Can God Hear Our Prayers for Our Nation?

Waneta Dawn wrote an excellent post in answer to this question. Ironically, this is something the church in general is not thinking about. We call for prayer for our nation – but will God hear and answer? Does the church have issues that make our prayers unanswerable? There is a very clear answer in the Word to that question!

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Has Economic Downturn Caused Increase in Domestic Violence?

In the course of my on-going research on domestic violence I keep an eye on the news. Right now there are articles literally every day about how the economic downturn is sparking a rise in the rates of domestic violence. DV rates are usually up this time of year and with the additional stress of people losing jobs and the overall economic recession, marital abuse rates are even higher than usual.

It occurred to me, however, that for women walking in this situation it would be very easy to see the reality backward. I would have seen it that way — I did see it that way when I was in it.

We had some very bad financial reverses. And the violence and verbal abuse always escalated during those times. The holidays were a nightmare every year – both because the rages increased and because my ex had to control every single moment and breath in his own special way. My ex lost his job in 1996 and his resultant violence led to our first separation. He retrained in the computer tech field — just in time for the bottom to completely drop out of that industry. While he, fortunately, did not lose his job, he did not get a raise for seven years up through the time of our divorce. He stayed at entry-level even though he had some promotions. This, of course, led to significant financial stress, since the cost of living didn’t remain stable but increased by approximately 1/3 in our area during that time (I’m trying to remember what I figured out at the time; that’s not an exact number).

My perspective of it from the inside at the time was that his anger was because of his stress, issues at work, because he lost his job, because he couldn’t provide for his family like he wanted to, etc. But here’s the nugget — I excused, or made excuses for, his rages and actions, based on the circumstances. This is the same thing he always did. His rage was always because I did…, the kids did…, if you would only….

Rage and other personal emotions and actions are always a personal choice. They are not something that happens to a person against their will. They choose to behave that way — even if they genuinely believe otherwise. They can choose NOT to behave that way — even if they genuinely believe otherwise.

There is no medical condition* and no circumstances that excuse anger, rage, violence, verbal abuse, name calling, etc. You may doubt me, but this is a fact. It took me a very, very, very long time to learn this myself. Somehow a whole lot of other people in the world, even people with bi-polar disorder (a common excuse) or other medical conditions, manage to learn to be responsible for their behavior under even worse circumstances, without abusing those around them. Somehow other marriages, comprised of two imperfect people, manage to exist for entirely lifetimes without rage, anger, disrespect, violence, etc.

There is no excuse, EVER. Grasping this fact is the very first step to getting free of marital abuse. Once you know with absolute certainty that no circumstances are bad enough to excuse this behavior you can see past it and stand for truth. That gives you options and it gives you strength.

No matter how much the holidays may bring additional stress or how much additional stress the economic recession may cause, these are not an excuse for marital abuse. All these circumstances do is provide an opportunity to reveal a person’s choices to be an abuser. The abuser is an abuser because that is their choice – the circumstances just give them another chance to show it.

[*Let me state, it is possible for a person to experience brain damage or defect which results in the loss of ability to control impulses, leading to uncontrollable violence. However, this is medically diagnosable and these individuals must be medicated and/or institutionalized. They are not free to hurt people at random because they have a medical excuse. This is an entirely different situation than domestic abuse. I rather doubt that a domestic abuser would be willing to undergo medical testing and receive a diagnosis of brain damage and then accept the medical treatment for it. That ought to be a good enough litmus test right there. Another key to this – the violence is random for an abuser. A person with brain damage or defect is not able to miraculously control outbursts so they are targeted toward certain people and able to be contained at times when it would not be advantageous – such as before the new boss who is considering bestowing a raise.]

Adventist Church’s Annual Abuse Prevention Day

Today is the Annual Prevention Emphasis Day, and another blogger whose site I enjoy found an article an Adventist News Network that I wanted to share, too, because it serves as an excellent example for other church groups to follow.

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The Adventist Church’s annual Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, held August 23 this year, is part of a wider effort to curtail abuse within and outside of the church by changing attitudes, says Heather-Dawn Small, Woman’s Ministries director for the world Adventist Church.

Excuses cannot be part of the church’s message against abuse. So says Heather-Dawn Small, the no-nonsense Trinidadian who helps craft the world Seventh-day Adventist Church’s formidable yet sensitive approach to abuse prevention.

Since she began directing Women’s Ministries for the world church in 2001, Small, 50, has fought reluctance by some within the church to admit the reality of abuse. She applauded the church when it voted to add an Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day to its calendar of special Sabbaths, now held the fourth Sabbath of every August. But with local pastors telling her that 70 to 80 percent of their home counseling focuses on domestic abuse, she says the remaining 364 days are just as vital.

Given her ambitious travel schedule, luckily the former director of Children’s and Women’s Ministries for the church in the Caribbean is fond of flying. But helping church members respect each other and become partners in the church’s ministry is what propels her.

In the run-up to the church’s seventh annual Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, August 23, Small spoke to ANN about the church’s responsibility to convince every member that abuse is unconscionable, regardless of culture or upbringing. And, she explained that while the church is not equipped to comprehensively handle abuse, it can and should serve as a conduit, connecting abused women to local legal and counseling agencies. Excerpts:

Adventist News Network: Since the Adventist Church established Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, what specifically has been addressed?

Heather-Dawn Small: We’ve focused on child abuse and domestic violence, particularly spousal abuse, which is a big problem in the church. During the first couple of years, most of what we emphasized was creating an awareness of abuse in general. It’s only in recent years that we’ve begun to deal very specifically with topics, such as Abuse of Power, which is this year’s theme.

ANN: Are your efforts well received?

Small: We’ve generally gotten very good feedback. There are those people who still think, ‘Well, do we really need to handle this in the church?’ or ‘Do we have to bring this up on Sabbath?’ But that attitude is getting rarer. It’s more like it was long overdue that the church would actually have an abuse prevention day and that materials would be provided.

ANN: You travel extensively. Where do you find that the church’s anti-abuse message is best latching on and what tactics seem to be most effective?

Small: I just got back from Uganda and Kenya. In Africa, there is definitely a lot of progress being made. Because of the culture in some of these countries, abuse to some extent is almost regarded as a “right” of the husband. I know in the Caribbean, where I come from, that was a longstanding problem. It isn’t now, but it took years and years to reverse that thinking. In countries where that mindset is still pervasive, the church is partnering with governments and other churches to speak out against it and launch programs that will sweep through the community, not just within the church. It’s more effective than for us to try to do it on our own. If there is a community-based program or government initiative against domestic violence already there, why shouldn’t we join them?

ANN: What would you single out as one of the biggest challenges the church faces in working to end abuse?

Small: There’s very little we can do to immediately change the mindset of the man, and sometimes even the woman. As we keep talking about [abuse prevention], attitudes slowly change. You see, it doesn’t happen overnight. Some people may think, ‘OK, fine, we’ve talked about abuse,’ and then forget about it, but it’s only as we reiterate our message and keep it at the forefront that things begin to change.

ANN: How far-reaching is the church’s message against abuse? Are there limits to what the church can accomplish?

Small: Our goal is to create environments where women feel safe opening up. I think that’s one of the roles that a Women’s Ministries department fills — it’s a place where women can feel safe approaching a leader or another woman and saying, ‘Listen, I have a problem.’ This has happened to me countless times as I’ve traveled and I always try to connect these women with a social worker through the local Women’s Ministries director. As a church, we are not equipped to properly handle addressing the abuse itself, even though we are creating an awareness of the problem. That’s why we have to partner with legal and counseling agencies that are already in the community.

ANN: The church doesn’t cite abuse as a valid reason for divorce. How do you advise women who are in dangerous and unworkable situations?

Small: Being a pastor’s wife for many years, and now directing Women’s Ministries, the immediate concern is for the wellbeing of the woman and her children. In many cases, the woman has to escape. Of course the challenge is that if there are no shelters, where does she escape to? Church members are sometimes afraid to open up their own homes in case the husband comes and harms them as well. Sometimes the church will help the woman relocate. I know the question of divorce can get quite complicated, and while I don’t see it being an immediate option, I’m not going to rule it out because there are women who have resorted to divorce when their husbands refuse to get help. But our immediate concern is that the women get out of the environment if it is harmful or hurtful.

ANN: You’ve said that it’s difficult to change ingrained attitudes toward abuse. At what age can children begin to learn appropriate behavior patterns so that new generations can hopefully reverse old thinking?

Small: In South America, the church has a program targeting elementary children. They create characters and stories with pictures that teach kids about child abuse and domestic violence. There are materials available, people go into the schools dressed up as these characters — they sing, they act, they dance and the kids learn how to respect others and how to respect themselves. Their theme right now is Abuse of the Elderly. I visited Brazil earlier this year and was amazed by how well thought-out the program is. And when we start with the children, we’re looking at the next generation coming up. When we put into their minds the importance of respect for others and themselves, I think that message is going to stay with them, and it’s impacting their parents as well.

ANN: Have you noticed any factors that seem to influence attitudes toward abuse?

Small: Social standing and education levels, unfortunately, mean nothing, whether we’re talking about the abuser or the abused. This is such a big challenge. We’d like to be able to say education level changes things, that people begin to see that this is wrong, but we don’t see that happening.

ANN: For Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day resource materials, you’ve said that you’re now honing in on specific abuse topics rather than the more umbrella-like treatment of previous years. What themes have yet to be addressed?

Small: While we’ve talked about child abuse, we’ve not specifically targeted child sexual abuse, but I think that — as you can see from the news — this is a huge problem. Similarly, when we’ve talked about spousal abuse, we’ve not talked about the abuser. I think that’s something we’re going to have to deal with. Do we just condemn these people, or do we still consider them children of God? After the abuse itself has been addressed, after the law and social workers have gotten involved, do we seek to rehabilitate the abuser? We also need to find what it is that causes young women to stay with a man who is abusive, even before they’re in a marriage. We’re discovering that quite a lot of domestic violence begins long before the vows are said. We need to ask how we can help young women make the right choices and see themselves as being worthy of something better.

ANN World News Bulletin is a review of news and information issued by the Communication department from the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters and released as part of the service of Adventist News Network. It is made available primarily to religious news editors. Our news includes dispatches from the church’s international offices and the world headquarters.

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Reproduction Requirements:
Reproduction of information in this article is encouraged. When reproducing this material, in full or in part, the words “Source: Adventist News Network” must appear under the headline or immediately following the article. The words “Source: Adventist News Network” must be given equal prominence to any other source that is also acknowledged.

Ground 7 News Podcast:
Ground 7 News is a review of news and information issued by the Communication Department from the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters and released as part of the service of Adventist News Network. Reproduction of the ANN podcast is encouraged. When rebroadcasting this material, in full or in part, the words “Source: Adventist News Network” must be mentioned before and after the podcast.

ANN Staff:
Rajmund Dabrowski, director; Ansel Oliver, assistant director; Elizabeth Lechleitner, editorial coordinator; Megan Brauner, editorial assistant. Portuguese translation by Azenilto Brito, Spanish translation by Marcos Paseggi, Italian translation by Vincenzo Annunziata and Lina Ferrara and French translations by Stephanie Elofer.

The Issue at the Heart of Domestic Abuse

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.

Does God Want Me to Stay in an Abusive Marriage?

This question was asked here today and I know the person who asked it is one voice out of many, many more who are wondering the same thing. The answer is both simple and complex.

For the simple answer, God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But before you run out the door, be sure you read the complex part of the answer, too.

Jesus stated the purpose of His coming in Luke 4: 18,19.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

Jesus came for the purpose of healing the brokenhearted, delivering captives, and liberating those who are bruised. That perfectly describes the condition of someone who is being abused in their marriage. Jesus came to rescue people from abusive relationships!

OK, I just heard a whole bunch of “wait a minute…” voices from readers. 😉 Go with me here a minute. The church has reduced Jesus’ purpose to saving souls from eternal damnation. Do you see that in this verse? Certainly it could be considered to be part of Jesus’ stated Luke 4 mission. But why do we limit Jesus’ purpose to less than what the Word plainly states?

Nowhere in the Word is there a place where God applauds or supports abuse. In fact, abuse is inherently opposite to God’s nature. If believers are made new creatures in Christ and partakers in His nature, how can we possible justify or excuse abusive behavior by someone bearing the name “Christian?”

If we assume an abusive spouse is not a believer (which may, in fact, be supportable by Scripture) is a Christian abused partner expected by God to remain in that abusive relationship? The answer is still no. A Christian does not enable another person to continue in sin. By remaining in an abusive marriage, a Christian sends the message that the abusive behavior is acceptable – and affirms the abuser’s sin.

Here comes the complex part, however. God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But there is also a process for addressing the abuse. If there is physical violence, even just occasionally, an abused spouse needs to call local domestic violence support and carefully, but quickly, get outside the home into a safe place. In this situation, further Biblical steps need to occur from a position outside the same home as the abuser. If there is not physical danger, all but the final step of dealing with an abusive spouse can take place without physical separation.

So what are the steps to dealing with an abusive spouse?

First, I think we are all called to bring every detail of our lives to God for His insight and timing. Almost without exception (I’d say without exception but maybe there could be one) we need to clean our own slates first. As abused spouses we need to maintain first an attitude of, “Lord, change me.” God uses our difficult circumstances to teach us things we would not learn otherwise. So we must appreciate God’s process, even in exposing our own sin and refining us to be more like Him while we are dealing with an abusive spouse.

Second, we have to maintain a humble spirit, remembering that all sin is alike as far as God is concerned. It is easy to get a prideful and judgmental spirit. We have to remember that every person is created in the image of God, even this abuser, and so is worthy of basic human respect. Gal. 6:1 says,

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Third, Matthew 18:15-17 outlines a very specific process for dealing with an offender, which would include marital abuse.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

So we must first learn how to respectfully address the abuse within our marriage and establish correct boundaries. This is a learning process that can take months.

If the abusive spouse does not change when confronted privately, the abused spouse is to take a couple witnesses to confront the abuser again. These witnesses should be people the abuser respects and that the abused spouse can trust. At this point, I believe professional counseling is in order. A professional counselor can, in fact, be that witness. Another of the witnesses should be pastoral church leadership. This can be problematic because pastors don’t know how to address abuse correctly. But at least give the church the opportunity to do the right thing.

If abuse continues, the Word says the issue should be told to the church. This step is almost impossible to fulfill in the modern church. Pastors generally won’t allow it because they do not understand the Word on the subject. So, the abused spouse should attempt to press the pastor to allow this step, but if the pastor refuses, the abused spouse may need to move on to the final step.

The final step is removal from the relationship. Matthew 18 says to separate from the unrepentant offender. I Tim. 5:8 says a man who does not provide for his family (provision = financial, spiritual, emotional protection and leadership) has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. God calls an unrepentant abusive spouse an unbeliever. That is not my judgment; it is God’s. I Cor. 5:11 says believers are not to associate with, are not even to eat with, a person who is verbally abusive (“railer”). And I Cor. 7:13-15 says that if an unbelieving spouse removes (walks away from the marriage covenant – which can include staying in the house but leaving the relationship) himself from the marriage, the believing wife is to let him go. It may seem backwards for the believing wife to leave – but we have to remember that the “leaving” happens when a spouse does violence to his house (Mal. 2:13-16 was written to men who were NOT divorced according to a study of the Hebrew language used). The believing wife who removes to safety is not the one who abandoned the relationship.

Some will say removal from the relationship should be for an open-ended period of separation (which could be permanent if there is no repentance); others recommend divorce. I recommend you have a relationship with God whereby you allow Him to direct you because there is not a universal answer at this point. It may very well be that the only way to secure safe custody of children and spousal support for those children is through divorce. This is not out of line. And if the abusive spouse chooses to remarry that will certainly be the final nail in the door to possibility of reconciliation – a choice made by the abuser, not the victim of abuse who took the necessary, and Biblically supported, steps to address an abusive spouse.

God offers hope, not a lifetime sentence, to abuse victims. If you are in an abusive marriage you need to 1) get support for yourself that will stand by you throughout, 2) be willing to take the time to work through the Biblical process, and 3) stay on your face with God throughout the process, asking Him to change you. As hard as it is, this can be the fire that makes you into the person God desires you to be. It is hard and seems far too long in the process, but God is faithful and He does work all things together for good for those who love Him.