I want to take a moment to speak about domestic abuse, which, unfortunately, is a factor even within churches professing Jesus Christ. Abuse of a wife can take many forms, but there are some very real things going on out there that the men’s movement/patriarchal churches would have us ignore.
I absolutely believe a woman is obligated to submit herself to a husband. But that submission is not liberty to abuse a wife, to terrorize her, to make her life hell. And yes, this does go on.
Before I get into actual abusive behavior, though, I want to address whether the wife has a right to call for assistance if the husband is abusive. One very clear indication that she does can be found in Genesis 31:44-50. The men’s movement would have you believe that it is no man’s business how one treats his wife. But this passage says different. When Jacob departed from Laban with his daughters Leah and Rachel, Laban made a covenant with Jacob and indicated at Mizpah that God was called as a witness if Jacob abused his daughters, or took other wives. Though it is God who is his witness, this indicates that Laban did have a stake in how Jacob treated his daughters.
Let me be clear that a man does have a right to verbally discipline his wife, to rebuke her if she is disrespectful to him in public, or to reprove her if she is disobedient and rebellious. Also, if he withholds benefits from her, this is not abusive. Just because a husband does not agree with or does not give a wife what she wants does not mean he is abusive toward her. Abuse is:
- Physical—in any way, shape or form harming the person of his wife. She is his own flesh.
- Verbal–if his communication with her moves beyond a reproof of her behavior to degradation, that is abusive.
- Restraint–if the husband tries to keep her locked down, held against her will, or kept from leaving.
- Intimidation–this means creating a fear within the wife that she will be physically abused. This would also include creating a fear in her that if she does leave, he will find her. This is a form of terrorization, and has led to intense psychological damage to the woman’s mind.
Abuse is not limited to these, but primarily, one needs to realize that if the husband reaches beyond his authority to tyrannize or terrorize his wife, she has a right to seek help or leave. God did not give man authority to ill treat his wife. He gave it to him for her protection.
1 Peter 3:7 tells us, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” A man is to dwell with his wife according to knowledge, to honor her, and that if he doesn’t it could hinder his prayers. God sees how men treat their wives because the man is naturally stronger physically. This does not negate the fact that there are also husbands who are abused.
I’ve already covered the primary forms of abuse. Hyper-control is also abusive, but does not necessarily indicate sin. If a husband is over-controlling and domineering, this is more a matter for prayer.
I recently heard a preaching by Brother Joel Urshan, an Apostolic preacher, who spoke about Pulling Down Strongholds, and how imaginations are the result of a false image that we worship. In terms of the marriage relationship, it is a false image of Jesus that is being portrayed. Any man who thinks that Jesus would abuse his wife has a distorted view of what Jesus is all about and needs to be filled with the Holy Ghost in order to cast down the stronghold of abuse. Any woman who accepts abuse at the hand of her husband, or in her frail mental state, invites it, has a distorted view of how Jesus treats his wife. Jesus died for the Church, he took abuse for His bride. The only abuse Christians should suffer is at the hand of the world, not Jesus.
While we have to remember that there is discipline within the Church, and indeed some within the marital relationship, a man should NEVER EVER strike his wife. Let’s be clear—this is so contrary to the loving principle of Ephesian 5, that it shouldn’t even need to be stated, but it is. The church should deal heavily with this issue, because wives sometimes feel bound to submit to it. This would include the perverse practice of spanking wives as one would a child. This type of discipline leads to perversity; indeed it’s practitioners often express that it leads to sexual intimacy, which should not be if it were a genuine expression of behavioral discipline.
God tells husbands repeatedly that they are to love their wives. We are told in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is kind and longsuffering. A woman should never have to submit to violence, nor should a man feel that he is duty bound to enforce his wife’s submission to him. Jesus does not force his followers to submit to him, nor should a man feel he can force his wife to obey him. That isn’t love and it isn’t obedience if someone is unwilling, or if it has to be obtained through violent measures.
While it’s important to understand that the man is the head of his household, he himself is bound to be under the headship of Jesus Christ, and neither his wife nor his children should suffer for his headship over them. He is to be an example to his family of godly behavior, and a man who has to browbeat his family is not doing so, in fact, he is harming his family’s relationship with Jesus if he resorts to violence or other ungodly behavior toward them.
In 1 Timothy 3:3 and in Titus 1:7, Paul emphasizes that a leader (a bishop) should not be a striker. A man who is given rule over his household should not resort to physical violence in order to do so.
Let me emphasize also that there are other types of abuse that are just as damaging as physical violence. Verbal abuse can be just as traumatic and in some ways more long-lasting than actual physical abuse. The Book of James speaks about the damaging effect of the tongue (James 3:5) and so a man who wants to be an effective example to his family should consider how he communicates to his family. Are his words Christ-like? Do they encourage his family to serve God?
Additionally, isolating his wife or children from external relationships can be damaging as well. While it’s important to emphasize that family members should be devoted to their nuclear family (husband-wife-children), being connected to the larger body of Christ is essential to godly living. While the man should consider what type of relationships his family is forming, he shouldn’t feel that he cannot trust his wife or children to have good relations with their church family or loved ones if doing so is spiritually healthy for them.
Lastly, I want to address perversion. I won’t go into detail about this type of abuse, but it should be sufficient to say that deviancy in sexual intimacy is not what Jesus had in mind between a husband and wife. Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife should be a beautiful, emotionally satisfying experience that enriches both parties and makes both feel a greater sense of self-worth. It should be performed out of a loving, tender spirit and should never include punishment, humiliation, forcing oneself on one’s spouse, or any other behavior that degrades the spouse, harms them emotionally or psychologically, or makes them lose self-esteem. A man should esteem his wife better than himself. The movie 50 Shades of Grey has been very popular, surprisingly even within Christian circles, and this type of intimacy is contrary to love.
IF AT ANY TIME A WIFE, OR A TEENAGE DAUGHTER FEELS THEY HAVE SUFFERED DOMESTIC ABUSE, they should first seek help from church authorities who should address this. This is in line with Jesus’ admonition to take it to the church first. I am deliberately bypassing the abuser, because a woman would be fearful to address the abusive behavior with her abuser. If they feel the church is condoning the behavior, then they may choose simply to leave and go to a shelter or other woman’s group for help. The primary aim should be to get away from the abuser and the police should only be called as a last resort. Secular authorities are not there to preserve the family and their agenda is to tear it apart.