I want to address this subject in more depth at some point, but for a starter, I am posting this from the comments with a little amplification. Please note, while this was written about an abusive father, this would apply equally to an abusive mother or other abusive authority figure:
I had asked recently in a comment (which I can’t find now) about verbal abuse of the children. The teaching from many sources is that a wife should not “correct” her husband in front of the children because its “disrespectful” to the husband. I think the teaching is wrong. If a child is being verbally abused, I am responsible to stand in the gap for the child in his/her presence.
As my friend Molly put it “What is more important: making sure a husband is feeling good when he’s in sin, or a protecting a child from injustice?”
You are absolutely right about standing up for our children. We are responsible to do it with a right spirit in our own hearts – which is very hard. But I will say the fruit of that in our lives is very powerful – learning to stand against evil boldly in truth WHILE maintaining a right heart before God and the offender – is rich learning that pays off in other areas of life.
This was a HUGE issue in my marriage. And I was reprimanded by counselors for “teaching my children disrespect” – because, of course, that was how he perceived it and what I was accused of. If I didn’t back him up 100% – even if he was hitting them with fists and when he was screaming profanities and vile names! – then I was teaching them disrespect.
I could not do that! God made me responsible for my children’s protection – in every way, not just extreme physical safety. That obedience to God trumps “respecting” a husband who is being evil. That is NOT respect because respect acknowledges the truth. I can still respect that this man is created in God’s image and does not to be mistreated by me in any way. But that does not extend to me supporting him in evil or lying to my children by my actions and communicating to them that these lies are the truth.
And, by obeying him in that, what would I be telling my children is the truth about their Heavenly Father? My oldest son definitely “got” that message. That was why he hated God and the church. He said, “why would I want another Father like that?” It was a hurdle he was almost unable to overcome.
Respect for an abusive parent is not more important that respect for God, respect for God’s Word, and even respect for the child involved. Abusive treatment is disrespect of the child. Why is the abuser “worthy” of respect but the child is not?
There are many who will say that respect for the husband/father is not about “worth.” And this is true. However, the same is true of the child, mother, and everyone else. Every person is deserving of the same respect as a creation in God’s image. A parent can be respected – not spoken to in anger, rebellion, etc. and with an accompanying heart attitude – while speaking out in the truth and refusing to cooperate with evil being perpetrated by that parent.
This leads to another important point to remember in this issue of respect for an abuser – this is not an “either/or” situation. The only two choices are not “support the abuser absolutely” or “disrespect.” There is also respectfully standing up for righteousness and refusal to cooperate with or to enable another person to continue in sin – respectfully. I am responsible to give my children the example of how to stand up for righteousness respectfully. This is a lesson we will all need other times in life.
If I back up their abuser as he demands I am teaching my children that 1) they are worth less than every other person on earth since all anyone has to do to be worth more than them is aggressively abuse them, and 2) unrighteousness dominates over righteousness and we are helpless against it. These are both lies! If I am walking in righteousness I cannot support an abuser in the name of “respect” when he is mistreating others.