When we perpetuate the abuse our God hates

I felt a particular type of awkward shame when reading Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson's latest piece on domestic violence and religion. Objective in its reporting yet damning in its implications, the report threw a spotlight on both tender and tinder spots for Australian churches. 

Failing to listen to victims of domestic violence. Perpetuating cultures that keep them in silence. When someone summons the courage to finally speak, failure to support and protect them. Actively advising the vulnerable to stay in dangerous (often deadly) situations. A dearth of sermons preached against domestic violence, among the multitude preached on female submission within marriage.

It makes for grim reading. It was released ahead of the issue being broached on the 7:30 report tonight.

But perhaps the most disquieting and shameful part of the report for me as a pastor was that it found that ministers would frequently use bible verses to tell victims that they need to stay in dangerous situations to honour God. And that with no protection offered by the church.

One of three types of texts that the report found were used to justify these spiritual exhortations were "verses that say God hates divorce". Now the verse in the bible that actually uses those words (depending on the translation) is Malachi 2:16. It goes something like this.
For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with violence,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Now there are a few different translations possible of that verse, but whichever is right one thing is clear: the reason that God hated Israelite men divorcing their wives was because it did violence to them. This can't be a pretext to allow violence to continue. The point of this verse is to ensure that male violence towards wives will cease.

There were many reasons why divorcing a wife in that culture did violence to her, but you don't need to be an expert in ancient culture to see that poor treatment of wives by husbands is God's point. It's what the whole passage is about.
Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favour on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.  
You ask, “Why?” 
It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Malachi's prophecy on God's hatred of divorce is an outworking of God's hatred of husbands committing violence against their wives. It is God stepping in and saying, "Not now, not ever" to his people. For any pastor to use this text to force a wife and/or her children to stay in an unsafe situation has missed the point of the bible, and so has missed the heart of God.

Now to say this doesn't mean that divorce is the first step. Or even a necessary step in every situation. Or even a desirable step.

However it is clear that the duty of the church and its leaders is to stand between the victim and the abuser in cases like this, as God does in Malachi. To bind up the wounded and to call the abuser to repentance. To follow the example of Jesus, not only in living gently and kindly in all our own personal relationships, but to, self-sacrificially if necessary, stand between victims of abuse and violence.

3 crumbs dropped in response:

Unknown said...

Hi Pete

Possibly no mate of yours, but Bill too has written an article on our ABC's attack on Christianity.


All the best


Kutz - (Peter Kutuzov) said...

Well, if it were an attack on Christianity that would make it fairly cannibalistic, given that the author of the piece was a Christian.

Kutz - (Peter Kutuzov) said...

I should also say that it does seem that that particular it of research supports the idea that committed, regular-attending evangelicals are statistically less likely to offend. And I don't think that Julia's article brought that out as it may have.

That said, a defensive stance on an issue like this, that really is an issue, is a bit ridiculous. I think we want to be putting our energy into doing the right thing (working out how we can eliminate domestic violence from our churches, enable victims to report safely, etc) rather than trying to prove that we're better than the average.


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