Abuse and the Church: A Theory About Why Victims are Not Helped
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
I have proceeded in my reading of Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence — from domestic abuse to political terror [*Affiliate link]. I say, proceeded, because this is a book that I can only read in small bits. Why? Because it sets my mind racing. It explains so many things and blog articles start firing off in my brain. So I have to take it slow.
I am reading the fourth chapter entitled, Captivity. Here, Herman sets out the tactics used by political terrorists, prisoner of war camps, totalitarian regimes, criminals, and yes, domestic violence perpetrators. She also discusses the effects of these tactics on the victim. Effects which are predictable and which are intentionally produced by the abuser. Some of the tactics she discusses are known to most of our readers in all too real and personal way:
- Despotic control over every aspect of the victim’s life
- A demand for the victim to show him respect, gratitude, or even “love.”
- Physical violence is often used as a last resort
- Outbursts of violence
- Capricious enforcement of petty rules
- Fear-instilling methods
- Giving occasional rewards in order to effect a traumatic bonding
- Sexual humiliation
And on and on we could go. Now, consider just some of the effects of these tactics upon the victim which Herman points out:
- Victim comes to see the abuser as the most powerful person in her life
- Ultimately, the victim may become the willing victim which the abuser desires her to be
- Personal disempowerment
- Disconnection from her environment
- Continual fear of death/gratitude for being allowed to live
- A loss of autonomy
- Reliance upon the abuser for even her emotional needs being met
- Finally, being forced to violate her own conscience and morals (sexual humiliation often occurs here)
- Loss of even the will to live
- Longstanding effects of chronic trauma (in domestic abuse cases)
Now, how often have you heard people say things like this:
- “But he never physically abused her, did he?”
- “Has he ever hit you?”
- “Did he slap you or use his fist?”
You know the stuff, right? We have heard it all too often. Here then is my theory. It isn’t comprehensive. That is to say, it doesn’t attempt to explain every reason churches don’t help abuse victims, but I propose that this is a really big part of the reason:
Pastors and church leaders and Christians regularly fail to render aid and justice to victims of abuse because they do not believe that abuse is all that serious or damaging. They know little or nothing about the tactics and effects Judith Herman sets out for us. All they believe is that the effects of abuse really don’t go past the victim’s skin. Sticks and stones break bones, and that hurts a lot but you will get over it. Words…words? Mere words?
And therefore what we have in our churches, in the brand of Christianity that is all around us, is a plague of the ignorance of evil. When Jesus said we are to be wise as serpents, He wasn’t just chattering because He had nothing else to do. He was telling us that we had better know our enemy and the weapons that enemy uses.
Mat 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
How, I ask, could any pastor or Christian fully understand the tactics and effects that Judith Herman is describing here and then turn right around and tell the victim of such wickedness that she must remain in that prison camp? Only someone totally devoid of empathy could insist upon such a thing, or perhaps someone who is actually a member of the enemy’s forces. And certainly someone ignorant of the Scriptures. The above-cited verse, Matthew 10:28, shows that soul destruction is much more serious than body destruction!
With these things in mind, you can now understand more of the mentality of people who use the term “physical abuse” for abuse. Or for what they imagine is the worst kind of abuse. “But if he ever hits you, you can leave.” These kinds of statements betray an underlying mentality which says people can only be seriously hurt physically. And after all, as John Piper says, “so she got slapped last night.”
Don’t expect help or justice from anyone who believes that.