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Does “Turn the Other Cheek” Mean We Must Submit to Abuse?

In his blog from March 31, 2012 entitled Does ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ Mean We Must Submit to Abuse?” Pastor Jeff Crippen talks about what Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Some Christians use this verse to tell abused wives they must remain in their marriages.

And yet, in John 18:19-23, Jesus didn’t seem to follow his own words:

“The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him,’I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?'”

Instead, Jesus rebuked this injustice.  He did not “turn the other cheek.”

There are numerous other instances in Scripture of Jesus and the Apostles refusing to submit themselves to evil.  The Apostle Paul for instance appealed to Caesar in

Acts 25:11,

“If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Pastor Crippen asks, “Do these Christians who are authoritatively commanding victims of abuse that God requires them to stay in their marriage with their abuser, actually consistently live out that same principle in their own lives?  You know the answer is obviously, no!  They –

▪   Go to the doctor

▪   Protest when laws are past that they believe are unjust and discriminatory toward them

▪   Plead not guilty and go to court when they get a traffic ticket they don’t think they deserve

▪   Protest unfair treatment in their workplace

▪   Go ballistic when they think their church leaders are acting unbiblically.

“And yet, as many of you know by firsthand experience, they preach to abuse victims – you must remain married to your abuser.  This abuse you are suffering is God’s calling to you and if you bail out of it, you are turning your back on the Lord.”

I, Caroline, experienced this in my own marriage. I went to my church pastors for help, and they tried to talk to my husband, but did not hold him accountable for his actions. When I finally asked for a legal separation a year later, they told me I had no biblical right to divorce. I don’t believe my pastors were evil, I think they didn’t understand what was happening in my home. Because I wasn’t being beaten, they didn’t really believe I was being abused. Never having experienced abuse themselves, they had no comprehension of what it would feel like to be:

  • Ordered around as if I were a servant.

  • Given the silent treatment for weeks/months at a time, (unless he was surprising me with a sudden attack of rage) – while still being expected to do his laundry, cook his meals and clean his house.

  • Called a bitch in front of my children.

  • Told he “wanted me to die when I went into my car that day.” (Did that mean he had tampered with my car? I didn’t know).

  • Woken from a deep sleep by being screamed at, and my blankets yanked off the bed.

  • Kept on an allowance like a child, but given no money when he was “angry” at me.

This list is just a small sampling of what it was like to live in that hellhole. Surely none of my male pastors were living in conditions like that in their homes. I am sure that they didn’t jump each time they heard the footsteps of their wives, and their hearts didn’t pound while waiting to see what their wives would do next.

So, what is an abused Christian wife to do? Sometimes she will have to be creative about where to look for the support she needs. If her pastors aren’t willing to support her, there may be women at the church who will. And if no one at her church is willing to help her, perhaps there are pastors or friends at other churches who will. What if she can find no Christians to stand by her? In this case, she may have to look outside the church for the help she needs. There is no sin in this.

When I could not get the help I needed from my church, I finally called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE(7233). The domestic violence advocate who answered the phone was patient and compassionate with me. I don’t know if she was a Christian or not, but it didn’t matter. She answered all my questions, and pointed me to resources in my community that helped me make some really difficult decisions.

So, as a final note to those who would legalistically force an abused Christian woman to stay in her unhappy marriage, hear the Lord’s words through His brother James, in verses 2:12-13:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Yes, let us be merciful, rather than judgmental to our abused sisters trapped in impossible, unhappy marriages to unrepentant men.

I have created a Domestic Violence Guide for Churches. This guide educates Christians about the dynamics of DV, and lets church leaders know how to help those who experience it. To check out this guide, please click here.

May God bless you,

Caroline

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