When I met Henry, he didn’t speak any English. He was one of my sweet teenage boys who came here as a refugee. Henry brought one of his friends to our house one day. His friend said, “Henry told me about you. He said, ‘Mama is kind. She teaches me English, and I am never hungry.’” Let’s just say our hearts melted that day.
As I was driving Henry home, hr asked me a question that stuck with me – maybe I should say it wasn’t the question as much as the answer.
He asked, “Do you know what I like about your relationship with Scott?”
A list of possibilities crossed my mind: We laugh a lot. Scott’s “dad jokes” (not my favorite, but the kids love it). His kind and generous spirit…
None of these was mentioned.
“Scott doesn’t yell at you. It’s not like that in the African culture.” The fact that my husband doesn’t yell at me was the most important thing to him.
We arrived at our destination quickly, so I didn’t get a chance to share with him that Scott wasn’t always that way. He was raised in an abusive home, a home filled with violence and sexual addiction. His father would leave hard-core porn magazines lying on the coffee table. He would beat his mom just to keep her in line. Scott was also raised to know about Jesus but not to love Jesus enough to follow and imitate him. However, as an adult Jesus’ love radically transformed Scott’s life. The phrase “it’s not like that in the African culture,” replayed in my mind because the truth is that abuse exists in every culture.
I know it is a big problem in our refugee community because I’ve met many women who are victims of abuse. It’s so prevalent that a fellow refugee volunteer asked Naghmeh Panahi and myself, “How do I answer Christian women who are asking me to teach them how to be more submissive, so that their husbands won’t beat them and cheat on them anymore?” One of the women inquiring was a pastor’s wife.
I’ve come across many women who have had scripture twisted and used to convince them it is godly to submit to abuse by their husbands or even their pastors. God’s Word is for freedom, and using it to abuse someone is evil.
I heard Dennis Prager, who is Jewish, discuss Western culture on a panel. He asked the question he often poses to pastors, priests, and rabbis, “What is the greatest sin you can commit in your religion?” He stated that in his religion, you can ask any traditional rabbi, and you will get the same answer, “Doing evil in God’s name.” According to Dennis and the rabbis he has consulted, the statement of “Do not take God’s name in vain” in the 10 Commandments in Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) has been mistranslated. The more accurate translation is “Do not carry the Lord’s name in vain.” In other words, do not commit evil—i.e. steal or murder—and say you are doing it for God. Dennis’ understanding of the Torah is that there is no greater sin than to commit evil and say you are doing it for God. He continued to say, “Nobody makes a case for atheism like someone who does evil in God’s name, and nobody makes a case for God as beautifully as the one who does beautiful things in God’s name. When an irreligious person commits evil, it doesn’t bring God and religion into disrepute. But when a religious person commits evil in God’s name, he destroys the greatest hope for goodness on earth—belief in a God who demands goodness and who morally judges people.”
Abuse should not be tolerated in ANY culture, but one culture where there is no excuse for it is when we find it in the Christian culture. It goes completely against the character and teachings of Jesus. Jesus valued women. He included women. He was gentle to them. God’s Word, the Bible, gives instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5:25, “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” (NLT, emphasis mine). What does it mean to love someone? 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (NIV, emphasis mine).”
While I was waiting and hoping for Scott’s life to be radically transformed, I fell more in love with Jesus and meditated on His Word. The recurring theme I kept seeing was not to fear man, and that included my husband. Only the fear of the Lord should be nurtured in my life. I always loved my husband, but I loved Jesus more. I have seen repeatedly that our Heavenly Father, who made us and loves us, consistently uses healthy boundaries to encourage our hearts to turn back to a relationship with Him. Even with God himself sometimes His people chose to continue to walk in rebellion (Amos 4), but God used the rebellion as a tool to turn a person’s life back to godliness.
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, I encourage women who find themselves in an abusive relationship and are told to submit to more abuse (i.e. continue in couples counseling, remain in close quarters to their spouse, be more “obedient” to their husbands’ demands, etc.) to honor God not by submitting to abuse but by finding safe help and distancing yourself from the abuse. 1 Corinthians 5:11 has a prescription for those in an abusive marriage, “I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” Find an individual counselor who is experienced with abuse and addiction. The most loving thing you can do for your spouse is what our loving Father does for us: establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
Many women walk away from a relationship with God after they have been abused. My dear, sweet friend, please don’t be one of them. Run to God, the lover of your soul. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (ESV). Jesus is faithful, even when man is not. You are loved and valued by the one who formed you in your mother’s womb (see Psalm 139:13–14). Trust what He says about you. He says you are worth protecting, even dying for. Let that be the loudest message you hear.
My husband, Scott, did recognize his abusive ways and experienced a radical transformation over 10 years ago, but I know that many (probably most) abusive spouses do not. Our marriage could have gone either way, but I was determined to hold my boundaries and not continue to submit to abuse.
I believe my sweet refugee boy Henry is going to start a new tradition in his community by being an example of a godly, gentle protector of his family. Please pray for him when you think of it.