Catherine Kroeger is RANKED
ADJUNCT ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT GORDON CONWELL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY.
She co-authored No Place for Abuse: Biblical & Practical Resources
to Counteract Domestic Violence with Nancy Nason-Clark (Intervarsity
Press, 2001) and edited, along with James R. Beck, Healing the Hurting:
Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women (1998) and Women, Abuse,
and the Bible: How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or to Heal (1996),
both published by Baker Book House.
Abused Bride of Christ
By Dr. Catherine Clark
Reprinted with permission from
Like many an abused woman,
the church is battered and bleeding from a wound that she fails to recognize.
Many evangelicals cannot bear to acknowledge that spousal abuse is an
enduring problem within our very walls. Both individually and as a faith
community, we are ashamed and humiliated to admit the presence of such
a problem. It is far easier to deny, to minimize, and to conceal.
Evangelicalism has been effective
in proclaiming the redemptive and reconciling love of God to a world
in desperate need. In the last half-century, it has gained in both numbers
and influence throughout the globe. Believers can point to many accomplishments
and ministries through which they have sought to bring glory to God
and healing balm to those in need. We have recognized the need to be
doers of the Word and not just hearers.
In at least one area, however,
evangelicals have lagged far behind others involved in humanitarian
endeavors. We have failed to address the issue of domestic abuse in
any significant way. In actuality, our leaders have been caught in a
dilemma that leaves them with such a high degree of discomfort that
they cannot even acknowledge the problem.
Quite correctly, they maintain
a high view of the Christian home and seek to build strong families.
This is commendable, but it is important that a biblical perspective
be offered. In the Bible, one of the features most strongly emphasized
for godly homes is that of safety. Believers are promised that they
may dwell in safety, lie down to sleep in safety and that their homes
will be free of terror and violence. ”My people will abide in a peaceful
habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isaiah
The theme is a recurrent one.
Indeed, the prophet Isaiah maintains that peace in the home, safety,
and righteousness is the inheritance of the believer (54:13- 17). Faithful
teaching on the Christian family must include at least as much proclamation
of these aspects as is accorded them in Scripture.
Responsible research, such
as that of Calvin College and of Nancy Nason Clark, demonstrates that
the rate of abuse is at least as high as in the general population.
Because of an unwillingness to face this unpleasant truth, the problem
has been denied, concealed, minimized or ignored. Key organizations
that focus on the Christian family have failed to address the issue
and sometimes attribute concern over this area to those of a more liberal
bent. Yet the Bible calls upon the righteous to deliver the oppressed
from the hand of the violent and declares that God is angered that there
is none to intervene for them. For these reasons, it is imperative that
there be a Christian organization
that will help evangelicals to address
the issue within their own fold. Since they feel threatened at this
point, leaders need to understand that this will be an endeavor of those
who know Christ as Lord and Savior, those who seek to do His will. The
deep- seated suspicion may be dispelled first by demonstrating convincingly
the reality of the problem within evangelical homes, second by laying
out the biblical imperatives that demand a response, and third by offering
credible resources to bring about safety and healing. We need to be
able to talk to one another within the family of faith. Slowly we are
building a network of born again believers who are involved in ministry
to abusive families. There are social workers, shelter workers, therapists,
safe home providers, such as that of Calvin College and of Nancy Nason
Clark, demonstrates that the prevalence is at least as high as in the
general population. Because of an unwillingness to face this unpleasant
truth, the problem has been denied, concealed, minimized, or ignored.
Key organizations that focus on the Christian family have failed to
address the issue and sometimes question the orthodoxy of those who
express a concern. Yet the Bible calls upon the righteous to deliver
the oppressed from the hand of the violent and declares that God is
angered when no one steps up to intervene for them.
The Psalms repeatedly denounce
violence, bloodshed, lying in wait, stalking, and twisting of a person’s
words, verbal abuse, threats, and intimidation. How strange that we
do not understand that these dictates apply as much too domestic abuse
as they do to other sorts of violence and mistreatment. Yes, we have
been blind to a problem that lies right within our own homes.
The task of the church is to
be prophetic, as were the faithful messengers of God so long ago. Our
mission is not only to declare God’s forgiveness but also to point
to the conduct that requires forgiveness and transformation. Only when
we identify the sin can we begin to move toward repentance and wholeness
in Jesus Christ.
There are many reasons why
it is imperative that evangelicals address the problem, but the first
is that allowing abuse to continue harms the abuser. ”You cannot strike
one another with wicked fists as you do today and expect your prayers
to be heard on high,” cautions Isaiah (58:4), while Peter commands
husbands to live with their wives considerately, ”lest your prayers
be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Yes, allowing wrongdoing to continue violates
the soul of the perpetrator. Many abusers are frightened, insecure people
who need the voice of the church in guidance, counsel, and redirection.
The Scriptures tell us that the evil executed by the violent person
“recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head” (Psalm
7:16). But that abuse also comes back upon all who are in the body of
Christ. When we choose to ignore the affliction of women and children
within our midst, all of us are tainted (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). We are
inseparably bound to one another, and when one suffers, we all suffer
(1 Corinthians 12:26). When the sin of one is countenanced, all are
THE NEW TESTAMENT TWICE EXCLUDES
BATTERERS FROM HOLDING CHURCH OFFICE. (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) In
dealing with a domestic problem in Corinth, Paul holds the entire congregation
accountable (1 Corinthians 5:2- 5).He identifies a wrongdoer who must
be reproved and removed from full fellowship of the church. He may be
mentored, monitored, and ministered to--but not accepted as though nothing
were wrong. Paul’s objective in this is so that ultimately the offender
may be reclaimed. All too often in the modern church, no one dares to
approach the perpetrator while the victim is showered with all kinds
of advice and reproof.
Modern-day offenders may be
helped to find counseling, accountability groups, batterers’ groups,
and a mentor. There is a need for prayer both with and for them. Couples
counseling is usually unwise, but a group approach is often effective.
A study of 1,000 case files from a Christian batterer intervention group
revealed that offenders referred to the program by the pastor had a
success rate nearly 30 percent higher than those who were court-referred.
Those who are jailed for their offenses should receive ongoing concern
and visitation from the church. Our desire is that they may be made
whole by the power of Christ. The involvement of the faith community
is desperately important.
Although the majority of Christian
women will seek help in the first place from their pastor, many do not
find the support that they need. Often they do not find a listening
ear, nor are they believed when they start to disclose even a small
part of their distress. Some victims are sent back home to dangerous
situations, and many are not given food, shelter, or a caring environment.
Many are told to pray harder, to be more submissive, or to be better
wives. Some are even counseled that they will win their husbands’
salvation by their own patient endurance of abuse. Holding the victim
rather than the perpetrator responsible may create for the victim a
burden far harder to bear than her original plight.
For this reason those in deepest
need often find themselves alienated from the church. Most of these
women are not seeking dissolution of their marriage but rather a means
of stopping the abuse. To save themselves and their children they will
turn to other resources, often to those bitterly disenchanted by the
church’s lack of concern. Tragically, it has sometimes been those
most remote from the church, who have been the most willing to provide
safety and shelter, support and services, resources and rescue.
Due to our lack of preparedness,
we may often need to avail ourselves of community resources in order
to keep women and children safe. One pastor observed, “Better a community
shelter than a Christian funeral.” Most community shelters offer training
programs for volunteers, and there church members can learn how to deal
effectively with those in crisis, how to get a victim to safety, how
to utilize available resources, how to fill out a restraining order,
and how to offer constructive support.
As we encounter those who come
in distress, let us bear in mind that they must be believed. Because
of the intense shame at making such a disclosure, false allegations
are very rare. It is best to err on the side of safety. On the other
hand, church folks are often moved too speedily by expressions of remorse
and repentance on the part of the perpetrator. We are fully convinced
of God’s power to transform sinful human beings, but we must understand
that offenders frequently revert to the same conduct once the victim
is back under their roof. It is better for there to be a period of repentance
and a demonstrable change in behavior.
Neither should instantaneous
forgiveness be demanded on the part of the victim. This can tear open
wounds that need adequate time to heal. As one woman living in a Christian
community complained, “He broke my arm, and then I had to get right
back in the same bed with him.” Forgiveness is the work of the Holy
Spirit and cannot be pressured or scheduled. One might well reflect
upon the story of Joseph who tested his brothers carefully before effecting
a reconciliation that saved the lives of the whole family, or the story
of the Apostle Paul who was kept at arm’s length by the believers
in Jerusalem until he had proved his repentance again and again.
Our task is to bring wholeness
and safety to hurting families, but not simply to make our church “look
good.” We need rather to look long and hard at both the problem and
the potential for healing. Disgrace is brought upon the name of Christ
not because the victim discloses the abuse but because we fail to intervene
with God’s healing power. Sociologists tell us that abuse occurs within
about 25 percent of our church families. We have failed where we were
needed most. The church, too, has been victimized by our refusal to
recognize the evil and to respond, but the path to new beginnings is
open before the people of God.