Domestic Violence and the Victim
This document seeks to create a structured way that a Domestic Abuse Victim can be protected from abuse within a Biblical framework. First, we will start with a verse that may seem counter-intuitive the verse has come into contention in recent times, due it its misuse by some people in some cases, it has been said to enable Domestic Abuse to continue. The real purpose of the scripture is to keep marriages that are salvageable together and prevent frivolous exit from vows. The problem with Domestic Violence and this verse are that some legalistically apply the command, not allowing any grace for a violence victim, who may be in a situation that is no longer salvageable. We will show firstly that the spirit of scripture is that of protection, then present a framework for Domestic Abuse recovery that does not violate the scripture.
As we mentioned, some will quote strictly Jesus words that follow to justify that a spouse must stay with their partner in all situations,
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. Mat 19:9
It will be seen in their eyes as so binding that even domestic violence must be tolerated, to maintain the integrity of this scripture. But it is not the case that violence must be tolerated, the Bible must be examined in light of all scripture. For a start, the Bible tells us to love our wives or spouse (Eph 5:25&28, Col 3:19). Anyone who understands the scripture knows that God's word is protective, and made to draw people together. The command regarding adultery being the only exit from marriage was given by Jesus to help preserve the marriage, but Paul himself was forced to redefine this specific marriage law in 1st Corinthians. Due to issues that were occurring in the church, Paul allowed separation for another cause. This shows us that Jesus's marriage laws have some flexibility if a valid case can be found for the exception. For understanding, Paul said that if a nonbelieving husband wishes to leave their now Christian wife, that the wife is under no obligation to the man, and may continue their life. Because there is a measure of flexibility in the command, we now have to ask ourselves, what is a more worthy reason to end a relationship, a theological disagreement, or violence against a spouse, violence which violates God's command to love your partner, and breaks God's desire for peace in relationships. We can see that the Holy Spirit, who was speaking through Paul, had "another reason", other than adultery to leave a relationship, it was listed because of trouble in the church, he said people in the situation of 1 Cor 7:15 were no longer in bondage or bound to their partner. The scripture follows:
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 1Co 7:15
Domestic Abuse is a problem that needs to be addressed, in society and the church. When we look to the end of Paul's scripture in 1 Co 7:15 we see it finishes with this comforting passage regarding a spouse and marriage. "it is God's pleasure that we may be at peace with one another. ". Because of Paul's addition to scripture, we see Jesus's words in Matthew 19:9 do not suggest there would be no other cause for separation, nothing ever, but rather it was stating we should not be seeking easy exits from marriage. Adultery was the goal post He set, it was set high so that small things like “no longer feeling in love”, could not be used as an exit from marriage. Regarding legalistically enforcing the command it pays to take note of Jesus's words regarding the Jewish Law: "Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others?". Mat 12:1-8 He showed in this statement that the Law is not about the strict observance of commands, but rather the commands are about the protection of people, and small deviation to protect others is not a sin. Matthew 19:9 itself is a protective verse used to protect marriage and children, from divorce over trivial matters.
It should also be noted that Domestic Violence is a sin (Eph 5:25&28, Col 3:19), as stated here in the Bible.
A husband must love his wife and not abuse her. Col 3:19
The Bible states if we see our brother sinning we should use a procedure to try to restore them, but if they refuse to change they should be classed as a sinner, not a Christian (Matt 18:15-17). A Christian who a) is abusive is sinning, b) if they refuse to change after church council the Bible tells us they are to be classed as an unbeliever. As such we could apply the verse of 1 Cor 7:15 to them directly, allowing for separation if they no longer want change. The procedure outlined below states how to apply such a principle, in the context of Domestic Violence. Although applying the principal to the protection of the spouse, I would be slow to call the offender an unbeliever, although still applying the principle as it applies to an unbeliever. The reason I say this is some people perpetrate violence based upon their own problems and insecurities, and we don't wish to add to these with spiritual guilt.
In a domestic violence situation, given the serious nature of the offense, I feel the following steps should be taken:
- If the victim feels unsafe, the victim should first be removed from the element of danger, they should not be left in the home, or situation where they may face violence. It may also be needful to involve the police, or courts, to obtain a restraining order.
- With the separation in place, the perpetrator should be approached for counseling, counselling aims to see if there is a possibility of redemptive outcomes. These outcomes cannot be just verbal accent to a goal to do better, they must be followed through with the genuine change of lifestyle. The victim should never be placed back in the home or reach of the perpetrator if there is potential for violence to re-occur.
- So the spouse is not infinitely bound to an abusive situation, it is my opinion that the abusive partner should be given a period of 6 to 12 months to reform. During which time the spouse should not seek out another partner according to the principle of 1 Cor 7:11, they must act as if still married, and must remain faithful to their abusive partner, but not placed in danger. In situations where the abusive partner is experiencing a period of mild Mental Illness or they still express a heartfelt desire to remain married, it is asked that the spouse be open to extending the time given for reform. In the case of Mental Health issues it is often seen that Christian’s experiencing Mental Illness do recover, and having spousal support is important in that process. In the case where the abusive partner still wishes to maintain the relationship, it is likely they can change, if not immediately, at least with time, so should be given the benefit of the doubt. Separation of marriage vows in my opinion should only occur where the partner has lost all feelings for their partner, and are abusive to the extent they want no reconciliation and are unwilling to change their behavior, similar to 1 Cor 7:15. There may also be cases where an abusive partner is unwilling to be counseled, or are manipulative, it is my opinion that in such situations that the abused spouse should make their own assessment of the situation. But if no reconciliation is possible after the time of separation, then the following, in my opinion, can be used to end the relationship. Note however that the abused spouse is free to make their own mind up according to their view of scripture, and what they feel the LORD would want them to do.
- But I feel, the spouse should be comforted that although Jesus did say adultery was the only case for divorce, we see that:
- Paul states another case for the severing of marriage vows in 1 Cor 17:15, so Biblically it is not the ONLY case listed in scripture
- If an abusive partner has both, refused to change, i.e. are remaining in the sin of Domestic Violence, and no longer seek change (Matt 18:22), they should be classed as a non-believer Matt 18:15-17) and the following scripture can be applied to the situation 1 Cor 7:15. However, to maintain scriptural authority, the ending of the marriage can only come if the sinning partner decides they no longer want the marriage (1 Cor 7:15). If there is still a desire for a relationship I believe there is still hope for change or reform. In a situation where the partner still wishes to preserve the relationship the spouse should remain separate for protective reasons, but give time for reform, i.e. not seek out another partner and not divorce, while their current partner holds onto hope they should remain single (1Co 7:11). However, if it becomes evident that the abusive partner is only maintaining the relationship to continue in their ability to abuse, and they show no signs of making any effort to change, then I think common sense should prevail, and divorce could be filed. We do not want to empower abusive behaviors. A divorce may provide more legal protection than separation in a lot of ways. Even a simple example; a separated but not divorced spouse can be held accountable for debts accrued by their spouse, even if they didn't know about those debts. Such mechanisms can be used to continue to control and punish a victim from a distance.
- Jesus said of the Law, that He is not after strict observance, but rather the Spirit of protection afforded by the Law (Mathew 12:1-8), stating "Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others? It is clear that “enforcing” Mathew 19:9 in a legalistic, hard-headed, way can result in harm to victims of Domestic Violence.
- Paul goes on to say “it is God's pleasure that we may be at peace with one another.”
- Domestic violence is a breaking of the contract of “be[ing] at peace with one another” stated in 1 Cor 17:15
- I believe as long as an attempt is made to see if the relationship can be recovered if the domestic violence victim cannot be protected they should leave the relationship without guilt.
- Forcing celibacy according to scripture like 1 Cor 7:10-11 (which is designed to recover relationships) on the spouse, in my opinion, is lacking the spirit of justice, and may cause them to rightly hate Christ. In a similar way to the following scripture, which encourages remarriage of widows, I suggest that Domestic Violence victims be given their life back: “Don't put young widows on the list. They may later have a strong desire to get married. Then they will turn away from Christ” 1Ti 5:11 Even Paul allowed remarriage under the situation of 1 Cor 7:15
- A note on adultery, if at any point in the process the abusive partner commits adultery, i.e. due to being unable to control their lusts. I feel the victim should be counseled to exit the relationship immediately according to Mat 19:9. There is now no pretext left for restoring a harmful relationship. It is my belief than no plea from the abuser should be accepted.
Ultimately I do feel a spouse who is experiencing Domestic Violence, should be free to choose their own path in life, before their own conscience and God. It is not for the church to put heavy bonds on such a person, our job is to provide guidelines to help make wise choices, that benefit all parties involved. Ultimately it is their decision.
Some feel that in all situations that the woman may never remarry. Quoting verses similar to:
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.1Co 7:11
My response to this is:
The above scripture is written to help with the reconciliatory process, it a) prevents a couple from remarrying b) intending to cause reconciliation.
In Domestic Abuse situations where the partner may be impossible to live with and has no heart for change. I feel it is unjust to bind the spouse to never remarry clause indefinitely, and to a reconciliatory law. For there is a limited case for reconciliation.
Furthermore I feel it is unjust and will seem to be a punishment on the spouse to prevent remarriage in non-reconciliatory situations. That it could cause the spouse to feel punished by God, and possibly cause a leaving of the faith. Similar to the following scripture:
Don't put young widows on the list. They may later have a strong desire to get married. Then they will turn away from Christ 1Ti 5:11
Message to the Men
Speaking as a married man, I now address the Christian men. If your wife feels so strongly that you are perpetrating domestic abuse we need you to stop and pause for a minute. The first thing to know is God has a good plan for you, and no matter where you are right now, things can change. You may be under a lot of pressure, or things may just have gotten on top of you. Despite this, you can not use the difficulties of your day or the situations around you as an excuse to bring fear or harm to your wife.
As a Christian, we are going to quote the Bible, and I ask you to be respectful and patient with it. Firstly scripture tells us that:
You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations. 1Co 10:13
This scripture tells us that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can cope with. This shows us that as a Christian God has given you power over your lower desires, you just have to work with God, not against Him.
Now the issue at hand is that your partner feels that you are perpetrating domestic abuse on them. The scripture says that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can cope with. So there is no excuse. Regardless of the pressures around you, you cannot continue the behaviors that are causing harm to your partner.
Today you must make the choice to start to live peaceably and respectfully with your partner.
Jesus gave us additional keys to victory over sin in Mat 26:41, He said:
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Without God in your life you will be weak and given over to sin, to have true victory you must submit to Him. As a Christian, you must pray, and pray more if you are given to weakness. Pray for help, pray for strength, pray for the grace to overlook the things you feel are faults in your partner.
One thing I wish I had learned early on in my marriage is, there is no reason that you should be angry with your partner. As a Christian man, you have to love your wife to such an extent that you do not let negative, angry words come out of your mouth. There is no excuse for anger, it does not matter if you have a reason to be angry, in my opinion, no reason, be it a spiritual lack or anything else is an excuse to pour negative emotions onto your spouse.
Best of luck, you can do it.