Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt
Some people teach that when an abuse victim is rebuking the abuser, the victim must do so in a way that shows evident love and respect for the abuser. Is that teaching in the Bible, or is it a doctrine which people have invented?
Let me show you an example of that teaching. I adapted it from this article by Ps D Scott Meadows, Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed), Exeter, New Hampshire.
Here is the example (trigger warning):
“When I address my husband about his responsibility for faith and duty as a man, a husband and a father, I must speak the truth in love, with evident love and respect for him as my husband.”
I can see two problems with this.
Who judges whether I have spoken the truth? Me? Or my husband? Or the pastor who has been buddy-talked and manipulated by my husband so that he takes my husband’s side and accuses me of being untruthful?
A second problem is the word ‘evident’. Who judges whether my love and respect is ‘evident’? Who sits in the seat of the Almighty and declares whether or not I am evincing ‘love and respect towards my husband’ in sufficient measure?
The word ‘evident’ imposes a standard that is not in the marriage verses of the NT. The key verse which talks about a wife respecting her husband is Ephesians 5:33: “Let. . . the wife see that she respect her husband.”
Note well: the wife is the one to see that she does this. It doesn’t say, “Let the husband see that his wife respects him.” Nor does it say, “The husband must see evidence that his wife is respecting him.” Even less does it say, “The pastor must see evidence that the wife is sufficiently respecting her husband.”
Ephesians 5:33 says it is up to the wife to evaluate and be satisfied in her own conscience that she respects her husband.
In the case of abuse, her respect may look different — be expressed in different behaviours and words — than how it would look when a husband is not an abuser.
An abused wife’s respect for her abusive husband may entail her:
- standing firmly against his evil ways
- leaving him
- deciding to divorce him
- having a ‘low-contact’ or ‘no-contact’ policy towards him
- doing her best (in the face of his persistent attempts to abuse and stalk her) to try to show him that she respects him so much that she will do her very best to prevent him indulging his sinful habits at her and the kids’ expense.
Rebuking a corrupt institution
A similar principle applies when the abuse is being perpetrated by a denominational hierarchy, or by national governments and international organisations. Again, the victims are urged to rebuke the abusive institution and not partake in the sins of that organisation. Look at these translations of Leviticus 19:17-18:
You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself (HCSB)
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (ESV)
You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. (NET)
Never hate another Israelite. Be sure to correct your neighbor so that you will not be guilty of sinning along with him. Never get revenge. Never hold a grudge against any of your people. Instead, love your neighbor as you love yourself. (God’s Word)
Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)
We are to reprove and rebuke frankly and directly. It is not frank or direct rebuke if we pretend to revere directives that are life-destroying.
If a denomination or government or international organisation is oppressing people, the organisation will likely have brainwashed or coerced a lot of its members to comply with its oppressive dictates. Those who are awake to that oppression can strive to speak the truth in love to the brainwashed members.
Stiff rebuke for oppressive leaders. Gentler rebuke and correction for the brainwashed and coerced.
Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostles spoke frank and fearless rebuke to the officials of the Roman Empire who were treating people unlawfully. They were even more fierce in rebuking the religious elite — the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees who were treating the Jews unjustly. At the same time, they corrected the common people who had been mis-taught, brainwashed and coerced by the religious leaders. When rebuking oppressive leaders, their tone was fierce: they set their faces like flint to denounce the evildoing of the oppressors. When correcting the ordinary people, they took a somewhat more gentle, more educational tone.
I’ll leave you to think about how you might want to apply these principles in your current situation.