4 Common Mistakes in an Abusive Crisis
1. Assume marriage must be preserved at all costs
Sadly, the church can become a place of more abuse, misapplying biblical texts to promote the abuse of power by a husband or the place of suffering for a wife—all in the name of “submission.” A woman who’s been battered, neglected, or verbally abused doesn’t need marriage counseling with her husband; she needs to hear of the protective, loving and redeeming work of Jesus. I fear that if former NFL player Ray Rice and his wife, Janay, sat in some of our well-taught congregations, he would be told to attend anger management classes and to simply serve her husband. Such couples must both turn from their momentary marriage to the eternal marriage between Jesus and his bride. Earthly marriage isn’t our god or ultimate goal.
2. Assume all divorce is a sin
God not only hates divorce, but also the one whose garment is covered with violence (Malachi. 2:16). A violent and abusive man has broken the marriage covenant by his sinful choices; he is the “divorcer,” and that marriage is not honored to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:15). I know the topic of divorce is exegetically complicated and ecclesiastically controversial, but I am amazed at the responses I often get from pastors on this issue. The husband is abusive, and the wife pursues divorce. What do some churches do? Discipline or ignore the woman. They refuse to condone divorce even at the expense of her safety. Friends, this isn’t courageous pastoral ministry.
3. Misapply headship and submission
Ephesians 5:22–33 beautifully displays God’s design for the home. It’s a high and holy calling, one never to be downplayed or tweaked to “fit the times.” The problem isn’t God’s pattern; it’s man’s corruption.
We don’t need to become feminists or egalitarians to speak against domestic violence and abuse. We need to stand in the truth of God’s Word and in the gap of a culture gone mad.
4. Misunderstand forgiveness
We must rightly understand the biblical teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation. The end goal isn’t a man back in the home; the end goal is holiness. Reconciliation isn’t the same thing as a reunion, and forgiveness isn’t a demand from the abuser that we can “get on with things.”