Friday, September 5, 2008

The Truth about Christian Women and Abuse

Jesus said we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free. Since only the truth can set us free, it goes without saying, that without the truth, we cannot be free. So what is the truth about Christian women and abuse?

Is it true that Christian women experience abuse? Some say they don’t. Others acknowledge that abuse is taking place but deny responsibility for determining the real truth concerning individual situations. Still others do not deny the abuse at all but encourage Christian wives to submit to it, to pray and, above all, to stay in the marriage and be willing to suffer for Christ.

What is the truth about Christian women and abuse? And, more importantly, are we willing to allow the truth in regards to this very controversial issue to set us free?

It is a sad fact that many Christian wives do experience abuse and are even battered by their husbands. It is also a fact that even in situations where the abuse is acknowledged by Church leaders, it is sometimes acknowledged only because it has become politically correct to do so and then, as quickly as possible, is swept under the rug.

One case in point involves a young wife who went to her pastor for support because her husband was treating her abusively, to the point of physical violence. She had, in fact, already separated from her husband, and an emergency order of protection was in place. Her pastor assured her that he believed her and was supportive of her taking whatever steps she felt necessary in order to feel safe. However, during the same counseling session, she was warned that because her violent husband was also a member in good standing within that same congregation—and was vigorously denying the abuse, she was not to attempt to garner support by telling other church members her side of the story. She was bluntly told that the Church was not called to be on a “fact-finding” mission, and she was expected to keep her experience to herself. She was forbidden to burden her church family with the need to discern the real truth of the situation.

Is that an example of the truth setting free?

The young wife is not free. It is true that she is free from the violence and feels relatively safe—but now she also feels abused and betrayed by the very church family she looked to for support as she attempted to navigate a very difficult and painful transition in her life. But how can they help bear her burden when she has been forbidden by her pastor to tell them the truth?

The pastor is not free. He fears the truth. Because if he acknowledges the truth, he will be obligated to act upon it by initiating, due to the violent nature of the offense, some sort of Church discipline against the violent husband.

The congregation is not free. The truth is being hidden from them.

And, lastly, the abusive husband is certainly not free. By refusing to confront him with the truth, his Christian leadership is failing in at least attempting to assist this man in coming to a place of repentance, which could possibly bring help free him from the sin of abusing those he claims to love.

What excuse is there that can justify refusal to walk in the truth that our Lord assures us will set us all free?

As the author of, Woman Submit: Christians & Domestic Violence, and founder of The Dorcas Network, a network devoted to empowering Christians to respond compassionately, effectively and biblically to families experiencing abuse and domestic violence, I am frequently contacted by those who claim abuse and domestic violence is not really an issue in our modern culture at all, much less the epidemic it is said to be—and certainly not among Christians. It is claimed, instead, that the issue is altogether a creation of hysterical feminists who are using it to further an evil agenda aimed at destroying the family, but even a cursory glance at the United States Department of Justice Family Violence Statistics refutes such claims and confirms that women are indeed frequent victims of abuse and domestic violence.

An independent survey done by the Methodist Church in conjunction with the University of Surrey Roehampton under the auspices of the Southlands Methodist Centre, shows that Christian women are well represented among the large numbers of women who experience abuse. According to that survey, one in four Christian women will experience domestic violence at least once in her lifetime.

There is compelling evidence that violence against women is a serious reality—and Christian women are certainly not exempt from this reality.

Are those who insist the Church should maintain a comfortable neutrality in the case of abuse or domestic violence, between spouses, telling us the truth? Should Christians be at all concerned with knowing the truth of individual situations? Are all such “fact-finding” missions wrong?

Not if they are done in the right spirit and for the right reasons.

Christian leaders should be about the Father’s business of helping those within their congregations to know the truth about Christian women and abuse. Christian leaders should be assisting those who come to them for help in finding freedom from the abuse. And that cannot be done without first knowing the truth…which Jesus emphatically promises will set us all free.

Jocelyn Andersen

1 comment:

Barbara said...

The pastor gave the woman unbiblical advice. He should have said "As leader of this church I will ensure that biblical discipline is brought to bear on the offender according to Matthew 18:16-17.
If he had said this the woman would have felt more confident of justice and protection. She would probably have felt less need to tell others in the church about the nitty gritty of her situation (apart from a few trusted and wise others to whom she could unburden her grief and pain). Why turn to lay church members to investigate and bring discipline when the leadership is doing the right thing?
Too many pastors are more concerned with appearance-management than with justice and obeying the Bible.
For Jesus, justice and righteousness were more important than appearance-management.