Over the years many women have spoken to me about their abusive husband and how they have tried everything to appease him, please him and prayed for things to change. Sometimes they ask me to pray with them, for him, so he will change back into the husband they once knew and married.
'If he just went back to the man I married.' 'He was so lovely when we first got married.' 'He was Mr Charming and all my girlfriends were jealous that I'd got to marry him.' These are common phrases I hear repeated. It is heartbreaking.
When I ask how he is working on himself to change, their faces are often downcast and they say, 'He thinks I need to change', and 'He thinks I'm mad', 'He doesn't see anything wrong with what he is doing'.
Prayer is the last hope, sometimes a killer hope. Along with a whole load of church culture thrown into the mix, it can leave a woman feeling totally trapped, with nowhere to go; no hope but to pray for change. Women who are being abused by their husbands feel they are unable to leave him or divorce him because it is not biblical.
'God Hates Divorce'
This is one of the most used justifications for keeping a woman with an abusive husband. Let me be very clear - Christians become complicit in the abuse when they use that justification. Yes, God absolutely hates divorce because of the immense hurt, pain and destruction that it brings. It tears our hearts into pieces that can take years to repair and heal. No loving God would want to see any of his children go through that. Of course God hates it, who wouldn't?
Yet even though God hates divorce, he does allow for it. Abuse breaks the marriage covenant (read more on this in Helen Paynter's blog) so 'God hates divorce' is therefore not a reason to send a woman back to her abusive husband. In fact, it could be very dangerous to do so.
Does the Church and Christians really put the institution of marriage above life itself?
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'Till Death Us Do Part'
'Marriage is for life' is another phrase that frequently rises in these situations too. Yes, we do make a covenant agreement before God to respect, love and cherish one another. However, the covenant was not meant to be upheld under any circumstance - abuse, coercive control, infidelity, abandonment are all events that break this covenant. Forcing a woman to accept these circumstances is not loving or just. How have we got to a place where a woman is encouraged to stay with a husband who is choosing to abuse her because she made a vow of 'till death us do part'? It can be very dangerous and lead to the loss of life.
When over two women a week are murdered by their partner or ex partner in the UK*, whose death are we talking about here? Does the Church and Christians really put the institution of marriage above life itself? Do we think Jesus died to uphold the institution of marriage?
Let me be crystal clear NO! Absolutely not!
Jesus didn't die for marriage and say that the institution of marriage was above everything else. No, Jesus died to bring us back to God and show a way of love and peace.
I become angry when I see and hear women, who are being subjected to systematic abuse by their husband or partner, and then trapped from speaking up and out about the horror of their situation. This is especially so when women are told they cannot speak out because it will give Christianity or the church a bad name. The blame must be placed on the perpetrator. It is he who is at fault, has sinned, if anyone gives the church or Christianity a bad name, it is the perpetrator of abuse. We also need to remember that God has survived many a scandal over thousands of years and will survive without the ministry of a man who is choosing to abuse his wife.
It's not going to ruin God's name by speaking out, rather the reverse, by NOT speaking out we bring the reputation of the church under question and derision. We need to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. It is our responsibility to call out abuse and bring about justice.
It is time that we all took responsibility for perpetuating these subtle myths that have permeated through our church culture unchallenged.
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This brings us to dealing with the perpetrator of abuse. It is very important that we, as Christians, do not collude with the perpetrator but refer them to professional services and courses available. Perpetrators can be very charming and manipulative. It takes a strong resolve to hold perpetrators to account. We do not suggest here that the church should run perpetrator programmes but below is a guide for understanding what needs to take place. Respect runs perpetrator programmes and that would be the place to start.
At Restored we suggest the 5 R's approach for men who want to change their abusive behaviour. These are:
- Recognise the abuse committed and take responsibility for your actions. Do not justify it.
- Repent of the attitude, action and behaviours before God and a witness who can hold you to account. This is not simply acknowledging your own attitude and behaviour, but being utterly horrified at how your sin, selfishness and abuse has diminished, destroyed and controlled your wife/partner and apologising without justification for your actions. This is an internal commitment to change.
- Restitution - make restitution, where possible, for the consequences of your behaviour. It is giving power away rather than clinging on to power. This may mean facing justice, paying back the money kept from your wife, paying more for your children. It is in the hands of the survivor to inform you what they need to be restored. This is the external expression of the inward commitment to change. No-one but God can truly know if you have repented but taking action makes that internal attitude change become visible. It cannot be used as a manipulative negotiation tactic to bring your wife back to you. It has to be freely given, with no strings attached, in the context of repentance.
- Restoration - this is always survivor led. The relationship may not be repairable due to the consequences of your actions. You need to accept that consequence of your behaviour. If it is repairable then the process has to be led by your wife/partner as she will be the one who knows what she needs to trust you again. Trust has completely broken down when abuse is used. It could take years to rebuild. Are you prepared for the long haul? Are you prepared to accept that it is over if she says so?
- Reconciliation - firstly this may never happen. That reality has to be faced. That doesn't mean that the first 4 R's are a waste of time, absolutely not. In fact, if you are using this process to simply regain your wife then you have missed the point. This is about surrendering your need for power and control over someone else. If restitution does occur then the wife/partner can set the terms of that reconciliation. The husband has to be kept to account and will need to be reporting to a trusted accountability person.
Don't miss out stages
Sadly we see the church too often jump from stage 1 to 5 and miss out the key stages of 2, 3, and 4. It is so vitally important that repentance and restitution occurs, otherwise it is a hollow gesture that could be a thinly veiled attempt to regain power over his wife - this time with the church on his side too. We need to wise up and see through any manipulative attempts to regain a wife (comoditising a woman which is dehumanising) because of a loss of face, control, power etc.
It is time that we all took responsibility for perpetuating these subtle myths that have permeated through our church culture unchallenged. We need to take a stand and be clear that abuse is sinful, in need of repentance and justice brought to bear. Can we challenge our own church culture when things are implied, inferred or stated? Could we ask the question, 'What about in cases of domestic abuse?'
A thorough theological discussion on Domestic Abuse and Divorce can be found here
* BBC news reported that in 2018 this had increased to 173 domestic abuse homicides
Domestic Abuse Bill
In the UK the Domestic Abuse Bill is currently progressing through parliament. At Restored, we are lobbying for the inclusion of faith in the response, noting that there is a church in nearly every community across the UK.
Please pray and lobby your MP to ensure faith included in the response.