A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Does “Turn the Other Cheek” Mean We Must Submit to Abuse?

Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (39) But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

These kinds of biblical statements are often cited by people to support their argument that a Christian who is in an abusive marriage is required to remain in it and that, in fact, the suffering of continued abuse will be used by God as a great witness of Christ to the world, and for the personal spiritual growth of the victim.

And yet, the same Lord who spoke these words in Matthew 5 did not seem to practice them according to this kind of interpretation –

John 18:19-23, “The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. (20) Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. (21) Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” (22) When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” (23) Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?””

Jesus rebuked this injustice.  He did not “turn the other cheek.”  Listen to John Calvin’s commentary on this issue –

“But Christ appears not to observe, in the present instance [i.e., John 18], the rule which he elsewhere lays down to his followers; for he does not hold out the right cheek to him who had struck him on the left.  I answer, in Christian patience it is not always the duty of him who has been struck to brook [permit] the injury done him, without saying a word…. It is a foolish exposition of Christ’s words, therefore, that is given by those who view them in such a light as if we were commanded to hold out fresh inducements to those who already are too much disposed to do mischief…”.

There are, as Steven Tracy has pointed out, numerous other instances in Scripture of Jesus and the Apostles refusing to submit themselves to evil.  The Apostle Paul for instance appealed to Caesar –

Acts 25:11, “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Do these Christians who are authoritatively commanding victims of abuse that God requires them to stay in their marriage with their abuser, actually consistently live out that same principle in their own lives.  You know the answer is obviously, no!  They –

  • Go to the doctor
  • Protest when laws are past that they believe are unjust and discriminatory toward them
  • Plead not guilty and go to court when they get a traffic ticket they don’t think they deserve
  • Protest unfair treatment in their workplace
  • Go ballistic when they think their church leaders are acting unbiblically

And yet, as many of you know by firsthand experience, they preach to abuse victims – you must remain married to your abuser.  This abuse you are suffering is God’s calling to you and if you bail out of it, you are turning your back on the Lord.

I would invite any Christian who is telling an abused woman these things to comment on this blog post.  Go ahead and state your case.  We will post your words in a stand-alone blog post here and let our readers critique what you have to say, and also ask them to tell their personal stories of the abuse that you are saying God insists that they remain in.  Anyone?  Anyone at all?

12 Comments

  1. Pippa

    Theologians have pointed out that Jesus’ teachings are mostly devoid of explicit moral directives. In other words, his teaches all uphold the Law, but require the deeper understanding of a changed heart. When He told us to turn the other cheek, I believe he was reinforcing that we should not be afraid of those who would kill the body. This does not mean that we should stay with those who would kill the body. I think everyone agrees with that. We are to resist the devil. Not to fight with his manifestations in human form. Not to ignore him or be in denial that he is there. But in the end, we need not ultimately be afraid of those who physically harm or threaten us.
    However the Scripture goes on to say that we should be afraid of those that would kill the soul. And this is the very thing in which the abuser does the most damage. Years of abuse lead to a soul which is battered, bruised and near death. Yes, a soul near death. A soul who is no longer useful to those who matter. Why would the so-called-church expect a woman to willingly stay in that position. All scripture points to a need to flee this manifestation of spiritual warfare. Pastor Jeff makes great points with regards to these so-called-pastors not going to doctors, not protesting undeserved tickets, etc. I would add that they might not want to get out of the path of a charging bull.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Pippa – Yes. In our book (keep praying that the publishing/printing process goes quickly please) we devote a chapter to the nature of abuse as murder. As you point out here, abuse is murder of the soul at the very minimum – and actually in many ways that is worse than physical murder. It destroys the humanness of the victim, brainwashing her into non-personhood. How have Christians regressed so far that they send the innocent back to die in this prison? I wonder if what we are seeing is an increasing blindness sweeping through the church as a result of having gone our own way for so long? We seem to live in a new era of the Judges, in which every man does what is right in his own eyes.

    • Caroline Abbott

      Wow, what a great new thought for me! I have given the question of submitting to abuse a lot of thought, (many years worth as I was being told to submit by my abusive “Christian” husband.) I have never heard anyone explain abuse killing the soul however. You are so right. That is EXACTLY what the abuser is trying to do, whether he realizes it or not. And it truly is spiritual warfare that needs to be fought against. Thank you Pippa! And thank you Jeff for this great website! I will be blogging from it soon.

      Caroline Abbott

  2. Pippa

    That’s exactly what I believe (and what I am trying to write a book about {..so copyright! 🙂 } Yes, how have we regressed so far? Iniquitity, sin, lawlessness abound….and LOVE GROWS COLD. I am speaking of the love of the church. I do not believe that the abuser ever had any love. Why does He (Jesus) even consider us/the church to still be the church when He is so vehemently denied? (Seems like another good argument for once saved, always saved, though, doesn’t it?)

  3. So Jeff, no reader took up your challenge? Hmm!
    And yes, Pippa, love grows cold. And the coldness gets masked with pseudo-love which makes it hard to call it out.

  4. wife in trouble

    Boy I don’t even know where to start. I’ll try with how I’ve been told forgive forgive forgive. I felt in my gut that’s correct,just that forgiveness doesn’t mean “allowance”. My pastor believed my husband over me,because my husband spoke his words,words that my pastor says are truth because he spoke them. Long story but I had to learn he was not to be followed in this teaching. Trust the Lord & not man,man will prove to be a snare. My husband is still abusive,just became much better at it. He barely hits me but will play such games. We’ve been through so much & I feel I need to stay so he & his family & our oldest cannot molest/abuse my kids. I see it as this,if they cannot have access to them or be alone with them,then my kids are safer. But what is occurring is horrible. My heart has changed drastically,as have my children’s. We are no longer quick to forgive others or love everyone. I’ve become so hard heartened,bitter,angry,so on. My children are learning this by my own behavior now but also with the constant mistreatment done by my husband. They also witness his hypocrisy by how he’s so sweet to everyone everywhere else,even on the phone(he refuses to talk to people in front of me due to my constant convictions on this) but he’s so rude,so mean,so abusive towards us.
    My pastors wife told me flat out I’d be sinning if I left,they all defend him. Always pulling out scriptures that tell me I’m to be submissive,etc etc.
    These people don’t know how damaging it is to our future,to how we can be inefficient in spreading the gospel due to our hardened hearts. I’ve changed so much I honestly do not know who I am anymore.
    How is abuse by a husband being like Jesus laying His life down for the church? That is what He commands husbands to do,as well as to love & respect us as the weaker partner. If he won’t his prayers will he hindered. 1 Peter 1:3
    My husband has not listened to me even though in the past what God said came true. I am the one who can leave,yet I am concerned for the safety of my children. My husband has allowed his family to molest my kids & has never defended any of us. I’ve been the one to do the man’s job. The courts failed to do what is right & just. My kids are not learning any Biblical values in anything I’m doing. I’m so torn. I pray I can make the right decision & soon. Please pray for me as well. My own sister(she is a believer too) has spoken against me as has her husband. Everyone is defensive of my husband & even with the facts they will stand against me for any reason. I’m not sure why this is occurring. Her husband also has/still is been abusive. I don’t know as I haven’t spoken to her in years. I confronted them on lies & hypocrisy & I decided it was better to stay away. They also have said bad things about my husband only to turn & deny it. I just couldn’t find someone who will be in agreement with me & someone who wasn’t in competition with me if I seem to understand scripture better than them. I just wanted fellowship without that jealousy & gossip. I have a truly good friend who loves the Lord & she is an awesome mother,wife & friend. She has been a great person to learn from. I also have an amazing spiritual mother who has taught me so much,I cannot repay her for all the Lord has blessed me with through her.
    I’m not totally alone,it just scares me that people within our church cannot understand that lying,gossip,jealousy,favoritism & hatred have truly split up the family of God. His church is being torn apart from within because of foolishness. We are depriving innocent people & children over our selfish desires.
    It is better for us to he “right” in our own eyes than it is to help the little boy being molested by his own brother. Or to stop a husband from destroying your own sister & her kids because you’ve been a Christian longer & can’t let her be right. Even better,judging,refusing to help & hating your pastor for having an affair when your own husband ran to that pastor when he cheated on you & was lead to Christ through it.
    My sister also sent me a long letter telling me how wrong I was for speaking to my brother. That I cannot have anything to do with him,then they go & ask him over,take money from him & deny they ever did anything wrong.
    That’s when I decided we need to totally test every spirit & trust only in the Lord.
    Still,it’s not easy to navigate the road of salvation. With so many people & different views,understanding of scriptures differently & preaching it as such,then turning & living their lives completely opposite to their teaching….ugh,how to we navigate through it all!

    • Dear sister WIT ( that is the acronym for your screen name) you sound like you have your wits about you and have learned to discern falsehood from truth, snakey manipulation from goodwill, and wickedness from righteousness.

      I hear your dilemmas. I believe what you’ve told us. I have some (only some, not full) understanding of what you are going through. As a survivor of domestic abuse and church abuse where the church became the abuser’s ally, and as a mother of a child who was abused by my ex/her father on visitation, I empathise with you.

      You said “I’ve changed so much I honestly do not know who I am anymore.” I understand that. Towards the end of my first marriage I felt like I had become a cardboard cut-out of a person: that I’d virtually lost my personhood. And in response to the abuse I develop a thickened skin, a suspicious and defensive way of thinking, to try to resist and predict the abusive conduct of my husband and to be constantly on guard against what he and his allies might do or say next. And despite all my creative resistance and internal adjustments, they always could surprise me, coming out of left field with some new diabolical nastiness that I hadn’t been expecting.

      It sounds to me like you have seen through all the lies and false teaching that supports domestic abuse in the church, but you are making the decision to stay because that seems at present to be the best way to protect your children. I understand that. I would like to ask: have you ever seen a domestic violence support service? If not, you might like to consider doing that. They won’t tell you to leave your abuser, but they do help assess the risks you might be under by leaving, and by staying. It can be very helpful, not to say validating, to get a professional’s outside opinion and support in circumstances like yours. They may even be able to suggest things you have not considered. It sounds like you have considered most of your options and the risk factors pretty well already, and used many creative strategies to resist and protect yourself and your kids against the abuse, but you never know what a professional may see that you might have not thought of.

      Welcome to our blog, and we hope you keep coming back.

  5. Dear Adrianna,
    I think if you scour our blog you will find lots of posts that help untangle the false guilt you’ve described. And you might like to also look up Leslie Vernick’s youtube channel as she has a video on When trying harder is not a good idea. It is not your job to heal your family, and your prayers are not the ‘missing ingredient’ that is lacking to get them to heal. They are choosing to be the way they are.

  6. This link explains “turning the other cheek” and the two other commands with it. Allegedly, it was, within that culture’s symbolism, ways of nonviolent resistance, to assert your dignity/ shame the other party: http://www.cpt.org/files/BN%20-%20Jesus'%20Third%20Way.pdf

    • Thanks Retha, that’s a really interesting article.

  7. StandsWithAFist

    “However the Scripture goes on to say that we should be afraid of those that would kill the soul. And this is the very thing in which the abuser does the most damage. Years of abuse lead to a soul which is battered, bruised and near death. Yes, a soul near death.”

    Wow–I was doing some backtracking & came across this today. After 40 years of verbal abuse, slander & smears, most of it in full view of the church, pastors, “godly” people, family, etc., I found myself in despair, despondent, truly suicidal. And it scared me: I finally realized that this person would stop at nothing, the end game was to destroy me, to kill my very soul. I truly had an epiphany of sorts, and realized this was a fierce spiritual battle for my eternal soul. The thot came to me , “I have been going about this all wrong!” I suddenly understood “what fellowship has light with darkness?” I had been trying to appease the darkness–the very opposite of what Jesus came to say! That was when I KNEW I had to change if I wanted to survive.

    I knew I could NOT change my abuser, but I could change me. I could change my responses to the abuser. I could build boundaries for my protection, I could erect walls to keep the wild dog out. I could go deeper into God’s truth & seek refuge, not platitudes. And I did. With God’s help, with the help of 2 blogs, and then this one, I did it. But this concept of soul-death, this clarification of what Jesus was saying, is so mind-blowing that it takes my breath away. I am not called to make peace with evil. It is not my job. My job is follow Him, to seek His face, not the face of the abuser. The abuser spent years forcing me to look away from the cross to look at her, to make “peace” but never being satisfied, always demanding the impossible. There is no peace with an abuser. Ever. Jesus gives us permission to look AWAY from the abuser & to look at Him! I make no apologies for doing that. I am free! Thank you.

  8. Regarding Jesus’ admonitions to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile — I think the best way of understanding those sayings is to see them in the cultural context of Israel under Roman rule, as it was in the first century AD.

    The Jews had no way of successfully getting out from under the thumb of Rome. They were a vassal state. Their position was rather similar to many people today who are under the control of autocrats and dictators (think North Korea), or are like feudal peasants under the thumb of unscrupulous landowners (many parts of the third world), or in fear of the headmen of power-hungry clans like The Taliban.

    In that kind of context, you cannot rely on the rule of law to protect you. The law is not just. And the officials who administer the law are often corrupt. There is no safe way to refuse to comply with all the extortions and random dictates of the power-weilding officials. But it can be safe (and shrewd) to ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘walk the extra mile’ when the tyrants abuse you and demand unreasonable things of you. If you not only comply with their demands but actually do MORE than they demand, you are slyly showing them that they cannot rob you of all your dignity. And therefore, they do they not have total power over you: they have not crushed you completely.

    Here is an illustration. I know a man who was unjustly sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a military prison. The guards gave him one blanket each night to keep him warm. The cell was cold. The ‘bed’ was a slab of concrete. He was cold. He decided to sleep every night WITHOUT using the blanket. He did that to show the guards that the prison regime had not totally crushed him.

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