to undertake the most incredible dedication and service to mankind, He still remained God and Lord over us. Submission to Him has never been about utter mindless subservience, but about service first to Him, and then to each other.
5. Jezebel and spirits of darkness
Due to space and other restraints, I will keep this topic brief.
There is a religious belief that women who seek to control men are Jezebels, taken after the two people in the bible: King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel.
Another part of this concept which has gained ground, is the belief that when a man hands over his godly headship to his wife, he’s an Ahab and she’s a Jezebel. The claim is that this happens because the ‘spirit of Jezebel’ seeks to cause men to have the ‘spirit of Ahab’ which allows the woman, in the spirit of Jezebel, to rule over and control the home and the earth.
The jezebellic spirit is seen as one who over rules and dominates the man. Some writings on this subject state that the jezebellic spirit is able to be in both men and women, but rarely have I seen this taught within the church. It has arisen from concepts based on dealing with demonic spirits.
I few years ago my second husband and I were visiting a couple, and during the conversation the wife disagreed with something her husband said. Nothing she said was unusual or critical. She was simply putting forward her understanding of the subject which was a little different to that of her husband.
I wouldn’t have noticed it all, except suddenly the husband spun around to her and forcefully went straight into spiritual warfare on his wife. He “bound the spirit of Jezebel” and “commanded the spirit that was speaking out of his wife to be silent.”
After a moment she nervously got up from the table and went into the kitchen. I followed her and held her as she sobbed.
I couldn’t really deal with the situation as it was a little too close to home after what I’d personally experienced in my first marriage. If I’d spoken up in defence of the woman at that time, I would likely have suffered the same consequences for challenging the man.
Later my husband told me that the man had been recently listening to someone talk on the subject and had decided that this was the problem within his own home. He believed that it was his responsibility to deal with the spirit of Jezebel in his wife.
In my experience, the only time I’ve seen this Jezebel issue brought up, is by men who are abusive and use it as another tool with which to degrade and humiliate their wife. It seems that it becomes a case of “looking for a demon behind every bush” scenario where a woman’s unacceptable behaviour is deemed as the spirit of Jezebel and thus rebellion.
This belief, this attitude and this action is not the act of a loving husband or a godly man.
I believe that there is a spiritual battle happening all around us, and that spiritual issues need to be dealt with spiritually. I also believe that there are many people who use this concept more as a means of dominance, power trips and ego building, than about finding the truth or truly helping others.
If a man who believes in the Spirit of Jezebel is challenged, they will insist that the challenger also possesses the same spirit. Women who hear similar teachings about the Spirit of Jezebel, and/or who have learned to be submissive in marriage may also come to believe in the Spirit of Jezebel too and seek help in overcoming their perceived rebelliousness.
Note that if you come across a marriage where the couple believes in the Spirit of Jezebel, usually the wife is a confused mess and likely you’ll find the man almost impossible to deal with.
During a period in my first marriage, I wondered at my own sanity because I came to believe the multitude of lies told to me. That belief system caused increasing feelings and beliefs of hopelessness and utter unworthiness which are the opposite belief to that which God holds for us. It was only through God’s healing that I was eventually able to understand that He saw me as worthwhile, and deserving of His love, compassion and of the title of daughter.
6. It is not because she is crazy or hormonal
Time and time again I have heard this cry from the lips of abusers, “My wife is crazy, she is hormonal and I am concerned for the children.”
It is the protective side of most Christians that encourages them to listen to and sometimes believe these words. Nobody wants to be responsible for the fate of little ones, or wants the death of a child on their hands. This can sometimes be used as a way of distracting attention away from the behaviour of an abuser, and can cause mixed and varied responses from leaders in the church.
Each issue that the family faces must be looked at separately and also as a whole. Abuse is abuse, healing is healing, broken homes are broken homes and a woman disengaging from an abusive relationship is person who needs vital help and support.
Often on top of that are the children who are left bewildered and upset. Once abuse is acknowledged, it can bring a flood of concerns and interconnecting problems.
A woman breaking away from an abuser is often very emotional and will find it difficult to cope with her new circumstances. She worries for her own safety and the safety of her children, and feel concerned that the threats that have been made to her over the years will actually be carried out.
Not only will she often question her decision to break free, but may also have symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, depending on the severity and/or length of the abuse.
In her mind she is trying to reassess everything that has ever been told to her such as:
She may even believe that she deserved the abuse.
For a victim of abuse to get past these lies and to break free from it, takes all the courage that she can muster.
An abuser can cause division within the church he attends, by telling his own twisted version of the situation and bringing others onto his side. Usually the perpetrator does this to save face.
I might add at this time too, that the concept that “all-men-are-monsters” can cause division. It is important to be careful that we don’t make this a gender problem. It is a control problem, an abuse problem, and a selfishness problem – not a man problem.
Satan loves to divide and conquer, and from this he can cause incredible levels of conflict and strife.
Due to the very nature of domestic violence and abuse, it is most likely that the church needs to be there to provide a safe place for women and children to heal while allowing other organisations to deal with the rest. Ministers often seek to solve everything using their limited own resources.
An abuser may find it easy to manipulate a church whose foundations are built upon the very concepts of love and forgiveness.
When Dealing with a Victim of Domestic Violence
In dealing with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, I believe it’s a necessity that all church leaders and pastors become familiar with the following topics.
1. Laws need to be obeyed
Church leaders will need to familiarise themselves with court orders and Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs.) This is also relevant for Christian schools and day care facilities run by Christian churches. This can be very uncomfortable position for some who feel like they are having to take sides. Consider that the law takes court orders very seriously and so should the church.
Domestic violence laws and legislation relating to violence against women vary between each state and territory, so it’s important to have the most accurate and up-to-date information for the local area.
The church building itself may be off-limits to the husband if there is a DVO which inhibits the husband and wife from being in close proximity. Church leaders need to understand the laws and what is mentioned in those specific orders, to ensure they don’t cause the DVO to breached.
Some DVOs require that the abuser not be allowed within 100-200m of the victim. If an abuser is invited to a church service which the victim is attending, the DVO is likely breached. Counselling would also be a problem as most pastors or Christian counsellors are more inclined to counsel a couple together rather than individually.
The offender may also use the church services or children’s church to visit his children, and if there is a DVO, it is necessary for the church to adhere to what the law requires.
Another tool of an abuser is to use any situation to intimidate their ex-partner. This can be hard to manage if the estranged couple attend the same church when there is no DVO. The abuser may deliberately sit directly behind the victim in order to cause distress and angst. They may serve in a church service as another way of making their presence felt by the victim.
2. A Christian wife will be concerned about her marriage vows
One important issue that may encourage a woman to return to the perpetrator is in response to the marriage vows that she promised on their wedding day. These may cause her to rethink the decision to remove herself from danger.
There are numerous scriptures which seem to suggest how Christian people should respond in the issues of separation and divorce. For a woman already struggling with the decision to leave, these can cause her to fear for her salvation and her relationship with God, and then encourage her to question her decision to leave and be safe. Pressure may be brought to bear because of the wording of the scriptures.
Two particular scriptures that were regularly quoted to me were 1 Corinthians 7:10-11:
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” [NIV]
and 1 Corinthians 7:4
“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” [NIV]
While there is not sufficient space here to provide a detailed response in response to these verses, I will simply say that our concern first and foremost should for the safety and well-being of the vulnerable.
The bible does not appear to, at a quick perusal, to answer the questions that an abused wife would ask, however, if our concern as Christians is the letter of the bible (law) rather than the safety of women and children (grace), then we must consider whether we are acting with compassion or being legalistic.
Consider also Proverbs 31:8
“Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” [CEB]
Most women that I have spoken to, made vows to submit to and obey their husbands and took those vows very seriously.
In some of the more traditional marriage vows, women promise to obey or submit to their husbands. While this has changed for most churches, some couples still choose to use these vows. A pastor would do well to be concerned if a prospective groom and bride insist on these vows.
The very concepts of submission, obedience and marriage are usually muddled in with a mix of misquotes and misuses. It will take time for a victim to be able to approach these subjects and ask for help in understanding the grace and mercy which God applies to all bible scripture verses.
3. Going back to a place of danger
Many women return to their abusers even though it took an enormous struggle to leave. Most women that I have spoken to, still hope that their husbands have or will change. They are not only hoping for a change but believing that it will happen. This make them vulnerable to returning.
If they return, the abuser recognises the huge courage that it took for their wife to leave, and that it will make it harder for them the next time.
The other reason many women return can be the threat of harm. DVOs only work if the abuser is concerned about breaking the law.
I understand that most abusers justify breaching a DVO because they don’t believe that their wife could have turned against them, or that if they could only just speak with her, then all the problems could be sorted out.
Some abusers do not take the DVO seriously and/or feel that they are within their rights to breach it. This may cause the wife to believe that it would be safer to return to the abuser rather than having to deal with the constant fear of stalking and retaliation.
In my own situation, the Christian counsellor I was seeing, placed an older woman in my life for my own good and protection. Any time that I made a decision, it was necessary that I first talked it through with her. Many times, she stopped me from returning simply by encouraging me to work through the reasons behind my decision. I am also aware of and thankful for the many Christian people who were very concerned for me, and their support helped me through that difficult time.
4. A safe place
A wife in the presence of her husband will rarely say that she is being abused, especially if the abuse is severe.
When social abuse is one of the tools of the abuser, the wife may only be allowed to go to the functions where the husband is more likely to feel that he has sufficient control. Because of this, she may not be able to find a safe place in which she can share what is occurring within their marriage.
I am very aware that in my own case I let it drop into a conversation with a woman that I thought could take it. Her response was so awful that I was left fearing the repercussions for months afterwards, in case she shared it and my husband heard about it.
Most people are shocked to discover that a seemingly loving husband could possibly be an abuser at home. There is a saying “street angel/home devil” for a reason. What someone is like at home, is who they are in reality. Who they purport to be in public is a sham, designed to fool people into believing he is a good, decent, loving Christian husband.
This makes it difficult if a wife decides to share her pain. She not only has to reveal the abuse, but also the source of the abuse. Once this information is out in the open, she cannot return to the home for fear of retaliation by her husband, and she needs to find a physical place of safety such as a women’s shelter, and also a place of safety to heal.
From the moment the situation is revealed, help is immediately and urgently required, including the police if there has been physical violence and threats of harm.
For many women, contacting a local women’s shelter for their advice and help is the only source of assistance for her and her children.
5. Leaders may also be abusers
Sometimes the reason why church leadership are unwilling or unable to help women in domestic violence situations is because they themselves are abusers. This makes it not only an unsafe church for the victim, but a place where the abuser is unlikely to be challenged or given appropriate support to change.
One area of concern that has come to my notice is that male leaders who are constantly talking about obedience or submission of those under them, are often the ones that have a problem with submission to leadership them-selves.
In my observation, they usually have a huge problem with authority figures and so seek to place themselves into those positions of leadership.
6. What about men who are abused?
This is a question that I get asked regularly – what about the men that are abused by their wives?
This is a controversial subject and quite often is asked not because the people are asking out of genuine concern about the welfare of men, but to get the point across that women can be abusers too.
This is true. Men can and are the victims of abuse. Abuse is wrong, full stop – no matter the sex of the abuser.
It doesn’t matter who is the victim and who is the abuser. If a man comes to his church leader and shares his situation with them, it should be taken seriously, and help, safety and support provided.
I personally know a man who was verbally abused by his wife, then in one incident was also physically assaulted. This man was not believed and ended up leaving his wife as well as his church to find safety.
Why is this issue of abused men controversial? It’s because of the way that statistical and related information is gathered together, which is often by those that report violence by women towards men and can therefore be subjective.
Recently it was claimed that one in three men were victims of domestic violence, however upon looking into those statistics it became evident that the figures were incorrect, because they included:
These statistics are then biased as they’re about ALL violence towards men and not just violence perpetrated by women within the confines of a marriage or partnered relationship.
This important data is necessary to establish whether the violence stemmed from the need for control, intimidation and fear, or simply an anger issue.2
The best fact sheet that I have found that was easily explained, quoted the possibility of one in every twenty men being in abusive relationships, but even that information stated that the findings were unreliable3.
Overall, the information provided by statistics and research seem to suggest that of the ninety-five percent of cases of violence reported by both genders, the perpetrator was male4.
Care should be taken when quoting information simply for the sake of causing division.
One thing needs to be made very clear: all forms of abuse are wrong, and it doesn’t matter if the perpetrators or victims are male or female. If our actions harm another person, we need to seek help to stop.
7. When it’s not the truth
A pastor once asked me, “How do I know if someone is lying?” The answer is – I don’t know. We can only go on information put in front of us. People lie: both women and men.
I have seen men who, after their abuse has been found out, then accuse their wives of abusing them.
I have personally experienced what happens when the husband completely denies the violence. Fortunately, in my case I had medical records that proved otherwise.
I have also witnessed a woman lie about her husband, accusing him of abuse which had never occurred.
These situations add to the confusion and create cynicism in the minds of those who are trying to help.
While physical violence is often visually apparent and some women are able to produce medical documents, especially in severe cases, it’s not possible to obtain medical help in every case of physical violence, because of the very nature of domestic violence and abuse. It is also reported that eighty percent of women do not contact the police about an incident.
In helping people, we may very well come across people who lie about something that is vitally important in regard to the abuse they receive.
It’s important to note that when someone claims that they’re a Christian, it doesn’t always mean that they’re telling the truth.
8. What about the abuser?
An abuser is still a human being, with feelings and emotions. Despite the fact that he has hurt the person that he’s supposed to love, he has then been exposed for what he really is.
This can be a painful and a very difficult time for him. He will need men who will surround him, and not allow him to be anything but truthful and honest about himself and his problem.
The abuser has broken the very backbone of a marriage: trust, intimacy and love. He has used his mouth to destroy, and his hand to hurt. He has forced another human being to feel less than they ever should feel. Unless he sees the worth of the woman who is loved by God before he ever knew her, the abuser will never be able to change. Unless he acknowledges the damage he has done to his wife and children by his behaviour, he will never see the need to change.
Accountability is the only way to keep someone honest with themselves. He may have destroyed the capacity for reparation in the marriage, but the ultimate win for him will eventually be a changed heart and a transformed man that will walk the face of the earth.
After a marriage has broken up, many abusers continue mistreating their former partner in a variety of ways. They may use churches, friends, children, courts and child support agencies to continue to hurt their former wife.
Each and every abusive behaviour must be challenged and the person encouraged and supported so that they can to commit to a one hundred and eighty degree turnaround. This will not happen over weeks or months, but over years.
Only time will tell if the person has made a worthwhile and permanent change.
There will be another more difficult problem for the church they attend, if they’re a leader or someone in a trusted position of authority. The first thing that most abusers do when they are exposed, is scramble to save face and attempt to regain control. This may cause serious conflict within the church and its leadership.
It is my understanding from what I’ve seen and experienced, that most men who are abusive have a problem with authority figures. They are often in leadership positions themselves, but they behave very differently at home to what they do at church.
There is one other part of the equation: the family has been ripped apart. While it is due to the perpetrator’s own behaviour and actions, it is still very painful for him. The anger which is already an issue, can increase to an explosive tendency, and bitterness and revenge may fill his heart and mind.
While he may not speak it out aloud, he may consider that the death of his family is an option to him. Consider then how vital it will be for him to obtain help from professional counsellors.
In my own separation from my former husband, I was very aware of how devastated he would have felt to have his life exposed to the prying eyes of strangers. Since he was home very little due to his job, I was fortunate to be able to arrange help for him when he returned home to an empty house. Unfortunately, my kindness to him did not help me later, when it was used against me by a minister who suggested that I had ‘planned’ my former husband’s demise.
While my husband had hurt me badly, I did not wish him harm. He is a human being with feelings and like anyone else, does not want to be disliked, but my concern for him often allowed me to let down my guard and later led to grief in my dealings with him.
While trying to help the perpetrator, it is necessary to keep a balance in one’s mind: it is the victim that needs the protection, and not the perpetrator.
As I said at the start of these articles, this is a difficult subject with lots of problems that can arise when two people and their families are involved.
One subject that I haven’t touched upon is the children caught up in homes where domestic violence and abuse is portrayed as normal behaviours. Due to the length of that subject alone, I have chosen to omit it from this article.
Children are hurt by both seeing and witnessing abuse, and also by the separation of their parents and the breakup of the home.
My own children wear the scars of those experiences, and I pray for them in these areas. I am also a child who witnessed domestic abuse and saw it as a normal part of marriage, so much so, that I married into it.
In the next issue on the subject of domestic violence and the church, I’ll cover what the Church can do.
It is not my desire to criticise or point out the wrong that Christians or churches are doing, but to show what can go wrong and provide church leaders and ministers something to work with.
My prayer is that God will give you wisdom and understanding as you read these pages.
Part three of this article can be found on this link, where we look at whether domestic violence is worse today than it was twenty to forty years ago, and we’ll look at what we can do:
1. Songwriters: Billy Sherrill / Tammy Wynette, Stand By Your Man lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
2. No Name, 15 April 2016, ABC News: Fact File – Domestic Violence in Australia, accessed 14/11/17, available: http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/2016-04-06/fact-file-domestic-violence-statistics/7147938
3. No name, undated, Our Watch: Understanding Violence – Facts and Figures, accessed 14/11/17, available: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Facts-and-figures
4. No name, 15 April 2016, ABC News: Fact check – “One in Three” responds to Fact Check’s domestic violence fact file: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-12/domestic-violence-one-in-three-respond/7315552
[CEB] Common English Bible Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible
[NIV] New International Version Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Ruth Lindsay is a wife, mother of two teenage sons, author, speaker, blogger, and bible study leader who enjoys reading, eating chocolate, and coffee with friends.
Ruth is founder of “Be Alive Ministries,” an outreach to women. Her first book “He Whispers Our Name,” is an outreach for women of all ages about God’s heart for people, and His desire to have a real and authentic life-changing relationship with Him. Her second book, “Behind Closed Doors” is still being written and is aimed at helping others become free from domestic violence and abuse.
The Be Alive Ministries Facebook page, enables her to reach others from her small country town in Queensland, while her website www.ruthlindsay.com.au and blog page www.ruthlindsay.com provides a base to be able to work from home to touch the lives of many.