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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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

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.

To be clear, couples therapy can be helpful before things have gone on too long. Harmful patterns can be recognized for what they are, and turned around before it’s too late if both spouses are willing to make healthy changes. See this excellent article by BetterHelp for more information on couples therapy and how it works.

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/

 

God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce (Review)

protection

by Marie Notcheva

For several months now, I have wanted to review Pastor Herb 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 biblically challenging the view 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.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “Be careful about basing a doctrine on one verse.” Nowhere is this more obvious than in the thorny endeavor to unpack all of what Scripture has to say about divorce (as well as abuse of different kinds; abandonment; and re-marriage). Wisely, Lugt begins with the assertion that “Moses, Jesus and Paul all recognized a range of marital conditions that are worse than divorce”. (P. 3). He then re-caps historical anthropology of women being treated as property, pausing on the Puritans who were a notable exception:

“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.” (p. 4).

Lugt then proceeds to demonstrate 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).”

Before delving into the second section of the booklet, “Protection of Women under the Law of Moses,” Lugt then highlights the fallacy that male domination is a “right” inherited from the Fall — consistent with the rest of Genesis 3, it was a “curse” that, like sickness, thorns and discord, should be resisted and fought.

Mosaic Law

Even the most weak and vulnerable women in Hebraic society — daughters sold as slaves, wives 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 very much 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? Verse 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 Lugt in this apologetic argues 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.

A slightly more obscure passage Lugt addresses in the Mosaic code is Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which he points out would cause a man to think twice before deciding to divorce his wife at will (he was now prohibited from re-marrying her). Worthy of note is that the vague term “uncleanness” in verse 1 does not refer to adultery, which would have carried the death penalty. He was, however, precluded from re-marrying her, which underlines the permanence of the divorce and foreshadows Jesus’ warning in Matthew 19:8 against divorcing one’s wife “for any and every reason”. Divorce was a concession; a last-resort, and not something to be carried out lightly.

“The same law that offers penalties for murder, theft, perjury, and adultery also provides consequences when the purpose and covenant of marriage are broken by contempt and abuse.”(p. 12).

Unraveling Malachi 2:16

After demonstrating the similar intent of protection of both Jesus and Moses, (whose Law Jesus upheld completely during His ministry), Lugt turns toward the most oft-misquoted verse in the Bible regarding divorce: Malachi 2:16 (which he quotes from the New King James Version:

“For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”Says the Lord of hosts.” 

Compare this rendering with the more accurate, word-for-word translation of the English Standard Version:

“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).

While Lugt correctly noted that the prophet was dealing with “treacherous” divorces — men who didn’t care about their wives, and abused their power to abandon them to a live of poverty and disgrace — what he failed to do was address the etymology of that verse. As Barbara Roberts (author ofNot Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion”) has pointed out, 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 neither the correct interpretation nor 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 correct 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.[1]

Apart from this omission, Lugt’s treatment of Old Testament divorce laws’ protection and provision for women was solid. He correctly points out (quoting biblical scholar Joe Sprinkle) 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, Lugt next turns to the New Testament teaching on divorce to demonstrate how Christ, Moses and Paul’s teachings complement one another.

New Testament Application

The reader doesn’t need to be convinced that Jesus demonstrated a concern and caring for women that went beyond the social mores of the First Century. Nor is it hard to see that the God of Scripture is a Protector and Defender of the weak and downtrodden.  Lugt asks then the rhetorical questions, “Does Matthew 5:31-32 over-ride the provision offered divorced women in Deuteronomy? Was Jesus, by this one statement, disagreeing with Moses?

“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.” Professor Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, HarperCollins, 1997. pp. 169-70.

Lugt begins his conclusion by demonstrating again how the Mosaic Code and the teachings of Christ on divorce complemented each other. He argues that 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. Moses had given the Elders of Israel “a legal basis to free a woman from the neglect, contempt, and abuse of a cruel husband” (p. 21). 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. As Lugt points out, context is crucial. He 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 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

 

Giving these instructions on the basis of Christ’s authority, why is there no mention of the fornication clause? It is evident here that the woman can obtain a divorce (under civil law; for unspecified reasons). And why the no-remarriage clause, Lugt asks, when Paul would have been well-acquainted with Mosaic teaching on remarriage? 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 (which brings up another set of questions about divorced Christians re-marrying within the Church, which Lugt doesn’t address). Nor does Lugt address the fact that the New Testament uses the same word for “divorce” as for “separation” – the distinction made by the modern-day church is absent in the pages of Scripture. Nowhere do we see the Early Church pressuring divorced women to “reconcile” with their husbands, under any circumstances.

Conclusion

Lugt’s short book is a helpful resource for pastors, counselors and Christians in abusive or contentious marriages in order to understand God’s original design for marriage; as well as His protection in certain circumstances where divorce is allowed as a concession. Abuse is unequivocally one of these conditions. Actually examining the context and hermeneutic in which certain passages were written is illuminating in dispelling the “abuse is not biblical grounds for divorce” fallacy that exists in some churches, and serves to keep women in bondage. Lugt writes:

“Many…in trying to return to the ideal of marital love and permanence have not seen the wisdom God Himself showed in circumstances of marital abuse….divorce reflects a serious and costly departure from God’s original design. But the solution to the problem is not found in misrepresenting the heart of the law or in ignoring the plight of abused or unloved wives. Neither can we rightly maintain that sexual unfaithfulness or the desertion of an unbelieving mate are the only grounds for a divorce.”  (p. 26).

The brevity of Lugt’s book did not address every possible question that arises from the question of Christian divorce (such as remarriage), and while his exposition of Malachi 2:16 was somewhat lacking, overall “God’s Protection of Women” is an excellently-written and much-needed treatment of an issue that has caused much confusion and additional pain to abused women. It deserves a place in every biblical counselor’s library.

[1] 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.

Relationship and Doctrine: Striking a Balance

Relationship and Doctrine: Striking a Balance

by Marie Notcheva

Have you ever suffered from theological burnout? I have – notably when studying for my biblical counseling certification. One hundred eighty-five hours of video lectures were tremendously helpful and informational; so were the many books I had to read. By the end, saturated in hermeneutics and systematic theology, I didn’t feel like opening the Bible anymore. I felt like God was an algorithm to be approached through diagrams, charts, and verses committed to memory. He seemed as distant as my college chemistry professor (who I haven’t seen since 1990).

There was nothing wrong with the training, of course. A correct understanding of God, human nature, and the Bible is critical in order to understand the issues we deal with in the counseling room (as well as life in general, for that matter). All of the books and training materials I was assigned were produced by Calvinistic authors, as biblical counseling tends to be very heavily Reformed. Reformed literature, by and large, tends to be heavy. Richly doctrinal but not a quick read. There is less emphasis on God’s love and relationship with us than on His other attributes, and to be honest, many times the continual emphasis on exegetical skill (not to mention total depravity) left me cold.

Christ Might Have Died for my Sins?

Don’t get me wrong; the Reformers were the heroes of the faith who rescued Christianity from the mysticism and superstition of the Dark Ages. The Reformed camp, on the whole, produces the highest quality Christian literature there is; particularly in the Christian counseling genre. Sometimes it has seemed to me, however, that in the quest for doctrinal precision and endless parsing, the relational aspect of Christ’s love is lost. Taking an extreme position on the Doctrines of Grace can leave one scratching one’s head.

For example, in one course I was taught that when sharing the Gospel with a potential convert, one should never tell him that “Christ died for [his] sins because you have no way of knowing if that individual is one of the elect or not.” Umm…alrighty then. So…what exactly should we tell him? “Hey! I have great news! Christ might have died for your sins!”

Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

Jesus looked at the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:20-22), loved him, and bid him come and follow Him. And the guy still walked away (which I find staggering). Repeatedly, we see that the invitation is open to all…we all have a chance to be one of “the elect”. We need to hold onto this truth, and not confuse counselees into thinking they can be arbitrarily ‘locked out’ of heaven by a misunderstanding of predestination. We need to give hope, not seek to be more Calvinistic than Calvin.

Overwhelmed by Theology, or Overwhelmed by Love?

Having a high view of God precludes focusing on our own “felt needs.” It is unbiblical (some would say blasphemous) to think in terms of our own value. I understand and agree that we are totally depraved, and the Atonement speaks of HIS infinite worth, glory and value, but there are several places in Scripture where God’s Word indicates that we are precious to Him. If we were truly worthless to God, He never would have sent His Son. I can see where there’s a danger to making the cross all about us, rather than about God (and people do); but even the Puritans recognized Christ’s love for the individual.

I agree God does not exist to meet our emotional needs, but what do you do when you have a tough day? What do you teach your counselee to do? Or do Reformed folks never have a tough day, because of God’s majesty and sovereignty? Do we pour our hearts out to God, or do we text a friend, who seems more approachable?

Sometimes, after reading about the proper view of God, I actually would have a tough time praying. I find it intimidating and don’t really know what to talk about. The Reformers themselves were passionate, emotional, introspective people. Sometimes in today’s literary Reformed camp, one can learn much but feel nothing. One believer I know wrote: “I love Reformed people, but I loathe their “We are the Christian Intellectual Elite” complex. When Christianity is all head and no heart… yep, the balance is lost.”

Getting Back to Basics – with the Puritans

This might be an over-correction made by the modern biblical counseling movement, in response to the touchy-feely theological fluffiness that graces the shelves of today’s Christian bookstores. In stark contrast to the modern “Jesus is My Homeboy” attitude, the correct relationship with God that Reformed writers historically have tried to convey is one of awe-struck intimacy. Consider the following passage, penned by Frances Ridley Havergal in the 19th century:

Some of us think and say a good deal about a sense of Christ’s presence – sometimes rejoicing in it, sometimes going mourning all the day long because we have it not; praying for it and not always seeming to receive what we ask; measuring our own position, and sometimes even that of others, by it; now on the heights, now in the depths about it….It comes practically to this: Are you a disciple of the Lord Jesus at all? If so, He says to you, “I am with you always.” That overflows all the regrets of the past and all the possibilities of the future and most certainly includes the present. Therefore, at this very moment, as surely as your eyes rest on this page, so surely is the Lord Jesus with you. “I am” is neither “I was” nor “I will be.” It is always abreast of our lives, always encompassing us with salvation. It is a splendid, perpetual now. [i]

Does this read as if it were written by someone who saw God as distant, obscure, or harsh? Far from it. The beauty of some of the classical writing of the Puritans (and other early Reformed writers, such as Spurgeon) is that they maintained that balance between holding a high view of God’s majesty, and enjoying an intimate relationship with Him. Humbled by His interest in their lives, the desire to know Him in spirit and in truth fueled their deep study of His Word. Far from seeing theology as dry or irrelevant, we may think of these early Reformed writers as the original biblical counselors.

Learning to Enjoy God all Over Again

It took me a long time to get back to reading devotionals after completing my certification. I got the impression from my courses that devotionals are considered “fluffy” and generally promote bad theology. The answer is to find truly good devotionals – writing that spurs one on to seek God more, and to go deeper in our walk with Him. We needn’t suffer from ‘theological burnout’ or view Reformed/biblical counseling literature as dry or overly heavy-handed.

The answer, for me anyway, was to drop the intellectually-induced guilt over not always having a desire to peruse concordances, categorize passages on index cards, or learn koinos Greek. Of course, if one has the time and desire to do this, by all means she should! Proper interpretation of the Scriptures is not optional; and I have taught on this very subject many times. But there comes a point where the human heart wants to put down the books, and just spend time with the Father. We biblical counselors can easily get out of balance when the very thing we use to know God – doctrinal study – can stand in the way of desiring fellowship with Him. Simply being on guard against this trap (and being honest with ourselves about how we wish to spend devotional time with God) is crucial to our spiritual health, which in turn makes us able to minister to others.

 

[i] “Seasons of the Heart”, compiled by Donna Kelderman, Reformation Heritage Books, 2013.

Do Expectations Destroy Relationships?

Do Expectations Destroy Relationships?

Posted July 7, 2016 on Biblical Counseling for Women

by Marie Notcheva

Recently, a friend of mine posted a quotation on social media from a female Christian writer. The citation exhorted other Christian women not to expect their husbands to help with housework; meet any of their needs except to economically provide for the family, and to simply try to “make his life as easy as possible.” What most caught my attention was a portion of the quote which was underlined:“Expectations destroy relationships.”

While undoubtedly well-intentioned, this sort of advice targeted towards Christian wives concerns me. It is not about the housework or a division of labor based on traditional gender roles. That is an individual arrangement that can be decided by couples based on preference. If a husband does not feel it is his role to give the baby a bath, fine. If she does not want to mow the lawn or snowplow the driveway, that is reasonable. However, as another reader pointed out, the quote seemed to imply that a woman who is honestly overwhelmed is sinning if she asks for help. She is not.

Many women fall into serious depression because they are overwhelmed by the demands of running a household (often while homeschooling children) and are made to feel guilty if they expect assistance from their husbands. Would we tell men they are wrong to expect their wives to cook their dinner? Iron their shirts? Meet their sexual needs? It would be hard to find a male writer willing to take this stance.

Even so, household chores are not the main issue I had with the quote. It is the notion that in a relationship, it is wrong to have any expectations of the other person.

The Bible sets forth some very clear expectations for both husbands and wives – they are to love and submit to one another (Ephesians 5); he is to be patient and gentle with her (Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7); she is to be industrious at home and assist with running the household (Proverbs 31); not contentious (Proverbs 25:24). He is not to be a drunkard (1 Cor. 6:10 and elsewhere); both are to be sexually faithful to each other (Hebrews 13:4), and the list goes on. God has set these expectations – why would it be wrong for either spouse to hold them? It would be extremely unhealthy to enter into any kind of relationship with no expectations whatsoever, but particularly into a marriage covenant.

Expectations are Necessary and God-ordained

Telling women “You won’t have a happy marriage if you expect anything from your husband” is dangerous for at least three reasons. First, it demeans men. A godly man seeks to honor and obey God by loving, serving, protecting, encouraging, comforting and helping his wife. He is the spiritual leader in the home, and is the one to whom his children look to see an example of Christ. It is rather condescending (if not insulting) to tell women to “expect nothing” of them.

Secondly, it saddles Christian women with the responsibility of their husbands’ happiness, and additional guilt if they fall short. These women are often already burdened by self-recrimination, trying to live up to their own standards of perfection, and usually blame themselves for their husbands’ short-comings. The last thing they need is to be rebuked for having “expectations.”

Lastly, telling women to have zero expectations in the marriage relationship opens the door to abuse. I have written about this before, and I firmly believe that sanctimonious messages like this contribute to the problem. The implication is that the woman is somehow responsible for any failings in the marriage; that it would all go so much better if she would just be a better “helpmeet” and stop expecting her husband to obey God. When women internalize such unbalanced messages, they are less able to recognize emotional abuse and the Church, by extension, continues to perpetuate the cycle. “Doormat theology” is not biblical.

Live up to It!

While it is certainly not correct (or realistic) to marry expecting perfection of one’s spouse, a healthy regard for the other’s spiritual well-being (as well as that of future children) demands a certain set of expectations. That is, in essence, what the marriage vows are: a commitment to live up to one’s God-given responsibilities (including to love, honor and cherish one another). If a woman does not expect at least this much of her husband, the relationship is already in serious trouble.

Expectations do not destroy relationships. Selfish people destroy relationships. The most important relationship men and women can ever have is with their Creator, and Christ Himself laid out some very clear expectations on His followers: “If you love Me, you will do as I command” (John 14:15). He expects us to live up to what we have already attained (Phil. 3:16), and part of this means behaving in a selfless and Christ-like way in our relationships with other people (most of all, our marriage). Failing to have any standards or expectations in a relationship, on ourselves or other people, is a sure-fire way for it to fail. God has given us the standard of what a healthy relationship should look like, and women need to work toward what God has called them to do – while expecting no less of their husbands.

Do I Want to be “Makarios”?

Do I Want to be “Makarios”?

by Marie Notcheva

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Practically speaking, the fifth chapter of Matthew is one of the most difficult in the Bible. While the theology behind the Beatitudes and Christ’s instruction on how His followers are to conduct themselves is not difficult to grasp, the unattainable standard of holiness He sets forth in this passage has endless implications to the Christian’s personal life – as well as discipleship in the counseling room.

The Beatitudes are counter-intuitive, because some of the states of being Jesus is calling “blessed” we would instinctively avoid. We might be ok with being gentle; and we certainly like to think of ourselves as hungering for righteousness, but mourning? Being persecuted, or slandered? Poor in spirit? What’s “blessed” about that?

The word used for “blessed”, makarios, does not mean “blissfully happy or contented.” Also used seven times in Revelation, (and twice to describe God in 1 Timothy), Jesus is after something much more than temporal warm, fuzzy feelings here. Makarios , from the root mak (large or lengthy), and denotes “the nature of that which is the highest good” (Vine’s Concise Bible Dictionary) and referred in Greek both to the state of the gods, or later, to the upper crust (elite) of society who had achieved material blessing presumably by upright living.

Now, Jesus pronounces God’s blessings on the lowly: The poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, the mourning. He reverses our understanding of what it means to be ‘blessed’. The elite in God’s kingdom, the “makarios”, are those at the bottom.

Is this what we want when we sign on as Christians?

The Blessing of Humility

Throughout the Gospels, Christ makes the cost of discipleship clear. However, Matthew 5 is a concise glimpse not so much at entrance requirements for outsiders; but a declaration of a present reality – what already characterizes the true Christ-follower. Each of the beatitudes is characterized by a type of humility. Perhaps Jesus’ opening statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is the most intriguing – what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Why would I want to be poor in spirit? What is He getting at here?

Spiritual poverty, like material, is characterized by a lack – not having something. Someone who is truly poor, like the beggar of Luke 16, is utterly incapable of helping himself and is awaiting crumbs. Spiritually bankrupt and without anything to offer before our Creator, God values those who seek Him realizing they have nothing of their own merits to offer. Being “poor is spirit” means being able to sincerely say, like the Pharisee of Luke 18, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is the opposite of resting in one’s spiritual pedigree, good works, or ministry accomplishments.

It is the beginning of the understanding of grace.

When beginning discipleship with a new believer, or counseling for a specific issue with a more mature Christian, this is a good starting point. Most of Matthew 18 (and Christ’s instruction to His followers generally) hangs on this first statement – recognizing our own spiritual poverty and brokenness is the beginning of a relationship with God.

The question we need to wrestle through then becomes, “Is this something that I really want?” The problem is, if we are honest, we want some of the glory for ourselves. Of course, we want to be counted as Christians; but how do we really react when mourning – does it challenge our faith, or do we count ourselves ‘blessed’ to have the God of all Comfort on our side?

Checking our Reactions in Persecution: Our Hearts in Anger

After demonstrating His priority on humility in the first part of the chapter, Jesus turns His attention to interpersonal relationships. This is where meekness and Christ-like humility is truly put to the test – it is easy, after all, to be meek, humble or gentle if living on a desert island (or in a convent). But in the messy world of jealousies, rivalries and petty gossip, can we really “rejoice” for being persecuted? Or, if provoked to anger, are we able to see that as seriously as murder? Christ is after heart attitudes here, demonstrating that anger and lust are as serious before God as their logical conclusions (murder and adultery).

What’s so difficult about this chapter is that no one is capable of living up to this standard – apart from Christ Himself. It continually reminds us that our thoughts are as loud in heaven as our shouts, and that God expects our responses to be rooted in humility. Often, people are suffering because of someone else’s sin. When someone continues to hurt us without remorse, it is almost impossible not to want to strike back. This is a good starting point in counseling (including counseling ourselves) to deal with the sting of betrayal or being slandered.

Praying for those who persecute us and loving our enemies is the hardest thing Christ has ever called us to do, but He declares it our greatest good. This is His definition of what it means to be blessed, although it is an intangible and often unappreciated blessing to us in this world. Taking a close look at how God defines blessedness (versus the short-sighted way we often see it) will help us and our counselees redefine our priorities and gain the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

“Me Before You” and Hollywood’s Culture of Death

“<em>Me Before You</em>” and Hollywood’s Culture of Death

 

by Marie Notcheva

Me Before You

On June 3rd , a “feel-good” movie designed as a ‘dramatic romance’ opened in cinemas nationwide. Being somewhat out of the pop-culture loop, I first heard of it when a European friend posted a disability rights activists’ petition to boycott the film on social media. The main character in “Me Before You”, Will Traynor, is an extremely wealthy, good-looking, educated British man who is left a paraplegic by an accident. Despite having a loving family, access to the best rehabilitative therapy, and a devoted caretaker, he decides to end his life at Dignitas, a Swiss euthanasia clinic.

Louisa, the caretaker, forges a strong bond with Will and tries to talk him out of it; but to no avail. Ultimately most of the main characters in the movie – including his family – cave in and support his “choice” to end his life, which Will has decided is no longer worth living. Amid swelling, emotionally-evocative music, he follows through on his plan. Pro-life activist Stephanie Gray wrote, “[Will’s family] all encourage, facilitate or are actually present at Will’s suicide the way he wants it.”

The Message 

“‘Me Before You’ literally romanticizes a death wish,” said Tom Shakely, executive director of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.  The main character, despite being in a far better situation personally, economically, and even physically than many disabled people, concludes that he is better off dead than to face the challenges he’s been handed. This is a slap in the face to the many physically disabled people who live productive lives, contribute to society and honor God in their circumstances. (I have a wheelchair-bound friend in Albania who organizes Christian camps for the disabled and shares the Gospel with anyone who will listen; and, despite Albania being far less handicapped-accessible than Britain or the United Sates, Klodi is rarely without a smile or kind word.)

Does this film really portray handicapped individuals? Worse, has the value of human life become so cheap that Hollywood presumes to tell the disabled they should feel worthless? Ben Mattlin, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy, wrote in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune:

“Make no mistake: Quadriplegia is hard, and it can be tempting to give up. Like Will Traynor, the paralyzed heartthrob in the movie (played by nondisabled actor Sam Claflin), I rely on constant assistance from paid aides and family members. It’s nearly impossible to find a job, let alone a restaurant or store without steps or with an accessible restroom. It’s a good thing I’m positively bursting with self-confidence and know I do want my life to continue. But how many of those who are struggling to maintain self-esteem, who feel unsure of their right to exist, possess the courage and sheer chutzpah to withstand the invidious message that they’re better off dead?” (Emphasis mine).

The Culpability of American Media

There has been much outcry about this film from disability advocates and anti-euthanasia groups, but I fear that they are like a voice calling out in the wilderness, drowned out by the culture at large. The ethical implication of euthanasia, often called “mercy killing” by its advocates, was so taboo until recently that it was rarely considered a viable moral option. Now, it is being debated (and even implemented) around the world as a “patient right.” American film culture, by glorifying this horrible tragedy, is partly responsible. As of June 2016, six states allow physician-assisted suicide to “mentally-sound, terminally ill” patients, as does the Netherlands where euthanasia practices are reported to be non-consensual at times. (“Physician-assisted suicide” is an oxymoron, as doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath to heal, and not to kill, before being licensed.)

Hollywood’s morbid fascination with euthanasia is not new. Me Before You is eerily similar to the 1981 film, Whose Life is It Anyway?, which also depicted a post-accident quadriplegic determined to end his life. However, two stark differences stand out: in the earlier film, the hospital administrator staunchly opposes the main character’s decision on moral grounds. In 1981, it was considered acceptable to “put to sleep” one’s aging dog; but mercy killing a human being was still a moral taboo. Secondly, the earlier film was dark and serious. Me Before You is a product of Hollywood’s modern  ‘culture of death’ which has been so white-washed that comedies are made about abortion (2014’s “Obvious Child”; 2007’s “Knocked Up”); and now we have a feel-good romantic drama about euthanasia.

American movies, unfortunately, are the unrealistic standard by which many young people worldwide set their moral compass. Whether we want to admit it or not, impressionable students are debating the relative morality of euthanasia versus quality of life in medical schools around the world – largely because it has become a “gray area” in American culture – in less than one generation. Hollywood has a tendency to grossly misrepresent and inaccurately portray entire people groups (such as American evangelicals in Soul Surfer; now the disabled in Me Before You); but people in other countries really believe our films represent American culture. (Case in point: just try and convince a Bulgarian teenager that American teens don’t all drive sports cars and carry Gucci purses, ala Mean Girls).

What is Our Response?

Obviously, Hollywood does not deserve anyone’s support at the box office for making films about disabled people offing themselves. Signing petitions to end “disability death porn,” as one activist group has termed it, is fine. But the Christian response is to influence the culture to the dignity of human life; to reignite the value of men and women made in the very image of God. This is the matter of principle, the point of discussion at which we diverge from mainstream culture. Human life is sacred. Here, it seems The Dove Foundation (considered the authority on “family-friendly” film reviews) colossally missed the point on Me Before You:

“Regrettably, despite the good cast and themes of love, devotion, and the love of life, strong language and sexual situations and comments prevent us from awarding the movie our Dove ‘Family-Approved’ Seal.”

Wait, WHAT??  They were more concerned with cleavage, “shirtless men in a few scenes,” betting on horses and swearing than with the glorification of suicide? When a shirtless man concerns us more than a suicidal man, our ‘Christian priorities’ are out of whack.

Every suicide is a tragedy. What Hollywood doesn’t show is the horribly painful ripple effect suicide has on the relatives, friends, and even strangers left behind. A year ago, I sat in a church for the funeral of a 15-year-old classmate of my son, and watched tears run down the face of another teen boy who had barely known him. For unknown reasons, the child had taken his own life and left a community reeling in shock. The effect would have been no less if the boy had been handicapped; terminally ill; or had Down’s Syndrome. Instinctively, we know how precious life is. I regularly interpret for terminal cancer patients (who do not look glamorous or attractive as the characters in The Fault in Our Stars, by the way). These men and women cling to life with tenacity, wanting to spend every possible moment with their loved ones. This is humanity. This is putting “you” before “me,” not the other way around.

Counseling any suicidal person (pre-emptively or remedially, after a failed attempt) is never easy, and their problems should never be minimized. This certainly applies to physically disabled individuals as well as any other depressed person considering suicide. But the truth is, most disabled individuals arenot depressed or suicidal, and they resent Hollywood’s condescending portrayal of them. Me Before You is a prime example of how far Hollywood has ventured from the sanctity of human life, and cries out for the truth of the Gospel (the Person and work of Jesus Christ) to give redemption and meaning to human suffering. The tragedy of films such as this is that they romanticize suicide; snub the Sovereign Creator; and reduce the moral and spiritual capacity of human beings to the level of animals.

“Why Can’t We Counsel Ourselves?”

Faithful-are-the-wounds-of-a-friend-but-the-kisses-of-an-enemy-are-deceitful.

by Marie Notcheva

Recently, I was talking with two girlfriends after a Bible study. The subject came around to biblical reproof, and how we accept it from others. Recently, I published an article on the damaging effects of criticism and how it can embitter a person; today, let’s look at at the other side of the coin: confrontation of a specific sin or attitude, offered in legitimate love and concern.

Although we like to think otherwise, we cannot view ourselves objectively. As my pastor says, “Scripture warns us that our heart is deceitful, and can trick us even when we think that our actions and motives are pure.” This is confusing, because we are in the best situation to know all the details of our circumstance better than anyone else. However, what we cannot see (particularly in painful circumstances which may be due to someone else’s sin) is that unresolved hurt and anger can easily lead to hardness of heart; cynicism; and ambivalence. Left to our own counsel, we may do what feels right or looks logical, without considering the harder commands of Christ.

Because we are filtering our situation through experience, we feel perfectly justified. It is difficult for all of us to hear constructive feedback clearly, especially when strong emotions and painful experiences are mixed into the equation. With even a scrap of biblical literacy, we can easily find justification for what we want. And while we may be partially or fully right, we still may become embittered in the process and thus forfeit intimacy with God. We need the objective third-party view of a wise fellow Christian.

Friends, Foes and Spiritual Authorities

Proverbs 27:6 reminds us that truly good friends are not those who simply tell us what we want to hear:“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy”. A person who gives you feelings-based counsel is not a friend; nor is someone who advises you to run from your church at the first sign of conflict. As a very straight-forward person, I appreciate my close Christian friends who are going to speak truth into my life. Often, situations are less than black-and-white, and a wise person considers all angles before making a judgement. And yet, while we may solve the world’s problems over coffee, the admonishment of a friend does not carry the same weight of authority as that of a pastor. A good pastor will listen; understand; exegete Scripture with you; and may caution you in the same way as a friend – but his counsel may be more objective; and certainly more authoritative.

This year, a very serious situation in my life requiring drastic measures (and the involvement of the Church) came to a head. My pastor, with whom I’d been in regular contact, wrote:

“…because I love you I think it is important to address what I believe I can observe from your own heart and responses in all of this. I know that you’ve been hurt Marie and I am sure I can’t imagine the pain and stress you’ve experienced.  But my concern for you is that it seems that your heart is hard in response to what you’ve experienced. I think there is a real danger that you are…solving the problem of your pain with your own solution, rather than following the path that God’s word has provided.”

The Bible talks about “confronting in love” and “rebuking”, but I honestly did not read this as a rebuke – rather, it was a diagnosis. Several friends had cautioned me to stay close to God; no matter how dark it got, not to let my heart grow hard; and similar things. But this was different. A perceptive observation from a truly caring (and patient) pastor helped me to see and want to deal with my own attitude more proactively. As my friend Kim said, “That’s why we need pastors. God knew that if we just judged ourselves, everybody would just ‘do right in his own eyes’ – God knew what He was doing when He established Church authority.” Of course this isn’t to say that churches never err, or that spiritual abuse doesn’t sometimes happen – but when leaders are truly motivated by love and concern for the members’ spiritual well-being, it is far less likely to be the case.

How Does a Hardened Heart Feel?

When I’m interpreting for patients in a cardiology clinic, I can anticipate the doctor’s questions: “Do you have any chest pain? Numbness or tingling down your arm? Shortness of breath?” These are always the first symptoms a physician uses to rule out heart problems. But what are the questions a “soul doctor” might hypothetically ask to diagnose a hardened heart? Perhaps:

  • Do you feel misunderstood, maligned by those who love you?
  • Have you experienced a loss of appetite for the Word of God?
  • Do you experience feelings of anger, unforgiveness or self-pity on a regular basis?
  • Are you having difficulty praying, especially for those who have hurt you?

Of course, close friends or a counselor/pastor with whom we’ve been speaking might not even have to directly ask these “diagnostic questions” to know the answers. They can often diagnose our heart-issues before we can ourselves, but a friend may be reluctant to tell us their concerns. A trained counselor or pastor isn’t. How we receive that feedback becomes the deciding factor of what we do next; and if we do not believe that the counselor genuinely cares for us, we may resist his or her counsel and become further ‘hardened’. That’s why it is so important to establish trust. Even a child will not accept guidance from someone he doesn’t believe wants his best.

The Treatment

When I was in college, I listened to a Christian hard rock band called “Petra”. (I know. Look, it was the ‘90’s. Don’t judge.) One of their songs, based on Psalm 95:7-8 and Hebrews 3:13 was called “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened”. One verse went,

“Don’t let your heart be hardened/don’t let your love grow cold
May it always stay so childlike/ may it never grow too old
Don’t let your heart be hardened/may you always know the cure;
Keep it broken before Jesus, keep it thankful, meek, and pure…”

We don’t like to be “broken”. On Sunday morning, we sing along with Hillsong’s Brooke Frasier “Break my heart for what breaks yours”; but we don’t want to really be broken. Being broken hurts. Having a soft heart allows it to be bruised; and after so much of that, we allow ourselves to grow callused and cold. The only ‘preventative medicine’ for a hardened heart is to stay close to Jesus, Who describes Himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He has already given us the prescription: meditating on His Word day and night; along with seeking good counsel from godly friends and mentors (Psalm 37:30). Hearing the truth spoken in love and taking the time to seek God on it ourselves emboldens us to face our own short-comings without condemnation – and gives us the courage to act accordingly.

Social Justice: Part of God’s Heart

by Marie Notcheva ©

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” – John the Baptist, Luke 3:11

hungry

“Feeding a man without sharing the Gospel with him is like giving a sandwich to a man on his way to the electric chair…it is, in essence, simply making him more comfortable on his way to hell.” – K.P. Yohannan, Founder, Gospel for Asia

Here in the United States, Protestantism has largely given way to a post-modern, liberal church where the “social gospel” is preached exhaustively. The term “born again” is usually taboo, as is evangelism (“the dreaded e-word”, as a church I once attended called it). The fund-raising pitches each Sunday often take longer than the feel-good humanistic messages, and week after week the flock is subjected to fund raisers and promotions of secular service projects. Before transferring to a Gospel-preaching evangelical church, I regularly witnessed Heifer Project, Habitat for Humanity and Crop Walk being pitched as “missions opportunities” or “outreach”.

This is my background with “social justice”, and why the very mention of the words has long made me cringe. It is not that helping those in need is wrong or not a part of the Bible; on the contrary, Scripture is clear that we should do all we can to help others. The problem comes in when churches get out of balance in their teaching. All the humanitarian aid in the world is of no use spiritually if the Gospel of salvation is not being preached. Additionally, the oft-heard argument that “a hungry man will not accept the Gospel” is a myth, as the ever-increasing numbers of destitute Asian converts attest.

Of course, it is equally possible to get out of balance in the other direction, too – when conservative evangelicals get so wrapped up in political agendas, church “fellowship” suppers and tract distribution that they forget God’s basic call to compassion. One pastor I know, who champions social programs and humanitarian aid projects under the label of “missions”, mentioned the polarization between the two extremes that needs to be balanced. “Traditionally, conservative evangelical churches have been criticized for not doing enough to help the poor…..feed the hungry, help the widow and orphan….while the liberal churches can be long on mercy but short on sound doctrine. Many in the ministry want to bring the two sides together to work in unity.” A noble goal, indeed. Another pastor, a charismatic whom I greatly respected, once made the comment: “You know….the liberal churches take a lot of flak for their stance on a lot of things, and rightly so – there’s much they’re doing wrong. However, there’s one thing they’re doing right, that we in the Pentecostal church have largely missed the boat on – helping the poor. Social action is a huge part of God’s heart.” While it is so common sense as to be a no-brainer, evangelism and works of mercy were never meant to be in competition – they are both important commands of God and are meant to complement each other.

Several years ago, I completed John Macarthur’s “James” study with my church. Quite by chance, I began digging into Isaiah in my personal study to dig out the eschatological references. The first week, as I transitioned from my “James” homework into reading the first couple chapters of Isaiah, I noticed something interesting — there are several very specific parallels in those two books. It seemed like God was taking advantage of my attention span to drive home a couple of points about social justice – the term that made me shudder back at the UCC church. Besides calling us to live out our faith by helping others, both books indicate this does not happen in a vacuum. In both books, the expectation of charity to the oppressed is prefaced by a call to personal holiness.

1) In Isaiah 1:11-20, God stresses the importance of moral purity (which leads to righteous action); NOT the empty religious ritual (which He hates). This is the passage where he tells rebellious Judah how He despises their endless sacrifices and New Moon festivals – not that there was anything wrong with the ordinances themselves; but the people were acting hypocritically and deceiving only themselves. Compare this passage with James 1:19-27…which ends, 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

2) Isaiah 1:17 echoes James’ call throughout chapter one to social justice. God is concerned with how we treat one another as fellow believers. As mentioned above, ONLY focusing on social justice to the extent that the Gospel is neglected leaves the impression that one can work his way into heaven by volunteering enough and helping the “needy”. We do have a very real civic responsibility in this world, but a call to compassion doesn’t exclude evangelism. It goes above and beyond it. James gives a discourse on what the balance looks like. God, speaking through Isaiah, simply lays it on the line as a command: 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

We shouldn’t neglect the Word in the name of social justice, or vice-versa. What good is memorizing Scripture if we don’t have love for fellow believers? Isn’t this what Paul meant by “a clanging symbol”? We cannot conjure up the kind of love that motivates us to action on our own – only a deep-seated surrender to Christ and a yielded spirit will allow for this inner transformation. God knows this, and so the first step He’s given us is repenting of our…

3) PRIDE. The age-old problem…and the solution spelled out so clearly in both books. Repentance, purifying your heart, washing your hands – and humbling yourself before God is a MAJOR parallel theme.

Isaiah 2:11-18 speaks of the pride of man being brought low, while James has to say:

James 1:21: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

All pride springs from the same root: thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to, and placing our value on superficial things. He continues all through chapter 2 to forbid favoritism, as humans have a tendency to think more highly of themselves and each other judging by materialistic standards. One woman in my Bible study shared how shamed she had been made to feel when using food stamps in a well-heeled community’s supermarket. This is exactly the type of odious pride James is talking about, and flies in the face of the Christ-like compassion God expects of His people. Expository preaching is important, but a humble heart should be the result.

Sometimes 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is misused to justify an attitude of indifference (or even disdain) towards those “taking advantage of the welfare state”:

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Not only is such an attitude selfish, it is patently unbiblical. Verses cannot be wrenched out of context to justify our own carnal meanness, and Paul’s condemnation of idleness (v. 11), laziness and “mooching” (vs. 6-9) in no way negate a Christian’s responsibility towards the brother (or sister) in lowly circumstances through no fault of his own. (Interestingly, the founder of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Georgi Dimitrov, used the phrase “He who doesn’t work shall not eat” as his party’s motto. My Bulgarian in-laws were quite surprised to learn that it was plagiarized from the pages of the Bible.) Communism is an evil, godless ideology; and is not at all what Paul and James were promoting.

The concept of “noblesse oblige”, or moral obligation of the privileged charitably assisting the less fortunate, originated with Anglo-Saxon aristocracy. Today, while abuses of the welfare system have misconstrued the Biblical basis for this virtue in the minds of many, the American church remains head and shoulders above the rest of the world in this respect. The Gospel must be taken to the ends of the earth, and we in the West are indeed the ones with the burden of responsibility to make it happen. Our AWANA programs must be run, and we should be constantly in the Word in order to correctly divide and explain it (2 Timothy 2:15). However, this in no way lessens God’s call to relive suffering in the world. If we use our means to do so in His Name, we might find our tracts and evangelistic outreaches better received as well.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt. 25:37-40)