I just finished a two-week preaching series on Domestic Violence and it’s sad to me that most of the helpful material I read coming from any sort of Christian persuasion were either feminist or egalitarian. The attacks on the Biblical model of gender roles as part of God’s beautiful design not only grieves me … but is true. Whether intentionally or unintentionally the conservative, Gospel-loving, reformed, expositional preaching church has not held high both God design for male headship and God’s design for women to be treated with honor, dignity, and as full imager-bearers of the Trinity. Now before you write me off, I’m not a church-basher (or before you start cheering me and joining in on attacking the church). I love the church and have given myself to see her become all that God designed her to be for the sanctification of His children and for a powerful witness to the world of the glory of God in redeeming sinners. She hasn’t always done well, but she will always be God’s plan A. It has been a sad journey for me over the past month in preparation to see both the pitiful way the church has dealt with this issue (long before any Ray Rice video surfaced), and most importantly the awful and devastating ways that women have been treated in the name of God. Let me offer some core takeaways from my study for the Church moving forward:
Marriage is not our God
It’s been far too long now that the church in an effort to hold high the sanctity of marriage has made keeping couples together our highest aim. It’s not. Our highest aim is to glorify God in all the we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), and to point people to love Jesus with all our hearts (Matthew 22:37). Yet somehow we have managed to make “keep marriages together at all costs” the greatest commandment. Why have we sought to protect the sanctity of marriage (rightly), but not protect the women who are suffering in violent or abusive marriages? A woman who has been battered, neglected, or verbally abused does not need marriage counseling, she needs to hear of the protective, loving, and redeeming work of Jesus who calls her His own. She needs her identity shaped by the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, not tips on how to communicate with her husband in more helpful ways. We must take off our blinders pastors and elders, counselors and disciplers, to what the real issue is here. I fear that were Ray and Janay Rice in many of our well-taught congregations that he would be told to go to anger-management classes, and she would be taught how to lovingly serve her husband. That’s just not helpful. They both need to have their eyes lifted from the momentary marriage they are in to the eternal marriage they need.
Divorce is not what God hates
It’s striking to me how many Christians can quote “God hates divorce”, with no knowledge of where it is in the Scriptures (Malachi 2:16) and not be able to finish the verse (“… and him who covers himself with violence”). Sadly, I’ve been guilty of that in my pastoral counseling … pointing out the first part of that verse and eliminating the second half. I know that the topic of divorce is complicated exegetically and controversial within the conservative church, but when will we stop focusing on the actual “legal divorce” event and focus on the breaking of the marriage covenant done long before the counsel to not divorce comes from the church? I have had to wrestle with this for years now both from a textual perspective (please give Instone-Brewer a good reading), and a practical perspective. I’m amazed at the responses I’ve gotten from pastors related to the handling of these issues. The man is abusive, the women pursues divorce … the church does what? Church discipline the woman or ignore it because they say they could never live with that man but don’t want to condone divorce. This is silliness and not courageous pastoral ministry. Perhaps you don’t know what to do because you’ve gotten locked into a Biblical interpretation that you know doesn’t reflect the heart of God. That somehow unless sexual infidelity has occurred you’ve got to fight to save the marriage, when in many cases the marriage has no sanctity in it at all. I do believe the Bible teaches there are two grounds for divorce: unfaithfulness and abandonment. And a man doesn’t have to physically leave the home to have abandoned his marriage covenant. When he regularly controls and manipulates, belittles and attacks verbally, and uses his wife rather than serves his wife … he has forsaken the commitment he made to that woman and before God. That is what God hates.
It’s all about control
James could’t be clearer – “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2). The seed of violence is in all of us, because we all have unmet desires and unfulfilled expectations. There is not a one of us that can bear the weight of being anyone’s Savior, or hasn’t been disappointed by the fallenness of those we love not being able to bear that title either. We don’t get what we want and we fight, we demand, we seek control. Your tool of manipulation and control may not be hitting, but it’s still there in your heart. You may use sarcasm, clever speech to persuade, yelling, walking out, withholding money, or any number of other evil devices. We must move to a far deeper level in our efforts to care for marriages. We can’t just preach another sermon on headship without preaching a sermon on abuse of headship. We can’t let the feminists or egalitarians be the only ones who are trying to protect women in the church. Lest you think after reading this that I am flippant about marriages, marriage counseling, or holding high the sanctity of marriage, you must know that I care deeply about marriages. But I care more about applying the Gospel well to the depth of our souls. This isn’t merely an NFL problem, it’s a Church problem. And we who love the Word of God must grow in our care for the women who are suffering in silence thinking they have no voice, won’t be believed, or really are less important that their husbands to the church. May our redeeming God write a new story in our churches in the days ahead.
You can read my full note on this subject at: http://storage.cloversites.com/leroycommunitychapel/documents/Domestic%20Violence%20Notes%20Pt%201%20%202_3.pdf
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