There’s a problem within the church, and some Christians are confused about it. The church thinks that divorce is causing the problem. But they’ve got it backwards: the problem is what’s causing divorce.
I’ve noticed a pattern. A Christian woman will enter a bible study, or a chat room, or a Facebook group. She will say a combination of the following:
“My husband yelled at me and called me names again.”
“He hasn’t talked to me in two days. I’m afraid he will leave for good this time.”
“He refuses to go to counselling with me and he doesn’t want me telling anyone because he’s a church leader.”
“He’s angry all the time. I’ve prayed and tried my best, but I make him mad constantly.”
“He doesn’t get mad a lot, but when he does he loses it.”
“He says he can’t stand me, that I’m not trustworthy, that I’m not a godly wife or mother. Nothing I do is good enough.”
“I feel so numb towards him. I don’t even want him touching me anymore, and that just makes things worse.”
“He shoved me, but only one time. He says he’s sorry but he did it because I nagged him too much.”
There are countless combinations and scenarios, but they are either sprinkled with or fully doused in various forms of abuse.
And after turning to fellow Christians, the woman is met with these responses:
“Maybe your husband feels disrespected. Men need respect. Have you read Love and Respect?”
“Try The Love Dare on him! It will save your marriage.”
“Praying for your marriage. The enemy wants to destroy marriages. Don’t give up without a fight.”
“You can’t control him, but you can control you. No marriage is perfect, and no man is perfect. Pray that he steps into his leadership role”
“Anger is a man’s default position. You know how to push his buttons best. Remember what upsets him and don’t do those things. Remember, men need respect.”
“Kill him with kindness. God will honour your faithfulness in this.”
“Praying for your marriage!”
The thing is, these don’t seem like extreme responses. They even seem good in a lot of ways. And there is truth in them:
Pray? Of course!
Self control? That’s always a good thing.
Commitment? Yes. We as a society throw away too many things these days.
Treat your husband well? Absolutely.
I understand that these answers have VALUE. They mostly come from a place of love. Marriage is important. Love is a choice and an action. I don’t want to take away from that. The problem isn’t the answers themselves. They are generally well-intentioned. The problem is in the harmful underlying themes at the core of the answers:
1) God values your marriage more than He values you.
2) The fate of your marriage is in your hands, even if there is abuse. This is on you.
3) There is an element of pride and success if you stay in your marriage, and an element of shame and failure if you leave it.
These women are wounded. Their souls are bruised and broken and covered in gashes, and their blood is spilling out in their plea for help and prayer. And instead of the church tending to their wounds, washing and bandaging and mending, these women are given a cloth and instructed politely, sometimes in the most gentle way way possible, to please clean up their blood.
Most of the time, this is because we as Christians don’t know what to do with these situations or how to handle them. Mental abuse especially is a grey area in the church. Unfortunately, all these responses are doing is minimizing the women’s actual experiences. They are also fueling the abuse cycle and enable it to roll ahead at full speed. What has to happen before we step in and stop it?
When women in the church are being told to be better, to DO BETTER, in order to fix abuse, we’ve got a problem.
When women who stay in their marriages are celebrated and women who leave theirs are looked down on or are mourned, we’ve got a problem.
When the church’s first reaction to hearing about abuse is to ask “well, what KIND of abuse are we talking about here?” we’ve got a problem.
When a woman is told that the church needs to decide for her if her situation constitutes abuse before she is given permission to leave, we’ve got a problem.
When men are told that their role is to lead, even if their wives resist, and women are told that their role is to submit to their husband’s authority, we’ve got a problem.
When people are being strangled with scriptures about respect, submission, authority, and biblical womanhood instead of being held the arms of their brothers and sisters in Christ and comforted in their grief, we’ve got a problem.
When a woman is told to “stay and pray” in the hope that God will soften her husband’s heart, and in the hope that he will no longer hurt her, we’ve got a problem.
When the institution of marriage is valued more than the humans within it, we’ve got a problem.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, people are bleeding out all around us. And this isn’t new. God doesn’t ask us to call wrong things right, and He doesn’t ask us to enable sin. When we encourage a woman to stay and pray, to endure, we are enabling her husband’s sinful behavior and asking her to enable it as well. We must see the problem. We must acknowledge it. And we must do better.