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You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse

It’s a good letter, so well said. I see Sam Powell has also linked to it.

I’m going add a link to Matt’s post too, The Cancer of Misunderstanding, because I pushed back a bit over there too, against this idea that men are just good, that the problem we have here is just a communication issue. Matt is pretty cool, not saying he’s ever been abusive, but he’s a divorced guy looking at what goes wrong in marriage. So he’s kind of the “control” in my little experiment, the ordinary guy who just thinks most guys are just good guys, and  couples just need to communicate better.

That actually kind of annoyed me. I can’t think of a single woman that doesn’t know how to communicate. We’re kind of master communicators, especially when it comes to relationships. So this idea that “we” just need to learn to communicate better didn’t sit well with me. Neither did the idea that men are just good guys who don’t know any better. If your actions don’t match your words, it’s not that you don’t know any better, it’s that you just don’t care.

If you are actually abusing your wife, even just emotionally, it is because you do not care, not because you are a misunderstood puppy dog.

Back to “You weren’t there, a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse.” It’s a good letter, so well done.

My problem is that we’re approaching this issue as if it were pastors against domestic violence victims. While there are always real lunkheads in the world, most are not. Most pastors are aware and understanding. I dislike this adversarial kind of setup, where it is women against the church or the church against women. Men can be victims of abuse too, so really what we’re doing is creating this oppressed versus oppressors kind of attitude and we’re doing it along gender lines. That alienates women from “the church,” it deprives us of the healing that can be found there, it cuts us off from pastoral care. While I’m sure there are rotten churches out there, we’re painting with far too broad of a brush.

There’s another issue here too, men often have a tendency to always think they’re good. So they act horrible, but they think they’re good guys, their secret intentions are good, that makes them good in their own eyes. They just don’t know better, boys will be boys, it’s just a communication problem. Or she’s just crazy, perceiving reality wrong, because I’m good. Pride perhaps.

If our marriages fail, we have a hand in it. If they succeed, we have a hand in it. If our spouse is miserable, we have a hand in it. We’re supposed to take some responsibility.

In faith, we’re also supposed to understand “there are none righteous, not one.” We’re supposed to understand that it is because of our flaws that we need salvation in the first place. So this investment into our own alleged goodness is not supposed to be happening, as if we can just bend the fabric of the universe and make it true.

Most women do not suffer from that burden of thinking ourselves “good,” because in the culture, and sadly sometimes in the church too, women are perceived as always flawed, never good enough. It’s either endless advertising telling us we’re too fat, too old, too seductive, not seductive enough, or else it’s a tiny part of the church falsely subscribing to this curse of Eve stuff.

One thing pastors can really do to help is to just name abuse, evil, sin, for what it is. That simple. It’s validating, affirming, it brings sudden clarity to the situation. This false idea that we have two equals who just can’t see eye to eye is really harmful, because it’s not truthful. It creates moral ambiguity and confusion. If you are mugged for example, we would never suggest you just need to empathize with the mugger better, communicate more effectively, learn to understand one another. But that is pretty much what we ask of women all the time, not just in the church, but in society as a whole.

Women tend to live under this umbrella of, “it’s your fault.” I live in the second most secular part of the country and I see it everyday, so this is not “the church,” at fault, this is culture, biology, and advertising. Ads, endless commercials, socialization, all whittle away at women’s perceptions of ourselves. We tend to have a heightened sense of responsibility over things we can’t even control. And most of the guys just think they’re good. Not my problem, not my responsibility….

Yesterday I ran into a guy, unsaved, former addict, convicted pedophile, abused his girlfriend, dealing with some theft issues, and doggone if the first words out of his mouth weren’t, “I’m really a good guy.”

Most women I know are really starved for some affirmation, validation, and men taking responsibility. I’m rather happily married, but absolute music to my ears is to hear, “It’s my fault. I’ll take care of that. Don’t worry about it, that’s my responsibility. You’re not crazy, I was just being a jerk.”

You want to really hit it out of the park, “that’s my job, not yours.” My job to worry. My job to figure out how to pay that bill. My job to handle this thing you are fretting about.

That’s grace. Unmerited favor. That’s what Jesus Christ did for us all. He stepped in, He intervened, He paid the bill. It’s that same kind of grace that makes marriage flow so well, that sacrificial love, that willingness to take responsibility, not because it’s your fault, but because of the role you have stepped into. Jesus Christ was perfect, sinless, He actually was good, and yet He gave His very life for us. Reflect that kind of love, however imperfectly, and you’ve got a beautiful recipe for marriage.

I am actually far more concerned about this foundational concept of faith not reaching us, not permeating our souls, then I am about domestic violence. DV is a symptom of flawed thinking, of failed grace. You cannot reflect grace towards someone else if you haven’t received it yourself. You cannot love someone else if you haven’t been loved yourself.

“…If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me…”

When we promote or advocate this idea that guys are good, when they aren’t being good at all, we are actually depriving them of grace, adding a burden to their performance, making their own redemption contingent on their own perceived goodness. Grace is something you receive not because you are good, but because He is good. We can set the burden of our own goodness down at the foot of the cross.

That’s not a DV problem, not a communication problem, not a marriage problem, not a man woman thing, that’s a flawed doctrine problem. Fix the flawed doctrine problem, and the rest will fall into place.

God never said, “your own sin is just a 50/50 shared issue, a communication problem, stemming from the fact that you are just misunderstood and no one ever taught you right from wrong.” That isn’t true in a healthy marriage, it isn’t true in a broken one, and I can’t find it anywhere in the bible either.