A Giant Step Backwards

Is it time to listen to the abuse victims and survivors in your midst rather than telling them what they may or may not do with their lives?

So yet again we have another case of an abuse victim in a complementarian church who is not receiving help and even being disciplined for wanting to be free from her abuser. This is a giant step backward and sends a very clear message to victims that they will be believed and helped only if it fits into the desired church narrative. Telling her that the suffering didn’t meet the accepted threshold callously minimizes her pain. “The more intense and longstanding the pattern, the more destructive it is to people” is obviously not destructive enough to warrant freedom. James 2:14-17 anyone?

 
I was cautiously optimistic when I read Pastor Jason Meyer’s sermon “Fooled by False Leadership” last year. Meyer spoke on the issue of domestic abuse in Christian homes because of hyper-headship. Many Christians only acknowledge physical violence as abuse, if that, and have a very limited understanding of abuse in general. In addition John Piper (Meyer’s predecessor) is probably one of the last people I would ever send an abuse victim to for advice, hence the caution. However I was pleased to read the following statements and several charts detailing different forms of abuse and naming them abuse.

If these are the numbers for physical and sexual abuse, imagine how much bigger the problem is if you add mental and emotional abuse. Let me put this in layman’s terms. Do not say insensitive, misguided things like, “If it doesn’t leave a physical mark, then it is not abuse.”

and

Emotional abuse is a pattern in the use of words and actions to assault, reorder, and control the emotions and affective state of the other person for the achievement of selfish ends. The more intense and longstanding the pattern, the more destructive it is to people.

But I am grieved to learn of a recent case at Meyer’s church involving the discipline of a woman who pursued divorce because of an emotionally abusive husband. Based on the letter from the church, it appears that they have backtracked on their stance that non-physical abuse is equally heinous as physical violence.

They outline that divorce may be permitted in cases of continued, unrepentant sexual immorality, desertion, or abuse that results in physical danger to the victim. We don’t think your case rises to this level, and so, without at all minimizing the pain you’ve experienced, we ask you to please reconsider this course of action. (emphasis mine)

So yet again we have another case of an abuse victim in a complementarian church who is not receiving help and even being disciplined for wanting to be free from her abuser. This is a giant step backward and sends a very clear message to victims that they will be believed and helped only if it fits into the desired church narrative. Telling her that the suffering didn’t meet the accepted threshold callously minimizes her pain. “The more intense and longstanding the pattern, the more destructive it is to people” is obviously not destructive enough to warrant freedom. James 2:14-17 anyone?  Not that I am expecting any answers, but this leads me to ask some questions:

– For a church with a history of promoting “biblical” manhood and womanhood, how does disciplining an abused woman show care for the widows and orphans? What is “biblical” about not helping the abused?

– Based on one’s interpretation of a woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16, is her desire to be free from abuse a valid desire? Is it wrong to want to be safe, respected, and loved? Or are these desires suspect and should be subjugated for the greater good? And who decides what the greater good is?

– What right do church elders have to dictate the life choices of a legal adult especially when the issue is open to scriptural interpretation? What if the gender roles were reversed? Would they be as quick to tell a man what he is allowed to do?

– For all the people who were hot under the collar about Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife and Ruth Tucker’s criticism that complementarianism provides cover for abusers, what do you make of this? How many case studies of abuse in “Christian” homes do you need? Or do we just need more comp. cowbell? See James 2:14-17 again.

– Or is it time to listen to the abuse victims and survivors in your midst rather than telling them what they may or may not do with their lives?

We are waiting to be heard. The question is, will you listen?

Persis Lorenti is an ordinary Christian. You can find her at Tried With Fire and Out of the Ordinary. This article appeared at her blog and is used with permission.