Before reading this post, please note that I am writing this from the point of view of a Christian. If you endured spiritual abuse in a different religion than this I invite you to share your experiences below in the comments. It may help someone following this blog.
In a previous post based on my experiences with spiritual abuse,
Is he constantly yelling at you? You begin reason your incapability is the cause, so you try to improve. Is he always belittling you? Is he putting his hands on you in anger? You begin to tell yourself that he would not if you wouldn’t disobey. If you would just learn to listen, to follow direction. Is he neglectful or abusive to the children? You begin to feel that you must spoil them or lack in your parenting of them. Is he unfaithful? You begin to believe him when he says if you took care of him, he would have a reason to stay at home. He gets (by coercion or bullying or guilt) you to do things you are not comfortable with, because he says you “owe him his due.” And he uses Scripture to justify (although erroneously) his behavior.
Even worse than being trapped in this free fall, is going to the clergy asking for help and you are told that it must be you, that he is your head, and you must obey and endure in the subjection you handed to him. Some tell you that if you were a better wife, this would not happen. That you are not only failing your partner, you are failing God. How many of us who have experienced spiritual abuse take this to heart and bear a burden of trying to chase after a solution that will fix them so their partner loves them, so that God approves of them? How many of us believed it was our fault, because we were somehow acting in a way that was contrary to the role wives fill in the marriage arrangement?
For those of us who have experienced spiritual abuse, by the time we do leave, we have spent so much time internalizing all the criticisms, harsh judgments, and cruelty of the abusive partner that we can get caught up in blaming ourselves for the abuse that occurred and can either begin to feel that we have failed God or that He abandoned us and left us there to suffer without care or concern for the pain we had to shoulder alone. Others’ assumptions that we failed in our roles only adds to the distress, and if we turn to those who are charged with guiding us and helping us grow and mature spiritually and only receive criticism, judgment, and refusal to help in return, what are we to do? How do we gain a proper perception of our mate’s ability to fulfill his role as originally purposed? How do we learn the responsibilities and qualities that are expected of our former male partners? How do we find out how our Father, Jehovah, truly feels regarding the headship arrangement in the family unit?
At the heart of the role of the husband in the marriage is the headship arrangement. While the man is to become the head of the woman, this does not allow him to exercise cruel, tyrannical authority over her (Eph. 5:23). Just because the Scriptures refer to the husband as his wife’s owner (Ex 21:3), it does not afford him the right to treat her however he chooses simply because he is her head. He is required to treat her respectfully, with honor, as even as the weaker (not less worthy) of the pair, she is valuable to Jehovah (1 Pet. 3:7). If the husband is abusive to his wife, he cannot use the Scriptures as a way to justify his behavior (Duet 32:5). He is expected to exercise his headship over his wife in the same manner that Christ did over the first century Christian congregation (Eph 5:23) – meaning with the same compassionate love Jesus displayed. And even further, the husband is to duly consider his wife’s voice when making any decision that impacts their relationship with each other and with God (Gen 21:8-14). To flagrantly ignore counsel in the Scriptures that clearly speak on how the wife is to be treated by her husband is to be at odds with Jehovah and is in no way condoned by Him.
Ephesians 4:20 plainly states: “You did NOT learn the Christ to be like this.” What exactly do we learn about how Jehovah expects women to be treated from the actions of His Son, Jesus? It was common practice for the Pharisees to show partiality to men and avoid dealings with non-Jews. However, Jesus demonstrated his impartiality (because the key to receiving the gift of life was not based on gender or nationality, but on one’s condition of the heart) in numerous places in the Scriptures. Specifically relating to women, two good examples are found at Matthew 15 and John 4. In the verses of Matthew 15:22-28, we find an account of a Phoenician woman urgently pleading with Jesus to save the life of her daughter who was possessed by demons. While initially he hesitated to respond, and while even his own disciples suggested having her sent away, she persisted and softened him to see her heart condition, and he healed her daughter of the possession, making specific note of her faith. In the verses of John 4:7-30, we read the account of Jesus approaching the woman at the well. This is particularly noteworthy because in Biblical times, Jews did not interact with the Samaritans. Yet when she revealed her heart to be inclined toward Jehovah, when she made known her belief that the Messiah was to come, Jesus revealed his identity to her, and she went back into the city speaking of his arrival. Even in Luke 10:38-42 we see Jesus speaking to Mary about his Father’s kingdom, and in Luke 8:1-3, it shows how women were drawn into his innermost circle and traveled with him and the Twelve as they went from city to city.
Jesus also demonstrated concern for the treatment of women. It was common in Bible times for men to be allowed to divorce for any number of manufactured reasons. It was common teaching of many Rabbis in Jesus’ time that men could not be guilty of adultery and women were the ones who could be judged unfaithful. However, the verses in Mark 10:11, 12 clearly speak on the gravity of a husband’s decision to leave his wife for another woman. It was not just a woman re-marrying without securing a Scriptural divorce that earned her the title of adulteress. The husband would be guilty of adultery as well. In Exodus 21:9-11, we also see that even if a husband took another wife, this did not free him from his responsibility of providing for his first wife, including food, shelter, and clothing. A man who refuses to provide for the family he builds is seen to be worse than a man without faith, because he made a vow before Jehovah and turned his back to it (1 Tim. 5:8).
There are also reminders in the Scriptures that what each of us do has an impact on everyone around us, even if you cannot readily identify how it affects them. Ephesians 4:25 if evidence to this connection – what we do to one affects us all (“… because we are members belonging to each other”). The significance of this is brought out at 1 Cor 12:19-26 where we are taught that not only can one of us not function properly or to our full capability without the other(s), neither can we as individuals do something to one of us without causing harm to the group as a whole. What you do to your mate not only impacts the two of you, but your children, your family, your friends, your congregation, and even the community. Thus the act of abuse against your partner is to cause varying forms of injury against everyone, including those outside of the home. What you do to each other in manner of treatment IS very much everyone’s business.
Ephesians continues… Verse 29 tells us we should strive to speak not with cruelty or harshness, but only things that build up. Would you verbally shred someone you love? Verse 30 says not cause God sorrow… If you do these hateful things, you are acting contrary to God, and the pain you cause your spouse causes Jehovah emotional anguish as well. Verses 31, 32 exhort us to speak to each other with kindness, and to be “tenderly compassionate” with one another. Is verbal and emotional abuse loving, kind, merciful, up-building, beneficial to the wife? Does it originate with God? Is it condoned by Him? ABSOLUTELY NOT. It causes Him sorrow, and a man of God would not dare spit in the face of his Father, would not act to cause Him pain in the way he chooses to treat the gift God gave him in the form of his wife.
Who among us would take a gift someone offered to us from their heart and handle it abusively or act in a manner to cause its destruction? Would we not instead take of it and do our best to maintain its value? Would we not protect it in appreciation of the giver and our connection to them? Would we not appreciate the thought they put into it, that they care enough of us to present us with a token of their love for us? As we show gratitude and care for gifts from our friends and family, surely we would want to also cherish the gift Jehovah as given to us in our mate. After all, we were created as a compliment to man, not to be mere property but to help and work together with him toward a common purpose (Gen. 2:18). This vow made before God to cherish and care for a wife is not a matter to be taken lightly (Mal. 2:14). Even as Jehovah recognizes our value and abilities (Acts 2:1-4, 17,18, Prov. 31:10-31, Exod. 38:8), so should our husbands as well.
Overall treatment of women by their husbands requires that he cherishes and nurtures his wife as he would himself (Eph. 5:28). Due to the nature of this post, it should be noted that this also means he should use proper spiritual guidance as the family head, taking great care to accurately apply principles in their life, not manipulating them to justify his maltreatment of her. He is to act according to the standards set forth by Jehovah and guide his wife in doing the same. Just as the wife should take the needs of her husband into consideration, so the husband must do likewise to her. (Philip. 2:4) This is not a one-sided expectation. If doing something would cause the other pain and suffering, are you truly making their needs and their well-being a priority? Whatever is done to the other, it must be done in a kind and loving way, remembering that Ephesians 4:31, 32 exhorts us to speak with kindness and to show compassion. Engaging your partner in exchanges of bitter words, carrying out physical attacks, withholding your affection from them, and refusal provide care, protection, and help when needed is not only unloving, it is inexcusable (Col. 3:19) as laid out numerous times in the Scriptures.
Husbands are to assign honor to their wives and take into consideration her weaker physical and emotional makeup in his treatment and expectations of her (1 Peter 3:7). In fact, if the husband refuses to apply the counsel in the Scriptures regarding the treatment of his wife, the latter half of this verse tells us his prayers to God can be hindered. In other words, if you think the actions of the abuser is going unnoticed, his Father has taken note of this and has turned a deaf ear to his petitions. More specifically, one who practices verbal abuse has rendered their worship worthless in the eyes of God (James 1:26). Even further still, in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and 6:9, 10, verbally abusing another (referred to as reviling) is something that can not only earn you removal from the congregation, it makes you ineligible to receive the gift of eternal life.
The Scriptures also make it clear that women are not responsible for being raped (Deut. 22:25-27). Further, those verses state that there should be punishment for that crime. For those of you who endured marital rape but were told this was not possible, do not allow the words of 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 be twisted in your mind so you question yourself. While Paul does state here that neither the husband or the wife has authority over their own body and cannot deprive each other of their marital due, it does not mean in any way that either HAS to allow the other physical intimacy whenever they feel like it. Even in these verses, Paul says “under mutual consent for an appointed time.” Leviticus 18:19 brings out that the husband must take physical and biological exceptions into consideration, but the main principle in question is found in two places that make Jehovah’s view on sexual coercion even in marriage unmistakable. Among the things we are exhorted to avoid, Colossians 3:5,6 mentions specifically “uncontrolled sexual passion” and “hurtful desire” before likening these things to idolatry. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 exhorts us all to not take advantage of another or else earn punishment for flagrantly disregarding and refusing to honor Jehovah and directly states in verse 6 that “no one should go beyond proper limits and take advantage” of anyone, further promising that Jehovah will mete out punishment for those in violation. Therefore, while you cannot withhold intimacy from your partner as a form of emotional punishment, both must acknowledge that having “authority” does not give you the right to take what you want just because it’s “yours.” Rape and sexual abuse in the context of a marriage is forbidden.
There is no allowance for cruelty within marriage (or any relationship), and those who attempt to push the wife to stay in such a relationship shares in the blood-guilt that results from the abuse. No one should push a victim of abuse to stay or leave the relationship. This is their decision to make, and theirs alone. Keeping in mind that Galatians 6:5 tells us we carry the load for our own actions and choices, if someone comes to you seeking advice from the Scriptures, even as you share the scriptures about the seriousness of the marriage vows and how Jehovah views them, you should also be showing them the Scriptures that relate not only to the wife’s role, but the husband’s as well. They need to have both sides of reasoning to make their decision. If the person makes the choice to leave, under no circumstances should you push them to stay. Under no circumstances should you push them into marriage counseling. This does not work, and in fact puts the one being victimized at increased risk for retribution. If they come seeking help after deciding to leave, help them by properly applying the Scriptures and comfort them. Give them love, support, and endless compassion.