The Scriptures and Domestic Violence
By Dr. Regina Baldwin
Verbal abuse accompanies physical or sexual abuse; but even alone causing much damage to the victim. Verbal abuse is one of the most common forms employed to exercise control over another. As James remarked, the tongue can bless God or abuse the individual created in God’s image (James 3:9). Jesus spoke of the damage that wrongful speech can inflict on a person “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to to the council; and if you say “you fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt. 5:22). Why is it so hurtful to call another person stupid or a fool? Because it leaves that person feeling less than human, unable to think things through or to see issues clearly. Proverbs 18:21 sums it clearly this way:”The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit”.
Word twisting is another technique of the abuser that make an individual feel “crazy”. Victims can be confused and overwhelmed by the manner in which their abusers distort what they have said to turn their own words against them. David in the Psalm 56:5 cried “All day long they twist my words; they are always plotting to harm me.”
Another technique an abuser will use is by justifying that their hurtful words where only a joke. Things like “Can’t you take a joke?”, ” Don’t you have a sense of humor?”, “What’s the matter with you, you take everything so seriously”. This can cause the victim to become even more bewildered and make her doubt her own sanity. Malachi 2:17 speaks of those who cal wrong right and right wrong.
Another effective tool that abusers often use are threats. David says in Palm 73:8 “In their arrogance they threaten oppression”; and in Palm 10:7 the psalmist says “The mouth of the wicked are full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue”. Threats can leave a victim constantly fearful and unable to develop a secure and confident attitude. God tells us in the New Testament that threats are the work of the wicked (Acts 4:17,21, 29: 9:1) and commands believers not to threaten those in their own household (Eph 6:9).
What is most distressing to me is the use of scriptural distortions to abuse women and then justify it. J.Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, wrote:
There is an epidemic of domestic abuse spreading through the church, and most Christian leaders are not addressing this problem. It is usually swept under the rug because pastors feel helplessly untrained in how to counsel abusers (or, in some tragic cases, because the pastors themselves are abusing their wives). And sadly in some instances, pastor actually use Bible verses about wifely submission to fuel his epidemic of abuse.
Those in the position of spiritual leadership are responsible to assume responsibility in cases of abuse within their congregation or church community. Ezekial spells it out this way:
You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with force and cruelty…As surely as I live, says the sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost….I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what happens to my flock. I will take away the right their right to feed the flock and I will stop them from feeding themselves (Ezek 34:4,8,10 ).
Most church leaders and faithful church members believe that domestic violence is only a problem among those who have come from a dysfunctional family background, those in non monogamous relationships, extra marital affairs, and mostly outside the Christian community. The church, like so many well educated people, those living in nice fancy communities, those living in upper class areas, have a hard time grasping that this is going on with in their own community of believers. What makes it worse is that scriptures are misinterpreted and used to keep couples together. Sermons and the belief in the sanctity of marriage and to avoid divorce at all costs prevent women from coming forward for fear of judgement or ostracism. Many abusers themselves hold leadership positions in the church or community and religious leaders minimize the seriousness of the violence going on in the home. Every 9 seconds, a woman is battered and 75 percent of children that witness this at home will continue the cycle in their own marriage. Talking openly about the severity of domestic violence in the home has become a taboo and uneducated and misinformed members don’t take the seriousness and danger to the very life of the victim to heart offering often well-intentioned but minimizing statements such as “I’ll be praying for you” or “You know if you have enough faith and hold on, God can change any situation”. We have come to hold the sanctity of marriage above the safety of the very individual sheep in the flock we are to protect.
Another problem is that members do not want to take sides especially if they have some to know both spouses or partners in a relationship. We go to see a medical doctor when we are sick, and the church should be a place of refuge for those that need emotional, physical and spiritual healing. Though it is not a persons place to judge, abuse can not be tolerated on any level.
The silence must be broken. Pastors, leaders and people in the faith community must recognize the reality that domestic violence is happening in our congregations. We must not endorse abuse through our silence, lack of knowledge or behind a misinterpretation of scripture.
There are many in the faith community who do respond with caring compassion and do engage in a collaborative approach for the purpose of helping those who are victims of domestic violence. And, there are service providers who are excellent at working with the faith community recognizing that faith may be an integral part of the victim’s values and beliefs.
The role of the clergy is different from the role of domestic violence and mental health resources and shelters in the community; however as we team together, we can find solutions that are in the best interest of the victim. Communication and cooperation are essential. Clergy need to provide spiritual care and work together with professionals who specialize in offering help, programs and resources for both the abuser and victim. This is no time for judgement and religious leaders can’t be expected to be experts on all the dangerous mental and social issues that face their members.
(1) an impaired sense of security, (2) a distorted view of reality, (3) a loss of identity, (4) impaired self-worth, and a sense of feeling devalued, (5) a deep sense of false shame, (6) and being betrayed or rejected by God, the faith community, the justice system and social services.
1. Provide a DV abuse recovery program for women, intervention programs for men and women, and provide DV awareness program for youth.
2. Have workshops that educate the congregation on the signs of domestic violence and how to handle the situation if someone confides in a member. What is said or not said can actually put a families life in immediate danger.
3. Connect with resources in the communities and get to know shelter personnel personally. Engage the congregation in help providing for the needs of the women and children that have needed to leave their home.
4. Train and provide education for families who are willing to take in an abuse victim if shelters are full.
5. Find a safe place like in the bathrooms to display literature that an individual can look at in private. Ensure their is a contact number of someone who they can call for immediate assistance. If your congregation is within reasonable driving distance, I am available for crisis home visits.
6. Develop sermons that admonish family violence.
7. Have a bible study series that examines scriptures regarding family violence and recovery groups to rebuild battered self esteem that will allow a victim to slowly heal and see herself again as Jesus sees her.
8. Start a church fund in order to provide for emergency items for women and children that can not return to their home.
9. Most importantly, make it well known that anyone can approach the leaders in confidentiality and that help is available.
10. Include conflict resolution in premarriage counseling.
11. Provide anger management and biblical conflict resolution.
12. Come up with church policy and procedure for dealing with domestic violence.
For more information, please contact me and I will be happy to come meet with you and your church leaders. There are countless solutions that can be easily implemented. 636-212-2791 info@ReginaBaldwin.com DON’T WAIT…SOMEONES LIFE YOU KNOW DEPENDS ON IT!!
Also, when we display the love of Christ to those who are hurting and at their worst, we show the community and unbelievers what the love of Christ is all about.