I don't normally do this but I was so disturbed by a recent pastor’s blog response to a woman in a destructive marriage that I wanted to respond both to him and her publically on this forum. I have been in communication with this pastor, Dr. Mike Lawyer, and he said that he has read my material and doesn't disagree with much of what I write however his answer to this woman does not reflect an understanding of domestic abuse or a destructive marriage. I also posted a response to his blog on his blog which he has yet to approve.
My concern is that hurting women go to their pastor for advice. Studies show that most women who are in an abusive marriage will first seek spiritual guidance from their place of faith as the first step of getting help. His advice to her is grossly inadequate and borders on ridiculous. I’ve included the question the woman asked and a link to his response. Read it. My response to his response is posted on this blog. If you think it would be helpful, print it out or forward it to your pastor so that he can be better informed on these issues.
You’ll never believe the terrible state of my marriage. I was raised in a Christian family. My father and mother never fought. I wasn’t rebellious as a teen and my husband and I went through all the “proper” courtship process before getting married. Now, five years later, everything has fallen apart.
Roy, my husband, who was so loving and kind in the beginning has become rude, surly, and angry all the time. The good thing is that he doesn’t hit me or the children (one boy and two girls), but he gets really quiet and spends a lot of time in the basement. Every once in a while, he does blow up and wowser, what a blow-up. He curses, yells, calls us all kinds of names and throws things. We never know when he’s going to blow and what is going to cause it. We’re all walking on egg shells all the time.
Can you fix him? Can you help us?
Hurt & Confused
You can read his response to her here:
Dear Pastor Lawyer,
I disagree with much of what you offered this woman. You started well, pointing her to Christ and telling her to put her marriage in its proper place. However, from there, I think you missed the essence of helping her by telling her that if she became more aware of her own sin she wouldn’t mind being verbally battered by her husband. In addition, you did not attempt to help her think through whether or not she and her children are safe.
First, I do not think it was this woman’s pride or sense of entitlement that is being injured by her husband’s cruel words. It is her spirit. The Bible is clear, “reckless words pierce like a sword”(Proverbs 12:18). “With their words, the godless destroy their friends” (Proverbs 11:9). “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21).
James reminds us that words harm people. He strongly warns people about the power of our tongue and how wrong it is to use it to attack people. He writes, “It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, that is not right!” (James 3:8-10).
This woman is a precious daughter of God. She is created in His image and God hates what her husband is doing to her. Why did you not speak to that? Her heart breaks not because she is a prideful woman but because of her husband, the very one who has promised to love and cherish her, verbally batters her (Psalm 69:20). His cruel words have a significant impact on her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. (See Psalm 55:2,4,5,13).
Second, this woman mentioned that in his anger, her husband not only verbally assaults her but also throws things. She is not just in pain, she is afraid.
What if he starts punching her, or the children? She said they are walking on eggshells around him. You completely ignored the potential danger she and her children may be facing. It’s important that you know that abusive behavior in marriage increases in intensity and severity over time. Every day we hear about women who are battered and murdered by their spouses or boyfriends.
Instead of addressing her safety, you encourage her to build him up and compliment what he does well. But what about speaking into what he is doing that is destructive and sinful? God’s word has much to say about how this wife is to deal with this and I don’t think it is to be silent and pretend it isn’t that bad by building up his already inflated ego.
The Apostle Paul tells us “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). You said nothing to indicate to this woman that her husband’s behaviors were sinful and evil even though God’s word clearly indicates that they are.
Here are some Biblically sound things she could do to overcome evil with good.
- It is good that she protect herself and her children from his violent outbursts. The prudent see danger and take refuge (Proverbs 12:17). When Herod was seeking to kill baby Jesus, the angel didn’t tell Joseph to trust God and submit to Herod or build him up, he told him to flee.
- It is good that she expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). She tried to do this with you. You could have encouraged her to tell her own pastor, her small group leaders, or others who might be able to help her develop a safety plan for when her husband is getting violent as well as how to plan a confrontation with him.
- Instead of pretending like nothing is wrong like the Kings advisors did in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, God’s word says is good that we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25).
- It is good to stop someone from sinning against you when possible. Jesus tells us that when someone sins against us we are to go to him and talk with him to see if we can be reconciled. If he will not listen, Jesus said to bring it to the church (Matthew 18:15-18). For her to silently “endure” his treatment of her is not good for her, nor is it good for him, their children or the long term survival of their marriage (James 5:19-20; Proverbs 19:19).
- It is good for her to allow her husband to experience the consequences of his behavior (Galatians 6:7). If she needs to call the police when he is punching holes in walls or file a protection from abuse order for her safety, this may wake him up to the destructiveness of his ways, which may lead him to repentance. That would be very good indeed.
- It is good to see the fruits of repentance before reconciling. When Joseph’s brother’s treated him treacherously, Joseph forgave them and was kind to them when they needed food, but he did not trust them nor did he expose himself to them until he saw they were changed (Genesis 42-45).
- It is good to pursue your own good and the good of others (1 Thessalonians 5:15). She is not wrong, sinful, or prideful to want the abuse to stop and her husband to change. You are right in indicating to her she can’t “make” that happen, but she can certainly do some things for her own good, that might make it more likely that he wakes up and recognizes that he is not entitled to the perks of a good marriage when he acts like an enemy.
- It is good to be gracious to your enemy (Romans 12:20). A woman in this situation is tempted to be overcome by evil and retaliate against her spouse in sinful ways of her own. It is good that we help her not to do that but also encourage her to stand up for what is good, right and just instead of passively enduring evil within her own home.
As Biblical counselors, we are to help her understand her role as his Biblical helpmate. I already established that it is not in her best interests to pretend and placate with him, but do you think it is in his best interests? I don’t believe so. Rather I believe it is in his best interests that he comes to Christ, repent and change his ways. He will only see his sin when he is confronted with it or experiences the consequences of it.
This will not happen if she is silent about the sin done against her and her children and just tries harder to please him.
Domestic abuse is not a suffer for Jesus moment. – Click To Tweet.
Suffering for Jesus should be done to bring about someone’s good. The suffering that enables sin to continue without consequence is not good for her, for him, for the children, or for their marriage. It’s bad all the way around.
Proverbs 25:26 says, “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” This woman may suffer more as she speaks the truth, holds him accountable for his abusive behavior and exposes his deeds of darkness. But those action steps are for his possible good and for her and her children’s safety.
Also, we must ask ourselves what are the children learning about a Biblical picture of marriage? How are they being affected by what’s happening in their home? Studies show that children are neurologically affected by the emotional climate in their home and that impacts their entire future. As their mother, she is a steward of her well-being as well as her children’s. To encourage her to stay passive and silent in the face of such damaging behavior is not only foolish, it’s sinful.
Proverbs warns us repeatedly about the consequences of living with an angry and contentious person, but one verse sticks out, “Do not befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul” (Proverbs 22:24,25). The Bible warns that the sins of the father are passed down to the children.
Please rethink your advice to her and other women who seek help regarding angry and abusive spouses. God’s word is so rich on how to handle these issues and it’s much more robust and redemptive than to simply try harder to build him up and make him happy.
Friend: What has been your experience when going to your spiritual leaders for help? Have they given you similar advice as this pastor did?