By Amy R. Buckley
Perpetrators of intimate partner abuse use many tactics to maintain power and control over victims: verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, among others. Generally they establish a pattern of non-physical abuse before turning to physical means of coercing and frightening victims. Name-calling may turn to shoving. Pinching may turn to throwing objects. Slapping may turn to choking. As time passes, volatility of a situation tends to increase; so does danger.
By the time a victim finds the courage to tell someone, the situation has usually escalated, and her story may sound unreal. Perhaps her husband is a pastor, elder, or deacon who does many good things for the church. It is easy to question a victim’s truthfulness, or to imagine that she is exaggerating.
Her hands become tied when evidence hinges largely on her word that is questioned. What proof is there when it’s her word against his? Nobody wants to falsely accuse someone of a crime. It makes sense to gather facts, and weigh both sides, before naming the guilty party. But in situations of abuse, there may not be time. Those who wish to help may unwittingly pave the way for violence.
Perpetrators are good at appearing calm and cooperative before retaliating behind closed doors. They twist facts, lie, refuse to take responsibility, and blame victims. When something terrible happens, people often say: “We never imagined that he was capable of such a thing.”
Many Christian leaders feel apprehensive about dealing with intimate partner abuse because it challenges cherished ideals about Christian families. In his book Domestic Abuse, What Every Pastor Needs to Know, Reverend Al Miles makes the point that pastors are very reluctant to question the nuclear family unit. In many cases, the safety of women and children take a back seat to the sacredness of family togetherness. In one survey, pastors were asked to rate how intense marital violence would have to be to justify a woman leaving her marriage: “One third of respondents felt that the abuse would have to be life-threatening, and almost one-fifth believed that no amount of abuse would justify a woman leaving.”
An ungodly belief results when individuals emphasize that God hates divorce to the exclusion of the equal truth that God hates a husband to cover his wife—who is one with himself—with violence (Malachi 2:16).
Saving a marriage must never take precedence over saving a life. While Christ’s love for the church should be the model for Christian marriage, an abusive marriage cannot possibly reflect that plan. Encouraging the continuation of an abusive marriage demeans the sacred covenant of Christ’s marriage with his bride. Even God divorced Israel for covenant breaking caused by sinful disobedience; infidelity to the Creator encompassed more than sexual sin (Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8). After issuing a divorce certificate, God required Israel’s repentance and restitution before reconciliation was possible.
In the big picture, God opposes abusive violence that wrecks covenant relationships:
“Don’t envy violent people or copy their ways.” (Proverbs 3:31, NLT)
“I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:11, NLT)
Change will not happen until a perpetrator takes complete responsibility for using violence to maintain power and control over a victim. Perpetrators must not only be willing to make themselves accountable to God’s Word. They must be willing to invest time, energy and resources necessary for receiving professional rehabilitation. Only then will peace, safety, and healing reign in our communities.