Save Marriage at all Costs? Really?
I have been a domestic violence advocate for seven years, an author and blogger for six. During that time, I cannot count how many domestic violence victims I have spoken to who were counseled by their church leaders (pastors) to stay in a marriage with their abusive spouse. I would estimate the percentage to be upwards of 90%. I realize that those I hear about and speak with are not a statistically accurate sample.
But, even if the percentage was 50% I would wonder WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?
Why on earth would anyone, especially someone who is supposed to be compassionate, to be a representative of Jesus, want a victim to stay in bondage? Didn’t Jesus come to set us free? It boggles the mind. In thinking about it, I have come up with four possible reasons pastors might act this way:
- They are uneducated about the dynamics of domestic violence, (and frankly have no desire to become educated).
- They narrowly interpret the Bible verses about what constitutes a “biblical” divorce.
- I shudder when I write this . . . they are abusers themselves, and naturally side with the abusive spouse.
#4 – The Christian church has made marriage an idol.
This last point is the subject of my blog today. What do I mean when I say we have made marriage an idol? Weren’t idols those golden statues that pagans worshiped in biblical times? What do those statues have to do with us today?
When the Israelites turned away from Yahweh and began worshiping idols, it wasn’t only because they wanted to visually SEE their God. It was more that they wanted to run their lives their own way, rather than living up to the standards Yahweh (God) had given them. After all, a golden statue cannot tell you how to live, nor can it hold you accountable to do the things you’ve promised to do. Most of all, it does not try to have a relationship with you the way God does.
So, why do I say that the Christian church has made marriage an idol? We know that the divorce rate is very high. Some statistics put the rate at about 30% and others say it is closer to 50%. Sadly, the rate of divorce in Christian marriages is about the same. A pastor’s knee-jerk reaction might be, “We must stop this high divorce rate in the church!” When a victim comes forward and reports s/he is being abused, we tend to be skeptical. Often the abuser looks like the more together person – s/he is not being abused, and so is not suffering from depression and anxiety. Without education about the dynamics of abuse, a pastor’s tendency is to not believe the “complaining” spouse. It is much easier to pretend abuse is not happening than to deal with it. Pastors tend to be passive and dislike confrontation. It is so much easier to tell the victim to be a better spouse (with the false idea that good behavior will make the abuse go away) than it is to confront the strong-willed spouse who is reported to be abusive.
This is very much like an ostrich putting his head in the sand, assuming no predator will be able to see him because the ostrich can no longer see any predators. For a time, the victim will go away, and the pastor might think all is well. But, submitting to the abuse will only increase it. Eventually, the victim will try to leave, and s/he may be in danger or be killed in the process. In the meantime, the children in the family are being trained to be abuse victims or abusers. This causes more divorce in the next generation.
What can we do about this?
We Christians need to stop shaking our heads over the large divorce rate in our churches and begin asking what is CAUSING the divorces. Yes, there are some who bail on the marriage when things aren’t perfect, but that is not the majority. If we look under that rock, we will see the evil that our fake happy church faces are hiding. If churches would invest in helping their members have happy marriages, (classes, small groups, counseling), and be willing to acknowledge that domestic violence DOES occur in Christian marriages, we could begin to turn the tide. Let us support marriages, and if there is domestic violence, support the victim getting help, leaving safely, and financially. Let us hold abusers accountable for their evil actions rather than ignoring them, hoping they will magically stop.
I truly believe if we do these things, we can prevent divorces in the future. Please check out my Domestic Violence Guide for Churches in which I educate church leaders on the dynamics of domestic violence and give practical suggestions for how they can support DV victims and hold perpetrators accountable.
Ephesians 5:11 says:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Matthew 18:15–17 says:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Question: What experiences have you had seeking help from your church?
May each of you feel God’s presence and love today.