May 7, 2014

Why Do So Many Churches Tell Women to Stay in Abusive Marriages?

I got flowers today!
It wasn’t my birthday or any other special day.
We had our first argument last night.
And he said a lot of cruel things that really hurt.
I know he is sorry and didn’t mean to say the things he said,
Because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today!
It wasn’t our anniversary or any other special day.
Last night he threw me into a wall and then started choking me.
It seemed like a nightmare,
But you wake up from nightmares to find they aren’t real.

 I got flowers today!
It wasn’t Valentine’s Day or any other special day.
Make- up and long sleeves didn’t hide the cuts and bruises this time.
I know he’s sorry because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today!
And it wasn’t Mother’s Day or any other special day.
Last night he beat me again, and it was much worse than all the other times.
If I leave him now, what will I do?
How will I take care of the kids?
What about money?
I’m afraid of him, but I’m too scared and dependent to leave him.
But he must be sorry because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today…
Today was a very special day—it was the day of my funeral.
Last night he finally killed me. I was beaten to death.
If only I would have gathered the courage and strength to leave him.
The women’s shelter could have helped me, but I didn’t ask for their help.
So I got flowers today…for the last time.

I don’t know the author of this poem, but the message is clear: domestic abuse can lead to death and often the victim doesn’t believe it can happen to her until it is too late for her to escape with her life.

A good friend sent me this poem earlier in the year. I promised her I would write a post about domestic violence, but getting this together took longer than I’d planned because one question kept floating in my mind: why do so many churches tell women to stay in abusive marriages?

The imaginary character in this poem probably realized in the last few moments of her life that she had no time left. No time to escape. No time to call for help. No time to get to the women’s shelter. Yes, he really was going to kill her this time. The last things she would see in this world were an angry face and a pounding fist. No time left to make arrangements so that her children would not grow up as orphans: one dead parent and another parent in prison for a long time or for life.

I have listened to older women tell me of their life experiences. 

Sometimes, the story goes like this:

“Yes I talked to Rev. So-and-So, or to Rev. So-and-So’s wife, or to the Deacon, or to the Elder, and they told me to try a little harder. They told me no one is perfect. They even said something about wifely submission in Christian marriage.

No, they were not going to talk to him because they did not want to get involved in somebody else’s personal business in that way. He had not asked for their advice and they did not offer advice to those who did not ask for it.

They said that no relationship is perfect. I needed to think about my children and how they were going to be supported. They said he’s just going through a bad time. They asked me why I couldn’t get along with him. They said if he’s irritable, just stay out of his way for the evening. Was dinner ready when he got home after working all day? They said if our sex life was better, he wouldn’t be so edgy all of the time.

They told me Scripture forbids divorce except in the case of adultery. Was he cheating on me? How did I know for sure? They told me about forgiveness and being willing to put the past behind me.

They told me all couples go through bad times. They said you can’t quit just because things are hard. They said they understood. They said maybe we needed to take a vacation. They said we should get a babysitter one night a week and go out to dinner and a movie.

 They said there are not a lot of good men out there and that I am not a spring chicken. And I am not perfect either. They told me they really didn’t have an extra room in their house and that my children would be totally humiliated going to school while living in a shelter. They told me to pray and wait on Jesus They said He may not come when I want Him, but He’s always on time.”

To my friend M. and everyone else who reads this: I have not come up with a definitive answer for why some churches deny the seriousness of domestic violence and feel it’s OK for women and children  to live in fear in their own homes.

Here’s my best shot:

Often, we (Christians and other “church people”) are too ashamed to admit we don’t have readymade answers for all of the craziness life can throw our way. So we rationalize things we should condemn. Some people have put up with things they never should have tolerated and don’t think you have the right to avoid it if they couldn’t avoid it.  After all, you are no better than they are, right?

It may be difficult for someone to admit the church member or officer who sits proudly in a place of honor on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening is actually a raging bully at home to those he doesn’t feel a need to impress.

Some people believe you should sacrifice your honor and self- respect and safety so there isn’t another scandal in the church. Some people believe the worst things that can happen never actually happen.

Some people don’t really believe you have a right to be safe and in comfort in your own home. They just do not think you have a right to insist upon those things. Actually, they do not think you have a right to insist upon anything at all. You are supposed to take whatever someone wants to hand off  to you. They don’t think you deserve the best because they have let the world tell them their value and your value…and it isn’t much.

What’s the solution? Love yourself, because God does. Make a plan and seek safety for yourself and any young person who depends upon you. God is with the courageous who seek His protection.

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