Christian victims of domestic violence face the same hurdles to leaving an abusive relationship as do other victims, but they also have religious or biblical concerns, which make it difficult even getting to the stage of admitting abuse is happening without fearing ‘eternal condemnation’. We may also ask ourselves whether our experience within the relationship is what God intended for us.
One of the main dilemmas facing the victim of abuse and the Church leaders and/or members when dealing with the perpetrator of Domestic Violence, is the question of Forgiveness. Should we forgive the abuser unconditionally? How do we tell if repentance has taken place? Should the acts be forgiven and forgotten? For the victim, is it her/his duty to forgive each incident, act as though nothing had happened and continue to put herself/himself at risk from the abuser? Do we need to be forgiven ourselves and is that forgiveness available to us?
Many victims of abuse turn to their church leader for advice on how to deal with the abuse, whether it is acceptable in the sight of the Lord to leave the abuser, is divorce an option which is acceptable to the Lord, can the Church help to stop the abuse, hold the abuser accountable, help to protect the victim and children? How should clergy respond? Spiritual abuse found within the context of domestic violence stems directly from misunderstanding and false premises.
Religion and Domestic Violence
Why consider the religious or spiritual issues of Religion and Domestic Violence? Because these are fundamental not only to the believing victim and abuser as well as their Church, but also to all those who live in a culture which is largely based upon Christian moral values and traditions.
Religious people across all denominations are not exempt from Domestic Abuse, however, there appears to be a serious lack of understanding regarding abuse and the dynamics of abusive relationships and their impact upon the lives of people involved within churches and denominations generally.
When considering Religion and Domestic Violence we have to realize that religious or spiritual factors are central to the victim’s understanding and response. His/her own faith and the support of Church members can be vital in helping the healing process, while a lack of understanding regarding the Biblical perspective on abusive relationships by the victim or those he/she turns to for spiritual guidance and support can add to the emotional, physical and financial hurdles already faced.
Many women in abusive relationships feel they ought to submit to their husbands out of duty, that they have no right over their own body, life or even opinions. Quite often this misconception is furthered by advice from clergy, elders, rabbis or other members of the Church or congregation. Some men may feel trapped by their beliefs in an abusive relationship, unsure of their position towards their wives or girl-friends.
Often quotations or excerpts from the Bible are used to justify abusive behavior or the suppression by one member of the household of another. This in itself is a form of spiritual abuse.
From: Hidden Hurt
What is Abuse?
by Jeff Crippen
Very few people know what abuse really is, though everyone seems quite ready to give advice to its victims. If you believe that abuse is physical battering, you have some learning to do.
Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.
While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways.
Abuse in any of its forms destroys the victim’s person. Abuse, in the end, is murder.
* Sometimes the genders are reversed.
Can Abusers Change?
To say that abusers cannot change removes responsibility for sin. They can change, but the vast majority choose not to, which is what the experts state. When God punishes them, their punishment is just. Abusers have options for treatment and are accountable.
Once the marriage covenant is broken through abuse, the abused partner does not need to stay in the marriage waiting for the abuser to change. The abuser’s recovery is a separate issue and his change is his own responsibility, not his wife’s. This is the mistake most churches make. These churches have over-sentimentalized marriage and are legalists.
Celebrity Victims of Abuse
by Linda Irene
Domestic violence comes in many forms—emotional, verbal, sexual or physical. It can be against a man, woman or child. Some of the richest, most famous and most powerful people in the world have been affected by domestic abuse.
Domestic violence is no laughing matter. Anyone affected by abuse has had their self-esteem and self-confidence stolen from them. They spend many years trying to overcome, rebuild and restore some sense purpose and meaning to their lives. People of celebrity are not immune. Below is just a partial list of those whose lives have been affected by abuse. The most recent is that of Janay Palmer–Mrs. Ray Rice.
Victims of abuse not only stay with their abusers, they typically defend them and their behavior. If you, or anyone you know is in an abusive relationship know this: A leopard does not change his spots. You cannot change him or her. You can only change yourself and your reaction to him/her. The more you try to ‘understand’ and forgive, the longer you perpetuate the situation. The only hope you have of salvaging the relationship, if that is what you want, is to make the abuser accountable. It’s called tough love. Tough love is not only for wayward teens. It’s for wayward spouses, etc. as well. Get the support of others, including pastors, counselors and others who are experienced with effectively handling abuse cases, to stand with you, guide and direct you. First and foremost, do whatever it takes to keep yourself and your children safe.
The film Two Weeks starring Sally Field as the mother (Anita), of four children was based on the personal experience of writer-director Steve Stockman. The film covers the two week period surrounding Anita’s death. At her request each of the four children, Matthew (Glenn Howerton), Keith (Ben Chaplin) Barry (Thomas Cavanagh) and Emily (Julianne Nicholson) leave jobs and family to return to the family home in North Carolina to be with their dying mother, not knowing how long that will be.
I cringed watching the film as Anita controlled the division of her earthly possessions she called “heirlooms” while still alive, and then gain after her death with the letter she wrote, “to be opened after” which detailed more property divisions.
I was conflicted about her request that her children come be with her while she lay dying and wait there until it happened. On one hand it may be a time that family needs to be together for support of each other and to bear each other up during a time of great stress; but, on the other hand I felt it was too much to ask of her children—to put them through all of that. I mean who really wants to have your mother’s stuff divvied up while she is still living and try to feel good about taking it. In addition, the stress of watching your mother deteriorate before your eyes, knowing she is dying but not really knowing when—having to put your own life on hold for an indefinite amount of time, was in my opinion, selfish and controlling to the nth degree.
Anita thoughtlessly gave things away that he would obviously still use after she was gone. At one point he asks “what am I going to do for a table?” A legitimate question—one that should not have had to be asked.
Summary: Some people control us in life and continue to do so from the grave. This movie depicts another form of subtle abuse—control. Wouldn’t it have been kinder and more loving for Anita to ask her children to come to her bedside to say goodbye, then release them to their lives and not hold them captive until she breathed her last breath? Wouldn’t it have been more thoughtful and considerate to all parties to give each child something special and let it at that? Can you imagine the havoc and strain those two weeks played on the children and Anita’s husband watching her every moment, trying to cope with loss and grief while at the same time making preparations for death? I believe it was cruel for her to ask her loved ones to sit endlessly at her bedside, waiting…
The children and her husband selflessly did as she requested despite their personal cost. That seems to be what the abused do—they make excuses for another’s behavior and they accept it as okay. I wonder what would have happened if the husband or children would have been more assertive and had set some boundaries for themselves. I wonder…