Domestic abuse is a sin, and it is a growing problem in this country-even within the professing church.
LifeWay Christian Resources last year reported that 42 percent of Protestant pastors rarely, or never, speak about domestic violence in sermons. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, says we "must teach from our pulpits, our Sunday school classes, and our Vacation Bible Schools that women are to be cherished, honored and protected by men." He emphasizes that we must "explicitly tell the women in our congregations that a man who hits you has surrendered his headship."
In a recent Christianity Today article, "The Silent Epidemic," writer Corrie Cuter noted that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports between 3 and 4 million women are beaten in their homes every year. Retired detective Don Stewart, who handled domestic violence cases for 25 years, said that 25 percent of Christian couples experience at least one episode of physical abuse within their marriage.
Some are calling domestic abuse an epidemic in this country. While this deviant behavior is often infused with anger, the chief motivators are power and control. Usually, a man-using fear, intimidation, threats and even acts of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)-tries to force compliance with his will on another person.
In Malachi 2:16, a parallelism occurs where a man who divorces his wife commits violence against her. Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, wrote, "Malachi 2:16 is sometimes used to cement the opposite of God's intent: keeping a woman in a dangerous home." He adds: "The church should hate domestic violence as much as it hates divorce. It should support women caught in domestic violence as much as it offers divorce recovery programs."
Throughout history, women have been abused by men. While men are sometimes abused, the numbers cannot compare to abused women. It is disgusting for a professing Christian male to abuse his wife-or any woman-in any way. Physically, he may be able to do it because he is stronger, but 1 Peter 3:7 warns husbands to "live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." Any man who says he walks with Christ and beats his wife is simply a liar. Men, in general, are physically stronger than women, but that should never be used as a bullying tactic to intimidate, control, manipulate or hurt someone.
Some people have attempted to connect a wife's submission to her husband as the basis for continuing abuse. In Ephesians 5:21 a general principle is given: "Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." Christians should be submissive to one another. From that overall relational setting, verse 22 says wives should be "subject to their own husbands, as to the Lord." The principle of submission is specifically applied and addressed to wives, not husbands. Submission is a voluntary choice or act by the wife and cannot be made for her by her husband. Submission is something that cannot be coerced.
Wives are also called to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33), and husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Christ died for the Church! The command is for husbands to love their wives with a love that is willing to die for their wives. In John 15:13, Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." If a husband is committed to doing the greatest thing (that is, to die for his wife), he can certainly do lesser things, like listen to his wife, respect her, value her, provide for her and protect her. As James Montgomery Boice said, "No good woman will struggle hard against a man who is willing to die for her."
Any man who demands of his wife or tries to force her to submit to him has missed the point and is entering into the realm of abuse. Domestic abuse is a sin, and the church needs to work diligently to teach people the truth about caring for one another.
The second greatest commandment is "love your neighbor," and our mate is our number-one neighbor.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the editor of The Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.