Abuse is prevalent in almost every religion and belief system in the world. In most parts of the globe, especially the Middle East where I was born, women are told to do everything to keep their marriage together including submitting to abuse and infidelity. Divorce is taboo and women who come from divorce are considered an outcast in society. This is understandable in a world where authorities are given rights to abuse that power, but it is not understandable in a Christian marriage. Jesus says in Matthew 20:25-28 that Christians are not to behave like the rest of the world and that those in power should not try to dominate those they rule. They should not treat those whom they are responsible for as slaves. Instead, they should become like slaves and serve the ones they were called to lead. Why? Because Jesus is the perfect example. Christ had every right to be served yet He came to serve and to lay down His life for His people. This kind of leadership includes marriage. Ephesians 5:25 says that husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Wow! This is truly revolutionary.
When I was still in my abusive Christian marriage, I was also ministering to Muslim women. I was very confused about why my Christian marriage and my submission to abuse looked so similar to their stories. I was born Muslim and converted to Christianity. What drew me to Christ was His great love and kindness to me, yet because of the marital abuse I endured in the misrepresentation of Christ, my view of God became twisted. How could God want me to submit to so much abuse and for me to suffer in such a way? God seemed harsh and distant, and I felt distant from Him.
As the church of God we have an opportunity to show the world what true leadership looks like. We have the opportunity to be light and salt to the world and to be powerful witnesses of the beauty, kindness, grace, and love of Jesus. In Ephesians 4:32 the union in marriage is compared to the union between Christ and the church. The world should be able to get a glimpse of the relationship between Christ and His church when they look at a Christian marriage. But how can this be when abuse is minimized and justified, and the abused and oppressed are told to submit to this treatment for the sake of the marriage? How is Christ glorified in that? How does Christianity become different than the rest of the world?
When we take sin seriously and do not minimize and justify it, we reveal the holiness of God to the world. With the example of Jesus, the church should be leaders in properly addressing verbal and emotional abuse. Proverbs 18:21 says that life and death are in the power of the tongue. Matthew 5:22 gives no wiggle room to anger. It calls it murder. Matthew 5:29-30 teaches us to take drastic steps to cut off sin from our life so that the rest of our body is not infected. This includes how the church should treat sin such as domestic abuse within the church body.
Since abusive people are highly deceptive and manipulative who often call the victim abusive and crazy, it can be difficult for churches to detect who is telling the truth and who the real victim is. The abused is often a victim of lies and defamation within her own church when she tries to leave and speak the truth. In my recent interview with speaker and author Leslie Vernick, we discuss this, and Leslie provides helpful tips on how church leaders can detect and address abuse in the church.
Read more here about what churches can do when a woman suspects abuse in her marriage.