“So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused.” –Ezekial 34:22 (NLT).
As the woman approached me I could tell instantly that she was hurting. But when she rolled up her sleeve and showed me some serious black and purple bruises, I felt something rising up in me that said, this is NOT OK with God!
I asked her questions and listened to her story. Based on her hopeless demeanor, the severity of the injuries she showed me, and the pattern of violence she described, it was clear that this was not an isolated “accident.” I explained to her that when there is a pattern of ongoing abuse, it typically does not stop until there is a boundary upheld and a consequence initiated. I asked, “If you don’t take action to protect yourself today, will anything get better?” She said no.
On any given Sunday women just like this are sitting silently in churches across this country. They don’t know a moment’s peace (Isaiah 59:6-8) and they are worried that their only protectors have left the building. They have no hope for how they will overcome the fear and darkness they live with. The only ‘strong protectors’ they can really count on are those out in the trenches, wearing bulletproof vests and packing weapons.
While most of us would agree that God has called us to be peacemakers, if we’re honest, we prefer that our peacemaking looks like fellowshipping over coffee and donuts or teaching children songs in vacation bible school. This is all good. But sometimes being a peacemaker means flat-out confronting evil. And one great big evil that needs to be confronted by the Church today is domestic violence.
Why is domestic violence such a threat to the Body of Christ? Because it’s an enemy we have given untold power to by keeping it hidden. We don’t talk about it with our teens. We don’t talk about it in premarital counseling. And we certainly don’t talk about it on Sunday mornings. National campaigns to end domestic violence tout the phrase “Break the Silence.” Yet the place where the silence often gets most strongly upheld is in church. Maybe we avoid the topic of domestic violence because if it’s happening within a marriage we consider it off-limits territory. Maybe we shy away because we are uneducated or haven’t had any personal experience dealing with it. Or maybe because confronting it makes us too uncomfortable and calls out of us a relational discernment and spiritual authority we’re not sure we have. Whatever the reason, our silence is costly.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Seventy-five percent of all 911 calls are domestic violence related. One in four women will personally experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It is an evil that pervades all ages, ethnicities and religious denominations.
God was never silent on the issue of violence, yet generations of women have given up on Him because the Church, either through its silence or its misinterpretation of scripture, has told them God does not care about the cruelty and abuse they suffer. Somewhere along the line, these women were convinced to grimly stick it out in marriages where they were emotionally, verbally and physically abused, at the expense of letting their hearts die and shutting out the possibility of a God who lavishly loves them. Most domestic violence victims don’t consider the church a relevant place to go for help, because when they tried asking for help in the past, the response they got was weak or passive at best.
Sure, it’s human nature to want to avoid potentially explosive situations. But we can’t avoid the fact that Jesus never backed down from them. He didn’t back down from uncomfortable conversations or violent people and always offered strong protection to women being mistreated or needing refuge (John 8:1-11). Think about His confrontation with the demon-possessed men in the region of the Gadarenes who were “so violent that no one could go through that area” (Matt 9:28). Or what about the crowds in Capernaum for whom he “cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34). Also, consider the story of Joanna, the wife of Cuza, Herod’s business manager, who was one of the women who followed Jesus (Luke 8:3). If the wife of one of King Herod’s highest ranking leaders was seeking refuge with the Messiah, who was a threat to the king, how do you think that marriage was going? Jesus did not send her back to her husband, so we know there must have been a good reason.
With his Father’s love and authority, Jesus stepped right in the middle of hostile situations time and time again. He stepped in to confront and He stepped in to protect. And with His Spirit, He gives us the love and authority we need to do the same. When we really understand God’s heart on this issue, it becomes clear how we’re supposed to respond:
“He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.” –Psalm 72:12-14
In his mercy, God does not allow violence and oppression to continue unchecked. He will eventually intervene to execute His justice. Also, cruelty toward one’s wife is the same as unfaithfulness in God’s eyes. For any woman who has felt compelled to stay in an abusive marriage because she’s been told that adultery is the only biblical grounds for divorce, that is a misinterpretation of God’s heart. When God spoke about divorce in the Bible, he was usually speaking to men with a heart to protect women. In Malachi 2:16 the men of Israel are whining to God about why He wasn’t responding to their dramatic prayers and offerings. God responds, “I’ll tell you why!” and proceeds to chew them out for making a great show of religion while at the same time overwhelming their wives with cruelty.
The bottom line is, God is Love and Love always protects (1 Corinth 13:7). As God’s ambassadors here on this earth, we are also called to protect the weak. A church leader’s number one priority in a domestic violence situation should be taking steps to protect the women and children from danger. They should equip themselves and their church to help victims acquire legal protections if necessary, and help them navigate the financial and logistical challenges of escaping an abusive situation. Second to that, they should stand up to evil by confronting abusers and expect perpetrators to demonstrate real repentence by confessing, taking ownership and engaging in sustained recovery and accountability programs over time before ever advising the woman to reconcile the marriage relationship. They must understand that sometimes God’s redemption of an abusive marriage means reconciling the relationship and sometimes it doesn’t, just as sometimes His deliverance for a childless couple means giving them a biological baby and sometimes it means comforting them through infertility or adoption.
Here are some other things Pastors and church leaders can do and not do to protect and minister to women who are victims of domestic violence:
DO take her seriously when she comes to you for help. Usually by the time she is naming it or saying she is done, she was done years ago.
DO ask questions, listen attentively and believe her (unless the Holy Spirit clearly directs you otherwise).
DON’T tell her to be more submissive or more loving as a solution to the abuse in her relationship.
DON’T say “God hates divorce.” She will shut down and not trust you. She may even leave your church and never return.
DON’T suggest marriage counseling. She needs separate counseling for safety and autonomy.
DON’T send her to file a protective order by herself. This is an overwhelming process to face alone.
DO try to determine how at risk she is of serious physical harm.
DO help her understand that setting boundaries and allowing her partner to experience consequences is a biblical model of addressing oppression and abuse (Exodus 7-14).
DO follow up to make sure she and her kids are safe and doing ok.
DO have a list of crisis phone numbers, local shelters and an action plan to help her in any transition.
DO have a plan in place with church families who are willing to provide temporary housing for women and kids who may not be in immediate physical danger, but who have to leave an abusive environment.
DO be prepared with grocery or gas cards to cover her immediate needs if she has no money.
DO equip several key leaders who can come alongside these women and provide prayer and support during crisis situations.
DO commend her for her courage. Understand she is taking an enormous risk and has a godly instinct to protect herself and her children from further harm.
DO speak words of life and affirmation over her to rewrite the lies she’s been hearing.
DO offer her hope and purpose...she needs to know God’s got a good plan for her.
DO give her ongoing practical help...financial, housing, childcare assistance, and support as a single parent.
DO offer her spiritual reassurance; declare that the violence done against her was wrong and that seeking protection, even from her own husband, is biblically warranted.
Leaving an abusive relationship is usually a frightening and overwhelming process for a woman. She needs to know that someone will come alongside her, that she will be loved and protected, and that God will not abandon her, but will stay close and provide for her and restore her as she continues to trust in Him.
We as the Church can make sure she knows this by bringing the evil of domestic violence out into the light, confronting it openly and taking decisive action against it. When we do this, we will strip away the enemy’s power to continue oppressing. We must recognize that as the Body of Christ we are uniquely and POWERFULLY positioned to be the Strong Protector who will end the tyranny of domestic violence, in individual lives and across our nation. Yes, it is a dark and risky place to go, but who better to go there than those who have been given ALL power and ALL authority to confront, protect and rescue in Jesus’ name!
Dawn Walker is a single mom and lives with her 9-year-old son in Paris, KY. She is the Founder and Director of Single Parent Missions, a ministry dedicated to raising up single parent families to transform generations. She is also a speaker and works with churches to envision and equip them for effective single parent ministry. To subscribe to her daily “Hope Notes” for single parents, visit www.singleparentmissions.org.
Publication date: August 16, 2013