Her life is sometimes threatened by domestic violence, but she stays! What is Christian response to that?
Dealing with this situation might be one the most difficult of all because we are afraid for her. We feel helpless and sometimes positively frantic....
But we must respect her choice.
Give her good and responsible counsel, yes. Encourage her to think of her safety first, yes. But in the end, if she chooses to stay, then we must respect that decision; and we must do it without succumbing to the hateful default attitude of, "If I were her...!"
We're not her. Most women are not in her shoes and never will. What a blessing to be one of those. But thousands of women, along with many more men than we imagine, live in homes where abuse is the norm. Domestic abuse, in all its ugly and dangerous forms, is unacceptable. But whether a wife chooses to stay due to her Christian faith or some other reason, such as the strongest emotion--love, or the second strongest--fear, economic abuse, custody of children, or some other reason they find compelling enough to stay in a dreadful and possibly deadly situation, **we must not withdraw our love, friendship, respect, or prayer support from them.
** Space prohibits addressing related issues, such as child abuse associated with domestic violence. That is another can of worms and, although related, it is one of many entirely separate issues connected with DV. In my book, Woman Submit, I do deal with the subject in a peripheral manner through the amazing artwork of Kathy Isler.
Women who were raised in (or who attend churches) where male governance is taught, are particularly vulnerable. They are the least likely to leave or confide in anyone. If they do, rest assured it is only because they feel desperate. But even if they do confide in someone, don't assume it is because they are ready to leave the marriages. False teachings about male governance and God's displeasure with women who leave their husbands for any reason at all, has often been pounded into their psyches for years, these wives are the least likely to take legal action against criminally abusive husbands or to leave the marriage. At the risk of their very lives, they will stay. If they do leave, it is usually only temporary, with the goal of "fixing" things and working towards reconciliation, which their pastors usually endorse.
These victims often have a high moral compass. They are faithful wives, the truest of friends, may be successful career women, are likely to be active in their churches or other ministry work. They are frequently respected for their intelligence, spiritual discernment, and giftings (ditch the stereotypes!). But, because of faulty teaching about marriage and gender-roles, these often truly wonderful people are caught between emotional and spiritual rocks and hard places.
If they stay, at the very least their personal lives are ruined. If they are not severely injured or killed, they eventually stand to lose a high percentage of their Christian friends, because domestic violence is progressive. Over time, without intervention of some sort, it tends to become worse and worse, and most people --Christians are no exception--cannot handle the frustration of close friendship with someone who remains in an abusive marriage. Oxymoronically, this even includes those who agree that wives should remain in their marriages no matter what.
So where does that leave Christian victims of DV? Friends abandon them. Family may know of the abuse but wash their hands of the situation. Christian wives often feel as if they have no one to turn to and no place to go. And, if they do leave, they often do so in violation their conscience. They feel they sin against God by doing so, and displease their Christian leaders, who they are often not comfortable with going to for help anyway--or perhaps they have already done so and been told to stay and pray.
Who does that leave for them to turn to? I can tell you from painful personal experience, that my Jesus is an ever-present help in time of trouble. Being a Believer did not spare me from experiencing hellish abuse, but I cannot imagine having to have gone through those years without my Savior. Jesus said, "In the world you will have troubles, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And he showed up for me 100% of the time, and sometimes in the biggest of ways. I am only alive today because of HIS love, and care, and supernatural intervention.
It was the Word of God that showed me it was not God's will that I tolerate abuse. Not a single Christian ever told me that. It was through reading my Bible (I read every day always picking up today where I left off yesterday) that my eyes were opened, and I saw that it was God's express and written will that I be free from all abusive. I write about my Blueprint for Freedom in my book. But leaving for good was a process, and it took me a long time--eleven years--to become totally free (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) from abuse. I lost most of my friends during that process and was told once by my own mother (though she later apologized) not to call her about it ever again.
What to do when we are the one a victim turns to for help...again, and again, and again?
The first thing we do is not panic and start pressuring her to leave. It's Ok to ask if she is safe. It's Ok to ask if she wants to call the police, after all a crime has likely been committed. It's Ok to ask if she wants to leave. But if she is not ready to go, she is simply not going to do it, and we risk alienating her if we press the issue, and we don't want that. This would isolate her even more than her abuser already has, and she is going to need our friendship and support more than ever. Trust me, it will strengthen her.
A victim can be in church with us every Sunday, and still feel alone and isolated, because she trusts no one to understand or be a true friend to her. She has likely already experienced the disdain of family and lost many friends as she has struggled to navigate the awful minefield of domestic abuse or violence.
A Christian victim living with an abuser, whether he is a professing Christian or not, is experiencing more than a physical or emotional battle; she is smack in the middle of a spiritual battle. The battle between good and evil.
How fight spiritual battles? **Spiritual warfare is fighting the GOOD Fight, and Believers have powerful weapons at our disposal. But they are not the weapons we would imagine. The Bible says the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons but spiritual weapons that are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds....
**Staying with an abuser is dangerous. I never recommend it. The good fight of spiritual warfare can be fought from a safe distance--there are no time or distance barriers with God. But be aware that it is not a scriptural expectation that God will change abusers against their will. He has never promised such a thing, and many a woman has died holding on to that unscriptural expectation. One of the things I cover in my book is that we cannot change another person's behavior through prayer or anything else. And God never promises that we can. Though many of us see many miraculous answers to prayer for our loved ones, in the end, the only person we have the power to change (through prayer or any other means) is ourselves. Dedicating our lives to changing another person is called co-dependence. There are support groups for that. But there is no scriptural command or basis for such a goal as changing the behavior of others. It all boils down to personal choice--whether to live with abusive behavior or not.
Many, **mostly Christian wives, do not leave dangerous domestic situations because they are taught to stay and pray. I do not advocate for the stay and pray policy, but we cannot pretend that it does not exist and that many victims of abuse believe that is the will of God. And they are often encouraged to do so by pastors or other respected Christian friends or leaders.
**This article does not address women of other religions and regions of the world who experience domestic violence and cannot leave
Whatever the reason, we cannot reject victims who do not leave.
At this point, we have choices to make, and we do need to consider our own safety as well. The days are long gone when wife-beaters were only dangers to their wives. But do we follow a strict policy of withdrawing our friendship and rejecting battered wives who refuse to leave their batterers? Though the manner in which our friendship and support is demonstrated needs to be adjusted according to individual situations (there is a reason DV shelters have extra layers of security to protect both victims and staff), the answer is **No.
**Lots of qualifiers in this article, but this article does not address domestic violence situations where drugs or alcohol addiction in one or both parties are involved. Where Christian wives are concerned, if substance abuse plays a part in instances of domestic violence, it is usually not the victim who has the substance abuse problem but rather the abuser. Even so, advocates should be cautious in such situations, finding safe ways to lend friendship and support to victims. Tragically, even in marriages where drugs or alcohol are involved in the violence, some pastors still encourage wives to remain in risky circumstances.
So, the Christian wife, for whatever reason chooses to stay and fight the good fight while living with a potentially dangerous husband. What do we do? We fight the good fight with her (whether from up close or from a safe distance), and we let her know we love her and are on her side.
Prayer warriors know that in spiritual warfare, we seldom choose our battles. They simply present themselves. There are plenty out there. And I promise no one would choose this one. But when it comes to domestic violence, fighting the good fight, whether up close or from a safe distance, whether we are victim or advocate, it is not a choice; we are already in it. It is part of the oldest war in history. It started in the garden. It comes from the pits of hell. And it manifested with the first husband, who wasted no time in fulfilling the awful prophecy that husbands would dominate wives. History has proven the accuracy of this prophecy, which is not a command. It's a heads-up. It's a warning, to both men and women. It's a warning to men not to commit the sin of dominating/ruling over their wives. And it's a warning to wives that most husbands will try, and some husbands will try by force.
A decades-old survey, in one Christian denomination, showed that one in six women [within that denomination] experienced at least one instance of marital violence during their lifetimes. Current statistics do not show that domestic violence is on the decline. In fact, it has been shown that the complementarian teaching of male governance contributes to wife abuse and violence against women. Boys and young men, who are raised in that paradigm, behave condescendingly and abusively towards girls at home, in schools, and in churches. They say they have dodged a bullet in not being born female. Male on female assault and battery is increasing on college campuses, with strongly held religious beliefs about gender-roles being a known contributing factor to the rise in violence against women by men of any age.
And yet, girls and women are often blamed for the abuse they endure.
This article is directed towards Believers, to Christian women and men, so, back to spiritual warfare and supporting victims of abuse who choose not to leave their abusers. Only Christians can fight the GOOD fight. And we can't do that without the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
If a battered or abused Christian wife confides in us, yet refuses to take legal action against her abuser, or to leave, then we must stand with her in spiritual warfare--prayer. The Bible provides step-by-step instruction in this, and commands us to bear one another's burdens. Being careful of our own safety, we must not withdraw our love and friendship. We must not give abused sisters in the Lord the boot by kicking them out of our church fellowships (Yes. Some churches do this). Rather, we should earnestly pray for guidance in how to help bear the burdens of victims of domestic violence. Our Christian faith demands it.
Again, I am not an advocate of the stay and pray philosophy. I always advocate for the safety of the victim first, and I always let victims know this. But I also advocate for respecting a Christian wife's decision. We cannot make a wife leave an abusive husband. And just because a wife may turn to us for support, it may not be because she is ready, as yet, to leave her abuser. Maybe she never will be. We must be prepared for this eventuality.
Leaving a spouse cannot be compared with walking away from a controlling or abusive friend or acquaintance, that in itself is hard enough, ask anyone who has had to do it. Leaving a spouse is something altogether different. Having a spouse arrested cannot be compared with calling 911 on a prowler or stranger who threatens us. The emotional dynamics between husbands and wives simply cannot be compared with the emotional dynamics of any other relationship. And even though a victim is biblically free to leave, the pressures are strong to stay. The ties that bind are diverse and multi-faceted. The dynamics of abuse within the context of a "Christian" marriage are complex and convoluted at best.
Christians are called to be special people unto our God. And whether a Believing wife leaves or stays in an abusive marriage, that is legitimately her decision. There are ways we can help her bear that heavy burden--and it is a very heavy burden indeed. We can do it without accepting the abuse, we can do it while still giving sound advice (without harping), We can still respond to her need for love and friendship, along with non-judgmental support. We can show Christian love and genuine respect to someone who likely faces many more hard choices and who lives a very difficult life. We can do all this without placing conditions on our love and support.