Hurting Homes, Part II

wolves among usI’m moving a comment from this post up to repost it on its own, with a bit of editing.  It’s an important topic and, while I am not vain enough to imagine I have something to say that has never been said before, I do know human nature enough to know that sometimes we need to hear it multiple times in various ways for something to register.  It’s also an important enough topic that I think it can be discussed profitably multiple times and in various ways.

Somebody shared a situation where a wife and child were subjected to abuse by the man who should have been their best human protector and defender.  The pastor of the church went and talked to the man several times, but eventually the wife could no longer subject her family to that abuse and so she left.  The family are now bitter about how the church handled it, and the commenter wondered what else could have been done differently.

I am using this situation as a jumping off point, not to point fingers at this one single incident. The thing is, it’s not one single incident. This happens over and over in many places to many victims.  That’s why I think it’s important to talk about it.

I want to be clear that I am not saying it’s okay to be bitter- that’s a problem that anybody harboring bitterness for any reason needs to work on- but in circumstances like these, it is vital to have some compassionate understanding of what it’s like to live with an abuser before you jump to conclusions about how quickly and easily the victims should get over it, let go, and move on.  Their view of themselves, of life, of their circumstances, of God- all this has been systematically poisoned by the abuser for years.  Being bitter is like beginning to throw up a poison to get it out of your system.

There is, in fact, so much, much more that any church could and should do in the situation of dealing with an abusive man for years. At some point (and not twenty years down the road), an unrepentant and abusive husband should be disfellowshipped/excommunicated/refused communion until he actually produces ‘deeds meet for repentance.”   The church leadership needs to stand with her and ban him from the home until he gets help and truly repents of his anger. They could  offer safe haven to the woman and her children.

Consider these scriptures:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment … first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:21-24).

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (Galatians 5:19-20).

Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions- these are all hallmarks of a tyrant in the home, and yet every week church leadership allows such people to fellowship with the flock with impunity, even to hold positions of authority (song leaders, givers of public prayer, Sunday School teachers, and even, sometimes, the very eldership).  It’s wrong, every bit as wicked as sexual immorality and idol worshiping, yet church leadership turns a blind eye, or simply dismisses it as a little friction typical of any marriage- or worst of all, blame the victims (If you would be more patient, more kind, more …..- as though the Lord never taught that sin comes from *within*, not from without, and these are choices the enraged tyrant is making).
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:29-32).
Let your gentleness be evident to all (Philippians 4:5).
But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8).

There is no place in the church for excusing or underestimating the sinful ripples caused by anger, rage, and malice unleashed in the home. 
 
When the church leadership knows that a member of the flock has a problem with anger, with lashing out at the people who ought to be nearest and dearest to him, they need to make it clear that he is in sin and needs to correct it, or God isn’t even receiving him at the altar- or listening to his prayers.

I find reason for dismay when the church leadership is having  multiple meetings with such a man drawn out over a period of years- I think in all the cases that I know of like this, the counsel includes an attempt at evenhandedness that is unjust and blames the victim for the tyrant’s rage, at least in part.  This is the case any time the counsel includes things the victims should do so as to not ‘provoke’ the tyrant. But the tyrant does not act like a tyrant because of something his victims do- he is a tyrant because he has a sinful, pride filled, selfish, violent man’s heart (or woman’s heart- some abusers are women)- he uses the behavior of his victims as an excuse.  If they change their actions the tyrant only finds another excuse because this sort of counsel never addresses the root problem– the carnal nature of the abuser.

Here’s another problem with the ‘well, what are YOU doing that you could improve?” sort of advice.  This often plays right into the hand of the abuser, who is, as I said before, a very plausible, and usually charismatic, con-artist.  This is what he tells his victims all the time- if they just weren’t so …., if they would just do….., if only they would own up their own faults…. then everything would be peachy and the abuser could be the nice sweetheart that he would like to be.  And because abusers are such skillful con artists, they often convince their victims that this twisted view is reality.  Then the victims scramble frantically, like rats in a red-hot maze, desperately trying to come across the right combination of behavior and words, the combination that will turn the key and keep them from being abused.  But it is a lie and a deceit. There is no such key, and there is no escape.  The illusion that there is such a key is part of the abuse, it is part of the abuser’s head games, it is part of the way he keeps you trapped.  And when those who are counseling such a family turn to the victim and ask what the victim can do so as not to provoke the abuser, the abuser has just been given another weapon by those who were supposed to protect the victims.  It is a heinous wrong.

Why else do I object to years of ‘counseling’ meetings? I see it as an unbiblical approach. Matthew 18 requires far, far more than a long, drawn out series of ‘meetings.’ It requires actual *discipline* at some point, and not a point years down the road while children are actively being harmed and having their souls twisted and wounded, and having their sense of God warped into a caricature of their wicked father.

Imagine you are in a room alone with a Sunday school teacher who berates you, calls you venomous names, demeans and belittles you, screams at you, and tears you apart emotionally over and over. You go to the ‘authorities,’ church or otherwise, and you report it. They leave you in the classroom in that teacher’s care while ‘counseling’ the teacher. She does it again. And again. And again. And again. And every single time you complain the leadership ‘meets’ with her to tell her that’s not a good thing to do, and then they leave you right there in her care anyway. Often they make suggestions to you about how you should change your behavior so as to provoke these outbursts- they even make these suggestions in front of the teacher, which suggestions are then used as additional weapons against you. And so it continues. All talk, not any action or protection.

Eventually, you leave on your own. Of course you will be bitter about the way that was handled, because it was a sinful excuse for ‘handling’ it. Nothing was handled, you were knowingly left to the mercy of a violent abuser. Bitterness is a hard way to live, but it can be much easier to release it if people do not deny your feelings and tell you there is not a real reason to be upset and anger, that if you are bitter you are actually wrong about the circumstances and nothing could have been differently, when of course, it could.

This is part of the job description for all Christians, but especially for pastors/shepherds/bishops/presbyters (different terms for the same office).  Bizarrely, often times the response is to wash their hands of it and turn the matter over to the secular authorities, but that is also unbiblical.  (although, in some cases it is required by law- never should this be the *only* response to help the victim).

Through the usual process, of course great harm is done to the victims, including the children, left uncared for, damaged, and neglected- first by a parent, then by church leadership who ought to be demonstrating Christ to these abused children.

But the abuser is also harmed, spiritually neglected, never brought to necessary repentance, never required to show the deeds that demonstrate repentance, and so he continues deeper and deeper into sin, all because it is just less messy and uncomfortable for others not to face the facts as they are.

The anger and rage, the reviling tongue of an abuser, these are signs and symptoms of a carnal nature. They are not ‘weaknesses.’ They are sins as deadly as debauchery.  The Lord’s Servant must not quarrel but be kind and gentle.

The victims of such abuse are often wounded, burdened, ashamed, embarrassed, and, depending on how long it’s been going on, shell-shocked and even suicidal. They have been living a lie themselves, as often they are so ashamed of the abuse they end up protecting the abuser to keep others from finding out. When they finally have the nerve to come forward and ask for help, they deserve more than a few counseling sessions with the abuser and the equivalent of a pat on the head and a benediction of ‘be warmed and filled.’

 

Martin Selebrede at Chalcedon Press has an excellent article on liberty from abuse.

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