A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Are you walking on eggshells?

[August 18, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

If you feel like you are walking on eggshells…

….you may be suffering from domestic abuse, which is persistent or recurrent behaviour by an intimate partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological damage, or causes the victim to live in fear. It is not just marital conflict over particular issues (which can be conflict between equals). Abuse is about ‘power over’ — where one party has a pattern of behaviour of controlling the other.

For example:

  • Coercively controlling you in many subtle ways (What is Coercive Control?).
  • Threatening and intimidating you unjustly.
  • Making you think you’re crazy (gaslighting you).
  • Ignoring your ‘no’.
  • Swearing frequently, despite your requests to refrain from foul language.
  • Devaluing, belittling or disrespecting you.
  • Treating you like a servant.
  • Restricting your contact with family and the outside world (isolating you).
  • Blaming you for problems that you did not create (scapegoating, blame-shifting).
  • Lying and denying that abuse has happened (re-writing history).
  • Distorting Scripture to justify abuse.
  • Threatening suicide.
  • Controlling the money and / or disregarding the financial needs of the family.
  • Physical violence such as pushing, shoving, hitting, punching, smashing things (this might not happen; if it isn’t happening the relationship can still be highly abusive).
  • Sexual abuse including coerced sex, marital rape, and unwanted sexual innuendo.
  • Reproductive abuse (not heeding your wishes re: conception and pregnancy).
  • Being very possessive, treating you like he owns you.
  • Recruiting allies in the church and among your friends and family, so they take his side and are less likely to believe you.
  • Psalm 55 gives a good description of abuse.

Domestic abuse can be very frightening, confusing and damaging to the victim and to children.

Many victims of domestic abuse are women. Most women victims report higher levels of fear than male victims. Over their lifetime, one in every four women experience unlawful violence (physical or sexual) at the hands of an intimate partner. The rates are similar across the US, Canada, Britain and Australia[1,2,3,4]. This rate is for violence that would constitute a crime; it does not include the other (more pervasive) kinds of abuse.

The Bible says the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church — this means a husband should self-sacrificially love, cherish and protect his wife. Abuse and coercive control is done to exercise power over the other. Christian husbands should uphold their wives with ‘power under’, not intimidate them with ‘power over’.

The Bible says the gracious attitude of a wife may turn a husband to Christ. Wives are told to do good to their husbands (1 Peter 3:6), but enduring persistent abuse does not do any ‘good’ — it is damaging to everyone. The abuser only becomes further ingrained in sin and is neither rebuked nor made accountable. The victim’s life is sorely corroded. Children’s development is damaged by the bad modeling they receive and by the fear, secrecy and denial.

Scripture commends unavoidable suffering for the sake of the Gospel. But most domestic abuse occurs irrespective of whether the victim witnesses to the Gospel. No amount of our suffering can redeem the wicked — only Jesus’ death does that.

The Bible says what to do when a brother sins (1 Cor 5:11; 2 Thess 3:6, 14-15; 1 Tim 5:20; 6:3-5; 2 Tim 3:1-5; Matt 18:15-17). The first ‘good’ we are told to do for a sinning brother is to rebuke him.

Let us cultivate a readiness to grant forgiveness to our offender, but we do not have to actually extend that forgiveness until he genuinely repents (and shows consistent behaviour that proves his repentance is not fake or superficial). Even God requires repentance before He forgives!

Repentance for abuse is not just being sorry or apologizing. It means complete confession as to what the sin was. In true repentance, the offender sees his former actions and attitudes as vile and repudiates them.

Although the injured one should be ready to forgive, this does not have to mean trusting the person again. The other person must earn our trust, by demonstrating in his behaviour that he is truly reforming. John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees (who were outwardly moral people, but inwardly deceitful): Bear fruits worthy of repentance.

If there is no genuine repentance on the abuser′s part, then reconciliation will be a sham.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, you are not to blame. You do not have to face it alone. Breaking the silence can be hard, but it is commanded in Scripture (Eph 5:11). Often your gut feeling will tell you who is likely to be non-judgmental and compassionate towards you if you break the silence. Keep trying until you find someone who believes and can help you. If you are believed it is easier to take action.

Footnotes

[1] United States National Institute of Justice / Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (1998), “Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey”.
[2] Statistics Canada (1993), “Violence Against Women Survey”.
[3] British Crime Survey (1996), “Domestic Violence: Findings from a new British Crime Survey self-completion questionnaire,” Home Office Research Study 191.
[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics (1996), “Women’s Safety Australia”.

Bible versions used

Psalm 55: Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

New Testament: New Matthew Bible (NMB)

[August 18, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to August 18, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 18, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 18, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 18, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

***

Further reading

What is abuse? How can I identify an abuser? How can I tell if I am the abuser?

What is coercive control?

Don Hennessy Digest

Should wives submit to harsh husbands just like slaves submitting to harsh masters? (1 Peter 2 & 3)

1 Peter 3:6 — Sarah’s children do what is right and do not give way to fear

What about forgiveness?

What if the abuser is repentant?

What books and blogs do you NOT recommend when it comes to domestic abuse?

6 Comments

  1. Seeing Clearly

    December, this difficult month for anyone trying to live in an abusive relationship. I continue to learn and heal 10+ yrs past a long-term abusive marriage. In this list, I recognized traits of the abuse that overflowed as I navigated the Christmas season in extended family, my children, traditions, deep residual effects of childhood abuse. Thank you for providing a widespread list of signs of living in an abusive relationship.

    For women involved in church life, please be very alert. Mixing the baby in the manger with the words and actions of abusive church staff can be very triggering. Unfortunately, no one in the church is going to point it out to you. Guard your mind. Guard your heart. Seek help when needed.

    • Thank you so much, Seeing Clearly. It is always good to be reminded about how December (and any special holidays) are higher risk times for those living with abusers.

      • Seeing Clearly

        “Controlling money / disregarding financial need”. For the parent desiring to balance finances at Christmas which involves purchasing gifts for children and shopping for groceries for meals, home entertaining and Christmas baking…… it amounts to heavy stress, tears, heavier abuse because the victim is often the one trying to make Christmas happen.

  2. ANNON 2591

    I have a great deal of concern for my son. He is verbally abusive to his wife and 11 year old daughter.
    I have seen toxic behavior directed to them.
    My granddaughter recently visited me. She confided in me.
    I do not know what to do.

    • Thanks for reaching out, ANNON 2591. I encourage you and your daughter-in-law to each look at our FAQ page. It lists the questions most frequently asked by survivors of abuse and by people who are wanting to support survivors. I think as you look over the topics you will probably see ones that jump out at you as likely to be useful in your situation.

      For you, I’m assuming you want to support your daughter-in-law. If I’m right, this topic on the FAQ page is most relevant to your need: How can I help my friend or relative who has been abused?

      I suggest you don’t say anything to your son that might tip him off that his wife has confided in you. He would clamp down on her visiting you. The best way for you to support her is to do so quietly, so that he is not aware. Bear in mind that she needs to make her own choices in her own time. Refrain from telling her what to do. If he gets wind of the fact that you are supporting his wife, he will escalate his abuse of her and he may also direct some of his abuse at you. On the other hand, if he gets wind that you know he is abusive, he might start acting really nice in order to convince you that he is not an abuser. That would be only an act on his part. Abusers are entrenched in their ways, and while they can make a very convincing pretense of reformation, they very seldom reform long term. Bear this in mind.

      It is probably gut wrenching for you to know that your son is being so mean to his wife. I encourage you to take your time processing that information. You might feel grief, anger, shock, fear. I don’t know whether you believe in God, but I encourage you to pray to God and ask him to comfort and guide you. Pour out your heart to Him. He understands.

      Welcome to the blog! 🙂 Feel free to comment on any post here, no matter how long ago it was published.

    • Oh dear, I’ve just realised that I misread your comment ANNON. It was your granddaughter who visited you, not your daughter-in-law. When you read my previous response, please replace “daughter-in-law” with “granddaughter”.

      What a silly duffer I am sometimes! Sorry!

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