Working Together to Listen and Learn by
Catherine Clark Kroeger
The following article is the introduction to Healing the Hurting Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women Catherine Clark Kroeger and James R. Beck, editors. It emphasizes the pressing need to bring the fact of abuse in the Christian home into the open and deal with it.
The inner prison door slid shut behind me as I started down the tunnel-like corridor. In one of the cubicles that lined the wall sat a member of the Christians for Biblical Equality --a man who had killed his wife and two children. As president emerita of the organization I had come to tell him that he was not beyond God's love and care. The terrible tragedy could not be undone, but he could still experience God's forgiveness, and he could still know the healing grace of repentance.
He told me that when the realization of that he did sweeps over him, he stuffs a pillow in his mouth so that others cannot hear him screaming. As I was leaving, the horror of the ghastly murders flooded over me, and I too wanted to scream. Clearly, membership in Christians for Biblical Equality had not been enough to prevent this terrible crime, nor had his long=standing profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Both he and his wife had been raised in evangelical Christian families and had committed themselves to Christ. Had the wider Christian community--the churches, pastors, Christian therapists, and friends--failed them both?
This case is far from unique. In America, three thousand women are slain by their domestic partners each year, and thousands of others are permanently injured. Children are abused and murdered at a lower rate than women, but the blood of these innocents cries out to those who will listen.
Even though abuse happens in Christian homes at nearly the same rate as in society as a whole, Christians do not recognize it or do not properly address it. Few pastors have received training in the treatment of domestic abuse, and in one survey, less than ten percent of Christian therapists, when provided with cast studies, were able to identify abusive family situations. Often, abused wives are mistakenly told they are partly to blame for the abuse and that greater submission or more prayer will solve the problem. Nowhere in the Bible are wives told to submit to abuse. The Bible does tell us, however, that the wrongdoing of a Christian is to be corrected by other believers.
For many evangelicals, the uneasiness associated with confronting abuse in Christian homes springs in part from their perplexity in interpreting certain biblical passages. If the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, then our standards must be consistent with its directives. Distortion of Scripture can prove dangerous as we go farther than is warranted by honest exegesis. Evangelicals also long to see families harmoniously untied. In our zeal to hasten the process, we sidestep the slow and painful steps that can lead to true transformation and healing.
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The GWTW Gathering
"The Gathering" is the first time in over seven years that GWTW has ever invited you, women and men, to come and join us for a time of worship, fellowship and interactive dialog on June 12 and 13. Our location at the Best Western in Irving, TX is less than an exit from the Sheraton, the location of the Apostolic Women Arising Conference, June 14-17. Won't you plan to be us? No charge for the GWTW conference, but registration is vitally necessary. To register click here. The AWA registration goes up on April 28. For information & registration click here. Make your plans NOW!
It is with much prayer and searching of the scriptures that Gary and I sit down to address the subject of physical abuse and divorce in Christianity. Marriage is a sacred institution, divinely appointed by God Himself; a covenant that is not to be entered into lightly nor broken at the slightest whim. But in the case of physical abuse – of the spouse and/or of the children – does the Bible advocate divorce? Many Christians would automatically say, “Absolutely not! Unless there has been adultery, divorcing your husband or wife is a sin!” These saints are relying upon the traditional understanding of Matthew 19: 9: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
But to completely understand any scripture, it is important to identify what was happening at the time that it was written (or in this case, spoken) and to whom it was addressed. During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, Jewish women were of little more value than cattle. They were the possessions of their fathers until they became the possessions of their husbands. They had no rights and were at the mercy of their husbands for absolutely everything: clothing, shelter, food, kindness and love. And tragically, many Jewish husbands treated their wives as if they were possessions - routinely dismissing a wife which displeased them, much like we get rid of an old car so that we can purchase a new one today. But this was a sin on so many levels, not the least of which is the economic burden this placed upon these divorced women. There were no factories for them to seek a job in. No colleges to get training or a degree. No, these divorced women had three choices: 1) find a husband and find one quick; 2) go back home to momma and daddy if they will have you; 3) become a beggar or a prostitute.
So, now that we understand what was going on at this time, let’s go back to Judea where we find Jesus healing the multitudes. And He’s approached by some Pharisees who ask Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” (Matthew 19: 3). Now there were two schools of thought regarding divorce among the rabbis of that day. One group believed that Deut. 24:1 indicated you could divorce your wife for sexual immorality only and the other group believed that a husband could dismiss his wife for any reason at all. But Jesus at first refused to be pulled into this argument. Instead, what did He do? He pointed back to the Garden of Eden, back before the fall of mankind, when God placed both husband and wife on equal footing (Genesis 1:27-28). “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Jesus made no distinction between husband and wife – the two are “one flesh” He said – declaring the absurdity of divorce.
Now, as you can well imagine, this was not an answer that pleased either camp! “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” the Pharisees sputtered defensively.
“Because of the hardness of your heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” Jesus answered. You see, before the Mosaic Law, husbands apparently dismissed their wives without offering them any sort of legal protection at all. They were just kicked out of the house – still the legal spouse of that man, yet not being cared for by him at all. These Jewish women couldn’t remarry and get on with their lives. And if they did take up with another man, they were sinning! So, Moses allowed husbands to give their wives a bill of divorcement so that these women could remarry, have children and some sort of economic security.
And then, Jesus made a judgment regarding their rabbinical argument: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman, commits adultery.” So, there. He’d come down on the side of the rabbis that believed divorcing your wife was only right if she was unfaithful to her husband. And the reaction of Jesus’ disciples was quite telling. These are men who loved Jesus and had been walking with Him for a while now, yet when they realized that Jesus condemned trading in your wife for a new one, they said, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry!” Or, as The Message version of the Bible puts it, "If those are the terms of marriage, we're stuck. Why get married?"
Now, please note that the Pharisees never asked on what basis a wife could divorce her husband. And guess why? They were not allowed to! The problem of Jewish women dumping their husbands did not exist. Now, in the Greek and Roman world, women were allowed to divorce their husbands. Paul addressed the issue of Christian women divorcing unbelieving spouses in 1 Corinthians 7:10–17. And the bottom line of this command is: If your husband will consent to live with you, let him stay. Don’t divorce him just because he’s not a Christian.
But what about physical abuse? What does the scripture have to say about this? The Word of God is actually quite vocal on the issue. 1 Corinthians 3: 16 asks us, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” And then, the next verse lets us know exactly how much God hates abuse directed at a Christian, “If any man destroys the temple of God [the body of a Believer], God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” We must understand that as Christians, our bodies are sacred, holy, set apart for the purposes of God. And to allow abuse when we could access legal protection is to become partners with the abuser in destroying the “temple of God.”
It is critical that we understand any time someone is physically abusive to their spouse, demonic and wicked strongholds are involved. You see, according to the Word of God, the husband’s body belongs to the wife, and the wife’s body belongs to the husband (1 Corinthians 7:4). Ephesians 5: 28-29 leaves no doubt as to the “oneness” of husband and wife: “So, husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church.” The Holy Spirit could not be clearer: No one in their right mind abuses their own body. Only demoniacs do this. Just take a look at Mark 5 and read about Jesus’ encounter with the demon-possessed man who was constantly gashing at his own flesh. No, there is no doubt, when it comes to spousal abuse, demonic strongholds are involved. And the wife or husband that is being subjected to this type of abuse, must value their bodies as temples of the Holy Ghost and seek shelter, even divorce if their spouse does not change completely.
And the final note on this subject must address the children involved in these situations. If a woman or man decides – against wisdom and against the admonition of the Lord – to remain in this situation, they must forget their own needs and consider their responsibility as parents. If they decide that they were created and placed on this earth to be somebody’s punching bag, that God has good and kind thoughts toward everyone but them (Jeremiah 29:11), they still have to remove the children from this hell hole. Even if the children are not being abused, if only the mother or father is suffering physical abuse and degradation, they still have to leave with the children. Why? Because, like it or not, these children are being trained to become abusers and abused. The abused wife must be asked, “Do you want your daughter to become somebody’s punching bag? Because that is exactly what you’re teaching her. Do you want your son to beat up his wife? Because, by your staying, that is exactly what you’re teaching him.” Those of us who counsel abused spouses must confront them at times – painfully so, I’m afraid – with the reality of what they are doing to their children. It is called a “cycle of abuse” for a reason. These children grow up believing abuse is normal and the only way to teach them otherwise is to completely remove them from the situation. The Word is clear regarding our weighty responsibility towards children: "But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you'll soon wish you hadn't. You'd be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck” (The Message). And this warning certainly applies to parents as much as it does to strangers.
We must always remember that the covenant of marriage must be treated with grace - there is room within it for the weaknesses of both husband and wife. But, when it comes to physical abuse, a line must be drawn.
How do I say, "Highly recommend?" I place The Fall of Patriarchy very close to God's Word to Women in its eye-opening effect. Truly the eyes of my understanding have been enlightened! Birkey contends that patriarchal rule and its vestiges are rooted in the fall. A belief confirmed by Jesus and His first century church who rejected patriarchy and hierarchical structures still accepted by the secular world, other religions and much of Christianity today.
Easy to read? No. It's meat, not milk, but well worth the effort.