This week's post is by Rev. Robert Owens. Pastor Bob's work was the first I encountered from a pastoral perspective when I began working in domestic violence prevention and intervention. His faithful voice in the work to end violence against women has been an encouragement to me for many years now. This post first appeared on his blog at pastorbobblog.com
I wanted to write a tribute to mothers, but when I sat down at the computer I felt led to enlarge the subject, for since recorded history men have been using and abusing women, degrading and dehumanizing the female. Patriarchal religions are no exception, except men do it in the name of God, in the belief that they have the right to subjugate, dominate, and humiliate women, if necessary, in order to keep them in their place. How sad it is that many men who bear the name of Christ believe the Bible gives them the right to assert their authority in a manner that requires the use of force to let their wife or girlfriend know who is “boss.” For after all, they contend, the New Testament tells us that God has put man in authority “over” women, especially in marriage, where the husband is supposed to be the spiritual leader, the “head” of the wife, the one who gives the orders, the one who has the last word, the one who makes the major decisions, the one who handles the finances. This is the interpretation of scripture that has always been most appealing to abusers, but most appalling to those who are among the advocates for victims.
Furthermore, many men do not consider themselves abusers because they do not beat their wives, but abuse takes many forms: verbal abuse, mental abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, etc. However, physical abuse is the kind of abuse most people think of when they hear the term “domestic violence” and, believe it or not, this kind of abuse is common in Christian homes—there are victims in every congregation, though many pastors refuse to believe it. This is THE SIN MOST PASTORS DENY. They simply do not want to believe there are any victims of domestic violence, let alone abusers, in their churches.
I attended a “Family Life Conference” a number of years ago in Texas, where this patriarchal view was evident from the beginning, a military design for marriage and family life that had been widely promoted in such family life seminars across the country (i.e., with ranks in the family, an “over and under” design for marriage). That seemed so strange to me, for I knew Jesus had said, “It shall not be so among you,” referring to those who “lorded it over one another.” Furthermore, the kind of leadership Jesus modeled, and told His followers to exemplify, was servant leadership, just the opposite of “positional leadership.” However, at this particular conference where that kind of leadership was being proclaimed as “God’s design for marriage and family life,” a well known pastor of a very large church in a major southern city had just completed his message on “submission” and “headship” when, during the talk-back session, a woman in the congregation stood up and asked, “What should a wife do if her husband is an abuser, guilty of beating his wife?” That pastor responded, “Go back and take another beating! Perhaps your submissive and gentle spirit will bring about the changes you desire in your husband’s behavior.” That was a wake-up call for me!
We are supposed to be the followers of One who said, “He who is greatest among you shall be the servant.” We are supposed to be the followers of One who “made Himself of no reputation,” but humbled Himself, even to the point of washing His disciples’ feet. Jesus never used His power and authority for Himself, to lord over others, even though He is Lord! It is impossible for me to understand how any Christian man who is in a leadership position in his home, in his marriage, in his family, in his church, could ever use and abuse scripture to justify his abuse of his power and authority as a leader in Christ’s Church. However, I know from my own personal experience, as a pastor and advocate for victims of abuse for many years, that there are many men in the Body of Christ who do so, including pastors, elders, deacons, counselors, attorneys, physicians, psychologists, counselors, and in almost any other profession you can name.
Let me explode a common myth right now, that the problem of abuse, the crisis of domestic violence, is something that only happens in poor families, among uneducated and irreligious people. Furthermore, some people actually believe this problem is much more common in some socio-economic and racial groups than others, especially their own, which is an indication of their own prejudice. If you do not believe me, I encourage you to consult the experts in this field, as well as other related subjects: sex trafficking, with young girls are used as sex slaves, a worldwide human crisis that is fast becoming a major industry in the United States); and date rape. Whenever and wherever girls and women are degraded, when virtue is demeaned and our God-given sex drive is used in the marketplace to sell products by promoting sex appeal, there will always be moral decay and decline.Consider how the internet is being used (misused) by producers and companies sponsoring popular shows in which human sexuality is often debased, and true love is frequently debunked. Consider much of contemporary literature, both drama and novel, where we find not only premarital sex, extramarital sex and sexual abuse, but also a myriad of other degrading and very destructive forms of human behavior. This should cause us to be greatly disturbed and compel us to speak out and stand up for “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing (especially pleasing to God), whatever is commendable…. THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS.” (Philippians 4:8)
Are we not now reaping what we have sown in the breakdown of the home and family? Almost as many divorces as marriages; an alarming increase in the number of suicides among teenagers and young adults; the tragic killings of families in their own homes—too often, children killing parents, parents killing children, or abused women killing an abusive husband or boyfriend in a final desperate act of self-defense. Yes, there is a spiritual law that is just as inexorable as physical laws, and scripture calls it the law of sowing and reaping: “Be not deceived, whatever we sow, that we shall also reap. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption, but if you sow to the Spirit you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:7-8)
Let us also ponder two scriptures that are difficult to understand, but very important to consider. In Matthew, chapter five, Jesus lets us know that His truth for living a moral life, the Christian ethic, is much more than a set of rules, both positive and negative (i.e. “you shall” and “you shall not”). It is an affair of the heart. He startled His listeners, and still does, with His deeper truth that anger out of control is murderous, and to be lustful (to “look at a woman with lust in your heart”) is to be adulterous. As always, our Lord is going beyond the letter of the law, and going beyond the act to the attitude. He wants us to understand that how we act is the result of how we think, and an indication of how we see people, including those of the opposite sex.
Do you not agree that it would be wonderful if all of us made a more conscious effort to see people through the eyes of Jesus? We can begin this month as we celebrate MOTHER’S DAY once again. Let us men consider how we look at all women, not just our mothers, if we are fortunate enough to still be blessed with their presence. If we are fathers, and are blessed to have daughters, let us consider how we want men to look at them. For those of us who have a loving and faithful wife, let us realize that what the Bible says is true; she is worth much more than precious jewels. Personally, I am amazed at the loving and giving capacity of wives and mothers. They take care of us, they take care of our children, they run our households, they prepare delicious and healthy meals, they keep our houses clean, they do our laundry, they put clean clothes in our closets and drawers, they nurse us when we are sick, they keep track of where everything in the house is located and keep their cool when the rest of us are misplacing our things. I am personally convinced that a good and faithful wife’s love, and the patient and endless love of a devoted mother, is one of the main ways by which God’s love reaches us as husbands and fathers. No wonder the Bible tells us to live considerately with our wives, to love them as Christ loves His Church, and to honor our mothers. THEY DESERVE IT and GOD COMMANDS IT. (Ephesians 5:25-31; I Peter 3:7; Exodus 20:12)
A final word to you Christian men. If you are wondering why your prayers are not being answered, look at the way you are treating your wife (and your children’s mother). Read I Peter 3:7 once again, “…lest your prayers be hindered.”