What Does the Bible Say About Domestic Abuse?

Ally Moder

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BIBLE ON ABUSE

You Know a Victim of Domestic Abuse

Around the world, 1 in 3 women has experienced some form of abuse from a male intimate partner in their lifetime.[1] In the UK the number of women who have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 15 is comparable[2].  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[4], 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.[5]

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.[6] 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).

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?”

Connect with Ally on Facebook or visit her website for free resources on domestic abuse.

References:

[1] 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’.

[2] Office for National Statistics, Intimate partner violence and partner abuse (London: ONS, 2014), ch. 4.

[3] 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 labeled Figure 2.5).

[4] L. Radford, & C. Cappel, Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church: The Way Forward (University of Surrey, Roehampton, 2002).

[5] To learn more about the various forms of domestic abuse here

[6]How’s the Family?’ Evangelical Alliance Report 2012, http://www.eauk.org/church/resources/snapshot/hows-the-family.cfm

Ally Moder

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17 Comments

  • Hi. I’m glad I found this blog. I am uncertain if this is a leftist, secular feminist cite, I am not leftist or liberal but a Christian, but I did like your take on Timothy.
    This issue of domestic abuse is a serious issue that too often goes unnoticed. Tradition, religious tradition blinds people to accepting issues like this. To better communicate, my definition of religious tradition is man’s rules, regulations, concepts centered around experience and shaped by denominations, church hierarchy and how it’s always been done. It is man’s ways and it is not rooted in the Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word, and when we make the Word the final authority these traditions fall away.
    Divorce has become the unpardonable sin, if you will, in so many circles. Even in the case of domestic abuse church leaders are so fearful of their traditions they wish a spouse to stay in a abusive situation and risk death just to satisfy their tradition. Heard many teachings on walking in love but why none addressing this? In marriage lessons we should be addressing this.
    I do wish to say domestic abuse is not a feminist issue. Domestic abuse effects everyone. The parents of the abused. The parents of the abuser. The reality is both male and females are the victim of domestic violence.
    God is good and He disdains abuse. Thank God His Grace rescues, restores, renews and heals us of our wounds.

  • I never got the sense in Tamar’s story that God was watching over it heartbroken. She just gets discarded, narratively, as a precursor to all the stuff that happens with David and Absalom and the rest later. There’s no sense of compassion for her, from anyone, including the Lord.

    • I don’t know why God didn’t do anything for Tamar — people always ask why God doesn’t intervene — to me the bigger question is why do people continue to do evil things, even though most know that the behavior is wrong.

    • Emma, see if you can get ahold of Phyllis Trible’s book, Texts of Terrors. It really helped me work through some of the implications of these kinds of stories. If I have more time later I will share more.

    • You have brought up some good points about Tamar! I see the inclusion of this critical story of rape and domestic abuse as an act of witnessing to the suffering of women in the Bible. Rather than God being silent, God takes a stand for women and their suffering by telling the truth of violence, as in Tamar’s experience. The fact that Tamar is named, that she stood against her brother’s choice, her vocal grief and shame of the abuse she experienced from her half-brother and father… these are some of the ways that this Scripture testifies to the painful experience of many women around the world. So, Tamar’s story can be understood as God breaking the silence by witnessing to Tamar’s pain. And rather, than dismissing it or downplaying the abuse, this biblical text displays God’s compassionate stance of being honest about the ongoing suffering and violence women experience, refusing to stay silent, cover up, or clean up the broken, bloody, complex, and often unresolved trauma of abuse. While we rightfully long for full justice, Tamar’s story reminds us that human sin and evil are dealt with once and for all through God incarnate in Jesus and the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

      That is my interpretation of the story at least!
      Ally

  • I had to leave an abusive marrige to save my children and me. It was very difficult and after praying and seeking God He gave me Proverbs 22:24-25.

    “24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
    do not associate with one easily angered,
    25 or you may learn their ways
    and get yourself ensnared.”

    That scripture convicted me, in having not known that by marrying someone (that I found out only later after marrying my husband) that to associate with an abuser let alone marry one I was in direct disobediece to God’s will! I suffered physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse for over 13 years. I realised I had to become brave enough to break the repeated cycle in order to save my son from being the 4th in line (generational) to learn how to become an abuse man/husband. And I had to prevent my daughters that believing (the lie) that it’s ok to live with an abusive man, keep taking him back after jail, and prevent them from becoming accostomed to think that’s the kind of man to date and marry. My children were young when I divorced my husband and though he was very angry, vengeful, continuing verbal and emotional abuse even pitting my children against me during the court proceedings it was God who helped me continue forward and not to subcomb to fear my ex anymore. God has healed me from the trauma and abuse from this man. My children are adults now and have told me how greatful that I divorced thier dad as they understand the truth that had I’d stay in that abusive marrige they would have learned that behavior – and that’s not to mention I would have learned that behavior as well. Today I let women and young girls know about Proverbs 22:24-25.

    • What an amazing and courageous story! Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s sobering and encouraging at the same time 🙁🙂

    • That’s brilliant. Yes He came to free the captives, to heal us and for us to be peacemakers. Not so we could collude with evil – oppression and violence. I’m so glad you did this and told your story. Thank you for proverbs 22. There needs to be a revival of true Christ-like living in the church. I’m convinced this is the only way we can have a Christian revival outside of it. When He spoke against men divorcing their wives it was against treating others as disposable commodities and defiling the lives of children.

      • Freedom is truly a key concept of the Christ story we are living in—and participating with. Thank you for speaking out on this vital issue!

      • Hi Berenger,
        You’re welcome, I wanted to share it so that others may find strength in God’s word that He doesn’t want his beloved women and daughters or their children to live through such abuse and that He is against it. (And any man as well, as I know it’s not just women alone that suffer from abuse though more often than not it is majority women and children that do over men)

        I agree there needs to be a revival but until it happens a shift in thinking must occur for it to happen (at least that is my thought). So true what you wrote: “Not so we could collude with evil – oppression and violence.” There are many within the church that don’t even realize by what they say or do, (or even by habit of thinking) that they are actually colluding with evil, oppression or violence. The following scenario is one example:

        I’ve often thought of this scenario: Those of us who are parents, or better yet, let’s say a Pastor’s young daughter Christy wants to go over her friend Olive’s home to play with and the child does for a few times. Later this Pastor finds out that his daughter is being exposed to hearing and witnessing abusive emotional words from the Olive’s father to his wife, and Christy is seeing the physical violence Olive’s father does against her mother.

        What do you think that Pastor would do? Do you think he would continue to allow his beloved daughter to play with Olive? Would that Pastor allow his beloved wife and daughter to go over there and stay a few days at that house? “Certainly not! It would never happen!” the Pastor would emphatically say. And you know why? Because that Pastor knows it would be an evil thing to do in allowing his daughter and wife to witness, experience and hear such violence, abuse and oppression. He’d be so furious he’d get his wife and kid out of that house in a heartbeat because they are so precious to him. And rightfully so!

        Now let’s think, how many Pastors say to a woman who is living with an abusive husband….”No you can’t divorce or leave your husband, God hates divorce, you and your children have to go back to him…ect” By saying those very words the Pastor has in fact implicitly stated the abused woman and her children must continue to witness and experience abuse, they are of less value, of less importance than his wife and child. Do you see the double standard? Why is it justified for the Pastor to not allow his beloved wife and child to witness physical, emotional or verbal abuse or to live in such an environment but it’s perfectly fine, no, ordered by the Pastor via spiritual abuse (you’ll be in sin if you do leave) that an abused wife and her child must continue to live in that evil oppressive environment and endure more abuse? Is this not a gross hypocrisy within the church?

        I agree with you and think until there is a shift of thinking, a letting go of pride, and really living Christ-like by “doing unto others as we’d have done to us” is considered within the Body of Christ, revival is often hindered. Just my thoughts.

    • Donna—wow! Thank you for sharing your story. What incredible strength and courage you have! You are indeed a woman of valor and I am grateful that your children have had the reward of your wisdom, grace, and much hard work to care for your self and them over the years.

      Peace to you!

      • You are more than welcome. Thank you Ally for your kind and gracious words, they mean a lot to me. Truth is, I never used to considered myself to be a woman of incredible strength or of valor or of grace and wisdom simply because no one ever said that to me, as years of abuse from childhood then into marriage affirming words were hardly spoken and I had grown accustomed that those words were for others but not me. But now having spent a lot of time in the Word of God and repeating out loud who I am in Christ Jesus, and what He accomplished on the cross for me, choosing to believe His words…that was the key for me… really choosing to believe those words of truth over the years of lies spoken to me, has brought much healing, comfort and hope. I try to encourage others with them and encourage my adult children with them as well. May God bless you too Ally!

  • I love this post. So many people seem to be misinformed about how “Holy Books'” “assumed” support of violent behavior toward women/children/men.

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