Morning friend,

In our last blog I began to address the question, “Is resisting oppression abusive or sinful?” My answer was no, however, often when a woman is in an abusive relationship and she resists her oppressor it may be labeled as mutual abuse by an untrained eye. 

This week I want to continue the discussion by looking at Jesus’ specific instructions on how to resist oppression and oppressors. 

First, Jesus never tells his followers that they should stay passive or accommodate oppressors. He says “Yes, you can do something.” Jesus wants you to remember that in that awful situation of being oppressed, you still have agency. You still have choices, but he wants you to take action in a way that doesn’t incite your own slide into depravity and evil. 

Jesus gives us a few examples that were relevant and applicable to the people in that culture. For example, Jesus told his followers, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” At first glance, this advice seems like cowering to the oppressor. But commentaries tell us differently. In a right-handed world, a right-handed blow would land on the left cheek. One commentary also said to strike the right cheek with a fist would require someone using their left hand. However, in that culture, the left hand was only used for unclean work so no one would strike someone on the face with their left hand.

The only way to strike someone’s right cheek with your right hand would have been with the back of your right hand. That means that Jesus is referring to an insulting strike not a fist or punch type of strike that may be life-threatening. (Self-protection is not sinful nor is it abusive.)

Jesus is teaching his followers that when someone humiliates you, degrades you, demeans you, and treats you like an object, don’t lose sight of who you really are. Remember, you still have choices. For example, in Jesus’ day, a Roman soldier or slave owner would intentionally slap a Jew or slave thus exerting power over him and humiliating him as the “lesser person”. What are you to do in that moment? Jesus tells you. (Matthew 5:38-40)

Jesus said that when that happens to you, do something in front of everyone watching. Turn the other cheek. In essence, by your silent but public resistance you are challenging your oppressor to slap you again, making more obvious the ugliness and brutality of the oppressor as well as the genuine dignity, equality, and humanity of the one who is being slapped. By not retaliating, by not striking back, or shrinking down in shame, the victim’s brave action is saying to their oppressor, “I deny you the power to humiliate me or to define me as worthless” Gandhi once said, “The first principle of nonviolent action is non-cooperation with humiliation”.

In marriage, your abuser’s humiliating actions are usually done to you privately so how you resist his attempts to humiliate and control you may be different – but the bottom line is the same. Resistance to oppression is something that Jesus endorses.

[Tweet “Jesus does not ask you nor want you to passively suffer the violence or humiliation of your oppressor when you can help it.”]

Jesus does not ask you nor want you to passively suffer the violence or humiliation of your oppressor when you can help it. Instead, you are to non-violently resist his oppression and injustice even if it risks making him angrier. But when that occurs, his escalating rage, his attempts to demean you and humiliate you only make him look more oppressive, more sinful, and more abusive, both to you and to watching children. 

The opposite can also be true. When a victim reacts to humiliation or oppressive control aggressively by hitting, cursing, or retaliating insult for insult, then it’s hard to tell who is guilty of what. Sadly, to observers, it’s often the victim who ends up looking irrational, sinful, and abusive, which makes her hard to believe or support. 

Remember, your resistance doesn’t necessarily change the oppressor. Inviting someone to “slap your other cheek” may cause you to get slapped again. But it does non-verbally say to the oppressor, “act ugly if you must, but you’re not going to get the best of me. I have core strength inside me. I have God inside of me, and you will not control how I respond.”

Jesus is reminding his followers then, and he reminds us now that even in the face of injustice and oppression you are not powerless. You can do something. You may not change the oppressor, but you can resist his power over your heart and mind, even if he harms your body. But I would also add, if your body is going to be harmed, and you’re able, flee to safety (Proverbs 22:3).

Jesus tells another story to further illustrate again how to resist an oppressor. He says, “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,” Jesus says, “hand him your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:40).

In our culture that makes no sense, but one commentary I consulted said, “In Jesus' time, as in ours, the poor were forever in debt. People wore outer and inner garments; they were hauled into court and were sued even for the clothes off their backs. Only the poorest, those Jesus addressed, would have nothing but an outer garment to give as a loan. So, when they demand your outer garment, Jesus says, give them your inner garment as well.”

But here’s the irony and the power of Jesus’ wisdom. If a poor person was sued in court for his outer garment and willingly gave away his inner garment too, he would silently be the winner. How? Because he would be naked before the court, which was not only taboo in Judaism but criminal. In those days, it was illegal to look upon a naked person. Jesus' audience would immediately realize that the judge and the soldiers would have to arrest themselves for violating the law, and the poor person would go home free. 

Today our culture is different, but the bigger picture Jesus wants all people in every culture to understand is this: Because of sin, there will always be oppressors and oppressed. That is the kingdom of power that rules this world. Jesus is teaching the oppressed not to be awed by power, but to respond creatively, disarm their opponents and nonviolently break free from their oppressors. Jesus is offering a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed of that culture.

One last story Jesus uses to illustrate resistance to oppressors again doesn’t make sense in our culture but it made perfect sense in theirs. Jesus told his followers. “Should anyone press you into service for one mile,” Jesus says again, “go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:41). Why? Roman soldiers forced the poor to carry their heavy packs for them. By law, however, the soldiers were not permitted to force the poor to walk more than one mile with their packs. 

These Galileans were totally oppressed and terrorized by these Roman occupiers. Jesus shows them a way to nonviolently resist the soldiers. 

Purposely go the extra mile. His audience would understand that any soldier would be arrested for breaking the law and imprisoned. If everyone in Galilee did this, all Roman soldiers would be imprisoned. Jesus doesn't say: kill the Roman soldiers or fight them. Yet He does not encourage his followers to sit back and passively suffer their oppression without protest. 

[Tweet “Jesus teaches his followers creative nonviolent resistance to transform the situation without using the world’s ways of violence.”]

Jesus teaches his followers creative nonviolent resistance to transform the situation without using the world’s ways of violence. He reminds us, “you are not helpless. I am with you. I am showing you.” Use creative nonviolent action to end oppression by shaming your oppressor. Jesus tells his people – “do not use the weapons of the world to resist oppressors, bullies, and the wicked.” The Apostle Paul reminds us we don’t’ fight back as the world fights back, but it’s not that you don’t have weapons to use (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). 

Practically, what might godly resistance to oppressive control look like for a Christian woman?

Here are a few things:

1. Disarm the impact (humiliation) of the oppressor with goodness, dignity, and self-respect. Romans 12:14; Proverbs 25:21-22. You can do this simply through your posture. Stand tall, don’t cower in shame or humiliation, and look your oppressor in the eye versus shrinking down. Model self-respect and respect for the other, even when they are wrong and sinning. 

2. Don’t submit or cooperate with controlling oppression. Like the Hebrew midwives showed us when they ignored the Pharaoh’s edict. Don’t do it. Or, do it.

In other words, don’t allow your oppressive spouse to decide for you whether or not you can go to church. Just go. Don’t let him decide whether you can visit your mother or tell the truth about why you have a bruise on your arm. Visit her, tell the truth if you want to. Don’t give him power over you to decide whether or not you need counseling, whether you should go back to college or get a job. You can simply resist his control and say in a respectful neutral voice. “This is important to me even if it isn’t important to you. I am an adult person capable of making decisions for myself.” Even if your oppressive spouse disagrees, by you affirming the truth, it will help you. 

3. Practice speaking up, using your voice. Tell the truth to your counselor or pastor; stop pretending. Say no, I can’t/won’t do that. By you affirming your right to choose, to say no, you are validating your right to be an individual even if you are also a wife. You are not a puppet or a possession, you are a person. Call the police or file a restraining order if needed to protect your safety. 

4. Go grey rock. In other words, give no emotional energy to the moment. Respond as dispassionately and unemotionally as a grey rock. Give him no narcissistic supply by your emotions. Use a flat and neutral voice tone in your responses. 

5. Remember J.A.D.E. Don’t justify, argue, defend or explain your reasons for dissent. Just say, I accept you don’t agree with my position. (But don’t let that change yours.) 

6. Be brief, informative (facts), friendly (polite and respectful), and firm (BIFF)– Operate out of your own values and virtues. Don’t let him trigger you into reacting destructively. 

7. Detach – Love your enemy, do him good, but do not expect your enemy to love you back. Make big circle choices, not emotional choices. 

8. Disengage – Let go of expectations for the oppressor to change or “get it” or validate your No. The oppressor is not your friend, even if he is your spouse.

Remember, you give away your power when you:

1. Put up with abuse. Your children and your spouse wonder, “what will you let me get away with? How far can I go?” When you don’t have boundaries or clear lines, you look powerless and they will gain more power.

2. NEED someone to value you because you don’t value yourself. We all need relationships but work towards healthy ones. Don’t enable abusive ones.

3. Allow yourself to get so depleted and worn down that you are physically sick, emotionally worn out, and spiritually drained. Get healthy support and put your spiritual armor on daily (Ephesians 6).

Friend, what other ways have you learned to resist oppressive control without sinning or giving away your own personal agency and power?

21 Comments

  1. Free on May 4, 2022 at 7:44 am

    I find this conversation very timely as I reviewing the case of 32 year old Amber Guichelear of Michigan. She was pregnant when strangled in the middle of the night by her husband. She left two children and her husband was convicted of his crimes.

    This faith filled Christian woman stayed, prayed and obey. She bravely kept a journal hidden in the panels of her mini van outlining some of the violent behaviors of her controlling husband. She didn’t resist his abuse. She thought she could pray it through, which was a deadly choice for her and her unborn child.

    I wish this was an isolated case. It is not. Please, let’s not forget the seriousness of these conversations about resisting abuse. The question is not about how to creatively endure mistreatment, but rather, how to be strong enough to leave the abuse and build a life of freedom. It takes such courage to leave a relationship, yet it is the only way to honor yourself and put an end to the abuse.

    Resist by making an escape plan. Use the resources offered in your community, both professional and non-profit. Call the national domestic abuse hotline. Call the abuser to accountibilty with legal help. Escape in a well planned, strategic manner and don’t look back. The best response to end psychological abuse is to go no contact. Get out. Put blame on the dinner. Stop taking responsibility for another person’s crime against humanity.

    • Shae on May 5, 2022 at 9:25 am

      I had not heard this story, how tragic! You are so correct – which I also learned from Leslie’s teaching – that ‘hoping and praying’ doesn’t always fix another person or situation. Resistance and leaving is often what it takes to escape a relationship of confusion and abuse. And yes, stop taking responsibility for another’s behavior and actions!

      Thank you, Leslie, for explaining Jesus’ intentions in these Scriptures. It was very eye-opening to me to understand that He was not allowing one to be oppressed by ‘turning the other cheek’ or put up with abuse and violence. He was showing courage and resistance.

  2. Starlight on May 5, 2022 at 10:29 am

    I remember reading about the clean and dirty hand! Maybe that still exists in some cultures but it so helps to put things in their cultural context!

  3. Paul Wilson on May 5, 2022 at 10:52 am

    If someone is an abuser how would someone help the abuser to get help? Dr Stosny at https://compassionpower.com/ gives this information concerning Abuse.

    Emotional Abuse: Subtle Signs
    * Partners don’t try to understand each other’s perspectives.
    * Yet they make negative judgments about them.
    * This stems from intolerance of differences.
    * Leads to dismissive, devaluing behavior.
    * One or both partners prefers to blame rather than focus on how to make things right.

    Dr. Stosny has multiple resources to help as I look through his materials. I would like to see more dialogue about how to make things right versus the blame game of I’m right your wrong. I see the label of abuse being thrown about. Back and forth accusations “You are Abusive – No you are Abusive”. Where does this blame lead to is my question. It seems it leads to division rather than unity in relationships like Christ prayer for us a followers of Christ – – John 17: 20-23 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be ONE, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be ONE even as we are ONE, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly ONE, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

    • Leslie Vernick on May 5, 2022 at 6:33 pm

      Paul I don’t disagree, but for my audience which is primarily Christian women in destructive marriages, they have already tried to be heard. Tried to speak to their spouse about their unhappiness at the way they are treated, the power imbalances, the used of Scripture to justify oppression and selfishness. Yes yes yes, if an abusive person is willing to look within and get the help he (or she) needs to stop abusive behaviors and actually does his or her work, then the relationship can hopefully be healed. But a victim that reads this blog has often tried all of these things and the destructive patterns continue. When that happens, the only person you can work on is you – to get safe, to grow healthier and stronger.

      • Paul on May 6, 2022 at 2:43 am

        I agree everyone needs to get safe to grow healthier and stronger. Helping abused people get to a place of safety is the first step and should be kept in safety until someone like you or Dr. Steven Stosny, or Jay Stringer with government involvement gives them the green light to even be near someone that is abusive. Someone that is healthy and understands the abuser is the one who works with the abuser not the one being abused. A Self-Centered – Narcissistic person are abusers by their very personality. It is my understanding that it takes leverage with a Narcissistic person to disarm them based on the book Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary. Also Bill Eddy has written several books on how to deal with High Conflict Personalities. I see that practicality number six in the post about BIFF is directly from Bill Eddy. Maybe I missed a practicality tip of go get help from a healthy person that understands the abuse you are going through like Leslie Vernick or Dr. Steven Stosny. If there is any physical abuse it is 911 or some hotline to get law enforcement involved.
        Getting to an expert like Dr. Steven Stosny to help first or at the beginning of any signs of abuse is very important to get a full assessment of what is happening. My comment earlier was not meant to minimize an abusive situation but get it assessed by an expert in abuse to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan in place and the earlier the better instead of trying to deal with abuse by yourself.

        • Janice D on May 7, 2022 at 6:42 am

          Paul,I hope you are not suggesting that the victim is somehow responsible for immediately recognizing the signs of abuse in her marriage and getting the abuser help? This sounds like victim blaming to me.The very nature of the abuse can be so subtle and slowly escalating that it might take years if not decades to identify.When the victim starts to question the treatment she most likely has to deal with her friends,family,church all “ encouraging “ her to stay and pray.

          • Paul on May 12, 2022 at 2:26 pm

            NO – I am not at all suggesting that the one being abused will be able to even recognize abuse. It is someone that is objective that will recognize abuse and then hopefully develop a relationship with the one being abused to bring a stop to the abuse. And if that is not possible gather the recognizable data and turn the data over to the government authorities to gather further data as necessary to put a stop to the abuse. As a mandatory reporter I have been trained as part of my job to recognize abuse and I am obligated to report abuse of all types when I see it and recognize it otherwise I am considered liable if I do not report abuse.



  4. Paul Wilson on May 5, 2022 at 11:34 am

    Another thought on Abuse and Unity. I see Jay Stringer in his book “Unwanted” trying to address overcoming unwanted behaviors – https://jay-stringer.com/book/. His focus is on how to help all people with unwanted behaviors.

    • Free on May 6, 2022 at 3:52 am

      Paul, I just wonder if the unwanted behaviors need to be stopped, not helped.

      Are you familiar with Don Hennessy’s book ,”How he gets Into Her Head?” Also Dr. Wade Mullen, has prepared a brilliant sermon on the topics you mention. I’ll include the link for you to watch.

    • Free on May 6, 2022 at 3:59 am

      https://churchleaders.com/news/379648-wade-mullen-spiritual-abuse.html

      Wadeullen’s research is fascinating. I hope you enjoy watching this.

  5. Kim on May 5, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    Excellent words of wisdom. The best explanation I have heard of these Biblical truths

    • Gladis on May 7, 2022 at 12:02 pm

      I agree!

  6. Lisa on May 5, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    I’m in a tough 7 year marriage, I’ve recently realized through Leslie’s book “An Emotionally Destructive Marriage” that I believe I’m being abused. I began biblical counseling last September & just gave my husband a confrontation letter. He has said he’s repented (2x) but unfortunately I’m not sure ?? His defensive nature & history keep my defenses up. I chose to quit being intimate with him a couple of months ago & he said he is ready to take me before the church because I’m in open sin. Today he sent me an email basically saying if I don’t forgive him I’ve separated myself from God…HELP

    • Rose on May 5, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      Hi, Lisa. That is tough. I am sure you feel very frightened. But remember God has not given you a spirit of fear, but He has made you powerful, loving and sound-minded. His Spirit in you calls Abba, Daddy. I pray for you that you will hear His whispers of truth. Leslie and this community can help you walk through this with dignity. Blessings, Lisa.

    • Free on May 6, 2022 at 3:44 am

      Lisa, might I suggest two additional sites for you to consider,? Trying Natalie Hoffman’s site “Flying Free” and her book ” Is It Me? Making sense of your Difficult Marriage.” Patrick Doyle has a website which includes free teaching videos. Google Patrick Doyle Life and watch his teachings on minimizing, and justifying.. Both of these advocates are Christian and love the Lord. They are safe and knowledgeable just like this site.

    • Connie on May 6, 2022 at 11:29 am

      Lisa, have you read or listened to anything by Sheila and Keith Gregoire on ‘To Love, Honour, and Vacuum”? Their book, “The Great Sex Rescue” is excellent, and it’s not a big book. After you read it, try giving it to your pastor. (not your husband, he probably either won’t read it or he’ll use the information to appear clever to his buds, but not put it in practice. Ask me how I know!) Also, Dr. Clark’s book, “I Don’t Want A Divorce” explains how important it is to stand up to abuse, and that resisting is not a sin, but his treatment of you is (according to 1 Peter, his prayers are hindered if he doesn’t treat you with honour, love, and understanding. If he is threatening you, that is abuse. There is no fear in love. If he has repented, you will KNOW. Part of repentance is not pressuring you, but understanding that you need time and space, however much is your call. God NEVER pressures us. No coercion is ever of God. “Think Differently” (Bob Hamp) is just doing a series on abuse. Abuse is the improper assignment of responsibility. Think about it. Everything he does is him trying to dump responsibility on everyone else (you especially). Sit back and watch and journal how he never repents. Always, there’s a ‘but’. Excuses, rationalizing, etc. I encourage you to educate yourself thoroughly. There are a lot of resources, and we need to not be intimidated. or they will not ever stop playing you. Ask God what He thinks of you, and what is the next step. Just one.

    • R on May 6, 2022 at 11:37 pm

      His demands show that he is not repentant.

    • JoAnn on May 9, 2022 at 2:40 pm

      A reminder here: forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Leslie recently had some advice here about that. Check the archives.
      You can forgive his behavior, but it could be dangerous for you to reconcile with him unless, over time, he proves that he has changed.

    • Jessica, on behalf of the Leslie Vernick & Co team on May 20, 2022 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      That is certainly a scary and painful place to be. What was the reason you drew the boundary not to be intimate with him in the first place? My guess is that you don’t feel safe emotionally with him, which makes your boundary not only reasonable, but necessary. It might be helpful for you to journal the things you are experiencing and the reasons you draw boundaries for yourself so that in moments like this where you might be tempted to doubt yourself, you can go back to your notes.

      Unfortunately, many church leaders do not understand abuse the way Leslie does, and yours might back up your husband. Do you have any experience with your church leaders that might help you know which way they might lean? If you think they might “get it” you could call your husband’s bluff. If you think they will back him up, just remember that YOU get to choose whether to attend a meeting with them. Ultimately your boundaries are between you and God, and as your loving Father, He sees you!

  7. Teri Jensen on May 7, 2022 at 8:19 am

    This is excellent! Your articles are filled with wisdom. I used some of your suggestions in my letter to the leadership in my church membership withdrawal letter. My heathier choice to attend elsewhere from now on. Thank you so much for allowing God to use you in an amazing way to help so many others. May God bless you.

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