Boz Tchividjian, a former prosecutor specializing in child and sexual abuse cases, recently wrote a piece titled #WhyIStayed: How some churches support spousal abuse. In the piece, Tchividjian, who is now the founder and head of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), wrote that he has often heard abuse survivors say that they stayed in abusive relationship because the church told them to. He then writes about three attitudes that many churches have that result in women feeling they must or should stay in abusive relationships.
First, many churches believe abuse is a "relationship matter" that should be handled in the "church family". Tchividjian writes that many in churches would rather push victimized women back into their abuser's arms and then congratulate themselves on a successful "reconcilliation", wrongly convincing survivors that God wants them to stay with their abusers.
Second, male-led churches, in many cases, don't seem to consider women that important. Instead of taking domestic violence seriously, they are instead dismissive of women who report being abused by their spouses. Tchividjian writes about a case in which a woman was abused by her husband, who then blamed it on a sleep disorder. The woman told a friend, who brought the matter to church leaders. The husband, a friend of many of the leaders, sat in a meeting with them, "repented", and then went home. Instead of being encouraged to find a safe place to stay or even contact the police, the woman was told to stay in the home with her abuser. Others convinced her to leave the unsafe environment, at which point, the church threatened to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the woman for ignoring the "Godly" directive to stay.
The third and final attitude that he's found in many churches is that abuse just shouldn't be talked about. In her Book "The Little Light", Christina Brown writes about how, after her father violently attacked her, her pastor was called to her home. Instead of addressing the fact that her father had violently abused her, the pastor instructed the family not to talk about it, saying, "Think about others…think how they will feel if they learn that the police were called a family like yours."
Commenters on the article and a related Facebook post by Rachel Held Evans wrote about their experiences as well. One woman wrote about how a well-known Bible study teacher, in response to a question during a Q&A on domestic violence, said that a woman should stay in the home and pray for the husband to have his heart turned by the woman's submissive and Godly response. Another wrote about how, when she was being abused and wanted to leave, the pastor told her that if she left, God would have no purpose for her life. Yet another wrote about how the pastor's wife said during a sermon that if God wanted a woman to be able to get out of an abusive marriage, the husband would die; otherwise, the man is the head of the household as appointed by God and can never be wrong.
Sadly, I've seen these appalling attitudes at churches I've been to. I've been to one that, when talking about divorce, said that abuse wasn't okay, but one shouldn't divorce or leave the home because of it. Instead of leaving, they suggested that a woman should work on being subservient and Godly and forgive her spouse and reconcile.
To say I'm upset doesn't even begin to cover it. As a human being, I'm beyond horrified that women are being told that they must stay in abusive relationships and submit to their husbands because their husbands are in charge and never wrong. As a friend of domestic violence survivors, I'm disgusted that the church would re-victimize survivors in the interest of avoiding a scandal. As a Christian, I'm just plain furious at how Jesus' command to help our sisters and brothers is being ignored so that a church can chalk up a "win" by saying the "saved" another marriage by forcing a survivor to stay with someone who abused her.
Tchividjian sums my feelings best:
This is an abomination to the very Gospel proclaimed by so many of these churches. Don't they understand that Jesus gave his very life for the vulnerable and the abused? A church that silences abuse hasn't encountered Jesus.
Any church that redefines abuse instead of stopping it, is not a safe place. Any church that devalues women instead of respecting them as equals to men, is not a safe place. Any church that silences the oppressed instead of protecting them, is not a safe place.
A safe church does not tolerate the abuse of women or anyone else for that matter. A safe church empowers and equips all victims to walk away from those who hurt them. A safe church is where the abused can leave the abuser being assured that is what God wants them to do.
It is time for those of us in the Church to turn our attention away from watching the Ray Rice video and to start focusing on how we may be contributing to #WhyIStayed?
We have much to confess and much to change.