Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Now that I Know More
about Violence Against Women

I have not blogged for some time. There are reasons for this. Perhaps I’ll share some of them in a future blog. Today, I thought I write a few words about the importance of last Sunday. What happened? Glad you asked! First, let us not forget that it was Sunday...the Lord's day! I hope you took the time to worship the King of Kings and to express your thankfulness for who He is and all He has done. My family just returned for a few days in Yosemite. Simply amazing. You can look at the Yosemite 2012 photo album on my Facebook page if you’d like to see more. God truly is my rock and salvation! It was a great place to be reminded of this truth.

The second thing that happened last Sunday was the United Nations designated November 25th as "International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women." I live in Southern California. A place not devoid of evil and atrocities, but I'd have to confess we are not stained in the same way by the tragedies we see our brothers and sisters suffering around the world. This is a humbling observation since we don't deserve to be born or live here.

The reality of our living situation and the comparison with suffering of others and specifically other women in the world, we can easily to be tempted to find a comfortable way to recognize the day, pray for those who have been abused, and perhaps even give something to make THEIR situation different. As a pastor what I have learned is that some of THEIR situations are not miles away in foreign lands but instead in our communities and churches and family clans.

· Did you know, every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten in our country?

· Did you know, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined?

· Did you know, nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship have been threatened by their boyfriends?

· Did you know,  1 in 4 women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime?

· Did you know domestic violence is a chronically under reported crime? Abused women don’t tell their local police nor do they often tell their church leadership.

I did not know until I read the reports. For a long time I too was blind to some of these realities. Until about three years ago my eyes were opened and my heart broken when a noticed the signs of friend being abused. I have often wondered if I handled that situation correctly. There was intervention, confrontation,  protection, and comfort offered. Was it enough? Did I do what I could? Did the church respond in a way that honored God and protected the innocent? I have done some reading lately and find myself challenged to recommit myself and ministry to the full implications of the Gospel message. Learning is a humbling path.

In the literature today, there are some harsh statements being made about men who hurt women. Don't get me wrong, a man who hits or abuses a woman in any way deserves harsh words. However, I am struck with the reality of the Gospel which clearly says Jesus died for the abused and also the abuser. I don't like that anymore than you do, but that doesn't mean it's not true. We can’t just tar and feather the abuser. Even though that might bring some temporary reprieve from the pain they have caused us or to someone we care for. The truth is the cross covers a multitude of sins. Abuse is one of them. If you have committed this sin, the King is ready to forgive you. Are you ready to repent? Are you ready to try and restore the relationships and trust you have destroyed? I hope so, but my experience tells me that most abusers continue the pattern. That’s why we have to do what we can to stop the pattern of pain.

My purpose in writing this blog is not to rail on men who do evil. None of us are perfect, but it's easy to rail on those who deserve to be run over. It's harder to wrestle with the implications of the cross, God’s grace, sin in our churches, and what we as leaders and followers of Christ should do about the sinful cycle of abuse.

I can remember two times over the years of ministry when men have come to me with their wives and tried to exploit the counseling privileges of a Pastor's office. What did they want me to do? They were clear. They wanted me to compel their wives to submit to their leadership. I didn't. I couldn't. They didn't understand male leadership as outlined in the Bible. They didn’t know what it meant to be a man in God’s church and servant-leader in their home. They were clueless on the reality that God’s design for a leader is characterized by tender strength, courageous protection, and self-giving devotion. Their demand for male authoritarianism was not any of these. Instead, these men had a rather pathetic distortion and self-fulfilling interpretation of Ephesians 5:23-24. What they wanted me and the church to do was buy into was their lie of what it meant to be head of their house and their self-benefiting propaganda of what it meant to be a man. I didn't meet their qualifications of a manly man. Since I didn’t agree with their perspective on what it meant to be a man and since I certainly was not going to boss their wives around, they left my office and the church. I don’t miss them much, but I am still trying to help those who were hurt by them.

Remembering that it is easy to criticize and difficult to transform, let’s ask ourselves: What does God say a man is to be? Men we are not called to demand from those around us. We are called serve those we love. Men we are not to be harsh with our wives (Col. 3:19). Men we are called to honor our wives as weaker vessels (1 Peter 3:7). The Bible says "honor her" not put her down or put her in her place and certainly “honoring her” never includes putting her against a wall! What most abusers don't realize is that the way they treat others is a reflection of the lack of love they have for themselves (Eph. 5:28-29). It is truly sad that most abusers feel bad about themselves and they abuse others in an effort to dull their own pain and increase their self-worth. I know I am over simplifying a bit, but remember this is a blog and not a research paper. A man who hurts others so they can feel better about themselves is sick. Their behavior is sinful and will never result in legitimate needs being truly fulfilled. All that will result is pain  for someone who made a choice to say “I do” but never chose to be abused.

Abuse of any kind is behavior that should never be tolerated among God's people. The Lord hates the person who commits violence against the innocent (Ps. 11:5). The church should never tolerate those who possess a sinful, aping perversion of the servant leader their Creator designed them to be. It should not matter who the person is or what their position is in the church. A woman's life and health should never be held ransom for the name or reputation of a man or a church.

God calls us as husbands to love our wives (Col. 3:19; Eph. 5:25, 33), to enjoy them (Eccl. 9:9), to strive to understand and honor them (1 Peter 3:7), to nourish and cherish them (Eph. 5:29), to provide for and praise them (1 Tim. 5:8; Prov. 31:28). I love how we have a core of men in our church focused on raising up the next generation of great husbands and dads. This honors God and stops the cycle of abuse. Did you know children who have witnessed domestic violence in the home are twice as likely to abuse their own wives? Even if you grew-up in a home were abuse was the norm, you must remember that Christ came to transform. Because your father abused your mother, this does not mean you will or have the right to abuse your wife. That’s simply a lie that men stained with sin at times perpetuate to avoid taking responsibility. It is not your parent’s fault if you are an abuser. It is yours. The road to healthy relationships starts by taking responsibility.

Now that I know more about violence against women, I will pastor differently. Railing against men who deserve it would be easier, but I am a realist. Abusers who don’t want to change won’t listen to me simply because of my position. They don’t listen to Jesus either and I am not the communicator He is. What I can do is work to shepherd those who will listen. So here is the difference I pledge to make. I hope you will listen and do what you can to make a difference too:

·         I will lead our church to never be accepting of any form of physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse. We will stand with women against predatory men in all areas of abandonment, divorce and neglect. Abuse, is sinful behavior, and should never be tolerated by God’s people.

·         I will make sure our church is a healthy place where people suffering from domestic violence will receive the appropriate care, confidentiality and counsel. The church must take a stand against the cruel and cowardly use of power and authority to harm another person emotionally, physically, and sexually.

·         I will make sure God’s expectations about healthy relationships are taught regularly (Prov. 12:18; Eph. 5:25-29; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Pet. 3:7; 5:3).

·         I will make sure my church confronts the abuser and supports and protects the abused. 

·         I will do my best to fulfill the implications of the Gospel and provide appropriate emotional and spiritual healing for the abuser and the abused. God extends healing to those who earnestly seek Him. This means extending love and support to those who don’t deserve it. Remember neither I nor you deserve God’s grace either.

·         I will maintain my confidence in God’s power to do miracles and restore healthy relationships fractured by abuse and neglect, but I realize that repentance, forgiveness, wholeness and reconciliation are a journey that must be walked with tenderness, truth, and wisdom.

·         I will encourage us to take fitting action when the abuser is unrepentant and/or unwilling to make significant steps towards change. As followers of Christ, once we know the truth of a situation, we must be willing to respond swiftly and firmly with discipline for the abuser and advocacy, support and protection for the abused.

·         I will keep my faith and believe that my God can heal the wounded and bring wholeness to even the most fractured of relationships.

We live in a broken world. One where those who are supposed to be the lead servants in the home are at times the ones who demand and use force on those God entrusted to them to love and care. Now that I know more about violence against women in our church and community, I can no longer pastor the same way.

To the abused, when I have not acted quickly enough, please forgive me. My ignorance is no excuse. I am a shepherd called to take care of God’s sheep and at times I have failed to do that well. To the abuser, when I have not been blunt enough or direct enough or forceful enough don’t mistake my actions as approval. Abuse is never acceptable. You should accept this. I will not stand by and let you continue the cycle of pain. I will do my best to make sure my church protects and serves those in need of help.

Now that I know more about violence in our community, I simply cannot pastor the same. At the very center of Jesus’ mission was to bring freedom to the captives, relief to the poor, and security to oppressed (Luke 4:17). Now that I know a more, I recommit myself to the power of the Gospel message to bring the Good News to those who need it and to show mercy to those who cry out for it.