January 28, 2021

Internet Monk Radio Podcast #111

podcast_logo.gifWhy is the church AWOL on spousal abuse?

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  1. Thank you Michael for your podcast on this subject. I have felt first hand the absence of knowledge in this area when family and parenting is taught in the church. I moved to Kentucky 2 years ago from my home in the Northwest while going through a divorce from my husband. He was abusive physically and emotionally towards me and our 2 children. He is still to this day filing with the courts several times a year trying to continue the abuse through court system.

    This is a topic I’ve found, is not discussed within Christian circles in the area I now live. I have only found support through government funded programs. By support I mean people who have knowledge, resources or guidance in the area of domestic violence.

  2. Why AWOL on spouse abuse? A former female associate pastor here who experienced that said that her pastor (also a female) said that she needed to stay in the marriage. She did for a while, but then got out for her sake and that of her children. I’d guess that many pastors and churches would trot out something about “submission,” even in the light of abuse.

  3. I work for a D.V. shelter, and whenever we’ve tried to reach out to the more conservative churches about the issue, we have met with outright hostility. It happens entirely too often here that an abused woman is bullied into going back by her church.

  4. This is disturbing. What do the leaders at the conservative churches say to rebuff you, Aliasmoi?

  5. Thank you for addressing this invisible topic. I can second the experiences of Edge of Raisin. My attempts to bring the silent issues of abuse in my marriage to the attention of my Church family resulted in multiple sessions of manipulation and guilt giving to me–not to my husband–for being unkind and ungenerous. After a certian number of counseling sessions with a counselor, I returned to the marriage, determined to be a good Christian wife who could support her husband as he learned to treat me and my children with gentleness and respect. My husband returned to his habits of verbal and emotional manipulation and control wihtin a year. as I pointed out to our pastor–who was also acting as my husband’s mentor–that things were going backward, He shamed me for bringing it up. Becasue all a verbal/emotional abuser has to do is say “it didn’t happen that way.” It is silent, it is secret, it can be deadly.

    I don’t have all the answers to this, but I would like for you and your readers to consider something. Encouraging the abuser and the abused back into the intimacy of their home, is like buying a keg of beer for an alcoholic. The habits that abusers take on are addicitve. They don’t just go away because people are praying for you or because the abused spouse has determined for the hundredth time that if they just do better at their Christian walk things will change. Abuse is addicitve; I believe it’s a fear response. Ignoring abuse or minimizing its effects on the abuser as well as the abused is letting a brother or sister stay lost. It’s ignoring the thing that keeps them divided from the God who can save them. You are neglecting your brother if you are ignoring this addiction. You are also sinning against the abused and become a perpetuator of the abuse if you encourage him or her that it’s not that bad.
    The Church needs to confront this issue in light of the wisdom God gives us through the sciences of sociology and psychology and medicine. If you love an abuser and have concern for his soul, then don’t let him or her brush this under the rug. Don’t nod your head when he or she says “It didn’t happen like that.”

  6. The usual spiel about how we’re breaking up marriages, divorce is only allowed in cases of adultery, woman are supposed to submit to their husbands, blah blah, blah.

  7. “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 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” (1 Cor. 7:12-15 KJV).

    I would tell women (and men), if your spouse abuses you, then he (or she) is not pleased to live with you. Go in peace. If your spouse is a believer and does not repent after the manner set out by Jesus in Matthew 18, then treat your spouse as an unbelieving heathen. Go in peace.

  8. Thank you, Michael. I live in England, and that is where this happened. But I have read and known of too many stories of this happening in other Christian denominations in the United States and elsewhere, to believe that my situation is an unusual one. I think it is important to recognise the financial and social implications that the church leadership are afraid to bring about if the clergy person of a congregation is confronted and the abuse is acknowledged. I was the ‘sacrificial lamb’ in some ways, whose physical safety and mental and emotional health were not valued as highly by people in leadership as were the supposed upsets that would result if the truth were told. (My husband even threatened to kill me on several occasions, yet I was not given a place of safety by church leaders for more than a few weeks at a time.)

    Where evil exists in the darkness, it will grow and thrive–we should be able to see this with the Catholic paedophilia scandals. Shining a light on abuse is not easy, and it will cost us dearly, as it has cost me and many other women who were shunned, rejected and betrayed by their church communities. There is a ‘tyranny of respectability’ that cannot be penetrated by the truth in so many cases. As J up North commented here, Saying “it didn’t happen that way” is what the abuser says to cover his guilt. And I want to point out, that is the same thing many church people in all or most denominations are saying in order to cover the guilt of their complicity in these situations. Lying and complicity with a liar or an abuser is NEVER okay. The whole Church is harmed by the lies that are told to protect the abuser.

    Danni Moss is doing a fantastic job of raising awareness of this issue, through her blog. She also has linked her blog to the online sites and blogs of other organisations, and of women to whom this has happened. Some of them are truly inspiring and heart-rending reading at the same time.

    I truly appreciate your approach and comments on this and on integrity within the Church. If you would like my ‘inside’ take on how to counsel and how not to counsel a victim of spousal/partner abuse, I have a lengthy 6-part article on this subject at my blogsite, as well as a little bit of my personal story. I’m really glad you’re out here speaking the truth with love. There can never be too much truth or too much love in the church or in the world!

  9. I don’t have the book right in front of me, so I might be wrong. But, I think Ron Sider says in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience that there is a higher rate of domestic abuse in the evangelical denominations than there is in the mainline denominations.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Christian toleration of spousal abuse (especially male-to-female abuse) has been a problem for a long time. In the early 1980s, Rich Buhler hosted Talk from the Heart, (one of the best afternoon talk shows on Los Angeles radio at the time), and he often tackled this very subject.

    A lot of Christians in such situations were so clueless that the only counsel they got was “Wife, Submit to Thy Husband and/or Pray About It And Trust The LORD.” Woman after woman would call in with similar stories. The most charitable thing that could have been said about such counselors was that they were seriously clueless and/or seriously tunnel-visioned onto “Just Walk the Aisle and Say The Sinner’s Prayer; that will solve everything!” At worst, they were deliberate accessories after the fact.

    “Woman, Do As I Say Or I Beat You! God Wills It!”-level male supremacy is more associated with Islamic authorities than Christian; what is this, some sort of syncretic cross-fertilization into some sort of “Christlam”?

  11. You know an awful lot of preachers like to harp on the Bible saying wives should submit, but the Bible also says that men are to love their wives as Christ loves the church – even unto death. A man who smacks his wife around is NOT loving her as Christ loves the church.

    We used to have a poster that had a picture of a man with like a flannel shirt, suspenders, holding a Bible, and the caption was, “How could such a God fearing man have such a husband fearing wife?”

  12. Christopher Lake says


    You are so right. A Christian husband is to be willing to physically lay down his life for his wife (as Christ did for His people, the church), and he is also to be willing to die to his sinful selfishness every day for her. Although Christ is obviously sinless, think of how much He loves the church, even as the church treats Him badly at times (another model for how Christian husbands are to love their wives)! Spousal abuse (without *true* repentance for it) and a sincere Christian profession of faith are at odds.

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