I like to blog about light and fluffy things. I tend to like to make people smile and laugh. But I take God and his Word seriously, even if I at times see humor there as well.
This is not a light and fluffy blog. This is a painful blog. It is painful on many levels. But this blog is needed from my perspective for three reasons. First, because God has made it burn in my heart. Second, because it is born out of my personal experience as a pastor. Third, because the church at large has dropped the ball on this.
I have been in pastoral ministry for 13 years and I have only encountered a couple people who have come to me and identified themself as a victim of domestic violence. I wish there was a level of truth to a naivety that would say, “Wow! That must mean that your ministry is full of healthy marriages!” I am not that naive. My heart grieves for anyone who has suffered in silence. Anywhere. But especially in my church. And I wonder if some have suffered merely because I have not presented myself or my church as a safe place to run to for shelter.
I know there is already a shame attached to abuse that makes it naturally go unreported, but I refuse to let myself off the hook that easily. I believe that the onus is on those who shepherd the flock to be known as those who care for the oppressed, the abused, the broken, and those suffering. In other words, a shepherd should be one the sheep know they can trust. No sheep should be fearful that the shepherd is actually a wolf. But unfortunately too many shepherds have developed an appetite for mutton.
My counsel to myself is as follows:
1. Love the sheep and feed them.
I want to be an under-shepherd of the Great Shepherd who carefully, honestly, lovingly, and truthfully leads. I want to lead with the love of the great shepherd who is also called a strong tower of refuge for His people! He is a shield about His people! And the sheep are first and foremost, HIS.
2. Offer shelter to any who are oppressed.
One article I read recently concerning domestic abuse, suggested that were we as pastors to go door to door among our people asking if there was violence in the home, we would likely produce no further insights. In other words, what is done in hiding behind closed doors, often remains hidden as a source of shame. But even in this blog, I am declaring an offer of shelter to any and all victims of domestic abuse. If you are reading this please do not suffer any longer in silence and fear.
3. Pray specifically for those who are silent victims.
I clearly cannot force anyone in a situation of abuse to flee their abuser. But I can pray for them to have the strength to love God, love themselves, and even for the sake of their abuser to come out to safety. I believe that prayer has the power to change things in the hearts of real people. And I am going to be more intentional in my prayers for those who are hurting in silence.
There is so much more that I could say about this blindspot in the church but I don’t believe that I need to write any more to convince anyone of this issue. Instead I will conclude with a plea to any who are suffering in a situation of domestic violence, to seek their voice and seek a safe place. When it comes to domestic abuse, speaking it to another is the most challenging hurdle to overcome. But this is a necessary step in the process of getting the help that is needed. Our God is a God that encourages the exposing of the darkness of falsehood and evil to the light of Truth and healing, and the second step is to seek a safe place of shelter. And when it comes to physical violence, there is no figurative safe place. A displacement and physical separation is a necessary step.
I do not believe that I have actively demonstrated myself as an unsafe place to go for those who are victims of spousal abuse. My guilt lies in not actively seeking to be a safe place. I do not want to lead a church that is blind to the plight of the suffering and abused. I want to provide a shelter to the hurting and broken.
I am thankful to be led by the Great Shepherd who deeply cares about the wounded, lost, broken and mistreated. He also offers hope and love that surpasses all understanding. I am also very grateful to have the under-shepherd of my church (my pastor) want to lead well in this area. Your intentionality and tenderness towards the oppressed does not go unnoticed. Thank you for stepping up and out in this way.
Don’t overlook how deeply emotional abuse can wound and harm. It is harder to admit to anyone that emotional abuse is happening because there is no clear evidence. For myself, it has take 4 years to realize what is happening in my home, and I still hesitate to mention it to anyone because I worry they won’t believe me or that I sound whiny and over- reactive. This experience has also made me view divorce differently now, becuase it isn’t always both people’s fault. Sometimes divorce is the only safe option.
No attempts to minimize the deep hurt and damage done by abuse. I agree that a covenant is already broken when systemic abuse is present. Fleeing to safety and seeking a long term place of peace and wholeness is essential. I am deeply sorry for any abuse you may have experienced and further sorry for any further shame and pain induced by the Church.
Don, this is a great blog! The problem with domestic violence within the church has been a secret struggle for years. It is painful that victims of abuse would not see the church as a sanctuary. Whether the abuse is physical, sexual, verbal, or spiritual…the church should be a safe place. Such abuse strips people of the dignity of their true identity in Christ. Thank you for shining a light on this topic and offering practical solutions for church leaders. My hope is this invites victims and perpetrators to come forward in their respective churches.