Back in October 2000, when I first gave my life to God and left an abusive relationship, I was not aware that it was not an end to unhealthy relationships but rather a begining of learning how to grow into a whole woman so I could enjoy healthy relationships. 32 years of living with abuse was not going to be cured over night. As I have learned about God’s love and overcome my natural tendancies to do wrong and be healed of my wounds, I have crawled, walked and run out of mindsets and behaviours that if kept would lead me back on the path of chosing to live with abuse.
Now, 8 years later, I am glad that God took me this way. As I was not brought up in a church system, I have been able to see the church’s response to Domestic Abuse first hand. While I want to be able to shout from the rooftops that we as God’s people can protect the weak and hold the perpetrator responsible, I am sad to say that in my experience, I have seen little evidence of this.
Now, I am not saying that the church does not support the needy, homeless, prostitutes, the youth etc,. The church as a body is going some wonderful work, what I am saying is that there is still along way to go with how we deal with Domestic Violence
Only in that last decade of so has the secular world taken Domestic Violence seriously and I feel that the church response has been even slower. While the church should be at the forefront of addressing oppression and she does a good job of defending the poor, she sometimes is the last to take a stand where domestic violence is concerned. I believe this is because we have feminised the character of God – over emphaising forgiveness and turning the other cheek, while justice and setting a limit around evil is something we are too afraid to act on. I also believe our lack of education about an abuser’s character is another failure and our tendancy to blame the victim for ‘putting up with it’.
Take the woman who goes to her Pastor for help with her abusive husband. If a man is abusing a woman she should not be told to go home, be a good example, pray for her husband and forgive him. Yet because of the misuse of scripture for a woman to submit to her husband, this faulty, dangerous and unscriptual guidance has put many women at danger and sent a message to her husband that its perfectly OK for the church to send back his wife and be mistreated over and over again.
What I find more disturbing is the neutral response a church adopts when faced with abuse. I went through a situation where I started to see controlling tendancies in my boyfriend and after a season of confrontation and trying to sort the issue out, I decided that I had to leave before the behaviour escalated. I thank God that I had grown enough to see the warning signs and leave. Unfortuately, it was when I left the relationship, that my ex-date became very verbally abusive and threatening. It seems he was not too taken with my show of boundaries and responded how abusive people normally do when others say not to their control.
I took the matter to my church and told them about his behaviour, hoping to find protection and support for myself and accountablity for my ex. What I got was a neutral response, here is what I mean:
- We won’t sides: Even though he has been threatening, we won’t take sides as there is always two sides to every story.
- He must be in pain over the split and that is why he is mistreating you
- He needs as much protection from you as you do from him
- We won’t get involved because we want to maintain relationships with him
- We won’t confess he has mistreated you, we will just keep emphasising that he is hurting
- You must have done something to trigger his anger
- We won’t hold him accountable as we don’t want him to feel worse or upset him even further
My bible tells me and my experience of dealing with abuse tells me, that this passive neutral response to abuse does not heal the victim or heal the perpetrator.
A leading Counsellor in this area, Lundy Bancroft, states that when a community does not tolerate abuse, the abuser loses his control. Isn’t this what our God wants us to be, a light in our communities, standing up against evil and holding perpetrators responsbile? The abuser can only find healing by firm confrontation and the abused can only find healing by support and strengthening. That is what our bible teaches but we give the perpetrator our understanding and weak hand and victimize the victim again by telling her she must have done something to be treated that way, which reinforces the abuser’s justifications for his abuse. It tells her she is alone and that there is no one really there to protect her.
I know its not easy to confront evil. We fear losing friends, being made to look the bad person and what others will do and think. Just think about your own life for a second, think about the times you gossiped because you did not want to contront your mate who offended you. Or you withdrew in angry silence and never bothered calling again. Anything but confront. Yet victims of abuse are chastised for not making a stand and then beaten down again because her community won’t stand up and confront with her and for her.
I had to stand against my abuser by myself but I was not alone because I had God with me. He brought several key people into my life that helped me through but the place I expected to help was unable to help me.
If anything, this experience taught me a lot about how our Christian values that were intended to be the moral fibre of our hearts and a firm foundation for our communities can be so distorted and weakened that we give evil power and the power of good is once again seen as the losers team.
It has also taught me how I can educate and support the church in applying wisdom to working with abused women and how to give the perpetrator the best support by taking away his perceived rights to control and own his partner.