Last week I posted something to the Esther Company Facebook page that quickly began to go viral. I shared the below graphic, along with some commentary and a link to an article about the abuse crisis in the church and another article about leaving abusive marriages.
I had no idea this post would strike such a chord with so many women and spread so quickly, especially since we have previously posted similar content to the page. (As of this writing, the post has been shared over 5,000 times and counting!) I wept as I read through the comments describing so much pain that many have endured in the context of a relationship that was supposed to be loving, godly, and safe. All of this served as one more reminder of why the topic of domestic abuse can no longer be ignored by the church.
You see, for so long the church has been addressing the wrong crisis. We have lamented divorce statistics in the church, while ignoring the reason why so many divorces are happening: abuse. We have put the microscope on the tip of the iceberg instead of looking at what lies beneath. We seem to forget that the marriage vows do not just consist of “til death do us part,” but also to love, honor, and cherish.
God certainly designed marriage to be for life, and divorce should never be flippant or for frivolous reasons. But God’s heart for marriage is not simply its longevity, but its quality. He intended marriage to be a loving partnership, a picture of Christ and the church, and a safe context for spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy. Instead of making the goal to lower the divorce rate, maybe we ought to focus on having healthy, loving, and godly marriages (something that abusers seem to have no real interest in, unfortunately).
Here is the problem: when we make the only goal to save the marriage at all costs, we empower abusers to perpetuate their abuse indefinitely without accountability. For those in abusive marriages, we turn the marriage covenant into a prison sentence instead of a loving bond. And we also signal to victims that the only godly option is to stay and endure ongoing abuse from a person who has vowed to love and cherish them. The real question is this: If we had low divorce rates but high abuse rates, how would that be a success? I believe that Jesus would call that a whitewashed tomb!
Some will say, “But how does it look to the world that our divorce statistics are the same as the rest of society? We can’t allow divorces to happen; we are not being a good witness!” To that I respond, How does it look in the eyes of God that we are okay with a whitewashed tomb? How does perpetuating an abusive marriage bring honor to God? Do we care more about how we appear to the world than about what is actually happening behind closed doors? Do we want true marriage as God intended or the sham and mockery that abuse makes of it?
How will we respond to the abuse crisis in the church? For me, I must speak up and help in any way that I can. Addressing domestic abuse is not a topic that I ever saw myself involved in and there are many other topics that I would prefer to address. I pastor full-time, have a growing writing and speaking ministry, and a young family to care for. I definitely don’t need more on my plate! But I cannot un-see what I have seen. For me to be silent would be to walk past the man on the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30-37).
As a pastor who is happily married, values the covenant of marriage, and upholds the authority of Scripture, I say that it is high time that the church addressed the crisis of domestic abuse in our midst. We must get educated about the nature and tactics of abuse, be willing to take the side of victims, and be willing to be misunderstood in the process. We must aim not just for life-long marriages, but for healthy, godly, and loving marriages. We must get the heart of God for this topic, be willing to let our house of cards crumble, and establish a new paradigm for how we approach abusive marriages.
God is bringing this topic more into the forefront. There is much work to be done, but I see the tide slowly beginning to turn. The question is, how will we respond?