The Church’s Response to Domestic Abuse

The Church’s Response to Domestic Abuse

Very few believing women understand what is happening when they experience oppression. They find it very difficult and heart­breaking to consider what is happening to them…repeatedly called words that we can’t print…being shouted at nose to nose, or relentlessly and wrongfully accused of always dishonoring God or having bad motives toward her hus­band. How can this be happening to me?she thinks. I love him! I am trying to love him better.

Ed Welch helps us understand the importance of the church’s response to domestic violence:

Domestic anger and violence deserve our immediate atten­tion, even when there is only a mere hint of a problem…Although the state can certainly help when women are vic­timized by their husband’s anger, the church must respond and take action. God hates injustice. This might be one of the few times when those who help are called to righteous indignation. Men, and even women, err in underestimating how difficult it can be to live with an angry spouse.
Edward T. Welch, “Counseling Problems and Procedures,” Lecture 2, CCEF School of Biblical Counseling.

Isaiah 1:17 exhorts the church to “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (emphasis added). In fact, over and over again throughout the Old Testament, God condemns oppression. From the beginning, God had a plan to rescue us from oppression in all its forms: our own sin, sins committed against us, and the (temporary) deeds of the evil one—that plan is Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4, Jesus said that he came to “set at liberty those who are oppressed” (v. 18). Because our Christian life is one of being conformed to his image, of course we want to follow his example. But how do we engage with oppression in our local church?

Let’s start by considering a few questions: What if the church—your church—endeavored to stop domestic abuse and to address the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the abused and the abuser with the hope of healing and restoration? What if your church’s primary concern was for the soul of each person trapped in a destructive cycle of abuse?

This is a plea from my heart to the reader, particularly to church leaders—pastors, elders, and deacons—who desire to shepherd the flock among you. My desire is to encourage you undershepherds as you seek to minister in a complex, confusing, time-consuming, and redemptive ministry. I want to help you think through how to address domestic abuse in your church in a biblically faithful, organizationally sustain­able, and practically helpful way. By the end of this chapter, my prayer is that you will have some tools to begin recognizing and responding to domestic abuse for the strengthening of the church, her people, and their families.

For the counselors who are reading, please keep reading. If you are seeing abused or abusive believers in your practice, most likely they attend or are members of a church. By reading this book, you will have a sharper picture of how you can help church leaders shep­herd their people from your seat on the bus. Your understanding of a vision and process allows you to serve your counselee by helping the pastor(s) minister knowledgeably and wisely.

These topics are extremely important. Abuse, oppression, or destructive relational patterns—whatever you want to call these chronic, intractable, besetting, deeply entrenched ways of mistreat­ment that happen within the covenantal marital relationship—require that we develop good theological frameworks and address these issues with love, reason, and conviction. Proverbs reminds us that there is no such thing as cookie-cutter ministry. “Answer not a fool . . . answer a fool . . .” (Proverbs 26:4–5).

The church (including me) needs to grow in the skill of Pauline conversation: listening to understand, speaking the truth in love, let­ting ministry help us read Scripture, and making sure ministry is rooted in Scripture. Paul equips us in Ephesians 4:25–32 with great tools for productive conversations and one-another care.

The Biggest Question

I am going to address what is probably the most-asked question first: How do I know it is abuse?

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