Domestic Abuse: The Underground Railroad of Our Time

All posts written by Tahrir Alnisa are guest posts by anonymous authors who desire for their voice to be heard but need to remain nameless. This is one of the women TAF helped escape.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…” – Romans 8:15

My marriage ended on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It had been dying for many years, but this was the day I decided to leave. I had no idea then how ironic it would be that this was the day when my freedom would begin. The specifics of why my marriage ended don’t really matter – every story of domestic abuse is different – but the reason for leaving is exactly the same for every woman who flees her marriage because of fear. We are running from slavery. Some of us are motivated to save our own lives. Some of us are motivated to save our children. Some of us simply have a wrestling in our conscience that will no longer allow us to live under hidden chains.  No matter what the final straw is, when a woman leaves her marriage because of fear, she is always trying to escape a form of slavery as well.

I am a Christian woman, and I live in a southern state. This means that I have experienced a whole lot of church and a whole lot of education about the Civil War. Harriet Tubman has been my hero for years. She is a Christian woman who not only escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad, but she risked her life and freedom 19 times by returning to the South to rescue others. Having lived through the personal hell of leaving an abusive marriage as a Christian woman in the U.S., I can tell you that escaping domestic abuse is the Underground Railroad of our time.

From the moment a woman decides to leave her marriage her first decisions are like those who left slavery in the South – Where can I go? Who can I trust? This second question is the most important of all. A woman leaving abuse must be extremely discerning about who can be trusted to encourage her to keep running to freedom and who will encourage her to head back into the “safety” of her marriage. If a woman is encouraged to pursue couples counseling, pray more, submit to her husband, or keep her promise of “till death do us part” then this is not a safe person. So how can you know if someone is trustworthy? Tell them a bit of your story, and if they encourage you to set boundaries for you and your children; if they quote 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 to you and tell you not to submit to abuse but to separate yourself from abuse; if they remind you that Jesus gave laws about divorce not keep women captive in dangerous marriages but in order to set women free from the near-death sentence of quickie Middle Eastern divorces – then you’ve found yourself a “Harriet” who can help you get to freedom.

I have come to know many women who have left dangerous marriages, and I have yet to meet a woman who does not suddenly find her circle of safety quite small when she first leaves. Will the police believe me? Will my friends and family believe me? Will CPS, judges, and guardian-at-litems be charmed by my ex’s lies and smooth talk?  I’ve also met a rare woman who can stay at her church once she leaves her marriage because of abuse.

If you visit the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. you will see a large amount of space devoted to slavery. Why? Because unfortunately, the sacred text of the Bible was dissected and misused as a weapon to indoctrinate slaves into submitting to their earthly masters as a form of “Christian duty.” The Slave Bible, which was issued to slaves in England and America, excluded the book of Exodus, the Year of Jubilee, and any references to freedom. On Sunday mornings teachings were frequently about submission and taken out of their proper context. I am not writing to take jabs at the American evangelical church, but I am writing to establish that Jesus and the teaching (or lack of teaching) in many modern evangelical churches is eerily similar to that of white religious leaders in the South. Don’t believe me? When is the last time you heard 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 discussed in depth from the pulpit of your church or applied to the most important earthly relationship in a person’s life, their marriage? I have spoken with several women who approached their pastor with these verses, and they were told, “These verses don’t say they apply to marriage.” Correct. They don’t give any exclusions. They don’t say they apply to every relationship except the most important one in your life – your marriage. I would argue that pastors who say that these verses do not apply to marital relationships are adding to scripture. This groundbreaking, practical passage should be taught often from the pulpit, and yet most pastors are omitting it from Sunday services. If abuse, alcoholism, sexual addiction, and excessive spending – all mentioned in this passage – are not grounds for separation in a marital relationship, then what is? No, I am not writing to attack the modern church; I writing to uphold the whole Bible as the Word of God and the way of freedom. I am not writing to discourage people from considering Christianity, but to encourage people to consider Jesus as the ultimate model of a man who respected and honored women and wanted them free in a time when it was incredibly unpopular to do so. When I left my marriage I took a break from attending church, but I also daily read the Bible as though it was as necessary as water; I collected Bible verses on my phone which I would read daily because they encouraged me and reminded me that Jesus loved me, and I was not alone. Chapters like Psalm 91, Psalm 55, and Psalm 18.

I shattered the frame of what my church wanted our family to be – intact until “death do us part” – but I would rather be framed as a saint in the halls of Heaven than as a model wife in the halls of my church at that time. The news is not all bad though. There are good safe churches just as there were in the South. They may be hidden. They may be few and far between…but they are there. There are evangelical churches that preach on the evils of abuse and use their Sunday morning sermon to educate people about the realities of narcissism. And if you find one of these churches, applaud them, and tell others. Sometimes the best way to change the world is to set a good example. The pastors of these churches are brave.

Every analogy breaks down at some point, and there is a point at which domestic abuse is different than slavery in the South. Most abused women weren’t born into slavery. They remember what it’s like to be free. They remember the feel of going where they pleased without over-analyzing the repercussions of every decision. They remember how it felt to make decisions for their children before they were “parenting in a fishbowl” under the constant scrutiny and judgment of outsiders. Most women in the slavery of martial abuse also don’t look different than those who are in healthy marriages. The differences are usually underneath the skin and appear in the form of auto-immune diseases, depression, anxiety, and even uncharacteristic angry outbursts. As you remember the story of Harriet Tubman, please also remember that slavery hasn’t ended in America – it’s just hidden under the name of domestic abuse.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” – James 1:27

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Tags: abuse, harriet tubman, underground railroad