The teaching of the church has compounded much of this hurt rather than alleviating it. Victims of continued abuse have been told they must stay married, and if they do get divorced, they have been told they cannot remarry until their former partner has died. And sometimes those who have divorced and remarried are told by their church that they must now divorce their new spouse because in God’s eyes they are still married to the person who abused or neglected them. Thus the church makes them a victim for a second time. (Instone-Brewer 2003, [Kindle] Location 1795)
One of our readers asked if we could post the following paragraphs from my book, A Cry for Justice*, pp202-4 as she found them so helpful. So, here they are! Thanks to her for typing them up for us:
One of the irritants Christians often apply to the abuse victim’s wounds is the assumption that God would have every marriage preserved at all costs. This notion, coupled with the fantasy that “with just a little hard work we can put this thing back together,” has worked to enable hosts of abusers, and to intensify the suffering of their victims. Listen to the following Scripture:
Mark 2:23-28 “One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of man is lord, even of the Sabbath.
In Matthew’s parallel account, we also have this statement recorded:
Matthew 12:7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Christians, like these critics of Jesus, often embrace a traditional view of marriage that is just that – tradition. I do not mean the one-man, one-woman for life model that is normally intended when the term “traditional” is applied to marriage. The tradition in this case rather is the notion that man is made for marriage, not marriage for man. As the Pharisees had inverted God’s order for the Sabbath’s value and purpose, so Christians do the same in regard to marriage. This means that when an abuse victim comes to her pastor to reveal what her abuser is doing, the welfare of the victim is made subservient to the institution of marriage. But marriage was made for man! Marriage is a gift created by God for men and women to enjoy, not an ordinance to which people are to be enslaved at all costs.
What God desires, in the application of His law, is mercy. Yes, the Sabbath is to be observed, but it is for man’s sake, so that he might rest and refresh himself and enjoy God. The same is true for marriage. Therefore to insist that an abuse victim is to remain in her marriage “no matter what,” is to do what Jesus forbids: condemnation of the guiltless. And this is precisely what this book takes as a major thesis, namely, that the evangelical church has been condemning victims of abuse and withholding mercy from them.
Just as the Pharisee’s teaching about the Sabbath exceeded God’s Word and purpose and placed a huge burden upon people which they were never intended to have to bear, so it is with marriage in the teaching of many conservative, evangelical churches. The end result is sadly common – the guiltless victim is condemned for separating from and/or divorcing her abuser.
When man enslaves people to distortions of things God has intended for man’s good (like the Sabbath and marriage), Christ would have us set those people free! It was not God’s blessing of the Sabbath rest that Jesus opposed, but the twisted perversion of it imposed upon people by the Jewish leaders. In the same way, it is not the blessing of marriage as created by God for our blessing that we oppose but the wicked, twisted thing it becomes in the hands of evil people.
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