This is a re-post of an article originally written in 2 parts for my newsletters in March of 2013.
I was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm.
The Scriptures never invalidate or minimize the effects someone’s harsh actions and cruel words have on another person’s soul, spirit, and body. A cursory reading through Scripture amply illustrates God’s disdain for mockers, abusers, deceivers, those who misuse their power, oppressors, revilers, ragers, hypocrites, and slanderers.
For example, the psalmist says, “Your tongue cuts like a sharp razor; you’re an expert at telling lies. You love evil more than good and lies more than truth. You love to destroy others with your words, you liar!” (Psalm 52:2-5).
David cries out to God, “Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles…My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking…It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend” (Psalm 55:2,4-5,13).
Sadly, we’ve sometimes failed to validate the destructive consequences of living with a foolish, argumentative, angry, deceitful, contentious, indifferent, hard-hearted, or evil person when the Scriptures are quite clear that the effects are real. The psalmist said, “Their insults have broken my heart and I am in despair” (Psalm 69:20).
I wonder if sometimes we haven’t valued honesty as much as we preach it. When a woman goes to her church leadership and discloses what’s going on at home, she hopes to be supported and protected, but for some women, that’s not her experience. Instead, she’s been scolded, shamed or shunned. She’s been told to bring her husband in for his side of the story. How can she speak honestly with him present if she’s afraid of what will happen when they get home? She’s been told that she needs to be more submissive and try harder to make things work. She’s been told that there is nothing in the Bible called emotional abuse and therefore what she’s experiencing has no validity. She’s been told that God wants her to somehow figure out how to make her marriage work because God hates divorce.
By our words are we telling her we don’t want to get involved or help her? Do we inadvertently encourage her to keep quiet, placate, and pretend? And, if she refuses and gets persistent or demanding in her plea for our help, do we start to label her as aggressive, contentious, rebellious, unsubmissive, deceitful, or unstable?
I think sometimes we’re afraid to get involved because, if we open our eyes to what’s going on in some homes, we’re not sure what to do. We’ve valued the sanctity of marriage over the safety and sanity of the people in it. Therefore, we’ve encouraged women to put up with abusive behavior rather than speak up or stand up and have our biblical categories challenged. Yet, Jesus commended the persistent widow in Luke 18, who kept pestering the judge for legal protection against the injustice she was experiencing.
God has put the church together not only to model a loving family to a broken world, but also to model justice and protection when one of its members is destructive and unrepentant towards another.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Most of us have watched in horror and sadness the unfolding of events in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio. Just in case you’ve not been watching the news, two high school football players were found guilty this past week of sexually assaulting a young woman who was too intoxicated to give her consent for sexual contact, or even to know what was happening to her. While this was taking place, countless other teens watched, laughed, tweeted and photographed the debauchery.
We’d like to blame what happened on teenage foolishness, adolescent recklessness, the inability of teenagers to understand the consequences of their behavior and the problem of absentee parents. But I wonder how different the evening might have turned out for both the two convicted young men as well as the victim if just one of their friends would have had the courage to speak up and say, “Stop?”
Why were these adolescents so willing to turn a blind eye to the evil right before them? Were all of these teens too drunk to know right from wrong? Or was there something more universal at work?
I don’t think their reluctance stemmed from drunkenness but rather from the fear of man. They were too afraid to stand up against what was happening because they feared the disapproval and censure of the group.
Lest we judge these teens too harshly, history tells us that we aren’t much different even as adults. This past year I read two books describing the mindset of the people and culture in Germany and the United States just prior to World War 2. One was Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas, and the other, In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson.
It was difficult to comprehend how an entire culture including the Christian church closed their eyes to the obvious atrocities that were happening, especially to the Jews. Reading both books helped me to see that it was more appealing to protect and promote allegiance to the country than to care about the individual. By our silence however, we empower the emotional (or political) or sexual bully to continue his sinful behaviors. Jesus was never afraid to speak out about injustice, about oppression, and about hypocritical law keeping those in power. As his church, we must speak out too.
There is a good deal of research on the effects of positive peer pressure. For example, when bullies are confronted by strong men and told, “We don’t act that way around here” or “We don’t treat our women that way,” it yields positive results. How might the young woman in Steubenville have felt the next morning if she woke up at one of her friend’s homes instead of naked in a stranger’s house or if one of her friends had the courage to speak up and gather a group of girls or boys together that would have protected her? How might those two football players felt the next morning when they realized that their friends stopped them from doing the unthinkable?
A number of women have told me that they begged someone in church leadership to speak to their husband about his destructive behaviors. When we do so, we have an opportunity to stand alongside the victim and bear witness to the sinfulness of her husband’s behaviors as well as help the abuser truly repent. Jesus gives us a method of dealing with difficult people and reconciling relationships. It calls for speaking up. It calls for increasing the pressure and accountability on one who will not take responsibility for their wrongdoing. It calls for the church to sanction and distance themselves from someone who refuses to repent in the hopes that as they feel the pain and shame from the group, they will be willing to change. Sadly, most churches do not implement Matthew 18 or other biblical passages with destructive husbands, and therefore a Christian woman is left without the social support and peer pressure that God provided.
Perhaps you are not a church leader or a person of great influence, but you too can speak out and come alongside a hurting woman or mentor a man who is disrespectful and/or abusive toward his wife. No one heals from destructive relationship patterns through counseling alone. People are wounded in relationships and people are healed in relationships, but it takes real people in real community in real relationships. If the church does not, will not, or cannot provide this for broken people, then where will they go?