A Cry For Justice

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

A word for the church and a word for victims, from Hebrews 12

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  (Hebrews 12:12-16)

This passage has a word for the churches to whom we are broadcasting our Cry for Justice.
And a word for victims who are suffering abuse from their spouses, families and churches.

First, the word for victims:

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

True peace in relationship with an abuser is impossible: there is only a counterfeit peace which is obtained (temporarily) by the victim complying with the wicked coercive control of the abuser who constantly sucks and spits out her lifeblood, her dignity, her identity.

If we strive for that counterfeit peace which is no peace, we trade off holiness. We comply with the abuser’s sins against us and our children. If we comply with the Pharisaic church’s legalistic restrictions, on that mousewheel of works-based holiness we die a thousand deaths — our relationship with the Lord becomes attenuated, shrivelled, starved, ghostlike.

Rather than counterfeit holiness,

let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)

God has not called us for impurity [such as the impurity of the abuser’s corrupt sexual conduct], but in holiness. (1 Thess. 4:7)

put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor … (Eph. 4:24-25)

… that truth may be something others don’t want to hear. It may be something that people around us may never agree with. But if it’s the truth, we are righteous to speak it.

Now, the word for the church:

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,

Church — men and women who claim to love the Lord Jesus Christ — lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees! There are victims of abuse whose lives are being desiccated all around you. Learn how to support them, learn how to advocate for them. Learn how to honor them. Stand up to the Pharisees and hypocrites and cowards and flabby theologians who enable abusers to exert power and control in the church and the home.

13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Teach right doctrine, make the paths straight, remove the pot holes, boulders, ruts and chasms that you have let come into the road, so that abuse victims who have been made lame by their abusers (and by your neglect of road-maintenance) may not be put out of joint but rather healed.

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 

The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers, not the hearts of the victims!

What so many people label “bitterness” in the victim is simply the victim’s longing for justice and vindication. Christians: don’t palm victims off by telling them to just put their longing for justice on hold and defer everything to the perfect justice of God which will be delivered in the end. It will. But the church needs to do its part in delivering some justice to victims now — before the second coming!

When the church doesn’t give what it ought to give victims — whatever justice it can deliver in the here and now, vindication and practical support — it stands under the wrath of God. When the church stands by, as most of it currently does, carelessly oblivious to the HORRENDOUS injustice that secular family courts and allied professionals are so often delivering to victims of domestic abuse, the church has forsaken its calling to be salt and light in the earth!  And God is watching; his eyelids test the children of man (Ps. 11:14).

The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers. Seek it there. The abuser deeply believes in his Own Entitlement. He believes that because he is the man, his woman should do what he wants.* When you challenge his entitlement, when you set boundaries, when you impose consequences for this immoral mindset and behavior, when you withstand him to his face, you will see this mindset exposed: he retaliates (overtly or covertly) in bitterness because he truly believes his thinking is RIGHT.  Scrutinize the abuser’s heart, resist and cut through his fog, his red herrings, his blame-shifting, his insinuations that his wife is crazy, unstable, untrustworthy, hysterical, a fruit cake, a nut case. Repel and denounce his claims that *she should submit to him better*, and if she did, all this problem would go away.

16 See to it that no-one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

— of course, this must mean no-one in the church, not no-one in the world! … fat chance we’d have of stopping sexual immorality in the world!

Bind the strong man. Hold him to account. If he claims to be a follower of Christ but is exercising a pattern of coercive control over his wife, he has despised the Living God and is trampling underfoot the blood of Christ — the very thing which would be his only birthright in the Kingdom of God.

He has preferred a mess of pottage — the power of a domestic tyrant — over any birthright he might have in the Kingdom. His presence in the church defiles many: put him out!

Listen to these words by “John” who is a recovering abuser, one of the rare ones who seems to be demonstrating solid committment to deep-level change, i.e. bedrock fundamental attitudinal and mind-set change as well as surface behavioral change. There is no indication from his account that he subscribes in any way to the Christian faith, but his words here show that by holding onto power and control, abusers are holding onto a mess of pottage.

… what you actually give up when you give up the power and control is virtually nothing — and what you get is immeasurable. You get to be free, to be who you are, to access parts of yourself that have been cut off. You get to have emotional relationships, to be vulnerable; you get great relationships with your kids. You get so much more than what you give up, which is such an illusion.

(from Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Nonviolence, by Sara Elinoff Acker, p. 97-8)

* As we acknowledge in our definition of abuse (see sidebar on the right), sometimes the genders are reversed.

* * *

For further reading:

A Cry For Justice Chorus

The Abuser as Esau

Love covers a multitude of sins, but not all.

The “B” Word (bitterness) — part of the language of abusers

Bitterness or Righteous Anger – How to tell the difference

17 Comments

  1. Jeff Crippen

    We cannot be reminded of these fundamental truths often enough. Thank you Barbara. If I could find that “preach it!” visual icon I would insert it here!

  2. Still Reforming

    Oh, Barbara, I thank the Lord for you. Your words are balm to a wounded soul. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  3. Still Reforming

    Timely analogy:

    My daughter and I watching “Kimba The White Lion” as I type. I’m not really watching since I’m working on my computer, but she just stopped the DVD to make a point to me.

    Apparently, jungle rangers are sending Kimba to protect the animals of the jungle against poachers. My daughter jumped up to emphatically state, “What are they doing? The animals are the main target, and the job of the poachers is to hunt the animals. They’re basically setting up a prize for the hunters to send the target in front of the hunters! Kimba would be a huge target because he’s a white lion. The ranger’s job is to protect the animals, so why are they sending Kimba in to protect the animals? The rangers should be doing that!”

    I thanked her for the observation and agreed. It’s not unlike the church (ranger) who should protect the target (animals), but send the wife (Kimba) back to fight the battle instead. They’re setting up the target for increased danger, which essentially allies themselves with the abuser.

  4. raswhiting

    Re: The “root of bitterness” is in the hearts of the abusers, not the hearts of the victims!

    Thank you for this clarity of thought and this rebuke of the real bitterness of abusers of all kinds.

  5. LH

    Thank you!

    “What so many people label “bitterness” in the victim is simply the victim’s longing for justice and vindication.” So true – thank you for getting it right!!!

  6. Remedy

    It never ceases to amaze me that on a day when I am starving most, the Lord, through you, gives me a feast! Bless you and thank you for spiritual food that ‘hit the spot’ this morning!!

  7. standsfortruth

    Bind the strong man. Hold him to account. If he claims to be a follower of Christ but is exercising a pattern of coercive control over his wife, he has despised the Living God and is trampling underfoot the blood of Christ — the very thing which would be his only birthright in the Kingdom of God.

    Thank you for this.
    It is so true. As I was reading this it was like drinking living water, that is unpolluted and releases the captive spirit free.

  8. Anonymous

    This post really cut to the heart. For many years I strived for “peace” within marriage, family and ‘c’hurch… only counterfeit peace has been obtained … I can’t do this anymore; I’m exhausted.
    The “for further reading articles” are excellent: have confirmed that most of my anger was a ‘righteous anger’. The “churched” also falsely accused me of bitterness.
    Pastor Crippen’s post, “Bitterness or Righteous Anger – How to tell the difference” confirmed this: “Bitterness against the Lord always cools our devotion to Him. It is accompanied by a turning away from the Lord, and ultimately tempts us to go and serve false gods.” My fervency for the Truth has only deepened as I fight this battle. I have been chastised and mocked for speaking out against the false gods.
    Thank you for this post.

  9. Remedy

    Since there is a quote from the book “Unclenching our Fists,” may I ask if anyone on this blog has read it and can offer feedback on its content and helpfulness. I have need of materials that would be for helpers of abusers to enlighten a study committee in my church denomination dealing with and trying to gain clarification. Thank you!

    • Remedy, I am in the process of reading Unclenching our Fists by Sara Elinoff Acker.

      In my view, a church study committee should not think it is a book that could help them help abusers. The abusers whose accounts are given in this book ALL attended professionally faciliated Batterer Intevention Programs (a.k.a Domestic Violence Intervention Programs, Mens Behaviour Change Progams) in various parts of the USA. To deliver these programs requires a lot of training and supervision. It would be hubris for a church group to think that by reading this book they could deliver such a program, or be able to get abusise men to change just by (for example) getting the abuser to read this book! It would be naive in the extreme for any church group to think they could use this book to help abusers change without the abuser attending a professionally run program AND taking the work seriously. Short term attendance at such programs is generally pretty ineffective. And even long-term attendance is no guarantee of genuine change. The abusers who do change are very rare.

      The book could be useful for the few abusers who are already in such professional programs and who are the rare ones who get to the point where they really want to change and are doing the HARD WORK of changing. It would not be useful for an abuser who is just in a program to manipulate others into thinking he is changing. Sadly, most churches as still so naive about domestic abusers and what is really required for them to genuinely change, that they could easily use this book to bolster their prideful delusion that (with their SuperPastor costumes on) they can get the abusers to change.

      As I’m reading the book I feel I’m discerning that some of the abusers whose accounts are given are more deeply into the change process than others. And for people like me and readers of this blog who have tuned our ears to the language of abusers and the marks of falsely repentant language, it might be helpful to contrast between the accounts in this book with the accounts most of us have heard about abusers who *profess* to be changing.

      The author of the book worked for many years with female victims of domestic abuse, and then started to work in Battering Intervention Programs, first as a partner-contact person, and then as a facilitator of the groups for the abusive men. As such, she would have FAR FAR more training in this field than the average well-meaning Christian committee or layperson. My caution to churches is: Don’t think you can do the same work without years of training and experience in the secular DV sector!

      A few quotes from the author of the book:

      The men whose stories you will read are part of a select group chosen by batterer intervention program leaders from around the country as representatives of the best possible outcome: men who have faced themselves and stopped their abusive behaviors. Many of them did not choose to enroll in their programs [they were mandated by the courts, for example] but ultimately each did choose to become non-violent.

      A few are still with their partners they once abused; for most, their abuse destroyed their relationships…. Although each has done significant work in stopping his violence, they all understand they must continue to be vigilant if they want to stay abuse-free. Each understands there will still be issues to work on; the process is never perfect and it is never over.

      Men with abuse problems need to know that other men have faced their own violence and that change is possible. Unfortunately, many men never seek help or even recognise that their behaviour is damaging to their partners and children. Even when they attend intervention programs, many don’t take the work seriously. But for those who make a heartfelt committment to examining themselves, these stories of awakening and taking responsibility can offer a template of the process of individual change. (pp 4-5)

      • Remedy

        Thank you so much for this thoughtful response Barbara. Always grasping for straws or ‘magic pills’ it seems…..anything for hope to end it and get to hope for healthy here. It is an endless agony, it seems, unless you just simply get away from it.

  10. Anonymous

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  11. Thank you Barbara

  12. IamMyBeloved's

    Excellent, Barb. Been struggling a little lately – wondering if I will ever “feel” whole again and this post was perfect and timely for reminding me “why” I feel the way I do and how I came to feel that way. Abuse. Thanks!

  13. survivorthrivor2

    I have read this a couple of times, and I will print it out and keep it handy! Such an epicurean delight from the Word, placed beautifully on a well-dressed table for those of us who needed consumption of it, thank you Barbara, very satisfying, indeed like a glorious meal!

    It is timely, as well, I had the meeting with the pastor of the church that I felt God leading me to, first the Pastor’s dinner, which I have no idea how I got invited to it, then the second meeting if you wanted to take it a step further and learn more about the church and what they believe. I held back tears in this meeting a lot. Very good and healthy things were said and I wanted to believe them so badly! The one on one meeting with the pastor got put off for scheduling first, then for sickness, but it happened last week and it went very well! Praise God! He had known Narcissistic men from other marriages he had tried to help, and tracked well with certain abusive behaviors I described. He was visibly bothered, although he tried not to show it, and definitely said that I would be protected, helped and loved for who I am, in that church and it would be a safe place for me.

    He said he remembered me from the second class, (the one where I held back tears) and said it was weird for him because in that class, he spoke at length about protecting people, women, from wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc. Afterwards, he thought about it and had no idea why he went on as long as he did, which he had never done before. Well, I guess we know now! Sometimes when God is working, He is silent. Other times, His release is like a domino effect in our lives, God is good…..all the time.

  14. a prodigal daughter returns

    This is so freeing to hear. Thank you for the work in bringing light to the most incredible invalidating thing religious people do to a victim. Laying the guilt on them that their deepest need and hope for justice is nothing but the sin of bitterness.

  15. Kay

    “… what you actually give up when you give up the power and control is virtually nothing — and what you get is immeasurable. You get to be free, to be who you are, to access parts of yourself that have been cut off. You get to have emotional relationships, to be vulnerable; you get great relationships with your kids. You get so much more than what you give up, which is such an illusion.” It blessed me to read this quote by John, a former abuser. This is exactly my husband’s story. He was an abusive man, but he has demonstrated true repentance and is reaping rich benefits in real relationships with kids and grandkids and me, his wife. He was afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to lose me, afraid to lose the upper hand lest he become a victim of abuse like his father. He is so much more relaxed and at ease with himself and life and is truly a changed man.

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