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How The Church Can Better Respond To The Scourge Of Marital Rape

By Mary E. DeMuth

In releasing my recent book about sexual abuse and how the church can redemptively respond to it, I formed a launch team. What surprised me was just how many women kept their stories private, afraid to share about something that’s seldom talked about: marital rape. Once I asked the question, several communicated with me privately of the hell they experienced within the their marriages.

What grieved me was the church’s response to their outcries:

  • It’s not rape if you’re married.
  • Isn’t it your marital duty to submit to your husband?
  • Maybe if you “gave out” more, he wouldn’t have to demand the way he did.
  • Perhaps this is about you not opening yourself up enough to the sexual experience. Are you a prude?
  • Are you sure it happened? Or are you being dramatic?
  • If you speak out about this, you’ll damage your husband’s reputation.

Rape is about power and control. Even in marriage, the sexual relationship must involve consent. If a spouse says no, that no means no. One survivor found solace through an interaction with a detective when she reported abuse. He asked, “Did you want it to happen?” She replied no. He responded, “Then it was rape.”

She later said, “It would have been helpful for me to understand that concept earlier: that you don’t have to scream and fight for it to ‘count’ as rape.”

This concept is so hush-hush that many women don’t have words to describe what they walked through until a legal professional or investigator mentions it. One woman heard “marital rape” when she pursued a protection order against her spouse. “That was the first time I heard the term, but I instantly recognized those were the words to describe what happened.”

Another victim aptly stated, “I now understand that rape and marriage should never be in the same sentence, and it shouldn’t have happened even one time.” She searched the scriptures about a wife’s body being the possession of the husband: “Those verses include that a husband’s body also belongs to his wife. That he is to love her like the church. I cannot honestly find anything in the Bible that justifies a many having his way with his wife any time he pleases, yet that’s what we’ve been taught.”

Another survivor of marital rape echoed this. “At the time, I did not understand it to be rape. I was under the misleading teaching that my body belonged to him.”

Many women reported porn at the heart of their husband’s sex addiction and demand for sex without consent. Women were forced to perform sexual acts they felt uncomfortable with (that mimicked the hard core nature of what their partners watched), and believed they could not say no because being married implied consent—to everything demanded. One woman shared, “At some point a focus on rape became a part of my husband’s fantasy . . . He would often say during sex that all women wanted to be tied up and raped. Every time, I verbally disagreed.”

Some women married their rapists, having grown up in a culture that deified spousal virginity. So when a boyfriend forcefully violated, a victim would shift the blame to herself, worried that she was “damaged goods” and then marry her rapist.

So much of this misunderstanding of terms boils down to theology. And when the church responds the way it historically has to women raped in marriage, it continues to perpetrate further harm against the survivor and propagate a distortion of the marital relationship. While there are important ways to look at this hermeneutically, I find that simply looking at the nature of Jesus empowers a proper, empathetic response.

We see this beautifully in Jesus’s telling of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. The crime victim, a Jew, is beaten and stolen from, and left for dead. Two Jewish leaders (his countrymen!) take note of him, but continue on their way. It is the outsider (a Samaritan) who takes care of the crime victim, offering help, compassion, and compensation.

Sadly, this same pattern of response is in effect today. In our churches, women are bleeding, hurting, and broken in the aftermath of marital rape, and the very church leaders who should empathetically respond treat their outcry as an inconvenience. It is only those on the outside (law enforcement, the press, social media) who offer language to describe what happened and practical help in moving forward.

This should not be. In this story, Jesus reminds us that the only proper response to a crime (and marital rape is a crime) should be:

  • I notice you and see your obvious condition.
  • I am not only deeply grieved by what happened, but I am going to inconvenience myself to help you.
  • I will act with justice to this injustice.
  • I refuse to blame you for being attacked. The blame rests on the one who stole.

Jesus tells us to be like the Samaritan, to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 NRSV). If we, as His body, follow the pattern of the religious leaders in the story, we will not represent the heart of Jesus. Instead, the church must be the hands and feet of the One who left the pristine beauty of heaven to walk among us, empathize with our plight, and remedy our need for deliverance. Jesus was and is the Good Samaritan in that way. To be His followers is to treat those who suffer in this world with compassionate action.

Mary DeMuth is the author of 40 books, including her latest, We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis. If you’re struggling with how to walk through your own abuse, get a 21 days of emails from Mary about what she’s learned on the healing journey here: http://www.wetoo.org/21days . Learn more about the book here: http://www.wetoo.org.

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We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis

by Mary E. Demuth

Author and advocate Mary DeMuth urges the church she loves to rise up and face the evil of sexual abuse and harassment with candor and empathy. Based on research and survivors’ stories, along with fierce fidelity to Scripture, DeMuth unpacks the church’s response to sexual violence and provides a healthy framework for the church to become a haven of healing instead of an institution of judgment.

In the throes of the #MeToo movement, our response as Christians is vital. God beckons us to be good Samaritans to those facing trauma and brokenness in the aftermath of abuse and provide safe spaces to heal. DeMuth advocates for a culture of honesty and listening and calls on the church to enter the places where people are hurting. In the circle of that kind of empathetic #WeToo community, the church must become what it’s meant to be—a place of justice and healing for everyone.Two winners will be selected in our next newsletter (giveaway only available to U.S. residents)

If you would like to enter to win, you can click here to provide name and email address.

The winners of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope) by Leslie Vernick are Chrissy L. and Julie I.


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Upcoming Events


October 3rd
The Evening of Stories 2019
Spokane Convention Center https://genesisinstitute.org/

October 4th and 5th
E
RLS Convention
Dallas, TX

October 9th - 11th
AACC Annual Conference

October 25th and 26th
Maranatha Bible Church
Akron, OH
https://www.mbc95.org/

November 2nd
Hawthorne Gospel Church
Hawthorne, New Jersey
http://hawthornegospel.org/


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How Do I Honor A Parent Who Is Abusive?

Question: My husband’s mother was (still is) emotionally and verbally abusive. His father is a wonderful, kind and peaceful man. My husband has spent his entire life walking on eggshells so as not to upset his mother. This past winter, my husband had a falling out with his mother and she told him she didn’t want anything more to do with him and that she was “done” with him. He is still healing from this hurt.

Meanwhile, other immediate family members have told us that we are selfish, and have asked how we can walk away from our parents? We believe that as children, we need to honor our parents, but what do you do, and what does God want us to do when one of the parents is verbally and emotionally abusive? Are we supposed to turn the other cheek and act as if nothing happened?

Answer: This is a very painful situation for many individuals. We often feel pressure (or get pressured) to resume family relationships (before there has been any true repentance or reconciliation) just to have some semblance of family peace.

I understand your husband’s dilemma. I talk about my own struggle to handle my mother’s emotional abuse in a godly way in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. Let me give you some things to think about.

First, it’s impossible to have a good or healthy relationship with someone who abuses you. Period! Remind your husband not to put that burden on himself.

That doesn’t mean that your husband shouldn’t forgive his mother or that he can’t ever see her again. Jesus calls us to love even our enemies and to do them good (Matthew 5:43). But he doesn’t expect that we’ll have close fellowship with an enemy or be their friend. But if an opportunity presents itself, we can minister to even an enemy with love.

Here is What People are Saying About Leslie's Introduction to Core Strength Class

I loved this class. I became aware of who I am in Christ and staying connected to recognizing my "real self" - redefining myself through His eyes and seeing my uniqueness by Design. As a teacher and coach I advocate and speak truth into the lives of teens and yet I haven't fully advocated for myself. My perspective has changed and I'm trying to see myself loved and cherished (beloved) and not just being damaged.and not willing to tolerate abuse. - fighting for freedom and healing that I deserve.

I have comfort and validation from knowing my story is similar. When I read your book I felt like finally someone knew what I was living in for 33 years. I'm an intelligent, energetic, loving mother of five and grandmother of 3, but very few know the price I've paid to stay in my marriage.

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