An Open Letter to Heath Lambert and Leadership of ACBC

victimsToday Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director of ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors – formerly “NANC”, National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) sent out a Statement regarding their upcoming annual conference, which purports to support and minister to abuse victims. He seemed especially concerned about how their counsel will come across, in the wake of disgraced pastor Paige Patterson’s recent remarks regarding abused wives and the subsequent scandal (one of many involving the evangelical/Reformed Church and their cover-ups on abuse).

Having been both on the inside as a nouthetic counselor and subsequently re-victimized by an ACBC-affiliated group (one of whom graduated from the same seminary as Lambert), I wrote the following open letter to share some of my years of experience in counseling and talking to survivors of spiritual abuse:

“Dear Dr. Lambert, and Board of ACBC,

It is with great sadness and concern that I respond to your Statement emailed to me on 5/23/18 regarding your upcoming Annual Conference “Light in the Darkness: Biblical Counseling and Abuse”.

As I’m sure you are aware, the very organization of which you serve as executive director, and proponents of the nouthetic counseling model at large, have been notoriously inept at providing the care, counsel and protection that women in abusive relationships and particularly marriages have most needed. The recent scandal over SBC leader Paige Patterson’s comments dismissing the severity of abuse Christian women often endure in their marriages was hardly uncommon or an anomaly; rather, it was simply the public nature of his insensitive (and unbiblical) comments that created the controversy.

Unfortunately, his opinion that Christian women in abusive marriages should simply “stay and submit” (I am paraphrasing for the sake of brevity) appears to be, by and large, the opinion adhered to by many, if not most, Reformed conservative churches in the United States and the counselors certified by your organization in particular. It grieves and concerns myself, as well as many others in Christian abuse-survivor advocacy ministries, that ACBC is holding a conference on counseling abuse cases when we know of so many hundreds of women who have been grievously harmed by the “counsel” some ACBC advocates and practitioners promote.

Specifically, from the many testimonies I and many other counselors and writers have received, both male and female, it is modus operandi in churches adhering to the nouthetic counseling model to counsel, then pressure, and finally try and coerce female victims of marital abuse (whether physical, emotional, or both) to “reconcile” with their abusers at all cost. Lip-service is paid to the need for the abusers’ repentance; but when it is not forthcoming (more specifically, the right words are said within the counseling room, absent any real admission of guilt or changed heart) the woman is unilaterally “pursued in love” – in an Orwellian phrase literally meaning stalked, harassed, and even blackmailed with threats of excommunication – into “reconciling” with the man who has adeptly learned to play the game in front of spiritual authorities. Nothing has changed; he has thus become more empowered by his spiritual leaders; and the woman is more smashed down than ever – being admonished that this is “God’s will” for her life. The marriage must be preserved at all costs; even at great cost to her emotions, sanity, even life. By submitting to this unbiblical pattern of the marriage covenant, she thus demonstrates willingness to accept (and even enable) a sinful representation of the one-flesh relationship of what marriage is supposed to be in front of her children. Unsurprisingly, the cycle thus repeats itself in subsequent generations.

I would highly recommend to you the 21 sermons preached on the evil of marital abuse by respected pastor Jeff Crippen (Unholy Charade; A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church) as well as my own book, Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church. I would also like to refer you to the works of Lundy Bancroft (particularly his Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men). While not a Christian, Bancroft is widely considered the foremost expert in the field of domestic abuse and unpacking the heart-motivations and psychology of psychologically abusive men. At least one pastor, one of the few who has had the courage to speak out about the evil of domestic abuse (and how it is broadly swept under the rug) has stated publically that Bancroft has done more to help women in abusive marriages than anyone in the Church has. This should not be so. As Rachel Denhollander recently stated,

“The Church is the least safe place for victims of abuse.”

This is a painfully true and tragically sad statement. While it may be coated in the most spiritual-sounding language possible, the reality is that abuse, whatever its form, is by and large minimized by proponents of nouthetic counseling and victims are urged to “forgive and forget” absent any real repentance on the part of their abusers. This does not promote healing; nor does it reflect the heart of Christ, Who is a Protector and Defender of the Innocent (Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 17:15) and will not even hear the prayer of a man who sins against his wife (1 Peter 3:7). Both the Mosaic Covenant and the New Testament Epistles make clear provision for wives who are mistreated by their husbands (see Pastor Herb Vander Lugt’s God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce or chapter 3 of my Fractured Covenants for a thorough exegetical treatment of the subject). Conversely, what is largely taught in churches that subscribe to nouthetic counseling is that no abuse, including physical beatings and even including adultery, is ever grounds for divorce. The Permanence Doctrine? Since when are Calvinistic doctrines more important than people’s lives?

Neither John Calvin himself nor the Early Church Fathers took such dogmatic a view. Part of the problem, which I believe your conference should address in October, is faulty training at the nouthetic counseling course level. When I became certified as a nouthetic counselor in 2011 (through the Institute for Nouthetic Studies – INS), I completed 185 lecture hours (mostly delivered by the respectable bastions of nouthetic counseling Jay Adams and Donn Arms), as well as having read many thousands of pages of required books. The problem of marital abuse merited less than 10 minutes in one lecture, and was largely brushed aside as something a woman should talk to her pastor about, and if it persisted, he should send “two of his biggest deacons” over to the house to set things right. Emotional abuse of all types was dismissed: “Emotional abuse does not exist, because emotions cannot be abused.” Please let me assure you that emotional abuse does very much exist; is incredibly damaging; and is patently unbiblical. Please see my articles “Carrying the Wounds of Emotional Abuse”, which was originally published by Biblical Counseling for Women but deleted after I committed the unpardonable sin of fleeing an abuser and exposing him publically, and “The Culture of Abuse in Christian Slavic Marriages”, published by the Biblical Counseling Coalition (I was a part of this sub-culture for over 20 years). Interestingly, it was for the latter – in which I spoke about Lyubka Savenok, the young Russian woman murdered by her husband after being counseled by her pastors to “reconcile” with him, that I was censured by the elders of my then-church and essentially blacklisted by many in the nouthetic counseling movement.

Will your conference directly and honestly address glaring questions (When does an abused woman have biblical grounds for divorce? What is repentance? How do we gauge it? What recourse does an abused woman have?) or will you side-step them, as I have so often observed your leaders do?  Using spiritual-language and cherry-picking verses absent of hermeneutical context can so easily be done to not only control the narrative, but manipulate how one’s followers think – and counsel others. We know this from the famous writings of George Orwell, and history itself.  Please, I beg of you, do not send your followers back into the pews of their churches with a  handful of verses, only to exhort desperate women to “reconcile” with their (usually unrepentant) abusers, in order to “glorify God”. I have seen this over and over, and it not only presents a grossly distorted view of the marriage covenant, but it destroys lives and misrepresents the Christ Who meets us in our pain. Inadvertently, ACBC often grooms  hundreds of unqualified “counselors” back to their churches to inflict secondary pain and guilt on abused women. Never have I seen victim-shaming to the extent I have seen it coming out of the nouthetic counseling movement, and I say that both as a former insider and as a formerly victimized wife.

Please do not read this as an indictment of the nouthetic counseling movement as a whole – as a church elder I know once said, “Things are rarely completely black and white; good or bad.” The older and wiser I get, the more I realize this to be true. Nouthetic counseling and experienced individuals from within the movement have indeed helped a great many people, and for that I am grateful. Countless marriages have been saved by godly men and women, on equal footing, going to a wise counselor to help them get their relationship on track. In the area of substance abuse, in which I specialize (my first book, Redeemed from the Pit, is considered a valuable resource among nouthetic counselors), the biblical principle of “putting off” destructive and sinful behavior and “putting on” healthy and God-honoring behavior in its place is well-applied with those struggling with life-dominating addictions. Many have testified to the help that God has graciously provided, through the Scriptures. But many have also testified to the immense hurt done to them by nouthetic counselors, especially inexperienced ones.

Unfortunately, many nouthetic counselors have proven themselves woefully inept at providing any kind of helpful, godly, or compassionate care when it comes to areas such as depression, or spousal abuse (which is a completely separate issue from marital counseling, make no mistake). Even the beloved pastor of many Reformed Christians and nouthetic counselors alike, John Piper, laughingly stated in a “Desiring God” interview that a wife who is physically abused by her husband should “endure being smacked around for a season”, and then perhaps go to her church leaders for help. (He has since partially retracted that statement, begrudgingly allowing that she may have justification at points to go to the local authorities, i.e. the police.) This is a frightening, almost sickening minimization of domestic abuse, which is all too common in Reformed churches.

Please understand, Dr. Lambert, that the scars of emotional/verbal/psychological abuse take far longer to heal. Humiliation (especially in front of the children); false accusations; screaming fits; degradation over everything from failure to parallel park to undercooking the potatoes; constant criticism; dealing with a man with narcissistic personality disorder and anger issues so deep he refuses to see himself as the problem; a one-verse-fits-all-‘well-you’re-the-spiritual-leader-of-your household’ response from church leadership coupled with “God hates divorce” (failing to exegete the rest of that verse, which discusses treacherous treatment of one’s wife) – this is the reality so many of us Christian women currently deal with, or have in the past. It is a hell I would not wish on my worst enemy, only compounded by the local church’s re-victimization of the woman and failure to confront the abuser and put him out of the Church, as Scripture commands (Psalm 74:10; Luke 6:22; 1 Cor. 5:11). And yet, when we women who have for so long been on the receiving end of this treatment speak out and expose the sin, as Scripture commands us to do (Ephesians 5:11), we are called “bitter” and accused of “sin” and “slander” (which, by definition, must be false. It is statistically very unusual for a woman to make up an abuse allegation – the truth is frightening enough).

The charge of “bitterness” when we finally find the strength to stand up for ourselves, speak out, and, absent repentance (which is extremely rare in the cases of pathologically abusive men) seems to be a trump card pulled out as a conversation-stopper when an inconvenient truth (especially one belying a pattern in the Church) is brought to light. While I received much support from within the Christian community during the ordeal of leaving my unrepentant abuser (and subsequently being harassed and blackmailed by my former religious community), and also notably by several male, high-ranking members of the nouthetic counseling sphere who were extremely sympathetic, by far the most hateful and vitriolic message I received was from one of your own – a female ACBC conference headliner, ironically enough, divorced from an abuser (and re-married) years before. Christian charity restrains me from revealing her name. The hypocrisy at times is astounding, and because abused Christian women with a voice are increasingly willing to search the Scriptures for themselves, we are often seen as a threat to your agenda.

Which, it is increasingly clear, is itself unclear.

In your Statement, you wrote:

“This entire situation should remind all Christians of the urgency required in protecting the victims of abuse.”

I quite agree, Dr. Lambert. So why is there no real action, or meaningful “confrontation” going on? In Massachusetts, where I live, pastors (like teachers) are mandated reporters. When I reported sufficient, but not exhaustive details of the abuse; when my adult daughter cried out (twice) to our former (ACBC-affiliated) pastors for help; when my 18-year-old son documented with them details of both the physical and emotional abuse inflicted against him, why was the abuser protected and enabled? Why was I cast in the light as the villain, for speaking out? Do the confines of patriarchal authoritarian teaching so silence the (female) victim, that no behavior, regardless of how ungodly, will be seen as the “deeds of darkness” for which it is? What are they teaching in seminaries these days? How is ACBC really equipping its followers?

I thank God that my current pastor and the many Christian counselors and friends God has brought into my path see abuse for the destructive evil it really is. While I qualitatively respect the nouthetic counseling field for the good it has done, I prayerfully hope that you will reconsider your doctrinal approach to confronting and rectifying the epidemic problem of marital abuse (in its various forms) that exists within the shadows of evangelical Christianity.

Your sister in Christ,

Marie O’Toole (formerly Marie Notcheva)

 

 

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Bikram Yoga – not for Pansies

by Marie O’Toole

pansyAbout seven months ago, I started exercising again after a 22-year hiatus (I was a college gymnast) and a nearly-unused Planet Fitness membership. The form of intense exercise I chose (or rather, was introduced to by my boyfriend, the famous Amos Parker), is known as Hot Bikram Yoga. We go to Bikram Yoga Durham, in Durham New Hampshire, which also offers Inferno Hot Pilates and Hot Vinyasa Flow. (There are many types of yoga, and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means.) Bikram was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who synthesized various aspects of hatha yoga into an intense whole-body workout. (There is no chanting or spiritual aspect, but you are encouraged to “set your intention” for class and focus on breathing in life, positivity and affirmation, while exhaling negativity.)

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The designer “modeling” one of his creations

Usually as a beginner you are so focused on not having a heart attack and keeping the sweat out of your eyes that “meditation” during class would be elusive anyway, but it does rejuvenate you mentally and physically to the extent that stress is relieved and the exercise helps combat anxiety. As one instructor in Durham often says, “If you can do Hot Bikram, you can do anything. The little stresses in life will not bother you so much.”

True to its name, this form of yoga is performed in a 104° studio for 90 minutes. This from a girl who doesn’t like to sweat. (Seriously…perspiration has always grossed me out.) Yoga is never an activity I thought I would engage in, since I associate it with hippies, New-Agey types, and people who eat tofu and wheatgrass. Nor do I have either the time or attention span for mediation. Yeah, not for me.

Crunchy Therapy?

SwansonThe funny thing is, (there are probably several funny things about me doing yoga, and you really have to look for the humor when describing an activity so intense that you lose 4-5 lbs. of sweat in an hour and a half); but not long after my divorce ordeal an old school friend (who had similarly been through a traumatic divorce) specifically recommended yoga to me – along with good nutrition and avoiding sugar – as an excellent way of beating depression and keeping a clear mind and healthy body.

I remember thinking, “Sounds cool, Tony. Yeah. Yoga….I’ll add that to my list of things to do. Along with joining a commune and eating kale chips.” (I actually did try kale chips once…they are over-priced and over-rated. And one cult experience in my life is more than enough, thanks.) But I digress. Back to Bikram Yoga.

My first voyage into the studio was tagging along with Amos, who didn’t promise it would be “fun”, but hey – it was something healthy to do together, and I’ll try anything once. I quickly learned why students cover their yoga mtee2ats (which Amos loaned me) with a beach towel – the sweat is pouring off of you within 5 minutes. For the second class, I ditched the T-shirt and sweatpants for a proper yoga costume – spandex that covers just a bit more than a 2-piece bathing suit.

*Disclaimer: There will be no sweaty yoga pictures of me in the making of this post.

The Practice and Benefits

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The class starts with a series of deep breathing exercises, then moves into a series of 26 poses (“asanas”) focusing on flexibility and endurance. There are moments at which you think you are going to die, but Bikram is not a competitive sport and the instructors are very affirming of each person’s ability and effort – encouraging students to “take a knee” when necessary. It is extremely important to be well-hydrated prior to and following class, as water takes 45 minutes to enter the system and what you drink during class cannot compensate for the fluid and electrolytes you excrete during those 90 minutes.

The floor series takes the heart rate down, stretching takes you to the max, and the class concludes with another breathing exercise and a few minutes on the floor in bump5.pngrelaxation and meditation (“savasna”). Besides improving flexibility, endurance, and improving circulation, some of the physical benefits of Bikram yoga reportedly include alleviation of arthritis, better thyroid function, and increased bone density (much like any weight-bearing exercise). It is also extremely helpful for folks who are trying to cut down or quit unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking alcohol.

The primary physical benefit for me in the months since starting Bikram has been dramatically decreased pain from a soft-tissue injury that acts up when I am driving (I have a 2-hour commute, each way, every day, to work and back….and Amos and I live 108 miles apart. I do A LOT of driving.) Two years ago, I foolishly kicked up into a handstand in my living room – sans stretching or warmup – just to see if I still “had it”. Apparently I don’t. I felt something rip, and spent the next several days limping in excruciating pain, cursing the fact that I am no longer 17. Initially I thought I had pulled a hamstring, which was a frequent occurrence in my gymnastics days, but this refused to heal or allow me to stretch. I had torn a tendon, which do not completely heal on their own.

While I mourned the fact that I would never again do the splits on that side, the more annoying aspect began about a year after the injury: about an hour into driving, I would notice the tendon started to hurt. It became neuropathy, shooting pain all the way down into my right toes. The pain was especially bad whenever I would wear shoes with even a slight heel on them. Coincidentally, it was right about the time the referred pain started that Amos started bringing me to yoga – which involves a lot of straight-leg stretching. While I cannot even come close to putting my forehead on my knee without bending it, the continual stretching made the chronic-achiness-pain-while driving disappear by about 90% after the second or third class I attended.

 

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I can’t quite lock my knees. Well, not when my face is on them anyway.

Additionally, the post-exercise rejuvenation has a calming effect. Hot Bikram helps keep the mind clear and anxiety at bay – not a “magic bullet”, by any means; but a healthy option for stress-fighting and a good option for pursuing total wellness. Like many, I have found yoga beneficial both for physical and mental health. Since Hot Bikram burns approximately 400-450 calories per 90-minute class (for women – probably more for men), it is an excellent choice for anyone on a weight-loss regime.bump9 (I won’t be joining you in that – with my blast-furnace metabolism, calories are my little friends and I replenish them after class with a pure cocoa-and-protein-powder smoothie, courtesy of Amos).

Artwork for Merchandise

One creative endeavor Amos has recently started has been to design various T-shirts, bumper stickers, and similar products to extol the virtues of Hot Bikram in a humorous way. (See designs scattered around this post, none of which are “official” BYD merchandise; but rather thought up just for fun and potentially for individual order.)

I particularly like the tote bag, which should be lined with plastic in order to cart your mat, water bottle, and saturated-with-sweat yoga costume and beach towel home:

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Some cool water bottle designs too:

Additional T-shirt designs:

Hot Bikrim is a great way to blow off steam (literally and figuratively) while getting in shape and making new friends. Yoga really is for everyone – regardless of age or ability, there are tremendous health benefits to taking a class before or after the busy-ness of the work day. A demanding-yet-rewarding discipline, fatigue, pulled muscles and lethargy with certainly be banished after your first few classes.

Namaste!

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Grace, Gratitude, and Paying it Forward (Rather than “Paying it Back”)

receivingloveby Marie O’Toole

A clichéd saying goes, “It costs nothing to be kind”. This is very often true in a tangible sense; often the most meaningful expressions of kindness cost nothing to give in a material sense. Especially in our day and age of mass media and instant communication, with more people paradoxically feeling lonely and isolated than ever, a smile; a kind word; a conversation over coffee may be the most-appreciated gesture of generosity and individual could receive. In our busy-ness, giving of our time and limited attention seems to be a bigger sacrifice than opening our checkbooks, and it’s easy to under-estimate the effect of a simple gesture of attention and encouragement.

kindnessThis is especially true of friends (or even strangers) who may be struggling emotionally. As a social media meme goes, “Everyone is fighting some sort of battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”

But what about tangible help, gifts, “surprises-just-because”?  Sometimes accepting the generosity of others – even (or especially) of those closest to us, can feel awkward. Difficult to receive, for reasons stemming from our own wounds, insecurity, or pride. Humiliating, even, rather than humbling. I have been considering a few reasons this might be, and the faulty thinking/conditioning that might lie behind this very-human tendency to recoil from another’s generosity.

  • The “I don’t deserve it” mentality. Few people would actively say that they carry low self-esteem, or think of themselves as worms, but deep down many of us carry an inherent sense of unworthiness. We have been taught (rightfully) to put others first, and not to be selfish. Therefore, the subconscious reasoning goes, “I do not deserve this gift. I am completely unworthy; he must not give it to me!”

The flaw in this thinking, of course, is that the giver wants to be generous – to “grace” the receiver with something that would bless him or her. In the giver’s eyes, the person is special enough to warrant his or her generosity, and has even taken the extra step of considering what the receiver could use or enjoy. This thoughtfulness on the giver’s part alone should fill the recipient with joy – not embarrassment.

unworthyHave you ever noticed that children do not feel unworthy or awkward when receiving gifts? Of course, we teach them to say “thank you” and to feel genuine appreciation, but a feeling of unworthiness of others’ goodwill is not on their radar. Accepting a gift graciously is a child-like attitude that ironically comes with maturity.

  • The “I must earn it” mentality. Inherent in human nature is the instinct to earn our keep. In daily life, this is a good attitude – it demonstrates a healthy work ethic, and integrity. Few of us would consider cheating on our income taxes, or misrepresenting our income in order to milk the state for welfare or social benefits to which we are not entitled.

A “gift”, by definition, does not represent anything we have earned on our own – if it did, it would be called “wages”. It is a no-strings-attached tangible expression of generosity. Even legal documents use the term gift to differentiate sums of money given from loans, which need to be paid back. Because we are proud by nature of being self-reliant, self-sufficient, and having “pulled our own weight”, it strikes at our pride to have unearned and unexpected kindness lavished on us.

(The extreme importance placed on self-reliance is a recent and Western value, by the way. In tribal and “primitive” societies, selflessness and communal service was assumed, necessary to survival, and the thought of “thanking” someone for assistance or a gift was actually considered rude. Read this excellent article by Christian Medium blogger Mallory Smyth, “Why Americans Have a Hard Time Receiving Love”.)

gift.jpgWhile appreciation should always be genuine, and expressed, it makes one wonder if our quest never to take anything from anyone in the name of autonomy has actually served to make us more prideful and isolated than God ever intended. Seeing the beauty of a gift through the eyes of the giver and receiving it in the same spirit should be humbling; not humiliating. Gratitude is appropriate – not self-recrimination. This is upside-down to our way of thinking, but it is part of the unique human ability to love (to seek the good of another, without reserve). Reminiscent of the Christian doctrine of grace, which is defined as “unmerited favor or undeserved gift”, something bestowed freely on us without thought of reciprocation belies the beautiful and caring nature of the giver – not how “deserving” the receiver is.

  • The “insecurity” mentality. In almost any human relationship except that of parent-child, there exists at least the possibility of fear or distrust. Sometimes, people who find themselves on the receiving end of generosity are so unaccustomed to kindness that it actually confuses them. Some might question the giver’s motives; some might fear that the relationship will end – and then feel morally responsible to compensate the giver for everything.

The knawing question of “where do I stand with ___? How can I accept this?” belies a certain amount of distrust. If one is secure in his or her identity, the fear of losing someone (or “falling from grace”) should not be on the radar, but unfortunately we often react out of our past wounds, worst fears confirmed, or feelings of worthlessness – often instilled in earlier relationships. The gentlest soul in the world may find his or her generosity rebuffed if the recipient is unaccustomed to kindness being shown to her, material or otherwise.

A gracious giver gives because he or she wants to, and cares for the recipient first and foremost as an individual. Generosity without thought of being re-paid is a Christ-like quality.

Paying it Forward

So many people who struggle to accept gifts or assistance from other people are, themselves, very generous and often go out of their way to help others. Done out of the goodness of their hearts and will a genuine desire to serve others, those who feel awkward about being on the receiving end would be horrified if those to whom they give were to react in the same way. “Someone else is deserving….it gives me pleasure to give….but I am not; and I am ashamed to receive”. Self-abasement, however, is not humility – it is actually a form of pride.

gratitudeWhat, then, is an appropriate and healthy way to receive another’s generosity? Graciously. A realization that the giver has done something purely out of the goodness of his or her heart lightens the spirit; brings a smile of delight; and makes the receiver want to show the same grace simply because being others-focused brings joy. Rather than trying to “pay back” the giver, a healthier response is to “pay it forward”. Or, as Jesus succinctly put it, “….Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:8). There are infinite ways of paying it forward – sponsoring a child in a Third World country; calling a friend from whom one has been estranged; cooking a nice dinner for your parents with a beautiful cookware gift set. Even something as simple as a smile, a kind word or compliment to a stranger in the workplace can be meaningful…..many people are hungering for even a small touch of compassion.

While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, (Acts 20:35) receiving gifts and acts of grace from one another is an opportunity to grow in humility, appreciation, gratitude and joy – which benefits not only ourselves, but those closest to us.

The Evangelical Wife by Susanna Krizo – (Review)

wife_imageSeveral weeks ago, while turning my time sheet in at the Interpreters Services office at work, I met a newly-hired Arabic interpreter from Saudi Arabia. My boss introduced me to her while she was in a friendly discussion with the Farsi interpreter, a woman originally from Iran who I know well. The Saudi woman, an artist, was describing her life as a feminist in the Kingdom. “I was forced into an arranged marriage at 20….it destroyed me inside, and my art suffered. I couldn’t create,” she said. From outward appearances – her close-cropped hair and professional pantsuit – I never would have guessed this woman had grown up under a repressive patriarchal regime where she was allowed no voice; no vision; no freedom to dream. We spoke for a few minutes about courageous young women to come out of the Islamic world such as Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who spoke out for girls’ rights to education, and I expressed sympathy that my colleague had been deprived of basic freedoms (such as being able to drive or dress as she wished) in Saudi Arabia. “Well, you experienced half that – it’s not so different,” my boss interjected ironically. I quickly demurred, saying “You can’t really compare American patriarchal oppression of women to Islamic…..and I didn’t really have it so bad compared to some women.”

A week later, Author Susanna Krizo sent me her novel, “The Evangelical Wife”. I had to retract part of that last statement – there is much basis for comparison between the two worldviews, as well as contrast. While we women in America may drive, eschew burqas and have no fear of flogging or stoning, the silencing, relegation to second-class status (on par with children) and denial of equality women in the conservative evangelical world Krizo depicts is the exact same spiritualized misogyny inherent in Sharia law. While more subtle and supported by unwritten rules (as well as application of Scripture from the Pre-Mosaic patriarchal period of the Old Testament to 21st century America), the lives of quiet desperation imposed on many evangelical/fundamentalist women in the United States is not a theme often addressed in either Christian fiction or non-fiction.

A Thoughtful and Sensitive Treatment

While I don’t usually read or review fiction, Krizo’s novel was worthy enough to warrant a thorough analysis. An excellent writer, Krizo brings the reader into the inner world of the fundamentalist American sub-culture by use of descriptive details and thought-provoking soul-searching in the main character’s daily life. What makes this novel so compelling is her insightful portrayal of the unfullfillment, despondency, and ultimately settled resignation that many women in patriarchal authoritarian churches experience (through the eyes of the main character, Hannah) without lapsing into clichés or stereotypes. Krizo effectively brings us into the world of a stay-at-home wife and mother, who is offered no other life choice, through the use of details and unanswered questions – without vilifying anyone. Far from an indictment of evangelicalism, the characters in this novel are sympathetic and likeable – cogs in a system that has reared them to think in absolutes. Krizo neither attacks the Christian faith nor demonizes those in power (read: the men), but as the days wear on and more is justified in the name of “authority”, we see the maxim “absolute power corrupts absolutely” very much at work in the church which dictates every detail of domestic life.

And domestic life can be difficult with multiple children; no reprieve from the demands of child-rearing and cultivating an image of familial perfection; enduring the ever-escalating demands of husbads who demand absolute obedience; and an ecclesiastically enforced single income:

“He worked so very hard to transform her into a godly woman. Too hard, in Hannah’s opinion, especially since he didn’t take care to do the same to himself. It was as if Jesus had thought about evangelical husbands when he talked about the speck and the plank. Sometimes they could be so blind.

No one at church talked about how they were supposed to make it on one income. It all sounded so great when the pastor talked about the life God wanted them to have. They all nodded in unison and smiled. They knew how to please God and it made them special. It was too bad that the power company didn’t think they were special too….. Perhaps if she prayed more their finances would improve. But why was she thinking about any of it? It was Michael’s job to worry about the finances, it was her job to cook and clean. She shouldn’t attempt to meddle in things that were none of her concern.”

Loving, Christian, but Inherently Unbalanced

Refreshingly, “The Evangelical Wife” is not a story of abuse. It is far more nuanced than that, delving into the gray areas between unmet dreams; guilt over having expectations; growing dictatorship at home (which, axiomatically, breaks down marital intimacy); and finally, Hannah’s husband’s increasing defense and justification of men in the congregation who truly are abusing their wives in plain sight. Her own experience is more dichotomous. Michael is a well-intentioned man who loves Hannah and their two sons, four and two, and is thrilled to learn a third is on the way. We see him spontaneously express affection to Hannah and bring their sons to the park – even offering to take them out to play so Hannah can get some rest – but only when the mood strikes. A hard-working provider, Michael is also prone to mood swings that cause him to rage at Hannah for an unwashed coffee cup (which he had left in the garage) after she has spent a day washing, ironing, cooking, and running after two toddlers. Hannah has long since learned not to defend herself when he demands, “What do you do all day?” or is accused of being “selfish”, as it will incite an angry lecture about “wives being submissive to your husbands”. She is usually to exhausted, physically and mentally, to endure his criticism.

The Search for Meaning

We first meet Hannah during a rainy day like any other, staring out the window at the gray drizzle as endless as the mountains of laundry produced by Michael, and her two little boys. Pregnant with her third child, Hannah remembers her childhood dreams of having a career and seeing the world, quashed by her strong Christian parents in the name of “godliness”. She, like many women in her position, years for something more outside the confines of the life dictated to her, but doesn’t know exactly what “something more” is.

“Accordingly, all women were expected to become homemakers as it was considered the godly choice, the only choice. Growing up, little boys were encouraged to play with swords, get dirty and be loud, while little girls were taught to dress their dolls, have tea time with their friends and dream of the day when they themselves would become homemakers. It was a beautiful dream filled with God’s light and pink glitter, but it was a dream that never crossed the border of childhood into adulthood. In the real world all the days began to look the same, the glitter ended up in all the wrong places, and the kitchen that had once appeared so bright and sunny began to feel more like a dungeon where the once hopeful young women tried to create something edible out of the few things they knew how to cook. Despite all of it most women accepted their role without much thought, having listened to stirring sermons on godly womanhood that dazzled them with the promise of romance and happiness. Becoming a wife and mother was the most important thing a woman could do. Only selfish women chose a life outside of the sheltering walls of the home. And as everyone knew, God didn’t approve of selfish women.”

Hannah had been allowed to attend Bible College – the only academic option available to women in her branch of Christianity – primarily for the purpose of finding a “godly husband”. An intelligent young women, Hannah met Michael studying Greek syntax and was shortly-after married to him. All of her life she had been taught that marriage was the fulfillment of her purpose as a woman (culminating in childbirth), but the illusion soon began to dissipate:

“Hannah looked at the rain and thought how women were like rain—needed yet despised. Women were at fault if anything went wrong, just as everyone blamed the rain that spoiled the perfect picnic. But if a woman ever tried to leave, suddenly everyone was invested in making sure she stayed. She had to be there, for without a woman there was no family, there was no home. Their pastor had waxed eloquent on more than one occasion about the role the wife played as the foundation of a home. Just as it was impossible to remove the foundation without destroying the whole house, it was equally impossible to have a family without a wife that stayed home. The real question was why everyone blamed the foundation for the poor condition of the rest of the structure.

All their lives they had been told that marriage and children was the “better” they had to look forward to and now suddenly there was another “better” to look forward to, one that didn’t include children and endless housework. What was the next “better”? Death? Without missing a beat their parents nodded and said, ‘yes, it is better to be with the Lord.’ The young people listened silently and wondered why they had been told to marry and have as many children as possible if it was better to be dead than alive. There was something wrong with the picture, but no one dared to say it out loud.”

Within the first chapter, the author takes us into the mundane details of the isolated female evangelical: starved of conversation, Hannah occasionally watches sitcoms just to hear adult voices (a choice Michael piously condemns as “worldly”, after returning from his office job). The women make homemade dish soap from recipes found on homemaking blogs – something, anything to give their daily lives purpose. Completely deprived of intellectual stimulation, Hannah’s soul begins to crumble and atrophy. She notices the lack of exhaustion and happiness apparent on the faces of other mothers she sees at the library’s weekly story-time hour, but quickly dismisses her dormant envy as the women’s skirts don’t go past their knees (making them “unbelievers” and therefore inferior).

Her few friends, all from the insular evangelical church they attend, all face the same struggles and guilt over admitting (even to themselves) that they struggle with the burdens placed on their shoulders. They must all keep their doubts and guilt to themselves – as if speaking it aloud somehow validated it This admission would be tantamount to heresy – because it would demand re-examining the worldview they had been taught all their lives – and threatened with hellfire if they ever dared question it.

“… How many women really wanted a man to boss them around and how many men wanted to get stuck in a dead-end job just to support their families?…. What would have made her happy was help with the housework, time for herself, and a husband who didn’t always silence her, a husband who treated her like—like a person. Why didn’t they talk about that in these glossy marriage publications? But an even better question was why she kept on thinking about these things. Everyone knew men and women were so different that there could never be any hope of equality. Why didn’t motherhood elevate women to the same status men enjoyed instead of lowering them to the ranks of children? Children needed supervision for their own good and women were said to need the same, for the exact same reason. It would have been almost funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. A grown woman who made life possible was treated like a tantrum throwing toddler when she objected to the fact that she was being treated like one. If they said men should treat women with honor, then that’s exactly what they should do. There was no honor in condescension.”

When “Not Depriving” Each Other Becomes Assault

At a baby shower, Hannah learns that she is not alone in viewing marital relations as a chore, which must be done – like ironing – out of a sense of duty to one’s husband, regardless of her own emotional needs (which are to be “crucified” if a woman even acknowledges they exist). Using 1 Corinthians 7:4 as a proof text, evangelical women are universally taught that depriving their husbands of sexual relations is a sin against God and a sign of “unsubmission”, which causes Hannah to feel guilt over her feelings of violation when Michael brutally forces himself on her one night. (While cases of non-consensual relations are likely rare in Christian marriages, the trauma and misguided spiritual guilt Hannah experiences over this action is a painfully accurate portrayal of the conditioned thought process evangelical women go through in this sensitive area). It is a well-known fact than love and mutual respect cannot flourish in any adult relationship based on inequality; the closer a marriage approximates a master-servant dynamic, the less intimacy can exist. For all of the marriage conferences and endless Christian marriage books the devout feed on, this imbalance of power and its destructive influence of the marital relationship is never addressed nor admitted.

While taught to have zero expectations in the marriage relationship, Hannah and her friends – although they dare not discuss it openly and must cultivate an image of family bliss at all costs – notice the double-standard and outright hypocrisy that their husbands practice in family life. Michael plays basketball, socializes with his church friends at will, and regularly leaves town for business or church men’s conferences for days at a time; but Hannah is expected to focus all of her time and energy on “the family” (within the house), unless it means volunteering at the church (with two toddlers in tow).

The one outside social event she might be allowed to enjoy is the two-day church women’s retreat, which Michael grudgingly lets her attend, although it means his missing a basketball game. Hannah has learned that to “ask permission” to socialize (evangelical women are expected to “ask their husband’s permission” for everything) is not worth the price she will pay: days of sulking and moodiness from Michael, and being guilt-tripped for not being “a good wife”. While she does enjoy a two-day reprieve at the retreat, her friend Laura is not so lucky: while there, Laura’s husband angrily telephones her, demanding that she return home immediately and cook him a “real” supper. The casserole she had left “tastes like dogfood” and the children are a nuisance. Laura tearfully leaves, and we later learn, through a conversation overheard by Hannah in the supermarket, that Laura’s husband can cook quite well – he just refuses to, in order to “show Laura who is boss”. We also hear him instructing a single man on the perks of finding a wife from the eager ranks of women within the church – “You don’t even have to worry about keeping your woman in line; the Church does it for you. It’s a win-win situation.”

“It was all about the family, until it wasn’t. But why was it always men who got to choose when it wasn’t?

No one dared to talk about it, for no one wanted to admit that their lives looked more like the evening news than the posters they saw at church; posters that advertised summer camps and short-term mission trips that cost more per person than a regular vacation for an entire family. Neither did anyone talk about the feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration.

Or the guilt.

The huge amounts of gut-wrenching guilt they all carried around for wanting more out of life than the dead-end drudgery of homemaking…”

Victim-Shaming and Gossip

Later, we learn that Laura’s husband is battering her. Hannah grows suspicious when seeing her friend’s black eye and the obvious shame in her demeanor, and speaks to the pastor’s wife. Already aware of the situation, the pastor’s wife curtly tells Hannah to keep the “secret” quiet and reminds her of the wife’s obligation to “submit” to her husband. After all, of Laura had obeyed her husband and been a more dutiful wife, her husband wouldn’t have had to “discipline” her. When he finally puts her in the hospital,  as “discipline” for breaking his bowling trophy while cleaning, Laura escapes to a woman’s shelter with her two children – but not before suffering a broken arm, and miscarrying her child.

She is shunned by the church; excoriated by the other women. Now a pariah, Laura, a victim of domestic violence, will forever be viewed as a “wayward women”. She is blamed for her husband’s sin, for not “trying hard enough”. The same fate befalls the leader of women’s ministries, whose husband is having an illicit sexual affair with a teenager. The women in the church decide it was the woman’s own fault; after all, if she had just been “more available” to her husband, he wouldn’t have had to seek gratification outside the marriage bed.

Finding the Light

Growing dismay over the hurt she sees inflicted on these women, as well as Michael’s justification of Laura’s husband’s abuse of her, Hannah grows increasingly disillusioned with what is practiced in a church claiming to preach “grace”. When a new woman joins, a biology teacher who – gasp – believes in evolution, she is subtly shunned by the other women who consider her not much more than a heretic. Friendly and very much walking with God, Jessy visits Hannah with a much-needed casserole (for all of her homemaking responsibilities, Hannah cannot cook – unthinkable for an evangelical woman) and we learn that she cannot bear children. This further alienates her in the Church Ladies’ eyes, and Hannah must keep her acquaintanceship with Jessy a secret, lest the holy tongues start wagging about her, as well. Jessy slips Hannah a book in the church ladies’ room about women in the Bible, which Hannah reads in secret. New hope fills her:  God had never dictated that women hide their gifts; be subjugated by the ones entrusted to love them; or to endlessly serve without reciprocity or appreciation. His intention for His daughters was the same as it was for His sons: to find their joy and identity in Him; while using their unique gifts and abilities.

Meanwhile, Jessy suggests Laura report the battering to the police, and ultimately gets her to the women’s shelter. Hannah asks herself, “How was it possible that the only person who cared about what was happening to Laura was the one everyone thought was a blazing heretic? Something was very wrong with the whole picture.”

Hannah’s disillusionment with the dead-end destiny of herself and other fundamentalist women, combined with her growing concern over the way women are treated and blamed for their husband’s sinful misconduct and the increasingly dominant attitude of her husband cause her to question whether this is really “God’s will” as she nurtures her newborn baby daughter.

“She knew the real question was why the church had done nothing to stop the violence. How could they defend the destruction of a child of God? The authority men had was supposedly given for the protection of women. That was what they all said. But in reality it was given for the protection of the man’s selfish refusal to regard his wife as a person, a real human being. Only a man who saw his wife as a servant, created to please him, was able to treat his wife with such contempt. The Bible didn’t allow for such a blatant disregard of human life. Love for one’s neighbor extended to one’s spouse as well. In fact, it began with one’s spouse, for who were as close as two people who slept in the same bed and ate from the same table? A deep rage began to build within Hannah. Not only had they lied, they had also refused to help a woman getting hurt because of the lies. They said resisting those set in authority was evil. But how could resisting someone who hurt you be evil? There was nothing godly about beating your wife and there was nothing godly about defending someone who did. It was evil.

Pure evil.”

Hannah realizes she needs to change her life, but knows very well that if she speaks up against the injustice, she will share the same fate as the women whose husbands were adulterers or wife-batterers. Her situation, while bleak, is far less dramatic and in optimistic moments she is conflicted. As a woman who loves her husband, her family, and her God, what should she do? What can she do, without facing dire social consequences, and being made to be an outcast in the only world she has ever known?

Susanna Krizo’s “Hannah’s Choice”, a soon-to-be released sequel to “The Evangelical Wife” promises to answer these questions. Order The Evangelical Wife here, and visit Susanna’s author page here: http://www.susannakrizo.com/ to check out her other excellent books!

Susanna“Patriarchy is as far from benign, as it is from being biblical. Nowhere does the Bible advocate for a model in which men are allowed to elevate themselves above women in the name of “godly leadership.” Either all humans are equal, or human equality doesn’t exist; if human equality doesn’t exist, we are not created in the image of God; if we are not created in the image of God, we can forget about Genesis and seek the truth elsewhere. It is my hope that we can all join hands in this historic moment and bring equality back to where it should always have been found, the church.

Peace and Grace,

Susanna Krizo

Becoming an Angel – Give Her Wings’ Campaign to Help Women

 

Last week, the Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Laura Dyke, contacted me to discuss the ministry’s urgent need to help more mothers of small children. I have written before about Give Her Wings’ caring and compassion towards women who have had to flee abusive marriages, and the unenviable position they often find themselves in when faced with caring for their children without the assistance of family, their churches, or even the state. http://giveherwings.com/current-fundraiser/Laura.png

Regarding Give Her Wings’ Angel Campaign, Laura wrote:

We are trying to get our monthly recurring donations to a point where we can continue to help at least two mamas a month, and right now, the resources are just not there.  We are going to have to cut back and we are heartbroken about that.  We get nominations continually, and while we want to maintain our two mamas a month, we’d love to be able to grow that number even more. We know that working together, we can all make a bigger impact on these women, their children, and the kingdom of God as a whole.

While many charities and ministries have fundraisers and annual campaigns, Give Her Wings is a non-profit ministry near and dear to my heart. While I have never personally been the recipient of aid from them, their much-needed social action fills an oft-overlooked gap from which many churches and para-church ministries prefer to look the other way.  The leadership of Give Her Wings carefully vets women in need who have small children, and out of donations provides them with basic necessities such as groceries, heating, clothing, and gas/automotive assistance when needed. At Christmas, an extra donation fund set aside to help these women buy their children Christmas gifts is earmarked to assist as many moms and youngsters as possible.

Beyond practical help, the staff of Give Her Wings is an invaluable source of strength to women of ten demoralized by their situations, abuse in previous marriages, and betrayal. Megan Cox, the ministry’s previous director and author of “Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse”, (like myself originally trained as a nouthetic counselor) has sought to compile a directory of volunteer Christian counselors to speak life and hope to these broken women. In fact, I dedicated my recent book, “Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church” to her, and the other selfless ministers of the Gospel working behind the scenes at Give Her Wings.

dedication

On Give Her Wings’ website, you may read the thankful testimonies of many of the “mamas” helped by generous donors. Here is one such thank-you note:

Dear Friends,

I am getting the chance once more to write out words from my heart concerning the love you have shown to me and my children during this time in our lives when we needed hope and to be lifted up from a dark place. Thank each and every one of you so much!! Please know you are part of our story of God’s goodness to us. I lived for a long time not knowing what to do and tried very hard to keep going in a situation that I believed a forgiving wife had to endure. Through God’s amazing grace and His bringing very special people into my life, I was given the information, the answers, the help I so desperately needed.

This ministry is “life giving” in so many ways

This ministry is “life giving” in so many ways and you dear ones who gave to help us or prayed for us, became a part of our story of hope, and a part of this ministry that does more than I can ever express to help those of us struggling so much to start over. I am forever grateful and promise your gift and your love and kindness will never be forgotten. As I move ahead in my journey, I will be remembering you in my prayers and asking God to bless you all for helping me with a new start, a new story, out of the darkness of abuse into freedom and healing…..I am thanking you again today and always….it means more than I can ever say……

If you are able, please consider a one-time gift to Give her Wings to help needy mothers of small children. Your donation will be much-appreciated, tax-deductible, and 100% goes to “The least of these” (Matt. 25:40). Thank you on behalf of all involved with the ministry of Give Her Wings, and the mamas and lambs they support.

 

New Book Releases….New Beginnings

Whew, has it really been six weeks since I have last blogged?? Well, nothing too surprising, as I have been extremely busy on the writing/promotional front, as well as professionally (oh yeah…I’m a full-time interpreter); and personally (more on that later!)

books.pngThe two biggest projects, which I’ve just started preliminary marketing on, have been my two most recent books released with Calvary Press Publishing.

In late December, my third book, “Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church” came out and seems thus far to be selling better than my first two books combined! This book, which the President of Calvary Press suggested I write, examines the different forms of emotional/psychological abuse women in patriarchal authoritarian churches and marriages experience. I discuss what emotional abuse is, the cycle of abuse and re-victimization, and the teachings inherent in Neo-Calvinist and conservative evangelical churches that serve to condition and groom women to accept abuse as normative.

Some of the discussion of Scripture-twisting (especially mis-use of Ephesians 22, to the expense of women making a good faith effort to be loving, godly wives) was based on an article series I wrote for Biblical Counseling for Women over a year ago. I also examine the aspects of nouthetic counseling (often touted as ‘biblical counseling’) that are, in fact, UNbiblical — namely, the practice of sending women back to unrepentant abusers; and the superficial way in which emotional struggles are often dismissed.

From the Publisher’s Description: 

Abuse of different forms has become much more prevalent in the United States over the last two decades. Unfortunately, Christian marriages are not immune to this dark reality. Often part of a dynamic of control and oppression in relationships, extreme authoritarian teaching can set the stage for abuse to occur. Far too often, rather than being a haven for survivors of abuse, local churches enable perpetrators by maintaining a “code of silence” and shaming victims for speaking up.
In this book, Marie O’Toole identifies the many forms spousal abuse takes; alerts the reader to the signs of an abusive relationship; and offers practical advice to pastors and counselors on how better to confront abusers and help victims heal within complementarian environments. Some of the questions this book answers:

  • What is emotional abuse?
  • Why do Christian women stay in destructive relationships?
  • Can abusers change?
  • Are men also victims of abuse?
  • Is marital abuse ever biblical grounds for divorce?
  • What does the Bible say about “ragers” and “revilers”?
  • How does Christ heal abuse survivors?

The issue of abuse within Christian communities (and how it is often mishandled by the Church) is currently garnering more media attention worldwide as it reaches near- epidemic levels. With more pastors and victim advocates speaking out than ever before, leadership of seminaries and local churches need to reevaluate how they assess and counsel women in the unenviable position of a destructive marriage. Writing from an insider’s perspective as well as that of a biblical counselor, O’Toole sheds light on a painful subject often shrouded in secrecy and shame.

Concurrently, my fourth book – a tie-in to my first book, “Redeemed from the Pit“, is a 31-day devotional dedicated to helping Christian women overcome and be fully free from eating disorders. “Hope and Healing from Eating Disorders: a 31-Day Devotional” is currently at the publisher’s, and will be available within the next week as both a paperback and on Kindle. The project was originally suggested to me by a colleague in The Biblical Counseling Coalition, and perhaps most exciting for me is that it has been translated into Albanian and is available as an e-book: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/shprese-dhe-sherim-per-crregullimet-e-te-ngrenit

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I’m very pleased with these developments!

While I haven’t had much time to enjoy being published or promoting my work lately (save for scheduling a couple radio interviews and book signings), I don’t feel too badly about it…….I will be closing on a new house at the end of this month – a permanent place for my children and me to live! The events of the past two years have been painful and traumatic at times, but I have overcome…and am managing to secure a better future for all of us, thanks to the steadfast support of family, friends, and God.

The wonderful, kind and generous man in my life tells me he “admires [my] strength” and is “inspired by [my] fearlessness”, but the truth is I still occasionally carry fear. I’ve simply learned to “do it afraid”, for my own sake and more importantly, for the sake of my children. By this time next month, Lord willing, we will be moved into our new house – where my 12-year-old daughter will no longer have to share a bedroom with Mom! Pictures to follow in due course.

How Patriarchy Facilitates Spousal Abuse: A Reflection on Fractured Covenants by Marie O’Toole

First review of my new book, “Fractured Covenants”

Relentless Curiosity

My last post was about purity culture and the harmful effects it has had on the way boys and girls in the church are raised to see themselves and each other. It is a really big deal and needs to be addressed. Nevertheless, I do think that it is actually a subset of a bigger, more deep-set problem in the church.

This problem, I think, is actually the biggest problem the church has ever had. It’s the church’s great sin. While my personal experience with this issue has been in the contemporary Evangelical church, it is a problem the church has had from the very beginning: Patriarchy.

I really like Wikipedia’s definition: “Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority…

View original post 1,017 more words

In Response to the Unbiblical “Biblical Counsel’ on Marital Abuse

FracCovCoverThis morning, “Crying Out for Justice” posted an excerpt of a podcast on the subject of marital abuse/domestic violence in which the speaker represented a well-known nouthetic counseling organization. Many of the standard minimization and arguments for wives staying in abusive marriages were re-cycled, and Lambert essentially based his position on two New Testament verses (while ignoring the call in Ephesians and elsewhere for husbands to love their wives, or the Levitical protection of married women).

In the comment section, a reader asked,

“Many of us know how terrible this advice is. However, there are those who are being counseled with these twisted interpretations who think that the Bible actually says these things and that Biblical they must stay with an abuser. Can you provide a rebuttal–or a link in the post to a rebuttal–for their benefit so they are not just left with Dr. Lambert’s counsel?”

Yes – and I’d be glad to. Within the next few weeks, Calvary Press will be releasing my latest book, “Fractured Covenants: The Hidden Problem of Marital Abuse in the Church”. One of the chapters I wrote deals with when divorce – always a final and tragic decision, although at times a necessity – is indeed biblical grounds for divorce. While lengthy, I provide a thoroughly-researched and written exegesis of this difficult doctrinal issue.

Having been trained as a nouthetic counselor, I am well-familiar with the proof texts and arguments used to defend a permanence view of marriage even in the face of unrepentant and ongoing abuse. Never was this more clear than when I was going through it myself. As a Christian counselor and writer, I have devoted my ministry to helping women who are trapped in the bondage of abuse (both domestic and spiritual), and opening the eyes of well-meaning ministry colleagues who perpetuate the eisogesis they have been taught.

Chapter 3 – Is Abuse Ever Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

“Domestic abuse is a test case for your theology. Eminent people may have great theology in many areas, but if they don’t get it about domestic abuse and divorce, they are gravely in error (in my humble opinion) and need to sit down and seriously examine their doctrine. Until they do, victims of abuse will continue to be unbelievably hurt by the church. God is not happy about this! I suspect He would like to spit them all out of His mouth for their lukewarmness when it comes to protecting the vulnerable (who are mostly women and children).” – Barbara Roberts, author of Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion

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By the time a Christian woman is even contemplating the horrifying thought that her marriage may be beyond repair, she has endured so much for so long that she has given up hope that anything will ever change. She (and her children) may be in physical danger, and need to get to safety. Her husband may be a habitual adulterer, who shows no signs of repentance. Or, it may be a less physically-dangerous but equally toxic form of torment – years of unrelenting verbal abuse that have driven her to despair.

While a full treatment of when divorce may be biblically-justified is beyond the scope of this book, some discussion of the matter is in order because of the erroneous assertion that many contemporary churches take: namely, that domestic abuse is never grounds for divorce. Abused women who are living with the covenant-breaking spouse are often chided (and even blackmailed with the threat of excommunication) if they do file for divorce, even after they have made repeated attempts to salvage the marriage. This dogmatic stance is a misrepresentation of God’s high view of marriage, and puts the blame for sin squarely on the victim’s shoulders – rather than on the unrepentant abuser, where it belongs. Unpacking what Scripture says about such situations is necessary, in order to shed light on an unfortunate situation many abused Christian women find themselves in.

One excellent book on this subject is Pastor Hugh Vander Lugt’s booklet, God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce. As the senior research editor for RBC (now Our Daily Bread Ministries), Lugt’s 1982 book is a concise, yet exegetically-rich resource which biblically challenges the contention that divorce is never justified by abuse. Far from being a plea to reason based on emotionalism (or even pastoral experience), Lugt effectively shows how a faulty hermeneutic has led many conservative pastors and churches to teach that Matthew 5:32 is the final and definitive word on divorce.

Just as there is sinless anger (Ephesians 4:26), there is also sinless initiation of divorce. God cannot sin, yet He actively initiated disciplinary divorce (Jerimiah 3:8). Until and unless there is fruit of repentance (Matthew 3), and evidence of love (John 8:31ff, cf. v. 42), those who claim to be children of Abraham are not automatically included in the New Covenant (Romans 11). One Boston-area pastor wrote to me, “If a wife seeks the support of church leaders and the husband is unable or unwilling to change his patterns of verbal abuse, I think it is incumbent upon those church leaders to regard him as an unbeliever. That follows the instructions Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15 – 17.  Divorce is then a regrettable but valid option…it is regretful that church elders also very often do not recognize the more vulnerable position the woman is in [with a domineering husband].  Perhaps this is also because of a belief that “headship” in marriage means that a husband’s “authority” rests in his person per se, irrespective of his own obedience to Jesus.  Many others, including myself, view that as highly contested, to say the least. I have already argued that “headship” in marriage is only true authority to the extent that a husband is faithful to Jesus, so that he is not a “head” by virtue of simply being a husband.  The question is, what kind of husband is he being?”

Linguistic Misconceptions

In the thorny endeavor to unpack all of what Scripture has to say about divorce (as well as abandonment and abuse of different kinds and re-marriage), it is dangerous to conclude that one verse contains the full and final answer on the permanence view of marriage. Moses, Jesus and Paul all recognized a range of marital conditions that are worse than divorce. Historically, although women were often treated as property, the Puritans were a notable exception when it came to recognizing the seriousness of marital abuse:

In the spirit of the Reformation, Puritans didn’t see marriage as an indissoluble sacrament but as a civil contract that could be terminated if either party did not fulfill fundamental duties of marriage. Although cruelty was not a recognized ground for divorce in the Puritan era, there are those who thought cruelty to a wife was a type of desertion. [1]

In his discussion of marital abuse, Lugt demonstrates how, even in modern times, women have been overly-subjugated by a misunderstanding of the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18.

There is no sense in which this word connotes a position of inferiority or subordinate status. The word “suitable for” literally means “in front of”, signifying one who stands face to face with another, qualitatively the same, his essential equal, and therefore his “correspondent” (“Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 666-7, IVP, Downers Grove, 1996).[2]

Sixteen times in the Bible the Hebrew term ezer kenegdo is used in reference to a person, and fifteen of those are in reference to God as our “warrior helper.” The sixteenth is used in Genesis 2 in reference to woman, that she is man’s “warrior helper” (Ezer means “help” and kenegdo means “partner”).  God created women to be ‘warrior helpers’ to their men.

Another fallacy that many writers have pointed out is that male domination is a “right” inherited from the Fall. However, if we are consistent to the rest of Genesis 3, it was a curse that, like sickness, thorns and discord, should be resisted and fought. With sin, these maladies entered what was previously a perfect and harmonious world, with idyllic relationships. The tendency to dominate, dictate and abuse is a perversion of the Creation order that has no justification in Scripture.

A Bulgarian proverb states: “Better a horrible ending, than a horror without end.” To state that God wills His daughters to stay in destructive, toxic or dangerous relationships (not merely disappointing ones) contradicts everything we see scripturally about His loving and protective character. One abuse survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, put it this way: “I upheld my wedding vow. I’m not someone who would ever leave a marriage or break a promise. I would never knowingly allow violence or abuse to break up my family. I would never knowingly let sin take root in my home. I wouldn’t put my children through the trauma. So I had no choice but to leave my husband.”

Mosaic Law

Even the most weak and vulnerable women in Hebraic society – daughters or wives sold as slaves or concubines – were protected under the Law of Moses. Quite progressive for its time, Exodus 21:7-11 lists the “three foundations of marital duty” – namely, the provision of food, clothing, and ‘marriage rights’ – often interpreted as affection and marital love. (In fact, the Jewish Ketubah lays these out as a contract, not unlike Ephesians 4.) Breaking these conditions is, in fact, a violation of the marriage covenant. But more significantly, it shows the principle of protection that is seen throughout Scripture, from the lesser to the greater: if God would provide protection and care even for a slave, how much more is owed to a free wife?

Exodus 21:11 makes it clear that if the husband fails to fulfill this contractual obligation, he is to “let her go free”. This has been proven conclusively by theologians to mean a formal divorce, the ‘get’. Of course, neither rabbis nor Christian pastors argue that this is the ideal; rather, the Mosaic divorce allowance was given by God for humanitarian means – to protect women from cruelty. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 similarly makes provision for the divorce, protection, and remarriage of non-Israelite prisoners of war.

As Laura Petherbridge writes,

It takes two to get married, and only one to break the vow. Stop placing both spouses under one sin. (This is normally the wife. In twenty-five years I’ve never had one husband tell me his church abandoned him when the wife walked out, but I’ve lost count of the hundreds of women who have wept over the shunning of a church when her husband left.) Just because a sin has occurred don’t assume both have sinned.[3]

Unraveling Malachi 2:16

Scripture reveals an ongoing intent of protection first by Moses, (whose Law Jesus upheld completely during His ministry); then subsequently by the prophet Malachi, whose words were intended to protect women being wrongly divorced by their husbands; and finally by Jesus, in His indictment of the Pharisees. One of the most frequently misquoted verses in the Bible regarding divorce is Malachi 2:16:

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (ESV).

In Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion, Barbara Roberts addresses the correct etymology of that passage. The verse is often incorrectly and incompletely translated as “I hate divorce” and used as a catch-all conversation stopper to assert that divorce is never permitted biblically. However, this is not the intention of the passage (written during a time period when male casual divorce was rampant). She writes:

The incorrect translation came about as follows. The word “hates” in Malachi 2:16 is he hates. The Hebrew denotes third person masculine singular = he. The King James version had “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away.” Many subsequent translations switched the third person “he” to a first person “I” without any grammatical warrant. For example, the 1984 NIV was “ ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” Possibly translators thought the switch was okay because it retained the sense of the KJV — that God feels the hatred [for divorce]. They did not seem to worry that “I hate divorce” was grammatically inaccurate to the original Hebrew.

But modern translations are starting to correctly this mistake. The construction in Hebrew (“he hates… he covers”) shows that the one who feels the hatred is not God, but the divorcing husband. To be faithful to the Hebrew, the verse could be rendered, “If he hates and divorces,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with violence.” It is talking about a husband who hates his wife and divorces her because of his aversion for her. Therefore, Malachi 2:16 is only referring to a specific type of divorce: divorce for aversion, which could be dubbed “hatred divorce”. Divorce for hatred is treacherous divorce: if a man hates his wife and dismisses, he “covers his garment with violence” — his conduct is reprehensible, he has blood on his hands.[4]

Biblical scholar Joe Sprinkle also has pointed out that the context of Malachi 2:16 is a limited one: taken in accordance with the allowances for divorce made elsewhere in Scripture, it is clearly only certain divorces in certain circumstances to which God is opposed. While upholding the sanctity of marriage, we can see how the New Testament teaching on divorce demonstrates how Christ, Moses and Paul’s teachings complement one another.

New Testament Application

Even a superficial reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus demonstrated a concern and caring for women that went beyond the social mores of the First Century. And it is plain that the God of Scripture is a Protector and Defender of the weak and downtrodden. So then, does Matthew 5:31-32 over-ride the provision offered divorced women in Deuteronomy? Did Jesus completely nullify the Mosaic Law of protection with this one verse?

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

Of course not. Just as with all of Scripture, a correct hermeneutic demands we examine context (Literal-Historical and Synthetic Principle of Scriptural interpretation). Jesus was, in the Sermon on the Mount, addressing the Pharisees’ specific excesses and “stretches” in interpreting and teaching the Law of Moses. They had added hundreds of laws onto the original Levitical code, and the abuse of the divorce clause in Deuteronomy 24 was no exception. In reality, divorced women of the First Century were disgraced and had few career prospects outside of prostitution. It is not biblically consistent to say that He was contradicting the conditions Moses had set, but is more consistent with the passage that He was forcing the Pharisees to focus on the condition of their own hearts. Relational sin was the point; the one statement was clearly not intended to be the single and final word on divorce (as Paul later demonstrates).

Later in Matthew 19:3-9, Lugt notes, we in fact see the Pharisees trying to entrap Jesus by confronting Him with the Law of Moses on the same subject. While upholding the sacred ideal of the permanence of marriage, Jesus did not disagree with Moses in allowing divorce.

Commenting on the allowance made for hardness of heart, Dr. Willard notes:

‘No doubt what was foremost in His [Jesus’] mind was the fact that the woman could quite well wind up dead, or brutally abused, if the man could not “dump” her. It is still so today, of course. Such is our “hardness of heart”. Better, then, that a divorce occur than a life be made unbearable. Jesus does nothing to retract this principle…no one regards a divorce as something to be chosen for its own sake…but of course a brutal marriage is not a good thing either, and we must resist any attempt to classify divorce as a special, irredeemable form of wickedness. It is not. It is sometimes the right thing to do, everything considered.[5]

The Mosaic Code and the teachings of Christ on divorce complemented each other. Jesus was forcing the hypocritical religious leaders of the time to examine their own hard hearts in putting women in danger (both by abuse and neglect, and unrighteous divorce), as they were actually ignoring Moses’ rabbinical provision for women. There was no need for Jesus to cite all of these scripturally-valid grounds for divorce, any more than He explained the full Gospel of salvation by faith alone when speaking to the Rich Young Ruler. Context is crucial. During his indictment of the Pharisees, Jesus was not addressing women in distress. He was addressing the self-righteous men who did as they pleased in “putting away” their wives.

Of course, Jesus also didn’t mention the additional circumstances meriting divorce later cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Note that neither of these chapters (Matthew 19 or 1 Corinthians 7) gives a full litany or examination of all of the circumstances under which a woman might be justified in seeking a divorce from a covenant-breaking husband. Also, as Paul would have been well-acquainted with Mosaic teaching on re-marriage, why the no-remarriage clause? Lugt argues that the context of chapter 7 suggests Paul was answering specific questions raised by the Corinthian believers about celibacy (advocated by some even within marriage), and about marriage itself. He urges wives not to leave, but as a concession states that they are then to remain unmarried. Nowhere do we see the Early Church pressuring divorced women to “reconcile” with their husbands (under any circumstances) or to stay with abusive men. In fact, both the epistles of Peter and Paul speak directly to the men and command caring and love towards “the weaker vessel” – an extremely progressive command in the First Century!

Furthermore, Paul clearly rebukes the church at Corinth for tolerating men who were revilers (1 Corinthians 5:11). They are the ones to be removed from church fellowship; not their victims. Pastor Sam Powell asks a rhetorical question of those who refuse to concede that abuse is, biblically, grounds for divorce:

How can we refuse to allow divorce from a reviler… when the scripture forbids us from even eating with a so-called brother who is a reviler? Doesn’t this involve us in hopeless contradiction? You force his wife and children to live with him. “He didn’t leave any bruises. You aren’t really in danger. You have no grounds for divorce.”

Are you willing to excommunicate the victim for obeying the command of the Lord in this passage? Or is it your contention that she should still continue the intimacy of marriage, but perhaps eat separately? I’m having a hard time understanding this position.

Perhaps this is why the [local] church today has become so corrupted. We have been tolerating corrupt leaven. I say it is time we stop, and start obeying the Lord. You can be a reviler, or you can be a Christian. You can’t be both. In fact, according to this text, a reviler who calls himself a brother is far, far worse than an outright unbeliever. A reviler who is allowed to call himself a brother will corrupt the whole church.[6]

Mako Nagasawa, a former campus director with The Navigators and biblical scholar, explains how the Levitical Code and New Testament application complement each other. He writes,

The important question for Christians is how Jesus and Paul interpreted this Old Testament law of divorce for neglect and abuse. One problem the Church has grappled with for centuries is that Jesus appeared to forbid divorce “for any cause … except sexual immorality” (Matthew 19:3-9). The common interpretation until recently has been that Jesus allowed divorce only for adultery. This has been very difficult to understand pastorally and seems absurdly contradictory of other biblical principles since it appears to condone abuse and abandonment. Even as early as AD 200 the Church Father Origen was puzzled by it. He said that if a wife was trying to poison her husband, or if she deliberately killed their baby, then for her husband “to endure sins of such heinousness which seem to be worse than adultery or fornication, will appear to be irrational.” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew II.14.24)  Nevertheless, Jesus’ teaching appeared plain, so the Church followed it.”

But recent research into Jewish documents show that discussions about Exodus 21:10 – 11 and Deuteronomy 21:1 – 4 were separate discussions.  So the discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus about Deuteronomy 21 were isolated to that text:

“This mystery has been recently solved by research in ancient Jewish documents where we find that the phrase ‘Any Cause’ divorce was a legal term equivalent to the modern no-fault divorce (see the chapter ‘No-fault Divorce’). By means of a legalistic interpretation of the phrase “cause of immorality” in Deuteronomy 24:1, some rabbis allowed divorce for both ‘Immorality’ and ‘Any Cause’. When they asked Jesus what He thought, He confirmed that this phrase referred merely to divorce for adultery (nothing “except sexual immorality”). He totally rejected the newly invented divorce for ‘Any Cause’. The misunderstanding through the centuries has been the belief that Jesus was referring to all grounds for divorce rather than the ‘Any Cause’ divorce specifically.”[7]

But what bearing did this discussion about Deuteronomy 24 have on the criteria given by Exodus 21?  Did Jesus categorically overrule Exodus 21?  No. Jesus actually said nothing about the law of divorce for neglect and abuse in Exodus 21. This was partly because He wasn’t asked about it and partly because it wasn’t a topic of debate like the text in Deuteronomy 24. All rabbis still accepted these biblical grounds of neglect of food, clothing and love and ancient Jewish marriage contracts found in caves near the Dead Sea show that its three requirements were incorporated into Jewish marriage vows. Every couple would promise each other to provide “food, clothing and bed” (a euphemism for sexual intercourse), just as it says in Exodus 21.[8]

The “Separation…but No Divorce” Position

Although in the Greco-Roman context separation constituted a legal divorce, some churches currently claim that they protect women by “allowing for separation for a time,” which they base on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 without looking at the full context of the letter. They insist that the ultimate goal must be reconciliation (essentially under any circumstances), ignoring the possibility that the woman may choose to remain single or that the man’s sin pattern may justify (and even necessitate) divorce. While well-intentioned, the insistence on only a temporary separation is problematic and rarely solves the root issue. “Crying Out for Justice” blogger “Jeff S.” writes:

The two biggest problems with “you can separate but not divorce” are:

  1. It’s not a biblical solution. How can we be in a “marriage” doing all the things we are called to if we are separated? Yes, there are probably times a separation, mutually decided, can help with healing; but the way it’s advocated for in abuse situations reads more like a technical “married but not married” so everyone can feel good about the way they’ve parsed the law and found a loophole.
  2. Separation with an eye on reconciliation has built in pressure to reconcile, which is very dangerous for someone who has had their boundaries repeatedly violated and likely is not good at setting them up (or keeping them up). The last thing you want to do when someone needs to learn to erect healthy boundaries is to keep asking them when they are going to take them down.

Martin Luther, John Calvin, Origen and a number of other Early Church Fathers upheld that abuse in certain cases could constitute biblical grounds for divorce, and maintained that Jesus did not nullify the Mosaic Laws on divorce and remarriage. It is a relatively modern interpretation held by many Reformed and conservative evangelical pastors that divorce is never allowable in cases of abuse, including verbal. Luther, in particular, was quite adamant that continual conflict, hatred, and cruelty were what drove the believing spouse away, and as the marriage covenant was thus broken, were legitimate causes for divorce.

It is crucial for pastors, counselors and others in Christian ministry to understand God’s original design for marriage, as well as His protection in certain circumstances where divorce is allowed as a concession. Untold amounts of needless guilt and victim-shaming has occurred in the name of “being faithful to the Word”, when the Word really has much to say about cruelty. Marriage is indeed a covenant, and sadly, once the marriage covenant has been thus violated, the abuse survivor is not obligated to stay.

Examining the context and hermeneutic in which certain passages were written is illuminating in dispelling the “abuse is not biblical grounds for divorce” fallacy. This didactic belief serves to keep women in bondage. Marriage was created for people; not the other way around. When marriage becomes an idol for its own sake, and women are coerced into staying in (emotionally, physically, or spiritually) destructive situations to save face for the Church, God’s Word and intent has been misunderstood and misrepresented.

The Lysa TerKeust Travesty

During the writing of this book, well-known Christian author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries Lysa TerKeurst filed for divorce from her husband after years of his infidelity and substance abuse. In a public statement, she wrote:

My husband, life partner and father of my children, Art TerKeurst, has been repeatedly unfaithful to me with a woman he met online, bringing an end to our marriage of almost 25 years. For the past couple of years, his life has sadly been defined by his affection for this other woman and substance abuse. I don’t share this to harm or embarrass him, but to help explain why I have decided to separate from him and pursue a divorce. God has now revealed to me that I have done all I can do and I must release him to the Savior.

Anyone who knows me and Proverbs 31 Ministries knows how seriously I take marriage. I’ve always encouraged women to fight for their marriages and to do everything possible to save them when they come under threat. So, for the past couple of years I have been in the hardest battle of my life trying to save my marriage…I believe I have the capacity to love Art and to forgive him, but his steadfast refusal to end the infidelity has led me to make the hardest decision of my life. After much prayer and consultation with wise, biblically-minded people, I have decided that Art has abandoned our marriage.[9]

The backlash against Lysa (rather than her adulterous ex-husband) from some leaders in the evangelical community was astounding. Jeff Maples, the editor of “Pulpit & Pen” (a well-known Reformed blog) wrote: “We will be praying for repentance for Lysa TerKeurst to turn from her rebellion against God and walk in righteousness in accordance with His statutes as found in Scripture alone.” Then, in an even worse indictment, a number of Christian media outlets insisted that she step down from ministry and specifically leadership of Proverbs 31, on the grounds that her divorce now disqualified her.

Black Christian News (BCNN1) editors wrote:

No one with any spiritual discernment is going to buy that her husband is the big, evil, bad monster and she’s the sweet, little lamb. Whenever there is a divorce, both parties have issues. Sadly, many Christians have bought into this lie that it is always the man causing the problems in the marriage and that the woman is always innocent. And that is just not the case.

No one is condemning you, but you need to admit that you were not perfect in your marriage either, and we urge you to reconcile with your husband. As you stated in your blog post, you ‘always encouraged women to fight for their marriages and to do everything possible to save them when they come under threat.’ We urge you to do the same. As the reason for continuing your ministry, you stated that you were determined “not to let darkness win.” Well, the way you do that is by not letting darkness win over your family by reconciling with your husband and getting your family back together.[10]

Art’s ongoing infidelity, which is a very serious form of abuse, was proven. By all accounts he refused to abandon his affair and return to a monogamous marriage. Although Lysa stated that she had forgiven him many times for the adultery and substance abuse, he continued to return to it and would not give up either vice. She had single-handedly fought for the marriage for a quarter century, and now the very ministry leaders with whom she served God were throwing her under the bus for pursuing a very biblical divorce. Notice the victim-blaming in the editors’ castigation of her – they directly state that since she was not ‘perfect’, she must share in the blame for her ex-husband’s philandering and addiction.

Much like the claim that abuse victims must share in part of the blame for their mistreatment, this extreme patriarchal thinking absurdly places the sole responsibility for saving the marriage on the woman’s shoulders. And Lysa had embraced more of that responsibility than was ever hers to bear – not only by fulfilling her end of the marriage covenant, but also through forgiveness and her long-suffering attempting to gently “win her husband over” and bring him back to the truth. She cannot be blamed for his failure, nor can she be criticized for taking the final step that Scripture instructs spouses to do in such situations. There is a serious problem in the Church when leaders insist that even clear-cut, black-and-white cases of biblical grounds for divorce are sinful…on the part of the victimized spouse.

In the next chapter, we will look at some of the ways scriptures have been misconstrued and have thus conditioned Christian women to accept emotional abuse as “headship” or “spiritual leadership”. We will examine some of the teachings prevalent in conservative evangelicalism, and how they enable patriarchal thinking to grow and ultimately enable abusive men.

[1] Hugh V. Lugt, God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce (Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, 1982), 4.

[2] IBID, 6.

[3] http://www.ibelieve.com/relationships/this-is-the-reason-god-actually-hates-divorce.html

[4] https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/10/24/god-hates-divorce-not-always/ Barbara’s book can be purchased at notunderbondage.com or from any book retailer.

[5] Professor Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 169-70.

[6] https://myonlycomfort.com/2017/06/02/christians-who-revile/

[7] David Instone-Brewer, “Marital Abuse,” BeThinking, 2012. http://www.bethinking.org/bible/bible-scandals/5-marital-abuse

[8] Mako Nagasawa, personal correspondence with author.

[9] http://lysaterkeurst.com/2017/06/rejection-heartache-and-a-faithful-god/

[10] http://blackchristiannews.com/2017/06/lysa-terkeurst-we-love-you-but-you-need-to-resign-from-proverbs-31-ministries/

 

Pressing On When Faced with Medical Ordeals

(English Translation of article that appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of “Ilira Revista”)

by Marie O’Toole

Ilira1“Elena” has just arrived in the examination room for her chemotherapy treatment. A tiny Bulgarian grandmother of 82, she sets up the bed with the blanket she has brought from home, adjusts the headscarf that covers her bald head, and enthusiastically hands me a plastic bag filled with tomatoes, peppers and fresh basil from her garden. “For you, Marie!” she exclaims, her pleasure obvious at being able to give her interpreter a treat.

Elena has been fighting pancreatic cancer for three years, as aggressively as the tumor that pumps malignant cells into her frail body. However, she refuses to dwell on her physical limitations – or sometimes, even admit that they exist. Last year, her oncologist was astonished that her body was responding so well to treatment, and that she was not complaining of the usual side-effects of chemotherapy: fatigue; nausea; or mouth sores. I could barely conceal my delight at her response: “Don’t you know, Doctor, that Christ heals us? You doctors know your work, but I pray. And Jesus heals my body!”

While Elena’s strong faith anchors her, there is no denying that a serious illness such as cancer is extremely difficult. Her daughter, a woman about my age, tells the full story: there are dark days, some when Elena is barely able to get out of bed, and must rely on pain medication. How does she summon the strength to press on, while waiting for the next treatment that will hopefully shrink the disease – yet make her extremely sick in the meantime? “I have work to do,” she says. “I tend the garden – we have zucchini as well as tomatoes; they are so good for cooking! And I teach my grandchildren Bulgarian,” she says proudly. “I must leave them this gift. If I don’t teach them, who will? My son-in-law is American, and my daughter is always working so much; poor thing. It is very important for the children to know their heritage….the little one can already read the Cyrillic alphabet!” Does she ever get anxious while waiting for test results, which will reveal the progression of her cancer? “Eh!” She waves her hand, in the dismissive gesture so typical of Balkan people of her generation. “It’s not for me to worry about that. I am in God’s hands.”

Joy: the Nature of God, Pumped Through Our Bloodstream

Despite Elena’s admirably positive attitude, it is undeniable that serious illnesses such as cancer are difficult and painful both for patients and the family members who help care for them. pic2 (1)A friend of mine from church, “Altin”, describes the feeling after chemotherapy as “being in a boxing match, and losing”. A fellow Christian and writer, being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was a shock for Altin and gave him much time to reflect on his life in Christ in the midst of frightening circumstances. He and his wife started a Facebook page, “Ad Alta Simul” (Latin for “To the Summit Together”) to update friends on the progress of his medical treatments as he took step after painful step to fight the cancer. During the worst of his treatments, he wrote:

“Joy is a topic I have thought long and hard on over the past 5 months during this battle with cancer. Can I be joyful in the midst of all of the uncertainty of my future? Is it possible for me to be joyful when experiencing near constant physical and emotional pain?

The Bible certainly indicates that it is possible for me to do so. “Consider it pure joy when you fall into all sorts of trials” (James 1:2). To transpose James for my current situation: Can I consider my cancer as nothing but joy? Joy is nothing less than the nature of God pumped through our bloodstream. It’s a blessed invasion of the Spirit of God deep into my soul. Let me contrast happiness and joy: Happiness is all about the here and now. Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a sound bite that does not last, while joy is like a pleasing chorus that can’t be stopped.

As I reflect on the words of James, I can’t avoid the high bar that he sets for God’s gift of joy. Any lingering confusion between joy and happiness must end with this passage. If I claim to be happy when my life has been turned upside down with cancer, I am either lying, deluding myself, or am downright insane. Happiness and cancer (or any trouble for that matter) simply don’t mix. But according to James, I can rejoice in the same situation. If he is correct, then God’s joy must be made up of material so strong and sturdy that it can withstand the toughest pain and sorrow that this world can thrash upon us. Trials thus emerge as joy’s greatest and toughest proving grounds.”

Far from treating chronic illness as a pleasant gift or simply pretending it doesn’t matter, the Christians I see fight this curse with courage, but humility. As Scripture instructs believers to “carry one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ”, believers in Christ are humble enough to seek and accept help and practical expressions of love from others when they are most needed. pic3When Altin was diagnosed with cancer, he and his wife were grateful for the much-needed support of friends and church family that came in the form of cards, letters, prepared meals, and assistance with other needs as they arose. After months of grueling treatments to get the disease under control, Altin and his wife hosted a joyful “No More Chemotherapy” party attended by many friends. This marked a milestone of success, but as with many chronic diseases, the battle continues.

Caring for Caregivers

When life is disrupted by serious illness, it is not just the patient who needs support and care – but often his or her spouse or family as well. While Elena speaks sincerely about her steadfast faith in God, it is impossible not to notice the exhaustion on her daughter’s face. Early morning hospital appointments, 24-hour care for a sick parent, child or spouse, and the stress of waiting for conclusive test results are a daily reality for family members. Do you have a family member who has fallen ill? Here are some suggestions to help you in your battle:

·         Learn about your loved one’s diagnosis, and get to know his medical care team. Each member of the medical group will have specific responsibilities, and you will want to become acquainted with each one.

·         Share the responsibilities of caregiving with other people. It will be overwhelming to try and do everything alone; learn to ask for help when you need it.

·         Take care of your own health. You need to get sufficient sleep, eat healthy food and drink enough water in order to have the energy you need to help your sick loved one.

·         Find ways to relax and relieve stress. It is not selfish to make time for yourself – relaxation will help you mentally and physically prepare for each day’s challenges.

·          Try not to take anything personally. Sometimes, your sick loved one may be upset or frustrated, and you may feel unappreciated. Do not forget that your loved one truly appreciates you and all you are doing, even if it is not always said.

·         Let your loved one be in control. You do not have to make all the decisions and plans; whenever possible, let your loved one be in charge of his or her experience with treatment.

Small Gestures that Mean a Lot

“Doviana” cares for her son, a man in his early 30’s, who has had a painful condition creating a large tumor on his hip for several years. While dealing with the challenges of her own chronic illness (Multiple Sclerosis), Doviana and her son take an eternal perspective: “Everyone has an expiration date; some of us are simply more aware of it than others.” Faced with possible amputation, he lives with constant pain but possesses an unshakeable faith. “Physical problems can take you down spiritually faster than anything else,” Doviana says, and points out that many well-meaning people simply don’t know how to approach tragedy. “We have learned patience, and don’t judge people who don’t know how to respond. Most people who ask a chronically-sick person ‘how are you?’ don’t really want to know how they are, but we have learned to give gracious answers, because we realize that [we] may be their first experience with serious illness,” she explains.

Simply knowing that others care and are praying for them – or receiving small but tangible gestures of compassion – often lifts the spirits of patients who are fighting serious or long-term illnesses. Doviana found comfort in meeting with another woman from her church who had cancer, talking about the day-to-day difficulties they each faced, and praying together.

When Illness Leads to Serving Others

In 2006, “Albina” was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early enough to be cured; but the road to recovery was a difficult one. Although initially Albina felt abandoned, the new church she attended let the congregation know (through an email prayer chain) what she was going through and what help she could use. “The results were amazing,” she said. “Cards, meals, phone calls (at least weekly from the pastor). The cards came almost every day, and I still have them. To have a physical item to show that someone was thinking of you and praying for you meant so much.” Because this support from other people was so crucial to Albina during her recovery, she started to reach out to others facing the same ordeal. In 2006, the same year she was diagnosed, she started a ministry called “Haven of Hope”. At her own expense, Albina has been sending encouraging letters, cards and books to people battling cancer for the past 11 years. “I have 3 scrapbooks of notes from people telling me how much it means. [The money] comes from designated offerings and income I get from selling tote bags. The sewing only cost me my time, because the fabric has all been donated,” she said. A small thing like a letter or uplifting booklet can make the day of a frightened cancer patient just a little bit brighter, and give them renewed hope.

When facing a potentially life-threatening illness, life for a patient can revolve around hospital visits, waiting for test results, and medication. Yet a person’s health cannot be measured purely in physical terms, and maintaining one’s emotional and spiritual health is possible even when circumstances are bleak. Working towards personal goals (whether teaching grandchildren; writing a book; gardening tomatoes or encouraging other patients likewise struggling) is important to a chronically-ill patient, as it takes the focus off of his/her disease and helps them focus on a normal life. And there is no replacement for simple human compassion; often expressed in the simplest of ways that cost very little.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-19)

 

 

Të ngulmosh përballë sëmundjes së hidhur

(nga “Ilira Revista”, Vjeshtë, 2017
Botimi i 61-të)

Marie O’Toole

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Elena sapo mbërriti në dhomën e kontrollit për trajtimin e kimio-terapisë. Një gjyshe vocërrake 82-vjeçare nga Bullgaria, ajo shtroi krevatin me mbulesën që kishte marrë nga shtëpia, rregulloi shallin që i mbulonte kokën pa flokë dhe më dha tërë ngazëllim një qese plot me domate, speca dhe borzilok të freskët nga kopshti i saj. “Për ty, Mari!” tha nga kënaqësia që po i jepte diçka përkthyeses së saj.

Elena po lufton me kancerin në pankreas prej tri vitesh në mënyrë po aq agresive sa tumori që nxjerr qeliza malinje në trupin e saj të brishtë. Por ajo refuzon të përqendrohet në kufizimet e saj fizike – ose ndonjëherë, të pranojë se ato ekzistojnë.

Vitin e kaluar, onkologu u habit që trupi i saj reagonte aq mirë ndaj trajtimit dhe që ajo nuk ankohej për efektet anësore të kimioterapisë: lodhje, të vjella ose plagë në gojë. E pamundur ta fshihja kënaqësinë që ndjeva kur ajo u përgjigj: “A nuk e di doktor që Krishti na shëron? Ju doktorët e njihni punën tuaj, por unë lutem. Dhe Jezusi më shëron trupin!”

Edhe pse besimi i fortë i Elenës e mban fort, askush s’mund ta mohojë që një sëmundje serioze si kanceri, është jashtëzakonisht e vështirë. E bija e saj, një grua në moshën time, na tregon të gjithë historinë: ka ditë të errëta, atëherë kur Elena e ka të pamundur të ngrihet nga shtrati dhe merr ilaçe për dhimbjen. Por, si i mbledh forcat të ngulmojë ndërsa pret trajtimin e radhës me shpresën që sëmundja do të tkurret, por që e bën të ndihet jashtëzakonisht keq ndërkohë? “Kam punë për të bërë”, thotë ajo. “Kujdesem për kopshtin, kemi kunguj, domate; janë të mira për gatim! U mësoj edhe nipërve dhe mbesave bullgarisht”, thotë me krenari. “Duhet t’ua lë këtë dhuratë. Kush do t’i mësojë nëse nuk i mësoj unë? Dhëndri im është amerikan dhe ime bijë është gjithmonë në
punë, e gjora. Është shumë e rëndësishme që fëmijët ta njohin trashëgiminë
e tyre… më e vogla mund ta lexojë alfabetin cirilik!”.

A ndjen ndonjëherë ankth ndërkohë që pret rezultatet e analizave? “Eh!”, tund
dorën me një gjest kaq tipik për ballkanasit e brezit të saj. “Nuk jam unë ajo që duhet të shqetësohet për këtë. Jam në duart e Perëndisë”.

Gëzimi: natyra e Perëndisë që rrjedh në venat tona

Me gjithë qëndrimin pozitiv për t’u admiruar të Elenës, pa dyshim që një sëmundje aq serioze sa kanceri është e vështirë dhe e dhimbshme për pacientët dhe anëtarët e familjes që kujdesen për ta. pic2 (1)
Një miku im nga kisha, Altini, e përshkruan ndjesinë
pas kimioterapisë si “të jesh në një ndeshje boksi, dhe të humbasësh”. Diagnostikimi me kancer në pankreas ishte tronditje për Altinin, një mik i krishterë dhe shkrimtar; kjo i dha shumë kohë të reflektojë për jetën në Krishtin në mes të rrethanave frikësuese. Ai bashkë me gruan hapën një faqe në “facebook”, “Ad Alta Simul” (latinisht për “Në majë

së bashku”) për t’i përditësuar miqtë për progresin e trajtimit mjekësor pas çdo hapi të dhimbshëm në luftën kundër kancerit. Gjatë periudhës më të keqe të trajtimit, ai shkroi:

“Gëzimi është një temë për të cilën kam menduar gjatë këtyre 5 muajve të betejës me kancerin. A mund të jem i gëzuar në mes të çdo pasigurie për të ardhmen? A është e mundur të kem gëzim kur përjetoj dhimbje të vazhdueshme fizike dhe emocionale? Bibla sigurisht që tregon se kjo është e mundur për mua. “Ta quani gëzim të madh, o vëllezër të mi, kur bini në tundime të ndryshme” (Jakobi 1:2).

Për ta zhvendosur vargun nga Jakobi në situatën time:

A mund ta konsideroj kancerin veç si gëzim? Gëzimi nuk është asgjë më pak se natyra e Perëndisë që rrjedh në venat tona. Është një pushtim i bek

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uar i Frymës së Shenjtë thellë në shpirtin tim.

Dua të vë në kontrast lumturinë me gëzimin: Lumturia është e përkohshme. Gëzimi është i rrënjosur në përjetësi. Lumturia është një tingull që nuk zgjat, ndërsa gëzimi është si një kor i ëmbël që nuk mund të ndalë. Ndërsa reflektoj fjalët e Jakobit, nuk mund ta shpërfill cakun e lartë ku ai e vë gëzimin, dhuratën e Perëndisë. Çdo konfuzion mes gëzimit dhe lumturisë duhet të marrë fund me këtë pasazh. Nëse pretendoj se jam i lumtur kur jeta ime është kthyer për së prapthi nga kanceri, ose po gënjej, ose po mashtroj veten, ose kam luajtur mendsh. Lumturia dhe kanceri (ose ndonjë telash tjetër) nuk pleksen bashkë. Por sipas Jakobit, unë mund të gëzohem në të njëjtën situatë. Nëse ai është i saktë, atëherë gëzimi i Perëndisë duhet të jetë bërë nga material aq i fortë dhe i ngurtë, sa mund të durojë dhimbjen dhe hidhërimin më të ashpër me të cilin kjo botë mund të na godasë. Kështu që sfidat dalin si sprova më e madhe dhe më e fortë e gëzimit.

Ata nuk e trajtojnë këtë sëmundje kronike si një dhuratë të pëlqyeshme apo thjesht bëjnë sikur nuk ekziston, por të krishterët që njoh e luftojnë këtë mallkim me kurajë, me përulësi. Ashtu siç i udhëzon Shkrimi të “mbajnë barrët e njëri-tjetrit dhe kështu të përmbushin ligjin e Krishtit”, besimtarët në Krishtin janë aq të përulur sa të kërkojnë dhe të pranojnë ndihmë dhe shprehje praktike dashurie nga të tjerët atëherë kur u nevojiten më shumë. Kur Altini u diagnostikua me kancer, ai dhe e shoqja ishin mirënjohës për mbështetjen aq të nevojshme të miqve dhe familjes së kishës që erdhi në formën e kartolinave, letrave, vakteve të përgatitura dhe ndihmës për çdo nevojë që doli. Pas disa muajsh trajtimi të mundimshëm për të mbajtur sëmundjen nën kontroll, Altini me bashkëshorten organizuan një festë “S’ka më kimioterapi” ku morën pjesë shumë miq. Kjo shënoi një moment suksesi, por ashtu si me shumë sëmundje kronike, beteja vazhdon.

Kujdesi ndaj atyre që kujdesen

Kur jeta të prishet nga një sëmundje serioze, nuk është vetëm pacienti që ka nevojë për mbështetje dhe përkujdesje, por shpesh edhe bashkëshorti, bashkëshortja apo familja. Ndërsa Elena flet me sinqeritet për besimin e patundur në Perëndinë, është e pamundur të mos vësh re rraskapitjen në fytyrën e së bijës. Vizitat herët në mëngjes në spital, përkujdesja gjatë 24 orëve për prindin, fëmijën apo bashkëshortin e sëmurë, dhe stresi i pritjes së testeve përfundimtare, janë realitet i përditshëm për anëtarët e familjes.

A keni një anëtar në familje që është sëmurë? Ja disa sugjerime për t’ju ndihmuar në betejën tuaj:

• Mësoni për diagnozën e të afërmit tuaj dhe njihni doktorët që po kujdesen për të. Çdo anëtar i grupit mjekësor ka përgjegjësi specifike dhe është mirë të njiheni me secilin prej tyre.

• Ndani përgjegjësitë e përkujdesjes me të tjerë. Është jashtëzakonisht e rëndë të përpiqesh dhe të bësh çdo gjë vetë; mësoni të kërkoni ndihmë atëherë kur ju duhet.

• Kujdesuni për shëndetin tuaj. Duhet të flini mjaftueshëm, të hani ushqime të shëndetshme dhe të pini mjaft ujë për të patur energjinë e duhur për ta ndihmuar të afërmin e sëmurë.

• Gjeni mënyra për t’u qetësuar dhe për të çliruar stresin. Nuk tregoni egoizëm nëse gjeni kohë për veten – çlodhja do t’ju ndihmojëtë përgatiteni mendërisht dhe fizikisht për sfidat e çdo dite.

• Përpiquni të mos merrni asgjë personalisht. Ndonjëherë, i afërmi i sëmurë mund të jetë i zemëruar ose i mërzitur dhe mund t’ju duket sikur nuk ju vlerëson. Mos harroni se i afërmi juaj ju vlerëson juve dhe çdo gjë që bëni, edhe pse nuk e shpreh gjithmonë.

• Lejojeni të afërmin tuaj të jenë në kontroll. Mos merrni çdo vendim dhe mos bëni çdo plan vetë; nëse është e mundur, i afërmi juaj le të jetë personi që do të vendosë vetë për përvojën e vet me trajtimin.

Gjestet e vogla tregojnë shumë

Doviana po kujdeset për të birin, një djalë në të tridhjetat i cili ka një sëmundje të dhimbshme që i ka krijuar një tumor të madh në ije prej disa vitesh. Ndërkohë që merret me sfidat e sëmundjes së vet kronike (sklerozën multiple), Doviana dhe i
biri kanë një perspektivë hyjnore: “Të gjithë e kanë një datë të fundit, por disa nga ne janë më të vetëdijshëm për këtë sesa disa të tjerë”. Ai jeton me dhimbje të vazhdueshme dhe rrezikon amputimin, por ka një besim të patundur. “Problemet fizike të rrëzojnë shpirtërisht më shpejt se çdo gjë tjetër”, thotë Doviana dhe tregon se shumë njerëz me qëllime të mira nuk e dinë si ta trajtojnë tragjedinë. “Kemi mësuar të tregojmë durim dhe nuk i gjykojmë njerëzit që nuk dinë si të reagojnë. Shumë njerëz që e pyesin dikë me
sëmundje kronike “Si je?”, nuk duan të dinë se si është, por kemi mësuar të japim përgjigje me hir, sepse e kuptojmë se [ne] mund të jemi përvoja e tyre e parë me sëmundjen serioze”, shpjegon ajo.

Kur e dinë se të tjerët kujdesen dhe luten për ta, ose marrin gjeste të vogla dhe praktike dhembshurie, shpesh kjo i inkurajon pacientët që po luftojnë me sëmundje të gjata e serioze. Doviana ka gjetur ngushëllim duke u takuar me një grua tjetër nga kisha që kishte kancer, duke folur për vështirësitë që hasnin çdo ditë dhe duke u lutur së bashku.
Kur sëmundja ju nxit t’u shërbeni të tjerëve Albina është diagnostikuar me kancer në gji në vitin 2006. Kanceri u zbulua aq herët sa mund të kurohej, por rruga drejt shërimit është e vështirë. Edhe pse Albina u ndje e braktisur, kisha e re në të cilën merrte pjesë u njoftua (përmes mesazheve elektronike për një zinxhir lutjeje) se çfarë po kalonte dhe për çfarë kishte nevojë. “Rezultatet ishin të mahnitshme”, thotë ajo. “Kartolina, ushqime, telefonata (të paktën çdo javë nga pastori). Kartolinat vinin çdo ditë dhe ende i ruaj. Kur ke në dorë diçka fizike që tregon se dikush po mendon për ty dhe po lutet, do të thotë aq shumë. Për shkak se kjo mbështetje nga të tjerët ishte aq domethënëse për Albinën gjatë
kohës së shërimit, ajo nisi t’u shërbejë të tjerëve që po kalonin të njëjtën përvojë si ajo. Në vitin 2006, në të njëjtin vit kur u diagnostikua, ajo nisi shërbesën “Limani i shpresës”. Albina u ka dërguar me shpenzimet e veta në këto 11 vitet e fundit, letra
inkurajuese, kartolina dhe libra njerëzve që po luftojnë me kancerin. “Kam tri albume me pusulla nga njerëzit që më kanë thënë sa shumë i kam inkurajuar. [Paratë] vijnë nga
ofertat dhe të ardhurat që mbledh nga shitja e çantave. “Unë investoj vetëm kohën që i qep, pasi copa është e dhuruar”, thotë ajo. Diçka e vogël, si një letër apo një libërth inkurajues, e bën ditën e një pacienti të trembur nga kanceri pak më të shndritshme
dhe i përtërin shpresën.

Kur vihet përballë një sëmundjeje që të kërcënon jetën, jeta e pacientit sillet rrotull vizitave në spital, pritjes për rezultatin e analizave dhe marrjes së ilaçeve. Ilira2Megjithatë, shëndeti i një personi nuk mund të matet me gjëra materiale dhe ruajtja e shëndetit emocional dhe frymëror është e mundur edhe kur rrethanat janë të vështira. Puna për të arritur qëllime personale, (qoftë mësimi i nipërve, shkrimi i një libri, kujdesi ndaj domateve apo inkurajimi i atyre që janë në të njëjtën luftë) është shumë e rëndësishme për një pacient me sëmundje kronike, pasi largon fokusin nga sëmundja e tij/e saj dhe e ndihmon të fokusohet te jeta normale. Dhe nuk ka zëvendësues për dhembshurinë njerëzore, e cila shprehet shpesh në mënyrën më të thjeshtë që kushton shumë pak.