October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The invitation to you today is, how will you respond to help the church be a safe place for women to be free from domestic abuse? One place to start is with accurate theology around abuse. Last week in Part 1 Ally Kern told some of her personal story and today she shows how the Bible does not support abuse.
You Know a Victim of Domestic Abuse
Around the world, 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of abuse from a male intimate partner in their lifetime. In the UK the number of women who have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 15 is comparable. And a survey conducted by the CDC reported that 1 in 3 women in the U.S. experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
This is arguably the largest human rights violation of our time. And yet – despite this prolific reality being mirrored in the church, we have largely remained silent on this life-altering experience so embedded in our homes and neighborhoods.
The truth is that you know a victim of abuse. It might be your mother, sister, aunt, friend, or a teenager in your church youth group. The chances are she hasn’t felt safe enough to reveal the terrible pain she has suffered in the privacy of her relationship. Domestic abuse is easy to hide, but can be challenging to identify.
What exactly is domestic abuse and who encounters it?
Domestic abuse within a dating, cohabiting, or marriage relationship is a pattern of one partner using power and control over the other. This may include physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, financial, spiritual or cyber/digital abuse. All forms of domestic abuse are harmful and often have long-term impact on the survivor, even after they escape the violence of their partner.
It can be hard to come to terms with the reality that domestic abuse can happen in our churches at the hands of fellow Christians – even our pastor or lay leader. But abuse is often perpetrated by Christians, and many women suffer in silence due to shame and the failure of the church in addressing domestic violence.
The main perpetrators of abuse are husbands and boyfriends, although it is important to note that men can also be victims of abuse by their partner. Whenever an individual is abused, it is a serious violation of one’s God-given personhood and human right to freedom. As such, it is critical for the church to break the silence on domestic abuse and advocate for the end of gender-based violence.
What does the Bible say about abuse?
If you’ve ever skimmed through the Bible – especially the Old Testament – you’ve seen stories of violence, from rape, to slavery, and war. How do we reconcile the God of the Bible, who at times seems to promote violence, with our experience of domestic abuse?
Scripture is often used to keep women silent about their experiences of domestic violence, to urge them to stay with an abusive partner, and even to justify abuse. But the Bible is clear that God opposes those who oppress, marginalize, and abuse others.
Who is sinning: the person who abuses, or the victim who wants to be free?
The Bible views all forms of domestic violence as sin (Mal. 2:16-17; Psalm 11:5; Col. 3:19), including verbal abuse (Prov. 12:18; Prov. 18:21; Col. 3:8), and exhorts us to protect ourselves from violent people (Prov. 27:12; Prov. 11:9). Even in troubled relationships where one is provoked, the Bible speaks out against responding with violence (Eph. 4:26; Luke 6:45).
God’s heart is to deliver the abused (Psalm 5, 7, 10, 140; Acts 14:5) and to protect women by calling husbands to provide for the physical and emotional needs of their wives with sensitivity and gentleness, encouraging them to become all that God created them to be (Mark 10: 42-25; Eph. 5:1;2; Eph. 6:21-29). Any form of abuse is unacceptable behavior and defies God’s calling for Christ-followers to relate to each other in love.
But Jesus doesn’t talk directly about abuse…
The life of Jesus is the biblical model for understanding God, and for identifying how God responds to violence and abuse. Jesus’ ministry was about exposing injustice and advocating for the marginalized, oppressed and abused. He was particularly concerned about women and children, who were often considered less important, and made vulnerable by oppression and abuse.
Jesus reminds us that the vulnerable are violated by the denial of justice. He reveals God’s heart for compassion, healing, and restoration to a full and equal life (Luke 11:46, 17:2, 18:1-8, John 8:1-11). This is why Jesus stops the stoning of the woman under suspicion of adultery (John 8:1-11), heals the bleeding woman (Luke 8: 43), and speaks to the woman at the well who has had five husbands (John 4:1-42).
Men had the power and privilege in family and societies in biblical times, and still do today in many situations. Jesus addresses the marginalization and abuse of these women by the men who should have protected and provided for them so they could flourish. By speaking to these, and other women in Scripture, Jesus brings women back into a position of status in society.
God acts on behalf of the abused
We can see throughout the Bible that God is not passive about violence committed against women. God acts decisively and compassionately to call us to love mercy, act justly, and nurture healing and justice – most especially when power is used to harm others.
The Bible, then, honestly tells the story of women who are abused (such as the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13). The purpose is not to justify violence, but to tell the truth that God sees when men abuse women, and to show that God’s heart breaks for the abused.
God acts clearly through the life and death of Jesus to take an ultimate stance against all forms of violence, oppression, and abuse. God is love, and God’s love will not stand passively when women are abused (1 John 4:8).
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The invitation to you today is, how will you respond to help the church be a safe place for women to be free from abuse?
 World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council, Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence (2013), 2. For individual country information, see United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, The World’s Women 2015, Trends and Statistics (2015), ch. 6, ‘Violence against Women’.
 Office for National Statistics, Intimate partner violence and partner abuse (London: ONS, 2014), ch. 4.
 Office for National Statistics citing Homicide Index, Home Office (Published Online: Office for National Statistics, 2015 – go to the first bulletin table and click on the tab labelled Figure 2.5).
 L. Radford, & C. Cappel, Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church: The Way Forward (University of Surrey, Roehampton, 2002).
 ‘How’s the Family?’ Evangelical Alliance Report 2012, http://www.eauk.org/church/resources/snapshot/hows-the-family.cfm