25 Sep Prevention is better than cure
The previous issue of CL carried Beulah Wood’s article, “Is There an Elephant in the Room?” We asked her for a further article on how Christians should respond to violence in the home. Again she observes that people may take good values to an extreme.
In India and among Christians we set high value on the privacy and safety in the home and the sanctity of marriage. Right? That is good and proper. Then how can one take this to an extreme? We need a case example.
Mr Samuel, an elder in his church, was surprised when Mrs Priya asked to meet him one week and told him that her husband, Naresh, beat her frequently. “What shall I do?” she wept. “I am afraid of him. I don’t feel safe in the house.” Mr Samuel knew keeping marriages intact was important. “This is what you must do,” he instructed. “If Naresh is unhappy it is your duty to do everything to make him happy. Pray for him, fast for him to change, think of his every need. If he beats you, you did not keep him happy.” Priya went home puzzled and confused. She was already doing everything possible and still he beat her. She suffered in silence for many more years, a victim, injured frequently, mentally depressed, exhausted by doing everything he asked while he pleased himself at every turn. Life did not feel worth living. “Why does the church make me endure this violence and say Naresh is always right? she asked. “I cannot cope with him any more. I shall leave Naresh.” Mr Samuel’s reply had failed Priya and finally failed their marriage. What went wrong? Here is an analysis. Priya had been told that the wife’s task is to make the husband happy. (Yes, making people happy in marriage is a good value. Paul expected both wives and husbands to work on it. See 1 Corinthians 7:33-34. It does not work if only one makes the attempt. Besides, one person cannot take responsibility for another’s happiness. That is their own concern.) In fact, when Naresh beat Priya he made her a victim. Then Samuel’s advice blamed the victim! He made Priya believe that if Naresh was angry, it was her fault and she had to change. Who was at fault? Not Priya but Naresh. It is never right to physically assault someone. Mr Samuel had taken a good value, keeping a marriage, to an extreme. This good thing became a whip that beat Priya week after week. So then, what should we as friends or advisors do to help a couple where there is distress? I wish there were an easy answer. This is one of the most difficult questions facing Christians, and in India it grows because of our culture of silence. Some believe it is rare but research indicates it is probably found in every church. Abusers convince themselves – they did not really hurt her – and refuse counselling. Friends do not question husbands because they may punish wives and children for speaking. Abusers may wish to change, but fail. In addition, many abusers twist the Scripture to justify their actions.
Let this be clear. Around the world, regardless of their views on women’s issues, biblical scholars teach that it is wrong to physically or emotionally abuse another person, especially a wife or a child. They let us know that, even where people believe the husband must be the sole leader, he must never, never hurt his wife. If there is violence, it is not a “marital problem” to fix by getting them to talk to each other, or by telling one person to “adjust”. It is a crime and it must stop. Because it is so very difficult to help when a husband abuses his wife, it is far better to work to prevent it in the first place. It helps nobody if young women and men, or older, do not even know that violence within marriage is condemned by God. In seminars, pulpits and home groups, and in pre-marital counselling we need to teach against violence between men and women. What can we say? We can teach the Bible.
The Bible Condemns Violence
There is more in the Bible against violence than against divorce. Divorce is sad but abuse is a criminal offence. Violence makes God angry: “Must they fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger” (Ezek 8:17)? 26 “Bring an end to the violence of the wicked” (Ps 7:9). “The trouble they cause recoils on them; the violence comes down on their own heads” (Ps 7:16).
The Bible condemns violence in the home.
“Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly” (Col 3:19). “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect” (1 Pet 3:7). (Wives also need to treat husbands with respect, Ephesians 5:33.) God hates violence: I hate divorce, says the God of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence (Mal. 2:16). If we do not teach against violence, we cannot teach against divorce. People should not be church leaders unless they have a wholesome peaceful family. “An overseer must be not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3). “He must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not violent… He must be self-controlled, holy, upright and disciplined (Tit. 1:7-8). Wife beating is both against the law of India and against the law of God.
The Bible also Condemns Verbal and Emotional Abuse
Words that make a person feel despised, fearful or hopeless are wrong. I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to a hell of fire, (Mat 5:22-23). On the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter (Mat 12:36- 37). Let no evil talk come out of your mouths (Eph 4:29). Get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth (Col 3:8). Threats are unacceptable. In their arrogance they threaten oppression (Ps 73:8). Word-twisting is not right. All day long they twist my words; they are always plotting to harm me (Ps 56:5). Claiming wrong words were only a joke, is still wrong. Malachi 2:17 criticizes those who call right wrong, and wrong right.
Pointers for Christians
- Recognise the silence.There may be marital violence among your friends or in your church. Women often know when men do not, but even other women may not know.
- Teach against physical and emotional abuse. The Bible is your big resource.
- Make sure an abused woman and her children are safe, even if they must temporarily leave the home. (Some marriages have been healed following temporary separation,repentance and genuine reform by the abuser, but take care that it is genuine.)
- Ask the husband to make himself accountable to a counsellor or a group of men who are working on change. (In some cities overseas,
- Christians form reform groups similar to Alcoholics Anonymous to help men work on their own change.)
- Recognise that the abusive person has already emotionally left the marriage long back, when he broke his marriage vow, “to love and to cherish ’till death do us part.”
Advice from Friends of the Family
Most Christian friends have two admirable goals in marriage counselling: save the marriage and fix things up quickly. They may fail to change the abusive person, and fail to protect the abused person from further abuse. Listen and feel with the hurting person and find what she needs. Do not just hope the problem will go away if the safety of a woman or child is at risk. You must protect them; help with accommodation, listen and talk.
You can do great good by what you teach and preach. Teach the equal status of women and men, both made in the image of God (Gen.1:27). Teach first that believers,men and women, all submit (Eph.5:21). Teach the truth that God hates violence.
Change may be slow. Habits can be ingrained. Hold the offending person accountable for the past (honest apologies) and the future (promises of change must be carried out). Work for repentance with change. Offer the power of the Holy Spirit for change, and support the offender in changing.
Men and women hear this, and we all know it is extremely difficult at times. If, when there is violence, you do nothing, you are part of the crime. You have condoned it. The Bible tells us to intervene in cases of wrong. Remind them to…avoid quarrelling, to be gentle and to show every courtesy to everyone, (Tit. 3:1-2). Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right, (Eze.45:9).
About the Author
Dr Beulah Wood, a friend of UESI, serves as the Resource Person for Creative Bible Teaching Workshops at Highfield and is a regular faculty teacher of Theology of Family at SAIACS, Bangalore. She has lived in India for many years since 1968.