Monday, November 27, 2006

Divorce - only for adultery?

Picked this up from Scot McKnight's blog...

Here is a very sad letter sent to me. Whenever I speak about Jesus Creed, I make a big point that loving God and loving others begins at home — with husbands and wives, parents and children, and that every biblical command must begin with love of God and others to gain its proper orientation. Here is a letter from a woman who has been abused by her husband who abused not only her but biblical teachings. This post is my contribution to the IDFEVAW and I encourage you to sign.

I was brought up in a fundamentalist denomination by traditional parents who respected each other. I attended university, received a master’s degree in and became a teacher. I did not work when our children were young but now I work full time, have time for the children and take care of the family finances, banking and taxes. I am the kind of person who can help you with your taxes or computer problems. I can deal with technical problems but I was not equipped to take care of myself.

In my upbringing I was influenced to believe that a woman should have an education but she must also get married and once married she should never divorce. This was not acceptable in the Christian community.

I became engaged to a young Christian man who wanted to beome a minister. This seemed to be the right direction for me also and I felt we had a lot in common. We married after we were done with college.

My husband made it clear that he wanted me to obey him from the first. There were many reasons why I thought at the time that this was acceptable, after all it was in the marriage vows. Our goals seemed so unified that I thought this would never be a problem. It seems hard to believe now.

After our marriage we both found good jobs. For several reasons we never did enter into the ministry. However, we were always committed church members.

Soon after our marriage it became clear that I was expected to obey anything and everything, commands clearly expressed and those poorly expressed, and those that had never been expressed.

For 25 years I was hit - battered, bruised and humiliated on a weekly basis, held against my will, berated and sworn at. I have been called every filthy name in the book. But I was only once bruised on the face. After that it was on the upper arms and legs. I was knocked over, kicked and shoved in front of the children, and kept in a room against my will while I was made to listen to hours of lectures on my insubordination, and threatened with worse violence.

We managed to have two children and for many years I stayed at home with the children. I used to pray that my husband would be away on business when it was time for the children’s birthday parties so he could not ruin them.

He made life miserable for us all but he never did hit the children. If he found them doing something wrong I would immediately say that I had allowed them to do it, or I had even told them to do it. I stood there and deflected his violence for years. I would make him angry at me so he would hit me and leave the children alone. Of course, the children have been witness to some very violent scenes. He would also routinely lecture them for hours. I could not stop this.

For many years I had been moving in the direction of depression and mental disassociation. Fortunately, I continued to read academic literature on social justice issues relating to race and poverty. At a certain point I became convinced that God did not intend one set of human beings to be permanently subordinate to another, I came to see my own circumstances in this light. I inwardly denounced my own subordination as wrong, and believed that God intended me to function as an equal. Althought this flew in the face of the teaching in my church, I began to move towards hope and survival.

When I finally started considering divorce, I was afraid that he would get joint custody. I could not bear the thought of the children being with him and my not being there so I decided to stay with my husband until they grew up. A few years ago, through police intervention, the physical violence was brought to an end.

However, the threats and psychological abuse, the desire to subordinate me have continued. My husband fed off every mention in the church of the submission of women. He routinely pointed out that I was not submissive. I was not, but I was faithful and carried out the responsibilities of my job and family the best I could. Eventually every vociferous denial of my own subordination brought a measure of relief from abuse, and replaced it with distance, in this case, a life-saving distance. I came to realize that my original tacit acceptance of subordination had enabled the abuse.

I was intensely loyal and for 30 years, from the time of our engagement up until a few months ago, I never told one person about the abuse. I made excuses and covered up. I was unwavering in my loyalty and fidelity. I finally realized that when the children leave home, which is very soon, I will be left in the house alone with a person I am afraid to be alone with.

I recognize that violence is a pathology and not the result of wrong teaching. However, the teaching of submission and loyalty was impressed on me every day to keep the blame in my court and keep me silent. I was told by my husband that if I told anyone about something that was private between us, he meant the abuse, that was the same as infidelity and I would be punished for it.

I have just started taking the first practical steps toward getting out now. Now I have to deal with the fact that in law I am equally responible for our financial situation and debts. I am equally responsible for what has happened to our children. I am responsible for dealing with my own pension issues. I have equal responsibliblity for making decisions about our house and belongings, and the children’s future. I can’t tell the lawyer that my husband is the ‘head’. She can’t pass that on to the court. I can’t plead diminished responsibility on the basis of Bible texts.

I believe that no one should ever preach submission or let the word cross their lips unless they have lived 24/7 in subordination to another imperfect human being. Men speak glibly of women accepting limits, do they have any idea?

I write this to let people know of the secret and unpublicized nature of this problem in the Christian community. I asked the pastor’s wife for a book on spousal abuse ‘to pass on the a friend’ and she said she didn’t know of one off hand. No one who knows me in our church has any idea that this is who I am. But Christians need to know that the teaching of submission was a part of what has kept me in bondage to a serious pathology - violence.

Read David Instone-Brewer for a sound view on divorce


Ray said...

The biggest problem in 'submission' teaching is the unqualified and ontological method of expression we tend to use. 'Biblically' speaking, if such a thing can ever exist, most people get that teaching from the notion of husband and wife in Ephesians 5.21-33.

Although this passage is frequently misread as a license for husbands to act domineeringly towards their wives, that’s not at all what it’s illustrating.

Rather, it’s part of an appeal for the new life in light of Christ as opposed to the way the gentiles live (Eph. 4). Specifically, 5.21 is the thesis: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”. The image Paul chooses to illustrate the command to subjugate the self to another out of reverence for Christ is (not surprisingly) the married couple. The wife is commanded to be subject to her husband “as [she] is to the Lord” since the husband is the head of the wife “as Christ is the head of the Church.” (vv.22-24)

But in what sense is Christ head of the Church? Paul explains unambiguously that Christ is the head of the Church because he gave himself up for her (vv. 25).

Headship of the wife, then, is paradoxically a call for the husband to be head in terms of sacrificing for the wife “in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word…yes so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.” (vv.26; 27b-28)

The husband is told to “nourish and tenderly care for [the wife]” as he would his own body, “just as Christ does for the Church”. (vv. 29-30) And it is precisely “for this reason [that] a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.” (vv.31-32)

Even the most bald reading of the text isn't about "submission", as some kind of issue of what it means to be a wife, but rather is about headship in weakness. The wife submits to the husband inasmuch as he is acting Christ-like. When he doesn't, she cant very well submit.

Besides, what does a woman do if her husband acts is a non-Christian? Paul made no bones about it that you have to be a Christian first, even if this cost you your married life.

Dave Lynch said...

thanks ray, not seen you on here before but good to see you, and thanks for your comment, if christ is our example of how to be as husbands (as he is) then who can avoid saying 'woe is me for I am undone'.

it should be the man who initiates by giving himself totally for his wife, regardless of how she responds - does christ give himself for the church dependant of how the church responds - thank God he does not!!

dinsy said...

All this submission, and sacrifice, and subjugation makes me a bit uncomfortable, from both the wife and husband side of the question.

I think it is better if disputes are settled by discussion and understanding. The one being the "head" at any time should be the one who is able to think most clearly and unemotionally on the given issue, and come to the best outcome for the partnership. In my personal experience this is usually the man, but not always. I know other marriages where the woman is far more qualified for "headship" than her husband.

For the woman to put all the onus of decision making on to the man, or for the man to take it all upon himself, is just as wrong as for the man to do all the "sacrificing", each negates the concept of partnership. After all, the two become one when they unite!

I think enlightened society has moved on from either of these positions (man sacrifices, or man domineers) and I wish the church would do the same. The church used to take the lead in social reform, now it is sadly lagging behind, probably due to preference for its traditions rather than to take the risk of re-examining what the text means as a whole.

It is interesting that the woman in this post accepts her share of responsibility for having wrongly submitted to her husband.

Roland said...

I don't think we've "moved beyond the notions" [of sacrifice] at all. If we have, then we're not really pursuing the adoption of the mind of Christ. Adopting the mind of Christ is precisely the adoption of the Kenotic movement - the self-sacrifice on behalf of the other. As the second chapter of Philippians makes clear:

"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,but emptied himself,taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross."

I don't think we should view this as a social justice matter, nor do I think your point about mutuality is necessarily wrong. However, it's very hard to have a democracy of two, and typically if such things aren't settled for the couple they'll have a hard time agreeing who's better suited for decision making.

As with any metaphor, there are balancing metaphors, but I would say that Paul's commission here is typically, indeed almost archetypally Pauline, and faithful to the Gospels as well: Christ used his power not as a means to dominate the other, but rather as a vantae point from which he could come down to help the other.

This is the nature of "sacrifice" -we give freely of that which we DO possess in advantage, to those who do not possess it.

So perhaps this is the medium within which the language of sacrifice must be understood where husband and wife are concerned. It's a matter of who's at advantage. Upon that person is the onus of self-giving.

But I would say that ultimately in Ephesians Paul is being pretty blunt on the issue - the initial sacrifice is on the man's half. But this assumes a situation where the man is the head of the household, pure and simple. I'd say that in our situation today, where headship is determined more on material grounds, then the analogy only works when both persons realize their advantages over the other and voluntarily give of those advantages for the benefit of the other.


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