I am forever amazed, which I feel is proof I am not completely jaded, that the church is relatively silent about abuse. Amazed because the stats are overwhelming. One in four women is in an abusive relationship (spousal or partner, this stat does not include child abuse). One in four. One-quarter. Twenty-five percent.
That means that one in four men is an abuser. One in four. One-quarter. Twenty-five percent.
That means that 50% of the congregation is abuser/abused.
Knowing what I know of conservative churches and the overarching message proclaimed in their preaching that divorce is a sin second only to homosexuality, I suggest that the percentage within the church is much higher.
So, why the silence? Why do we preach against every sin but the sin of abuse? If this affects at least 50% of the congregation, what is our problem?
In conservative congregations you are more likely to hear a sermon railing against homosexuality, something that affects less than 10% of the US population. In liberal congregations they preach against poverty, something that affects less than 20% of the US population.
Fifty percent. And that’s just male against female abuse. When you factor in female against male abuse (one in seven), the numbers are higher.
And, maybe, if we did factor in female against male abuse it would be preached against more often. Having grown up in what is now commonly known as the Patriarchy, I had no doubt when I read Internet Monk’s Why Doesn’t the Church Talk about Domestic Abuse? that the number one reason was:
It’s an issue where women and children are the victims of men’s sins (primarily), so it’s an uphill battle right there.
(As a quick aside, I don’t highly recommend the reading linked to at the beginning of the article because it doesn’t list religious/societal/family pressure as the #1 reason women don’t leave. And that is the #1 reason women don’t leave. From the victim’s end, it looks as if he is saying that it is for selfish reasons the woman doesn’t leave.)
Despite how liberal some churches have become, the majority of preachers are still men. That means they have a male world view, and, sadly, as kind and compassionate as they might be, it still skews how they see things, the level of importance they place on certain issues. And the issue of abuse is just really not even on their radar.
Which means it is up to congregants to speak up, to make their voices heard. There is some truth in the old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Of course, there is also a sad truth that most in the church prefer the phrase “sit down, you’re rocking the boat.”
Speaking out is not easy. And I think in a conservative church like the ones I grew up in, it is absolutely impossible. A person who becomes vocal on an issue like this runs the risk of being ostracized by friends, and, ultimately, asked to leave the church.
I can imagine the pain. I was once essentially asked to pull my boys from ballet and cut their hair or leave a church, because the church was certain that these two things would turn them gay. It hurt, and I wasn’t even that committed to the church as I had just started attending a few months prior.
The church often stands in the way of obedience with its little idolatries and personal biases. We grasp onto one point of view and hold on for dear life, as if our whole faith depends on this one thing being true, whether it’s the belief that all marital problems stem from a lack of submission on the part of the wife, or the belief that we oughtn’t speak out against sin for fear of offending someone.
We have to alter our world view if we are to speak out against this huge problem. And we can’t alter it if we refuse to even question it. That’s where it has to begin, with the question, and an examination of the possible answers.
The question in this case really is “Why doesn’t the church speak out against domestic abuse?” The answers are terrifying and more than a little likely to stretch your faith, but God is bigger than questions, He’s bigger than doubts, and He’s much, much bigger than fear. Questions don’t bother Him at all, questions only bother His enemy.