Have you ever heard this:
“I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t love you SO MUCH, but you made a vow to your partner FOR BETTER OR WORSE. I understand you are experiencing the “worse” in your vow, but still—you vowed it before God. You are responsible to keep your vow no matter what.”
I wrote this on the Flying Free Facebook page recently:
“For better or worse” does NOT mean “if you keep covenant or break covenant with me.”
It does NOT mean “if you treat me like a human or like a dog.”
It means “whether we go through hell or heaven TOGETHER…”
When people quote that vow in an effort to shame a Christian who has been abused in their marriage and is now pursuing legal protection via divorce, they turn it from a meaningful phrase into a meaningless cliche.”
What many people don’t understand is that divorce itself is not breaking covenant, nor is it a sin. If that was the case, then God, Himself, broke covenant with Israel and sinned against her when He divorced her. That’s right. God is a divorcee. And since we know He cannot sin, we understand that it was Israel who broke covenant with God, and while God was long suffering and gave her many opportunities to repent, she chose not to. So God ended it.
When I was going through my own separation and divorce, I received messages, both written and verbal, that included a lot of Christian cliches meant to shame me back into my place as a victim of abuse. At the time, those messages were blindingly painful and confusing. I had not yet studied these things, and I was utterly brainwashed by “Christianese” from my childhood on up.
Over the course of the next few years I would do my own studying, and I would turn to Jesus for answers instead of controlling men and women with agendas. And this shift ultimately set me free.
Now I read messages like the one above through a completely different lens. Now, instead of feeling shame, I feel sorry for the person who is merely parroting propaganda instead of thinking for themselves and pursuing the heart of Jesus Christ in their communication. That person is living their lives beneath those shaming lies – and that is why they put them on you. Most of them don’t know any better. It’s a sad thing for them, and they do damage to the Name of Jesus in their own life and in the lives of those around them.
We ALL need to be set free in Jesus.
Which gets me to my point. I’m starting a series of articles exposing the different Christian cliches that get thrown around. I want to challenge people to think about what they are really saying and to measure it up against the plumb-line of the Word of God: Jesus Christ Himself. This is the first installment of this series.
The following is an actual letter from a family member to a victim. My comments will be in red.
Wives, Respect Your Husbands
“Husbands have trouble loving their wives; wives have trouble respecting their husbands. …the bottom line seems to be that you do not feel loved (here is the reason they believe you think you have a bad marriage)–the one thing that a husband is particularly told to do. We suspect, conversely, that your husband does not feel respected by you (and here is the reason they believe you actually have a bad marriage).”
Christians like to boil it all down to love and respect. “Woman – if you were respecting your husband, he would be loving you, ergo – respect your husband, and all your problems will be solved.”
I’m in a healthy marriage relationship in which both Tom and I love and respect one another. Respect is showing honor. Romans 12:10 says, “Love each other deeply. Honor others more than yourselves.” And I Corinthians 13:5 says “Love…does not dishonor others.” Do you see how the Bible pairs love and honor (respect)? If you examine the life of Jesus Christ (who was God, and God is love), you will observe how He showed honor to all human beings regardless of their age, gender, social status, health, reputation, or economic status. If He is the living Word of God, and if His spirit truly lives in and through us, then we will also do the same whether we are a boy or girl. A husband or wife.
In other words, both husband and wives, if they are the Christians they claim to be, will show both love and respect toward one another. The woman being lectured by her spiritual family member was living with a husband who showed neither love nor respect for his wife. And she was doing her best, in the reality of that, to show both toward him. But in an abusive relationship, the more the abuse target showers love and respect on her abuser (i.e. rewards the abuse), the worse the abuse gets.
That’s why it’s called abuse, Christian people.
And if you are a target who gets this message from a self-appointed holy person in your life, please know that the best way you can show love and respect to your abuser is by accepting and respecting his choice to abuse you – and getting yourself a safe distance from abuse. That’s called boundaries. He gets to make his choice. You get to make yours.
Submit to Your Church
“We know that you feel (in other words, this is simply how you FEEL, but it isn’t necessarily reality) you have come to the end of your rope, you are tired (minimizing abuse and its effects) of the way things are, and it doesn’t seem like things are going to change (again – what SEEMS to be true to you ain’t really so – totally invalidating your experience). You have tried to follow the steps in Matthew 18:15-16, but the next verse is the proper next step, and it does not seem to be one that has been taken yet. MT 18:17 “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
We know that you went to your church for a couple sessions of counseling.You did not think (again – what you experienced is just in your head) that they understood your position. But your church, the church that you have chosen to go to for many years, the church that knows you, the leadership that knows you there, the leaders and elders that have been ordained by God to lead that church and its people is really the next step to take (really? Ordained by God? So all leaders of churches are ordained by God? This is so ridiculously naive).”
I hear from women of faith getting out of abusive marriages dozens of times every single week. I would venture a guess that only about 3-5% of them have support from their churches. So when a Christian tells a victim to go to her church and get help, they are pushing that victim into a very dark pit of some of the most egregious spiritual abuse in existence. That isn’t honoring or loving. It’s reprehensible. This particular victim had been going to her church over the course of two decades, and the only response she got was, “I feel bad that you have to go through this. You will need to suffer for the sake of Christ in your marriage.”
In other words, the starving, freezing beggar was turned away with, “Be warmed and fed.” And the door slammed, leaving her to go back to a life of mistreatment which got worse after she tried to get help.
“If you were on a sinking ship–and you are–would you hope to save yourself by swimming over to another sinking ship? and then another? and another? Would it not be much wiser and with the hope of a better outcome to swim to a sailing ship? a seaworthy ship? a ship that is successfully making its way through the water and getting somewhere? We understand why you would find others who understand you when you feel emotionally abused, because they are going through the same thing and feel abused too. (In other words, you are not really being abused, you just FEEL abused.) We tend to seek out those who understand us, can empathize. But you are in deep need of finding those who can give wise counsel to help you figure out your problems, help you work through them, who have some answers for a successful outcome (a successful outcome as defined by this person – which is reconciliation. God’s successful outcome for this person ended up being the opposite of that, and she rejoices to this day in God’s successful outcome for her).
Analogies are only as good as the truth they are communicating. In this case, the person crafting the analogy of the sinking ship believes that everyone in an abusive marriage is a “sinking ship.” Therefore, don’t get help from them. Instead, get help from “ships that are sailing,” ie – people in normal marriages. In other words, people who have no experience with abuse and no experience with helping abuse victims and no understanding or empathy are the ones best equipped to help abuse targets. Wait, WHAT?!
My brain is exploding all over the place.
How ’bout this analogy? You are in a sinking ship (your marriage), so you swim to get help from someone who has also SURVIVED A SINKING SHIP. Sheesh, that’s who I’d choose every time. But instead, many women try to get help from a SHIP THAT IS SAILING A HUNDRED MILES PER HOUR AWAY FROM HER AS SHE IS SCREAMING FOR HELP.
I’m yelling now. I’d like to curse, but I will refrain. If your church doesn’t give two farts about your hellish existence, consider getting help from those who do. You won’t always find them in the organized church (the ship sailing away). You’ll mostly find them on little life boats in the water rescuing others who are drowning. Here. Hop on board. We’ve got you.
“So what is the CHURCH, your church, counseling you to do? Who is the authority in your life that you are accountable to? It’s hard to imagine that your pastor and those that continue his ministry don’t have some answers to your very problems. They’ve seen it all, they’ve heard it all, and much worse. And they’ve studied the Scripture for years to apply it to those very problems.”
This victim actually followed the advice of this family member, and she went again to her church and “submitted to their authority” (instead of the authority of Jesus Christ) for another 18 months. But in the end they did what all abusive churches do. They embraced the abuser and shunned the victim. This is not the Church of Jesus Christ. This is a fraudulent church caught in a satanic stronghold of deception regarding God’s daughters. It turned out that they hadn’t seen it all, hadn’t heard it all, and much worse, even when they did, they didn’t actually apply Scripture to those very problems. They applied the wisdom of easily deceived men.
This particular victim eventually surrendered her life, her marriage, her reputation, her family, her home, her financial stability, and her friends to the authority of Jesus Christ. And she is a happy, thriving, healing survivor who has no regrets but one. She regrets not having done this sooner.