And Now, In Conclusion. . . .

I think I’ve finished with the topic of domestic violence for now.  I just want to say a couple of things to wrap up this topic. One of them is this:  The abuser uses silence to protect himself from being exposed.

Remember, this man is often respected in his workplace and, especially, in his church. He doesn’t want you to blow his cover.  He keeps you quiet by threats of more violence, or by promises that it won’t happen again.  He plays on your sympathy by pointing out that he could lose his job, or his position as an elder, deacon, or pastor.  He may even threaten to harm your children if you tell anyone what is going on in your home.

Years ago, in 1983, there was a case in central Minnesota in which a pastor’s wife shot and killed her husband. The whole area was shocked. This type of violence was pretty unusual. As the case was investigated, it became clear that the woman had been victimized for years by her control-freak spouse. He was smart, though. He never marked her anywhere that would show. He never let her go to a doctor or a hospital, either.

Once, however, the wife was having a dress fitted and needed to remove her outer clothing. The dressmaker saw the bruises.  If my memory is correct (and forgive me, it was a long time ago) the dressmaker testified at the trial about what she had seen. The woman acknowledged that she was indeed a victim of years of physical abuse. She never denied that she had shot and killed her husband.  She was so depressed and miserable that she was willing to go to prison or even death row in order to escape the pain, fear, and humiliation.

The jury found her innocent.  Self-defense.  Praise the Lord!

I’ve had some inquiries from women who are in violent marriages. They want help, but don’t know where to go.  I’ve done my best to give them some advice.  The one piece of advice I’d like to leave with you tonight is this:

If you are being hurt physically, get out right now. Call your local police and ask for help in finding a shelter if you don’t know where to go.

If you are being hurt emotionally, mentally, verbally, or spiritually you still need to consider separating for a time while you get your mind clear and can figure out what to do.

Please, do NOT allow yourself to be caught in the “just pray, obey, and stay” trap that well-meaning but clueless church leaders can often suggest to you. They don’t really understand.  If they could see even one incident of what goes on in your home, they would help you find a way to leave. Usually, they just can’t believe that someone they know and possibly respect could actually be capable of what you’re describing.

Leaving is not equivalent with divorcing. You can still try to get your abuser into some kind of counseling help. You can work on your own issues that kept you in this awful situation for so long.

Above all, don’t just do nothing.  Get help. God does not require you to accept a life of misery in the name of wifely submission.

Domestic Violence: Profile of a Victim

Really?  There’s a profile that fits victims of domestic abuse?  Yes. Absolutely. I’m going to write tonight strictly from my heart and from my personal observations  during my years of working as a therapist.  You can probably find similar information if you google it. Nothing that I say here is backed up by longitudinal  or anecdotal studies that I have seen, but I’m pretty sure there are some studies out there. 

Here’s a list of characteristics as they occur to me:

1.  The victim has suffered some type of abuse at an earlier point in her life. 

2.  The victim has a very low opinion of her own worth and value. 

3.   She has a desire to please the people in her life. 

4.   She is comfortable with a strict regimen of rules to follow. 

5.   She carries a strong sense of guilt.  About everything. 

6.   She has trouble with confrontation.  She’d rather give in than fight. 

7.    She is not usually quick with words to defend herself. 

8.    In the beginning of their relationship, her abuser made her feel very special because        he  paid so much attention to her, demanded to know where she would be, who she          would be with, and so on.  All this in the name of “worrying for her safety.”

9.   Early on, her abuser may have told her he would kill himself if she ever left him. 

10.  The victim is willing to accept blame, almost always. 

11.  When asked why she stays, she typically responds that she loves him, and that when           things are good, it’s wonderful. 

12.  She often has no education beyond high school; she stays because she feels she can’t         support herself and the children on her own. 

13.  The abuser has successfully cut her off from family, friends, neighbors. Often she has        no transportation and must rely on him to drive her wherever she needs to go. 

14.  The abuser handles all the money, all the time.  He gives her a small allowance, for             which she is to express gratitude. 

15.   The victim has often been so browbeaten that she has lost all hope, feels she is not            worth rescuing.  She feels that if she just tries harder, he won’t have to abuse her  any more. 

16.    The victim tends to be very gentle in spirit, softhearted, and a sucker for tears of                apparent remorse. 

17.    The victim often has a strong belief in the inherent goodness of her abuser; if only                     he could stop drinking/doing drugs/having temper tantrums etc., then everything                     would be wonderful. 

18.   The victim worries about hurting her abuser’s feelings. “He’ll be so sad if I leave!”

19.    The victim may feel her abuser did her a favor by marrying her, rescuing her from                       the terrible household in which she grew up.

20.    The victim has given up everything that made her a unique individual. This can                              include dressing well, letting her hair grow very long, stopping the use of makeup                      and/or jewelry; it can include her giving up a loved hobby or talent because it “takes                  too much time away from him.”  She does all this because it’s what he wants. 

That’s not all, but it’s enough.  Quite a list, isn’t it?  The thing that amazes me is how many women fit every single one of these points, and yet do not realize, or admit, that they are living with an abuser. Often, if they get as far as seeing someone like me, they think it’s because they’re depressed, or have chronic fatigue, or need to learn how to be more submissive. 

It’s very tempting for me to take these women by their cheeks and say, “What is WRONG with you!” But I don’t. That would only pile on more guilt. I’m very gentle with them, and I try to show them from God’s Word that there is a Man Who loves them, and Who will never hurt them; I try to show them that there is hope. 

There is always hope. 

Domestic Violence: Divorce and Remarriage

Matthew 12:7. “For if ye had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath day.”

Time after time, in His ministry on earth, Jesus overturned the rules.  He not only desired that mercy be practiced; He showed us how to do that.  He forgave, He loved, He accepted those who had sinned—which, really, is all of us, isn’t it?  He never condoned the sin; in many other scriptures, we see His judgment on continuous sin.

The major topic today is remarriage after divorce for reasons of abuse.  I want to stop here and say a heartfelt thanks for the reception of my post on divorce last week.  I’m so surprised that not even one person wrote to argue with me.  Maybe those who disagree just don’t read my blog 🙂  Many of you sent positive responses, and my reader statistics soared on that post.  Every writer wants to know that she’s being “heard.” So thank you.

If you’ll remember the story behind today’s picture, you know that this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  She was taken out to be stoned, and the Pharisees even brought her to Jesus, to see what He would do.  Of course you know that He embarrassed the Pharisees, forgave the woman, and told her to go and sin no more.  Mercy.

I’m slowly reading through a remarkable book by Jeff Crippen, A Cry for Justice, Calvary Press, 2012.  You should get the book, if you have an interest or a situation you’re not sure how to handle.  It’s written with great compassion and a lot of common sense. Pastor Crippen, thank you for sharing your book with me.

One of the things this author says is that we need to look at  any part of the scriptures in the light of how they support the totality of scripture.  For example, Micah 6:8 teaches us that the Lord requires of us  that we do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  This is an overarching principle in the Bible.  It is echoed in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep  His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret things, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

So then, every other  part of the scriptures needs to be consistent with these principles of justice, mercy, humility before God, respect for God, and obedience to God.  If we are to follow the example set by Jesus, we will show mercy rather than judgment. There is no thought of stepping outside of or over the Word of God here. Rather, the point is to fulfill God’s purpose that we live, behave, walk, as Jesus walked.  Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

I know all the arguments, scripturally derived and supported, that slam down a life sentence on anyone who divorces for any reason and then remarries.  I’ve been uncomfortable with most of them for many years, as I’ve seen sincere believers struggle with what they’ve always been taught amidst the misery their lives have become. And, as I’ve said before, the abuser is always quick to use those very scriptures to keep his victim in bondage.

Last week, I think I made it pretty clear that I do believe God has provided escape from an abusive situation.  The question remains, though, about whether or not He allows remarriage.   I cannot come down with an absolute yes or no here.  I wish I could.

Matthew 5:32 and Luke 14: 26, 33 are often the core passages used to deny remarriage after divorce.  For a very interesting discussion of these passages, go here:

http://www.jesusfamilies.org/Articles/Divorce.htm (always remembering that everything must be sifted through the filter of God’s Word, not the filter of our own prejudices).

I believe I can say, with conviction, that generally speaking, it is better for a divorced person to remain single. To do so prevents all the problems that can arise in step-families, with all the baggage that both families bring into the new relationship. I’ve personally known of more than one situation in which a divorced person stayed single until the ex-spouse died.  I think that’s commendable, and certainly in keeping with Jesus’ teaching.

I’ve also known many couples who have divorced and remarried, both before and after coming to know the Lord; most are doing very well, rearing kids in the church, serving God wherever they can.  I cannot and will not stand in judgment on these people.  God, Who knows the hearts of all men, will deal with all that.  I don’t have to.

What I must do, however, is to show mercy and forgiveness; I have to remember that Jesus told the Pharisees, “Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone.”

The only sin that God cannot forgive is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; that is, to attribute the powers of Jesus to the devil rather than to the Spirit.  Unbelief is the only unforgivable sin. We need to remember that when we look down our noses at divorced people, and especially at those who have remarried.

We need to put down our stones.

Domestic Abuse: Divorce, part two

Some of you may be wondering why there’s any question at all about this.  If he’s abusive, divorce him!  Seems like an easy answer, but for those who want to follow what the Bible teaches, it’s not that easy.  I do NOT claim to have the only definitive answer.   I certainly cannot pretend to solve a problem that has been debated for centuries.  All I can share here is my own understanding of what God’s Word has to say.

I’ve been studying I Corinthians 7 every day this week.  It seems to me that the key verse here is verse 15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God hath called us to peace.”

Depart is the word chorizo,  and means to separate, put space between; it was commonly used at the time to denote divorce, or putting asunder.

Usually, this verse has been applied to desertion; more specifically, to the desertion by an unbelieving spouse of a believing spouse. Abandonment has been seen as cause for separation, but not divorce.

Abusers, however, do not typically leave the relationship.  They want to keep it, because they crave the power, control, and warped sense of entitlement  it gives them.  So, the power still remains in  the hands of the abuser, because the believing spouse does not feel she has biblical authority to leave.

A quick review:  Abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior that belittles, demeans, degrades, and crushes the victim.  This abuse can happen in so many ways, including verbal, emotional, mental, and physical.  Many professing Christian men are quite adept at twisting the scriptures and using them against their wives, thereby using her own desire to obey God as a way to keep her under his control.

When the victim, finally exhausted and at the end of her strength to withstand the abuse, finally leaves the relationship, the question of “Who left?” is often used to bring her back into the marriage.  Maybe it would be better to ask, “Who caused her to leave?”  The one who perpetrated the abuse is the one who caused the chorizo,  NOT the one who finally escaped!

Let me put this in simpler terms.  I was watching a rerun of an old program the other night. The high school jock, star athlete, and conceited brat, was failing algebra.  He would be kicked off the team if he didn’t pass.  A concerned teacher got him a tutor, a peer; a girl in his class who was not one of the “cool girls.”  Mr. Jock wanted her to just do his assignments for him, saying “Come on, be a friend.” When she reluctantly refused, he stormed out.  Just before he got to the door, he said, “When I get kicked off the team, just remember it will be YOUR FAULT!”

Okay, we all know that was a classic job of blame-shifting.  It was his own fault, and he was trying to make it hers.

When a marriage breaks up, the abuser ALWAYS says it’s the victim’s fault for leaving. He shifts the blame to her, ignoring his years and years of tormenting her, degrading her, and beating her up. The abuser caused the separation.  The victim escaped.  If she had been held by any other man besides her husband, and been mistreated in the same way, everyone would be up in arms to rescue her and set her free.

Why don’t we have the same concern for a wife who needs to be rescued?

I still haven’t mentioned whether or not remarriage is an option for the believing spouse who has left an abusive relationship.  We’ll take a look at that next week.

If you are just coming into this series, you may want to go back and read the previous Friday posts about abuse.  I am not advocating that a believing spouse quickly and easily walk out of an abusive marriage. Especially if the abuser is a believer, every effort must be made to reconcile. But no one should be forced to stay in a marriage that destroys the heart and soul of the victim.  This is not what God established.

The end of I Cor. 7:15 says that “God has called us to peace.”  If peace cannot be found inside the marriage, then it must be found in separating from the marriage.  Must a victim of abuse divorce her spouse?  No.  She can separate without divorcing.  I do believe, however, that the option of divorce is not closed to the spouse who has suffered years of humiliating, chronic abuse.

As my cursor hovers over the “publish” button, I have strong misgivings.  What I have said here will not be accepted by a lot of people for whom I have great respect. I need to emphasize again that I know there will be disagreement, and I welcome that as long as it’s courteous. Please, no long discourses.  Use your own blog for that.Also, as I said at the top of this post, I do not claim to have the definitive answer. I do claim, however, that this post has been covered in prayer, sincere searching of my own heart, and thorough study of what the scriptures teach.  I do not believe that the heart of God is willing for anyone to live life as a victim of ongoing abuse; I believe He has provided a way of escape.

Domestic Abuse: Divorce

Pretty miserable picture, isn’t it?  You can almost hear the hopelessness.  My heart breaks for the baby, who is already learning how to behave in difficult situations:  When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!

I wish there were an easy, one-size fits all solution for the problem of whether or not a spouse can divorce her abuser. There isn’t.  I would never presume to be THE ONE with the perfect answer when all down through the centuries there has not been a universally approved solution to this problem.

You have those who say “No. Never. God hates divorce. There is never any permission given for a spouse to divorce an abuser.  The only permission given for divorce is in the case of infidelity, and even then there is no allowance for remarriage.”  This position is the most absolute, and is based mainly on the passage in Matthew 19. In that scripture, the Pharisees tried to trip up Jesus (foolish men!) on the question of divorce.

In His response, Jesus reviewed the Father’s plan for marriage:  One man, one woman, becoming one flesh for life. Man is not to divide that which God has joined.

But the Pharisees were wily, and they reminded Him of Moses having given a command to “put away,” or divorce one’s wife.  Jesus’ response was quick, and right to the heart. He said, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered (allowed) you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

Many have referred to this passage as the “exception clause,” because it was the only valid reason for divorce.  However, to remarry after divorce was considered adultery for either the husband or the wife.

It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, if there were no other behaviors that would make a woman want/need to leave her husband?  Then we wouldn’t need to have these discussions.

There is another position.  In I Corinthians 11, Paul wrote quite a bit about Christian marriage. You should read it, carefully and prayerfully, and as much without prejudice as possible.  If you were reared in the same generation or church environment that I was, you regard divorce as possibly the WORST of all sins.  That idea seems to have come from the statement that God hates divorce. It is also based on the picture in Ephesians 5 in which marriage represents Christ’s relationship with the church.  Marriage is sacred.

In I Corinthians, however, we’re given a little broader  scope to look at the possibility of leaving a spouse, and I will say at the outset that remarriage is still not an option; and I do not find it as an option anywhere else in the Bible.

Okay, let me stop here for just a minute.  And maybe this post is going to be in two parts 🙂

I can already hear the questions:  What?  God won’t forgive me if I remarry?  You’re telling me I have to just put up with the abuse?

God forgives all sin when it is brought to Him in repentance. I John 1:9. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to clease us from all unrighteousness.”

It is true that God hates divorce.  That does not mean He won’t forgive it.  He also hates lying (Proverbs 6), yet no one has ever turned anyone away from the church or declared them anathema because they have lied. Well, okay, there was Ananias and Sapphira, but that was a particularly nasty lie, and God dealt with it strongly.  It’s a good thing He doesn’t do that with us today, isn’t it?  We’d ALL be living in our mansions over the hilltop by now.

I am in no way minimizing the importance of marriage and divorce. It grieves the heart of God.  It destroys families.  It sets children up for all kinds of problems.  The povertization of women in America is largely due to divorce. There’s really just not much good to say about it.

Big “however”:  There are times when a woman is driven to desperate measures; when she can no longer endure; when she must protect her children.  She doesn’t have to stay in such a situation. She doesn’t have to divorce, but if she does, she must remain unmarried until the ex-spouse dies.

I’m going to stop right there, and let you think about what I’ve written so far. Please, please feel free to comment.  I will respond, unless the comments are just evil. Then I delete them.

Response

My word!  My Friday post, “Can I leave? Can I divorce Him?”  has literally gone to the top of my chart for readership.  I’m amazed at the number of hits on that post, and the number of shares.  I fervently hope and pray that the post has been helpful in clarifying the thinking of those who may be in an abusive situation. That’s what this blog is all about.

I will be posting on Friday, the 20th, about what I believe to be the biblical position on divorcing an abusive man.  Please pray for me as I prepare this one.  It’s a very difficult topic, and raises lots of controversy.  My heart is to say the truth, always.

While I am delighted at the readership on this one, I really wish there were more comments so that I know what you’re thinking.  Please feel free.  The only comments I won’t publish are those that are ugly, hateful, or full of foul language. I don’t mind if you disagree with me.  Just be polite 🙂

Domestic Violence: What Can I Do? (continued)

A client told me some time ago that she’d never known fear until she was trapped in a corner, watching her husband’s fist coming at her face, and knowing there was no escape.

The good news is, today she is free of him.  Not everyone can say that.   Violence typically escalates, and women show up in hospital emergency rooms with multiple bruises, contusions, lacerations, broken bones–because “a dresser fell on me.”  No one is fooled, but unless the woman asks for help, there is not much the hospital personnel can do.

Today, I want to discuss some other options besides leaving.  If the abuse is not physical, it may be possible to stay in the marriage.  Here are some things you can do:

Ask relatives, pastors, friends, to stage an intervention with the abuser.  During this intervention, the abuser is confronted honestly and in clear terms with his abusive behaviors.  Suggestions are made offering help to the abuser.

The problems with this approach center on two things.  First, it must be handled by an experienced, capable person who knows how and what to say and do.  Everyone involved must agree to be guided by this leader.

Second, if the abuser can’t be persuaded to stay, your cause may be lost.  And I would not go home with my abuser that night, were I in your shoes.

If your abuser is nonviolent and you don’t really think he will escalate, make it a practice to go after him every single time he manipulates, blame-shifts, belittles, orders, threatens, uses sarcasm, shame and humiliation.  Don’t let him get away with it even once.  Tell him you  will not tolerate being bullied ever again, and that he needs to change his behaviors.

Get your family into a good Bible-teaching church.  If your husband won’t go, go without him.

Suggest something like a marriage retreat, or a small group focusing on marriage.

Tell your husband you want to seek counseling, with or without him. Then do it.

Have a plan. This is so important.  Never let him put himself between you and your escape route.  Have car keys in your pocket at all times. Have a place to go. Contrary to what you may believe, there are people who know, or at least suspect, what is happening in your home.  One of them would be glad to give you shelter.  If you don’t have friends because your spouse has denied you that privilege, call your local police station and ask them where there is a women’s shelter near you. Have a list of possibilities, with phone numbers and addresses, that you keep in your purse.

Some men won’t let their wives have car keys.  If you don’t have access to a car, have the phone number of someone you know you can call to come and get you.  Be smart about how you make that call, though.

Have money stashed in a safe place.  If  you believe you’re going to have to leave, then open your own bank account without his name on it

And once again, I’ve gone from “what do I do if I stay” to “how can I leave safely.”  I guess that tells you something about what I believe needs to happen.

One of the counselors in our office worked for years with drug and alcohol issues.  He told me once that sometimes a woman’s most powerful tool is (a) tell him you’ll leave if the abuse doesn’t stop  and  (b) DO IT!  This doesn’t have to be a permanent leaving.  He just needs to know that you aren’t kidding.

I talk a lot about boundaries and consequences in my work.  Boundaries are the rules, or the lines in the sand that mark your territory.  Those are fairly easy.  The trouble comes with the consequence part.  You can draw all the boundaries you want, but if you don’t set and enforce an adequate consequence, you’ve lost the battle.

Don’t tell him, “I’ll walk out of here and NEVER come back!”  if you know very well you’ll be back in time to cook supper.  Instead, tell him that if he doesn’t stop being hateful and abusive, you will not cook supper that night.  See?  Clear boundary, simple consequence that you are able and willing to enforce. NEVER make threats you know you won’t enforce. To do so only makes your position weaker.

We need to talk about forgiveness; we need to talk about surviving violence; we need to talk about what to do when you can’t get help from your church.

Lots and lots to talk about.