Domestic Violence

The Secret Sin - Part 2

The second part of this lesson on Domestic Violence examines the Bible's instructions concerning marriages struggling with this problem.
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In the previous chapter, we looked at some of the causes of domestic violence as well as a profile of the abuser and victim. We will now examine what the law and the Bible say about domestic violence.

What the Law Says About Spousal Abuse

There are several laws on the books in my home state of Oklahoma that deal specifically with battery, domestic violence and spousal abuse. For example, Probable Cause Arrest O.S. Title 22; Section 40.6; effective 11/1/86 states that, "A peace officer may arrest without a warrant a person anywhere, including his place of residence, if the peace officer has probable cause to believe the person has within the preceding four hours committed an act of domestic abuse, although the assault did not take place in the presence of the peace officer."

There are dozens of laws on the books that deal with everything from spousal abuse to protective orders and violation of these, to medical treatments and access to counseling for people in these situations. The courts will usually enforce these if there is a complaint filed but this is where the problem lies, the victim is usually talked or threatened out of doing so for various reasons. The only sure thing about batterers is that they will repeat their actions unless there is an intervention. Secrecy is their greatest defense.

Many times a first offense is reported, recorded and dealt with through counseling and probation. When abuse is exposed and dealt with right away it lessens the chance of the cycle repeating itself. If left alone too long, however, complications arise and the success rate for counseling goes down because the cycle becomes too deeply ingrained. The key to breaking the cycle is to report the violence as soon as it starts and get it on record.

What the Counselors Recommend

If a person has been trapped in a cycle of domestic abuse for any length of time, counselors and women's shelter workers say that the key issue is safety. In my experience, I have noted that when the abuse is on-going and the woman fights back, the violence is likely to worsen. Also, if an abused woman leaves without a plan or protection she is likely to be drawn back into the cycle or hurt in other ways.

Counselors recommend that if you are dealing with someone who is in this type of situation you should:

  1. Listen carefully without judging, blaming or taking sides. If the person is reassured that you are listening objectively, she may trust your advice later on.
  2. Try to explain that her situation is not unique but fits the pattern of the domestic violence cycle. She needs to know that others go through this and it is not normal or acceptable.
  3. Help her make a plan that will guarantee the safety of her children and herself. Leaving an abusive partner is very difficult for all the reasons mentioned before, especially if the departure is not carefully planned.
  4. The best place for her to go is not a shelter, but a home. Families, churches as well as counseling professionals need to be involved in order to break the cycle and help re-establish a safe environment.

We need to understand that being abused by anyone, especially our marriage partner, is against God's law as well as man's law. When a woman is in constant danger of being hurt by her husband she should seek safety for herself and her children. This is her number one priority.

What the Bible Says About Abuse

An additional burden carried by Christian women who are caught in the domestic violence cycle is what to do concerning their marriage. Women of faith are faced with a dilemma when an otherwise faithful husband begins to abuse her and/or the children. On the one hand, she needs to find safety to preserve herself and her children but, on the other hand, does not want to violate her conscience with an improper divorce, even if it frees her from the threat of more violence or abuse. This is a very difficult decision and every case is unique, but there are some general principles from the Bible that can guide us.

1. Do not be unequally yoked in the first place.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
- II Corinthians 6:14

Paul speaks here of Christians not uniting themselves with pagans so as to not pollute their worship with pagan ideas and practices. This imagery of being unequally yoked can also be applied to marriage as well. When I carefully examine the marriages where there is abuse I rarely, if ever, find a situation where a woman married a good and faithful Christian man and he turned out to be an abuser. You usually see the signs of trouble long before marriage. For example:

  • He is not a Christian or he is a marginal one.
  • He begins to verbally or emotionally abuse her before they marry.
  • The woman herself was not a Christian or weak in her faith at the time.
  • The couple engaged in sex before marriage, blinding out any chance for an objective evaluation of one another before marrying.

A dependable rule of thumb is that if a man truly loves the Lord it will be obvious, and if he does, he will also know how to love you. When you marry a person who is not a Christian, you marry an unregenerated sinner and there is no telling what he will become without Christ.

2. Loving yourself is the second greatest command.

37And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38This is the great and foremost commandment. 39The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
- Matthew 22:37-39

The greatest command is to love God with all your being. We understand and practice this by believing and obeying Jesus Christ. The second greatest command is to love ourselves, not love our neighbors. We are to show love to our neighbors in the way we love ourselves, not vice versa. First, we learn to love ourselves and then we can extend that love to our neighbors, it does not work the other way around.

One of the most asked questions by people observing an abusive situation taking place in someone else's family is, "Why do women in these relationships allow themselves to be battered in the first place?" There are several possible answers:

  • They saw this in their own families and are, in some strange way, familiar with this kind of man and situation.
  • Ignorance/weakness, they do not know any better or are too weak emotionally, financially or socially to break out.
  • They like the excitement created by the highs and lows of the cycle (i.e. they enjoy the "honeymoon" period between violent events and believe they can maintain the peace). It is like a drug, they are addicted to the action.
  • The one most common denominator, however, is that these women do not like themselves much. There could be many reasons for this (abused as children in some way, divorce or problems in parents' marriage for which they take blame, too much negative feedback or too little approval as children).

For whatever reasons, these women have esteem problems and the first step to help them get out of this cycle of violence is to convince them that they are worthy of being loved and cared for properly. In other words, if they love God and want to obey and please Him, they need to obey His command to love yourself.

In practical terms this means:

You do not have to live like this.

Loving yourself means avoiding situations where you can be abused or injured for no reason. The Apostle Paul was ready to die for the gospel if he had no choice, but given the opportunity he loved himself enough to escape those who wanted to kill him.

You do not deserve this.

God is our judge, He will punish. The state has a right to punish criminals. No one else has this right, and that includes spouses. Loving ourselves means that we will not allow anyone to abuse us for whatever reason. Abused women need to know that protecting themselves from harm is part of doing God's will. Because He loves us, we should love ourselves also.

3. Abusive partners are sinners.

28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church
- Ephesians 5:28-29

The Bible does not say it in a negative way, "Thou shalt not abuse your wife." Instead, Paul gives the positive command to husbands as to the treatment of their wives: Love them as your own bodies, anything you do for yourself do for her, anything you would not do to yourself, do not do to her. Your goal is to love her as Christ loved the church. This includes supporting, protecting, nurturing and even sacrificing your life for her if need be. Obviously, there is no room for abuse, manipulation, violence or obsessive control.

Peter says that a husband who does not honor, understand and care for his wife will not be heard by God in prayer (I Peter 3:7). In the end, God will judge everyone, and husbands who have been guilty of outbursts of anger, violence or abuse will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19).

4. The bottom line in marriage is peace.

12But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
- I Corinthians 7:12-16

The best-case scenario is that two Christians, who are virgins, marry and establish a Christian home for life, and then die and go to heaven. In the first century church at Corinth not many could claim this ideal, so Paul gives instructions to guide the various marital combinations:

25Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
- I Corinthians 7:25-28

To singles, he says it is better to remain that way, but if they marry they do not sin.

10But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
- I Corinthians 7:10-11

To Christian couples, he says that if they are having problems they can separate for a time in order to work things out but must not divorce.

8But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
- I Corinthians 7:8-9

To widows and divorcees, he says that they are better off remaining unmarried but, if they cannot control their sexual desires, they are better off getting married again than sinning through fornication.

Finally, to those married to non-Christians (and for the purpose of this section I include abusive husbands in this category because most times batterers are non-Christians or Christians who have fallen away) Paul gives this advice: If you can live in peace, do so, do not leave because you are legitimately married and you are the only chance your spouse has of hearing the gospel. Living in peace, in a domestic violence situation, means that the abuser is seeking the help he needs in order to get the situation under control so there can be peace in the marriage.

Paul then says, if he leaves, let him go. When Paul says, "let him go, you are not under bondage," he includes the idea of peace. In other words, if they refuse to live in peace, you are not under bondage to remain. In verse 16 he admonishes the Christian partner not to be so sure that forcing the unbeliever to stay (or continuing to live under siege with an abuser) will somehow force him to be saved. You do not know that this will happen and should not base your decision on this hope.

I believe that Paul is saying that if the unbeliever is willing to live in peace despite your differences, you should stay because under these circumstances you might have a chance to save his soul. On the other hand, if he refuses to live with you because of your faith, or refuses to live in peace with you (in domestic violence situations this would mean he refuses to get help for this problem) then you are not bound to him anymore. Let him go (or in the case of abuse, save yourself), because hanging on in this kind of situation will not guarantee the salvation of his soul. If he rejects you or beats you, he rejects the Spirit that is within you.

The big question, of course, is whether Paul is referring to divorce here or not. I believe that he is referring to divorce for one reason in particular. Throughout the passage he has been talking about marriage and divorce, when you can and when you cannot. In this passage he simply says that you can (you are not bound). The confusion has come about because he does not use the word divorce, but rather a euphemism that means the same thing, "not bound."

Of course, every situation is different and we must carefully examine our conscience and God's word before making decisions. With patience, forgiveness, effort, prayer and repentance some marriages can be saved and rebuilt. Paul says that when everything fails, the believer does not have to be bound to one who rejects them by abandoning them or, I would add, abusing them which is the same thing except the punishment and cruelty is physical as well as emotional. God has called us to peace, not to abandonment, abuse or terror by our spouses.

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