The Issue at the Heart of Domestic Violence

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

I was doing some reading today and a phrase struck me, right in the middle of a letter someone had written. I’ve been trying to think how to put this thought into words and here it was, already done:

…an abused spouse is in bondage and cannot make Jesus Lord over her life as the abuser lords over her heart and mind, leaving the person unable to think correctly, living in constant fear rather than loving submission to God and each other. It is a known fact that spousal abuse causes damage to mind, soul, and spirit that is often irreversible…

This bit is from a letter quoted in an article called Divorce and the Church.

When an abusive spouse demands dominance of his wife’s time, thoughts, actions, viewpoints, theology, political opinions, dinner plans, housekeeping techniques, self-image – every littlest part of her being – he is making an idol of himself.

When an abuser says his wife is less than God says she is, he is making a god of himself. He is saying his opinion carries more weight than God’s opinion of his wife; therefore, He is greater than God.

God says she is good. God says He created her specifically, for a unique purpose. When an abuser says his wife is stupid, worthless, ignorant, rebellious, wicked, (you fill in the blanks), he is calling God a liar and making a god of himself because he is saying he is right and God is wrong.

When he accuses her where God does not, he is making a god of himself. He is holding his judgment higher than God’s judgment.

When an abuser physically hurts his wife, he demands that she violate her allegiance to God, who has told her to keep her body, His temple. So the abuser is usurping authority to denigrate the temple of God.

When an abuser says he is his wife’s absolute authority and everything he says is God’s word to her, he is making an idol of himself. Jesus died to enable a personal relationship between each of us and God Himself. Each of us must personally accept Christ as Savior. A husband cannot do that for his wife. Accepting Christ establishes a personal relationship with God; from that beginning the rest is a personal relationship as well. The Holy Spirit indwells each of us and speaks to each of us, personally. Any husband who stands in the middle of that, and demands that his voice is greater than God’s to her, is making an idol of himself.

An abuser demands that his wife divide her allegiance. She can be a Christian and follow God only where it doesn’t contradict his demands of her.

This is fundamentally why an abuse victim cannot remain with a spouse who persists in his abuse. If the abuser will not repent, fully – which includes taking all responsibility, making restitution and submitting to long-term accountability – that wife is obligated to God to separate from a man who demands she serve two masters and deny her Lord God.

In fact, in Ezra 10, God told the Israelites to divorce their wives who worshiped idols. In Is. 50:1 and Jer. 3:8 God says He divorced Israel because of their idolatry. Idolatry is absolutely a Biblical reason for divorce.

There is freedom in this understanding. This is a freedom the church needs to wrap their hands around and stop tying chains of bondage around abuse victims. When churches demand that abuse victims stay in an abusive marriage, they are participating in idolatry. They are agreeing with a false god and telling someone under their supposed spiritual protection (shepherd – servant guarding the flock for his master) to deny their faith and serve a false god. This is a very serious issue. The church should fall on its face in repentance for this sin. It is grievous. We should be helping victims to safety, not holding the doors to their cells shut.

24 Responses

  1. In response to Happy’s comment on Dec 30, I have never seen any teaching that would allow/encourage an abusive wife to say the Bible gives her authority over her husband. It distinctly says women are not to usurp authority over men. This is where it could be more difficult to deal with an abusive wife. Her “justification” for the abuse has neither Bible nor church back-up, and probably is rooted in entirely different reasoning–totally unrelated to scripture. This is where I have difficulty with those who try to make a big deal about wives abusing husbands. While it is true that it does happen, those who suggest that the plight of abused husbands needs to be addressed equally with the plight of abused wives, seem to me to be trying to minimize the issue of male violence against women. With men doing 85% of the abuse, and women doing 15% of the abuse, I fail to see why the female violence side should be addressed equally with the male violence side. In addition, homicide against women is generally low, except in their intimate relationships. Whereas, women killing their male partners is fairly rare. I do not say it’s not tragic no matter which gender does it. I’m simply saying those who keep pushing the “stop women from abusing” side, seem to be trying to take the focus off the mountain of one-sided gender abuse (male attacking female) that is going on all over the world, and that we need to stop.

    I was reading a psycological study yesterday and noticed some of their comments. They pointed out that statistics will say women are just as abusive as men. But what those statistics don’t supply is the context of the abuse. In the majority of the cases, the women were responding to abuse and trying to protect themselves. They were not the instigators. It was self-defense.

    As far as finding that a woman who makes repeated allegations of having been abused is more likely to be lying, I question the very premise of that statement. It’s possible her abuser is doing the lying, that the listener doesn’t thoroughly understand the dynamics of abuse, that the woman in question is unable to clearly articulate what is happening to her because the abuse is so totally woven into every thread in the fabric of her marriage.

    As one survivor of abuse pointed out to me, people often don’t see abuse in it’s context. In her experience, she would tell a person what her husband had done, and the person would say, “My husband did that, and he’s not abusive,” thereby dismissing my friends experience. She went on to say that the person didn’t recognize that the behavior was occurring in a relationship where the whole interaction was about the husband’s control over his wife, whereas, the listener’s husband did not have that as his driving goal.

    I find it ironic that on the one hand society scorns and labels women who stay with their abusers and tolerate abuse, but on the other they scorn and label the women who defend themselves and try to stop the abuse.

    As I look at that closer, and try to find the causation, I find a rather frightening mindset that may actually be behind all the inaction, despite all the verbiage to the contrary. If the woman is to blame both if she tolerates the abuse and tries to submit, and also blamed if she fights back and tries to defend herself, and also if she leaves and divorces, then it appears that her husbands abuse of her has in effect become a label about her value and behavior. In other words, if her husband thinks she needed a scolding or beating, then she probably did, and no matter how she responds, she is just plain bad and at fault.

    That old, “his home is his castle” view hasn’t gone away. It is alive and well. It’s no wonder pastors–and lay people–say, “Woman, go home and submit!”

    I wouldn’t usually say this on a blog, but I am discouraged and stunned by what I just wrote. How, after all this time and all the work that so many have done, can people still think that?? Even subconsciously?? And my first thought is, what can I do to correct that mindset? It is in that spirit that I suggest to those of you who haven’t already, that you read my novel “Behind the Hedge.” I wrote it so that people could see abuse in a Christian context, see how it is so “relentless,” as one of my readers commented. See how it is so woven into the entire fabric of family life. Abuse is not just an isolated incident here and there. There are continual control tactics going on most of the time. Even when the abuser is nice, he is trying to manipulate his wife (and church) to think he is a caring man who is worth staying with. Although the book is fiction, it is true. I didn’t want to write the story of any one woman, especially if she could be in danger of abuse from her husband or exhusband. Instead, I developed real-to-life characters, put them in a real-life setting, and wrote a picture of the junk that the abuser does in its context, and what effect that has on the whole family, including him, his wife, and 3 children. You can click on my book on the left side of this blog, which will take you to my website (I just double checked, and was reminded that my book just won an award. First place in Christian fiction, and first runner-up for the over all Grand prize.) or just go to http://www.wanetadawn.com My site has a link to Amazon.com, where you can see reviews, etc. If anyone can’t afford it, go to the “contact us” link on one of the navigation bars at the top, send me an email with your address, request a copy, and I’ll send you a free copy. I do not want lack of money to help keep people ignorant about abuse, or keep women trapped in abusive relationships.
    ~ Waneta Dawn

  2. An additional note. When laws were passed and enforced about dv, in the 1980s and 1990s, violence of women against men fell drastically–so much so that men killed by their intimate partners is down to nearly zero. But violence of men against women did not fall nearly as much, and women are still the primary ones getting injured and killed. In Iowa, for example, in 2006, if I recall correctly, one man was killed by his wife, four children bystanders were killed in dv related incidents, and 15 women were killed by their husbands/male partners. Now all the killings are equally bad. But if we put as much effort into stopping women from abusing as we do in stopping men from abusing, we are expending energy to stop something that is already rare, and at the same time empowering abusive men to justify themselves, saying she is/women are doing it just as much as I am, and to continue their abuse. In addition, a good number of the men killed, were themselves the abusers, and the killing was in self-defense. Albeit, a female version of self-defense that is different from that allowed by law that was written by men and based on male experience. If we focus equally, or even 1 quarter of our energies on fighting female violence, we are in effect helping to stop many women from taking any form of action to defend themselves.

    This reminds me of a movie we watched recently (DVD. An old one bought for under $5.00 at Dollar Tree, or a similar store) “Believe in Me” is based on a true story and is about Coach Clay Driscoll who moves to small town Oklahoma thinking he is going to couch a boys basketball team. He ends up coaching a girls team, and he has to learn to coach them differently than he coaches boys. When he tells them to never foul anyone, they never foul and they also lose game after game because they are afraid to do anything defensively. He has to give them permission to push back when the opposing team shoves them. This same phenomena is what is happening in our churches. The male pastors are telling women to submit, and women are doing their best to do exactly that. What neither side realizes, is that the male pastors assume the wives are already “shoving back” since men in their gender’s culture wouldn’t even think of not shoving back, and the wives assume the pastors are saying it is NEVER ok to shove back, so they refrain and become servile in their attempt to “submit as to the Lord.” I think wives need to be given permission to “shove back,” but in this case not literally, and not in the same nasty vein. But they do need to be given skills and training in how to “shove back” in a Christian way. And sometimes I think that may mean digging in her heels and refusing to agree to whatever damaging thing her husband is demanding.

  3. we have the unBiblical platform of “mutual submission” in marriage. The Bible, in context, does not teach that. It does teach it as being from one Christian to another. The Eph. 5 passage is so often misquoted and misapplied in marriage. If you like, we can look at that passage as an example and discuss it.

    Are you aware that in the original Greek the verb “submit” does not appear in Ephesians 5:22? In Greek verse 22 just says “wives to your own husbands” The verb is ported from verse 21. (you can verify this for yourself in the Greek English Interlinear Bible here)

    Ephesians 5:21 states the basic principle which Paul proceeds to clarify for several relationships:
    “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Eph 5:21

    (Does “one to another” include you? This is not saying we take turns OBEYING one another. It is saying that as Christians we SUBMIT to one another, we come under others to lift them up, to be supportive, we act in their best interests)

    Then Paul goes on without taking a breath, without the “break” that some Bible versions wrongly insert between verses 21 and 22 to describe what that BIBLICAL submission looks like for wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters

    “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God (5:21)

    –> wives, unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.(5:22)
    –>Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (5:25)
    –>Children, obey your parents in the Lord (6:1)
    –>fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (6:4)
    –>Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh(6:5)
    –>And, ye masters, do the same things unto them(6:9)

    The radical thing, in Paul’s culture was not that wives were to submit, and children and slaves were to obey. The radical thing was that husbands were to love and sacrifice self, that fathers were to treat their children with gentleness and consideration, that masters were to “do the same things” for their slaves as the slaves were instructed to do for them (What a paradigm shift the Gospel brought!)

    • Charis,
      ;-) Thank you! I wasn’t going to accept the invite to “discuss it.” Especially considering the fact that the reading of the context is fairly straightforward!

      And I would have had to mention his reliance on negative descriptive adjectives to attempt to make his point without having to make his point — “unBiblical platform” which is, of course, followed by using quotations around the words “mutual submission” to put them in question. We had that discussion previously with his other use of labels. This is a blatant attempt to color the argument without having to make one in fact.

      — Danni

  4. Hi Danni,

    I sort of stumbled upon your blog accidentally as I’m in the middle of setting up my own, and, really have to thank you for the work you’re doing and hope to be able to help others who have been in situations similar to mine.

    Although I’m a 40-year-old man, recently divorced and having had my only child taken away from me, (essentially), I have only recently come to the realization that I had been the victim of domestic abuse myself.

    I was only with my now ex-wife for a couple years, and while there wasn’t much physical abuse, it was predominantly psychological and emotional. It eventually led me to resort to destructive coping mechanisms, such as staying out late after work with friends at the bar, working out at the gym, and drinking. To this day, she refuses to accept that she bore any responsibility for my drinking problem (which culminated in my obtaining 3 DUI’s in 2006 – all within the span of 45 days!

    My drinking just continued to become worse as did her yelling and screaming at me about it.

    Our relationship was always tumultuous. She was famous for insulting me, screaming at me, never accepting blame for anything, telling me I wasn’t man enough (or not trusting God enough), or was just being “too sensitive” because I would be hurt by some of the words she said to me.

    In addition to the vicious name-calling, there were a few instances of her hitting me, blocking my escape, throwing things at me, and several instances when she would litterally hit and kick me out of our bed because I was nervous or scared to have sex with her. (THIS is how a woman can rape a man!)

    Needless to say, my lonely voice just went largely unheard . . . and those who DID hear it, laughed at me. The custody evaluators had their minds made up even before meeting me and made it quite clear that they had all the intentions in the world to villify me and cast me as an unfit father — a drunk and a pervert.

    The divorce was final last May (2008). It was devastating. Soon after that, I lost my job (upon which my child support obligation was calculated). I was ordered to pay over $1500/month (on the witness stand, she lied about her own earnings). Although I was receiving unemployment, of the $538/week that I was due, over $300 of it went to her. Also, I didn’t have any health insurance.

    While I was frantically looking for work last summer, I noticed I was getting weaker and weaker. Since I was only 39 years old, I attributed it to my just becoming more and more out of shape and that I was suffering from anxiety and possibly having panic attacks.

    It turned out to be much, much worse. Because I wasn’t able to sleep at night anymore and was under constant pain, a crushing sensation on my chest, I finally called 911 and discovered that I actually had congestive heart failure in the advanced stages. Because I had no insurance, it was difficult finding a facility to treat me. I soon discovered that my heart’s condition had so worsened that I needed a heart transplant. Because the chances of my getting a new heart were not likely, and the rest of my organs were starting to go into failure, my family was told that I probably wasn’t going to make it.

    Luckily, at the last minute, my sister was able to find a hospital that could both perform the surgery and would be willing to do it without insurance. Thankfully, I miraculously received a new heart on November 10, 2008.

    Meanwhile, my ex-wife and her attorney are still coming after me with a vengeance. As soon as she found out how sick I was, I received a letter in the hospital from her demanding that I turn over my life insurance information for her.

    Although my old, dead heart is gone, I’m still crushed. I haven’t been able to see my 2-yr-old son in over a year (because I had to relocate while I’m in recovery) and I have just not been handling this whole thing well at all. She blatantly lied to the courts, stalked me, and humiliated me with extremely embarrassing and sensitive (although totally irrelevant) information that she made public.

    I HATE the hatred; and the anger, and the animosity, and the shunning. I’ve lost almost everything and am now having my house taken away from me by foreclosure and am filing bankruptcy.

    I know it all sounds so unreal, but this is all the honest-to-God truth.

    I am also seminary graduate with a Master’s in the History of Christianity and have been working in the Information Technology field for almost 20 years.

    • Hi Steve!

      You are very accurately describing and experiencing the literal truth of the Word which says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. That is not metaphorical! Also, death and life are in the power of the tongue. BUT God is a healer, the Holy Spirit is our Comforter and there is hope in Him. We do have to seek for it with our whole heart – and getting out from under death curses is a non-optional first step. You have made the largest first step. But don’t let you curse yourself with your tongue either. And don’t receive the condemnation of all those “others” or of Satan in your own head. The truth is that God loves you, and He has a plan for a better, and hope-full, future.

      One thing I would suggest is to take ownership of your own issue with the drinking. No one ever makes us do anything. Our choices are our own. There may have been abundant provocation, but no one made you choose to drink. That’s one you can’t lay at her door, regardless of anything else. I suspect that most, if not all, of us can look back on our abuse experience and know we made bad choices in response to the abuse we were experiencing. Satan will press any advantage he can find to destroy us. But at the end of the day, we have to own our own choices.

      It sounds like Satan is having a field day in your mind and emotions still. And that is not at all uncommon – nor am I judging you in any way. We have all been there! But God has a better plan. It is a process and God is a gentle healer. Give yourself grace to seek it, walk in it, and TIME to get there. It isn’t going to happen in a day. You have years of brokenness from which to heal. And don’t let Satan condemn you or tell you it’s hopeless because you didn’t get there in a single bound. One day, even one moment, at a time is the way it happens.

      — Danni

  5. I realized the concept of the sin of idolatry when my ex-pastor tried to convince me that I was making “intimacy” my idol (2007). He used the passages in 1 Peter to convince me that no amount of abuse or lack of intimacy is reason enough to leave my husband.

    I searched my heart and soul to see if what he said was true about me. With his “help”, I was able to discern that “intimacy” was not my idol, but rather…. my husband was my idol. I confessed and repented… which led me to the beginning of a legal separation in March 2009.

    The pastor at the small bible church in North Carolina was dismayed at my conclusion. His intention was for me to discover I needed to submit more…not submit less. Mine is a contemporary testimony that God can still speak through an ass.

    God told me that no human being could ever satisfy my need for intimacy like HE could. God rebuked me for being more distraught at the lack of intimacy with my husband than with Him. He told me that once I satisfy my need for intimacy with HIM, I will no longer be dependant on the imperfect intimacy with a man…abusive or not.

    When I revealed my revelation to my Pastor, he told me that “Intimacy With God” is the last book I should be reading…. HUH? He basically told me that intimacy is overrated when he said intimacy is my idol and when he said, “Intimacy can be defined as, Into-Me-See.” He was oblivious to the fact that intimacy is a 2-way street…you see me, and you allow me to see you too.

    That was 2 years ago and that same pastor still has a vendetta for my”rebellion” against him. He wrote a damaging affidavit against me in February 2009.

    I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned. I will never misplace my basic need for intimacy on anyone on this earth. This does not mean I will not be intimate with anyone. I will always seek intimacy with anyone I choose to bring into my inner circle. But I won’t be devastated if they don’ meet my standards for intimacy. I will not depend on imperfect humans to give me the perfect love that only God can give. It’s torture to expect that they can.

    The lack of intimacy in an abusive relationship is a side-effect… not the root… but hurts just as bad. It was one of my original complaints before arriving at the root: my husbands overweening PRIDE. Intimacy was the path that led me to understand exactly what Danni is saying about the sin of idolatry.

    I’m fed today with the confirmation that I’ve found someone else whose spoken my reality. Thank you with all my heart.

    Sincerely,
    Monique

    • You are sincerely welcome. This is a HUGE issue and I wish the church would get hold of it. But meanwhile, for those who are in it, once we have a name for it it becomes pretty easy to see. And it helps cut all the “fluff” out of the question of what to do in the relationship.

      — Danni

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