One of the saddest and most disgusting phenomena I’ve ever encountered in my life is the Christian church and the many believers who take the side of the abuser in domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases, particularly if the abuser is friendly and many times charming, he may even be a pastor or leader in the church. The types of assistance the church needs to give a woman and children seeking help for serious marital issues should be firm, direct, truth-seeking, validating, and grace-filled. When a person seeks counsel from their church, they are looking for spiritual help.
We all know husbands are commanded, “Love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). They are told to “love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:28–29). The focus of a husband’s Christlikeness in loving his wife is “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
It is so important for us as women to realize that God cannot endorse and will not embrace abuse in our marriages, because it contradicts His character. Since marriage is designed to represent Christ, any teachings of a church embracing abuse is heretical and it is blasphemous to the Word of God.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” John 15:9
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
“These things I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:17
To be clear, an abusive husband is always breaking God’s law. He is disobeying Christ. He is not to be indulged but disciplined by the church. As a wife, you are never insubordinate to ask the church for help.
As Christians we are called to submit to various authorities and to each other: children to parents (Ephesians 6:1), citizens to government (Romans 13:1), wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:22), employees to employers (2 Thessalonians 3:10), church members to elders (Hebrews 13:17), all Christians to each other (Ephesians 5:21), all believers to Christ (Luke 6:46).
In domestic violence situations civil authorities can be the right thing for an abused wife to do. Threatening or inflicting bodily harm against a spouse (or other family members) is a misdemeanor or felony in California, punishable by fines, imprisonment, or most likely both. Which means that a husband who threatens and intentionally injures his wife is not only breaking God’s moral law, but also the state’s civil law. Expecting his wife to quietly accept his threats and injuries, he is asking her to participate in his breaking of both God’s moral law and the state’s civil law. God himself has put law enforcement officers in place for the protection of the innocent. “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).
I wish in retrospect, I would have called the authorities on my husband the first time he physically abused me. I would have spared myself and my children years of suffering. But, because he was in church leadership, I was afraid that it would hurt the ministry and be a bad witness to the church, but glossing over victimization, minimizing its devastating effects, hurts us all.
My husband’s addictions, his verbal and physical abuse, his financial indiscretions, and a pattern of destructive behavior that had many times brought me to the brink of a breakdown—or well beyond it. Long stretches of estrangement, coldness, and sometimes outright contempt, only briefly interrupted by his “emergency” efforts to change the few times I found the nerve to give full voice to my frustrations. He would revive some semblance of the man I married for a few days or weeks, invariably slipping back into his previous patterns once he felt as though he’d sidestepped disaster. I found myself trying to shoulder my entire relationship alone (not to mention my children, care of our home, and our finances) and still somehow feeling spiritually inadequate. I felt I needed permission to demand what I deserved—and to know that God was okay with this. I was so wrong and suffered devastating results because of my desire to be a faithful christian.
I have learned a wife does not have to stay in an abusive marriage, nor should she! She can get out and separate from her husband. This does not mean she is divorcing him. It merely means she is and should establish boundaries and protect herself and/or her children. The abusive husband needs to be held accountable and he needs to get help. If he truly has a repentant heart, then the couple could seek reconciliation. If the husband is unrepentant then as in my case, he’ll most likely seek to satisfy his lusts by being unfaithful to his wife while they are separated. And if he is unfaithful, the wife is no longer bound to him and she could then seek a divorce without being outside of the will of God.
What does a repentant spouse not look like?
If an abuser denies their sin, and calls their victim a liar, then he or she is not repentant. If an abuser acknowledges their sin, but blames the victim for tempting them or taking part, or causing him to sin, then he or she is not repentant. If an abuser demands forgiveness and full pardon without any consequences for their actions, using such excuses as “If you’re a Christian, you should forgive me, and love me again,” then he or she is not repentant. If an abuser say’s I have already asked forgiveness, so I don’t have to talk about it anymore, then he or she is not repentant.
Sorrowful Recognition of Sin
Ezra and those with him are horrified and “disgraced” by sin:
“When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed: ‘I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.’” Ezra 9:3-6
Job is so distraught by his sin that he despises himself:
“’… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know … therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’” Job 42:3&6
A sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and costly perfume:
“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Luke 7:37-38
Peter weeps bitterly out of remorse for denying Christ:
“The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times. And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:61-62
Admission of Guilt & Confession
Isaiah, upon seeing how holy God is, dramatically confessed his fallen nature:
“’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” Isaiah 6:5
Paul does not mince words when admitting his sin to God:
“‘Lord … I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’” Acts 22:19-20
John explains that failure to admit guilt is a sign that our hearts are devoid of God’s sanctification:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10
Humble Acceptance of Sin’s Punishment & Consequences:
Ezra declares Israel deserving of God’s wrath and punishment:
“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant … Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.” Ezra 9:13&15
King David affirms God’s right to judge him after Nathan confronts him with his sin:
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” Psalm 51:3-4
The Psalmist thanks God for chastening him, yet sparing his life:
“The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.” Psalm 118:18-19
A Desire to Reconcile & Make Restitution:
King Hezekiah seeks reconciliation and restitution by sacrificing sin offerings:
“Early the next morning King Hezekiah gathered the city officials together and went up to the temple of the Lord. They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven male lambs, and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The king commanded the priests, the descendants of Aaron, to offer these on the altar of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 29:20-21
Jesus requires reconciliation between believers:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Zacchaeus pays back all he has stolen and then some:
“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ Luke 19:8-10
Regeneration & The Glorification of God:
Jonah promises to change his ways and glorifies God from the belly of the fish:
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” Jonah 2:8-9
King David promises to use his own sin as an example to bring others to repentance:
“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.” Psalm 51:13-14
Paul says we were created and predestined to do good works:
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved … For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:3-5 & 10
John explains that a repentant sinner may sin, but will not persist in sin:
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7
What Then Should We Do With Abusers?
If an abuser does not exhibit these Biblical traits common to those who, by the grace of God, truly repent, then it is wise to question the authenticity of their repentance, and whether God’s sanctification is actively working in their hearts. Surely, repentance is a process, but it is one that must be completed in order to fulfill the requirements exemplified and defined by God’s Word.
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world … Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:1, 7, 8
For the sake of Christ, the church should never risk the appearance of winking at sin. A truly repentant abuser should, through abhorrence of their own sin and concern for the honor of Christ and reputation of the church, willingly and humbly step down, thereby clearly and publicly defining their actions as un-Christlike and deplorable. We cannot ever risk further victimization.
Remember this: even if a perpetrator hurt someone for a few days, months or years and even if he regrets it, a victim lives with the pain, triggers, shame, and fear for a lifetime. For the perpetrator? It’s an incident. For the perpetrated upon? It’s a life-long battle. We need to stand up for change. Women should NEVER have to endure spousal abuse alone.