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.
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.