Resistance—Jesus’ Call to the Church
Proclaiming Resistance to Abuse and Oppression
Good morning everyone. Today is the day that we traditionally hold a special worship service to address a current evil in our world and the church today—Intimate Partner Violence, also known as IPV. Lori and I have been working with faith-based groups, our local government agencies, and now global organizations to call people to peace while addressing violence in relationships, homes, and our communities. This past week I was at Dignity Village, organizing a training to address abuse in a homeless village. It will be the first of many as we add to our 6 villages and help them function as safe communities.
For the past 21 years we have taken the time to reflect on this evil during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month, while reminding others that God offers hope, peace, and safety—and so do we at Agape. Since we moved to Portland we have helped to begin 3 organizations that work in the community to help advocates, law enforcement, and clergy create safe places for victims and survivors of abuse, while confronting those who seek to control others through spirituality, violence, or manipulation. We have taught at all of the local seminaries and even had students publish their doctoral dissertations in IPV, theology, and the faith community. We have spoken throughout the state, our country, and in other countries such as Canada, Albania, Mexico, and now Malawi. We continue to see ministers, churches, and others who work with faith clients find ways to help those discouraged by their churches concerning IPV.
Notice—I mentioned that people have been discouraged by IPV in their churches. The reality has been that the places which are to offer forgiveness, healing, safety, and repentance have failed. Since Monica of Hippo (the mother of the well-known preacher Augustine, in 322 AD) women have been taught to patiently endure abuse at the hands of their violent husbands. Augustine often wrote that his mother criticized the women who were beaten by claiming that her husband was more violent, but she had learned to pacify him and avoid beatings. This teaching has wrongly dominated Christian spirituality for centuries. For centuries women have been encouraged to continue to submit to a husband (Christian or non-Christian) while suffering violence, humiliation, and shame. Even worse, church leaders have confronted the victims rather than the offenders. Yet, this is far from what the Bible teaches us, and what Jesus wants. God’s leaders confront evil, rather than ignore it. God’s leaders support and defend victims, rather than abandon them.
My friends in the community who work with law enforcement, counseling, and as lawyers continually tell me that their biggest challenge is congregations, their leaders, and members who pressure abuse victims to stay with their partners! This is alarming. Not only because victims are shamed into staying in violence, but we as a faith community are dishonoring the Holy name of Jesus. We are proclaiming that Jesus, like our culture, tolerates violence in the home. Even more we are proclaiming that Jesus supports men who manipulate those who they are to love and care for.
Is this the proclamation of resistance that Jesus has called the church to confess?
Is it good that our government agencies are more supportive of God’s plan for the family than churches? We must be better people.
I ask you, “Is this Jesus’ Plan for His Church?”
What Is IPV?
First, let’s notice these slides (wheel of IPV) concerning what is IPV. IPV is an abbreviation for Intimate Partner Violence. There are many types of violence in the world but IPV is unique. It is violence that occurs in relationships that are supposed to exist through love, support, nurturing, and compassion. It is unique because a controlling person takes the spirit, the identity, the will, and the emotional needs of their partner and exploits them. The controlling person uses the other partner to make themselves feel better. Because they are narcissistic, they demand the love, obedience, and respect of their partner. They do not allow their partner to have free will—they oppress them and force or coerce their partner to submission. Since God offers us free will—IPV is a violation of the nature and will of God. The picture of these “wheels” illustrate the many ways an abusive or controlling person hurts their partner.
The abusive person doesn’t always use anger. They use intimidation, isolation, emotional abuse, threats, money, and access to one’s children as a way to force their partner to obey, submit, or serve them. IPV can be physical abuse, verbal, emotional, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, financial abuse, or collateral abuse.
This is against God’s call for all humans. In his letter to the Corinthian Christians, especially those married to unbelievers–the Apostle Paul gave Christian spouses permission to leave their partner if that person was unwilling to stay in the relationship. This did not mean that Paul wanted Christians to divorce their spouses because they were not Christian. The Christian would expect a moral and holy home (without drugs, drunkenness, affairs, abuse, etc). Their partner had the option to live with the Christian (peacefully) or continue to act like a “Roman.” Paul’s point was that Christians did not have to accept a marriage where one partner would hurt them or call them to violate their belief system. Why? Because: God has called us to peace… (sino que a paz nos llamó Dios…) 1 Corinthians 7:15. Jewish people have always believed that the home is a place for peace (Shalom Bayit). Violence destroys this peace. For Paul, God believes that relationships are to promote peace—not violence, oppression, or suffering. Even more the Christian could promote peace and raise their children in a peaceful home if their spouse would live peacefully with them. However IPV does not promise peace—only tension, violence, and shame.
IPV is also a relationship that creates Post Traumatic Stress in family members. In this “Cycle of Abuse” we understand that the violence/control continues as a pattern. There are phases in this cycle but a simple way to understand is that the family experiences tension as the abuser becomes more controlling. After a while something violent happens, or the abuser acts out and verbally, emotionally, or physically hurts one of the family members. Then they apologize and promise that it will not happen again, providing a false sense of “peace,” as the member know that it will only be a matter of time before the cycle continues. Spouses/family members are caught in a cycle that repeats, intensifies, and sometimes becomes more violent. This creates tension, traumatic bonding, and shame as the abuser controls the cycle and its frequency–even though they blame the victims for causing the pattern.
The cycle keeps the victim close to the abuser who creates tension, violence, and “false sense of apology” or “repentance” therefore keeping the relationship going. A victim who is caught in this constant violence, followed by false repentance, followed by tension, etc. learns two things. First, they learn that “It is my fault, because I am told I cause this.” They blame themselves for the violence and believe that they can avoid the violence/abuse by “being a better spouse…” Second, they suffer from continual trauma, shame, and guilt. They are in a relationship that is “never” safe, and they live with tension, fear, guilt, and low self-esteem. If you read this poem, If I Cry Alone, by a survivor of abuse it offers a painful illustration of the suffering that many face in this type of relationship
Children raised in this environment suffer tremendous trauma, emotional pain, and fear. Research done in Boston on the “Child Witness to Violence” project found that children in violent or abusive homes suffered more than those who witnessed random acts of violence. They key difference was “trust.” Children raised in a home with IPV learn to fear those who they are supposed to be able to trust—and, in the end, struggle with trusting relationships.
I ask you, “Is this Jesus’ plan for the family?”
How Does IPV Affect the Family?
While we can do a whole session concerning IPV and individuals, I want to touch today on how this affects the family. First, as I mentioned earlier, “St. Monica’s” way of handling abuse (which she had little option to leave) was wrongly used to tell women to submit and overcome violence through service, love, and obedience. While we have heard of stories where the violent person is overcome by love (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are one example), these cases are rare. Thousands more women continue to experience violence, abuse, and dysfunctional behaviors such as drug use, alcohol, and affairs in their relationship. The church should never tell a person who is being oppressed to continue to submit to this suffering. The church should stand up and protect the victim because Jesus rose from the grave and brings justice through his followers.
“Submit to each other out of respect for Christ…ometeos unos a otros en el temor de Dios,”
(Ephesians 5:21). Often abusive men quote Ephesians 5:22-25 to me where the wife is to submit to the husband, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” They don’t read the next 9 verses (three times as many as written to the women) where the husband is to “love and care for” his wife.
- Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Nor do they read Ephesians 5:21, that suggests that “both submit to each other.” I often ask, “how is abusing your wife ‘submission’?” The Bible teaches that intimate partners “both” serve each other. When one person is violent, abusive, controlling, or manipulating to their partner “they” are violating their marriage vows. Therefore divorce happens.
As a husband and a father I will stand before God one day. We want to be able to face God with a clear conscience. None of us wants to hear God say, “What have you done, your wife could have been so spiritual and done so much for me—but you wrecked her beautiful heart and spirit. She never could become what she wanted to be for me. Now you deal with me.” No! We want to hear, “Wow, the two of you make quite a team—do I know what I’m doing when I put you two together or not? You both have made me proud and you have supported her in what I called her to be.” Being married is about helping my spouse be the best they can be, but IPV destroys them and makes them serve the abusive partner.
Artemis was the goddess and great head of Ephesus. As mother/goddess/head, she nurtured and cared for her city. She was so powerful that even the mighty Roman Caesar could not build a greater temple than hers. Nero was sad because he—who believed he was a god in the flesh—could not outdo Artemis’ temple, and the goddess Roma could do no better than Nero. Artemis was the greatest. She presided at weddings, united couples together, and cared for women in childbirth. The Ephesians knew that Artemis as “head” was caring, nurturing, and loving. Likewise, Jesus as head does the same thing in the church. He unites, loves, cares for, and breaks down barriers separating Jew and Gentile. The terms used for head would have been “feminine” in the ancient Roman world. However, the Apostle Paul calls men, husbands, Christians to be heads who love, nurture, care for, unite, and create peace in our relationships and families. Men who are harsh, abusive, controlling, manipulative, and violent are not the kind of men Paul calls them to be. They cannot be “heads” like Jesus because the Savior is a man who covers and cares for his wife (which is the church). This is what it means to be “head” in the family. Finally is a poem written by a survivor who experiences this suffering in abuse.
The next two slides are an illustration concerning how abuse and dysfunction affect the family. Often churches suggest that “divorce” is the great sin in marriage. Yet we do not realize that the “great sin” in marriage is “dysfunction.” Marriages end because of dysfunction, sin, violence, unfaithfulness. These behaviors not only damage a relationship that is supposed to exist in love, peace, compassion, grace, forgiveness, repentance, and devotion—but they hurt their partner. We must not try to “prevent divorce” in the family—we must “address dysfunction” in marriages. We teach healthy relationships and healthy marriages.
Second, IPV creates dissension in the family and is a horrible sin in the eyes of God. In Proverbs 25:1 King Hezekiah’s men decided to republish some of King Solomon’s Proverbs. These guys must have felt that while it was older wisdom—it was something worth repeating. Notice what they chose in Proverbs 29:22, “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins…” “El hombre iracundo levanta contiendas, Y el furioso muchas veces peca.” Two interesting points are found here. One is that an angry (or violent) man causes division or dissension. Dissension in the family is not only a sin but an “abomination to Yahweh,” (the worst Hebrew word one can use to offend God–Prov 6:16-19). Also, a “hot-tempered” man (angry) commits many sins. The Proverbs teach us that anger, violence (as well as control and manipulation) create dissension, tension, and a lack of peace in a family. This is not what God desires in the family.
I ask you, “Is this Jesus plan for the family?”
Why Should We Care?
While this final question may seem ridiculous to ask—I feel strongly about it. I believe that this is the reason so many Christians do not get involved to help families in abuse. I believe it is why so many Christians turn their ears to the #MeToo movement. I believe that it is why so many faith people continue to believe abusive males and trust that women are exaggerating their level of abuse. The bottom line is that many do not care nor do they want to get involved.
First, we should care because it is a matter of salvation. The many poems, stories, and scriptures read today illustrate that those living in, brought up in, or experiencing IPV suffer from PTSD, guilt, shame, and self-esteem. Have you taken the time to talk to someone who has been in abuse? Are you aware that the high percentage of our homeless guests have experienced trauma? Have you ever witnessed the damage done by abusive individuals on our health care, work environments, and rates of suffering? We should care—because people can’t see Jesus due to the work of another “evil one” ruling our world.
The Apostle Peter wrote something to husbands, Notice what he says in 1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the more vulnerable vessel—and heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers…” “para que vuestras oraciones no tengan estorbo.” Peter tells husbands that the way they treat their spouses has a direct correlation to their relationship with God. We must care Because many, many men are going to hell—and we have to warn them. We must care about their souls enough to speak up and let them know that God does not tolerate abuse and oppression.
While I understand that Peter has earlier asked wives to submit to their husbands to win them to Christ, I do not for one minute believe that he or any other disciple of Jesus would sit by idly while one of their “sisters” in the faith were physically abused. I believe that the Biblical text is deep enough theologically to require followers of Christ to treat abuse differently than living in a home with a husband who needed to be served by his wife. It takes a calloused heart to believe that the early Christians would have acted powerless to help her is abuse—yet unfortunately it is this same calloused heart that exists in churches today who would send her back, knowing she would be hurt.
Abusive men must repent, or God will not listen to their prayers. Repentance is more than “sorry,” repentance is a deep grieving over the sin and suffering I have caused to others (and God) and the desire and motivation to change my behavior (2 Cor. 7). It is not “showing remorse until I get my partner back”—it promotes change. Yes, God’s people practice forgiveness—but repentance “precludes” forgiveness. We must show men how to repent and show them what it means to be a good husband, father, and man.
Second, we should care because that is our calling. Maybe I should suggest that it is a matter of our own salvation. The Proverbs teach us:
- Abre tu boca por el mudo En el juicio de todos los desvalidos. Abre tu boca, juzga con justicia, Y defiende la causa del pobre y del menesteroso…
- Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are oppressed, speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the vulnerable/humiliated
- El que cierra su oído al clamor del pobre, También él clamará, y no será oído…
- If a person shuts their ears to the cry of the poor, they too will cry out and not be answered…
King Lemuel’s mother told him to not only find a good wife and be a good husband—she told him to be a good man. He was to use his position of power to speak up for the oppressed, poor, and victims of society. Solomon also warned his leaders that if they ignored the cries of the poor and oppressed, God would ignore them. I am sad to tell you today, if you haven’t figured out by now, that there are many, many faith leaders who will spend eternity in hell because they chose not to get involved, they listened and then thought, “no way—this can’t be,” or they chose to welcome an offender into a “good old boys club.” We live in a world that is now holding God’s churches accountable because we didn’t protect children, or told women they were insignificant, or continued to promote people because we didn’t want to further investigate that they might be guilty. Is it possible that Jesus is bringing judgment on his own church? Or is it a time for us to rise up and be serious about addressing IPV?
As one survivor wrote, in the poem Dear Mom and Dad, her parent’s refusal to believe her created further trauma, shame, and guilt.
I’m here to share with you that there is positive change going on. Over the past few years I have been sharing the research from 2013 that claims clergy preaches on IPV 1 or fewer times per year. The high majority did not mention it in sermons at all, do not believe it is a problem, and still send an abused woman to couple’s counseling with her abuser. However, since 2013 the newer research tells us that there is change. #MeToo has held our attention and many more ministers are having the conversations. Inappropriate male leaders are being confronted, fired, or called to repentance—and victims are being supported. Change is happening.
On our end we continue to see progress. Women have been helped this month through Agape. Homeless camps are learning about IPV, and more ministers are attending our own trainings. These slides illustrate that a seminar was done in India with one of my books, Freeing the Oppressed. This book is also being translated into Russian in 2019 to be used by Russian IPV advocates and the Slavic advisory team with Portland Police.
Also—do you remember that I mentioned, while in Malawi, that we taught about IPV, and it seemed that the males did not listen? Well, I was wrong. They are now requesting the lessons to be used by couples to train the churches. God is good, and I know that Jesus is changing lives. Since we decided to be “global” we are observing God working world wide—and I believe that one major way will be through IPV and being a faithful community who calls people to “Resist IPV” and practicing true love!
This is Jesus’ Plan for His Family—His Church!
May Jesus give you strength, compassion, healing, and courage today to be who we are called to be.