“LEARN TO DO good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” Isaiah 1:17.
With the past two months, I have covered the topics of suicide and sexuality.
This month, as our nation turns its attention to Sexual Assault Awareness, I would like to expand that and talk about the whole issue of abuse and especially domestic violence.
I want to talk about physical, sexual, mental or emotional abuse that takes place in our homes, in our cars, at our schools, our places of work, over the phone, through the internet, anywhere, and yet stays in the shadows of our community, hidden from public accountability and protection.
Domestic violence has no age, gender, ethnicity, class or sexual orientation.
Just because the victims need to be sheltered for their safety, does not mean that we must shelter ourselves from this issue, forcing survivors to conceal their pain as they become members of an exclusive club.
This issue of faith is found in our calling as God’s workmanship to do good works as we reach out to the weak and oppressed (Psalm 82:3-4, Isaiah 1:17).
I have heard religious leaders use the passage “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph 5:22 ESV)” to excuse behavior and legitimize a man’s control and influence over his wife, even sexually.
I have witnessed people coming and sharing with me how their church forced them to reconcile with their abuser, as their mentors and friends wrongly equated forgiveness and reconciliation.
I have experienced how looks are cast, eyebrows raised and pity given silently between Christians, but no words of comfort spoken, and no embrace, no help offered and no continued compassion as the days turn to weeks, then months, then years.
Worse, no accountability is placed on the offender.
We assume the courts will handle it, or perhaps a pastor, a counselor or domestic violence organization.
We insist that their business is private, all while teaching our children that certain topics are not talked about or addressed.
We sit on Sunday and hear as God summarizes commandments 4-10 as “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39, Rom 13:9, Gal 5:14, James 2:8).
We listen as Christ tells us to love each other as He has loved us (John 13:34).
Yet later that day we pass by those that live by us as if they do not exist.
Sure, we might gossip, spread disparaging information, judge, skulk and shake our heads, but do nothing to change the pain that is taking place 20 linear feet from our pillows.
It’s not that I believe that all of these above actions of the church and our Christian communities are born from deliberate malice of forethought.
I think we often simply don’t know what to do, so we attempt to ignore or whitewash the issue.
What are we to do?
Through widespread apathy, shame and guilt is not placed where it belongs, on the perpetrator.
Instead it too often turns into more blows to the psyche of the victim, supplying a shame that is only magnified by the sneers of onlookers.
It is that shame that ought to be placed on the abuser and the community that does nothing.
It is our shame, as we failed to care in the first place, to be intentional with our attentiveness to others, and how we became too busy to say “not here.”
Our courtrooms should be packed with community members, not eager to pass judgment, but to see where our problems are, and how we can help prevent and rebuild individuals after this sin shatters the sanctuary an intimate relationship should be.
We cannot fulfill our calling to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2), to encourage and build each other up (1 Thess 5:14), from our couches staring lifelessly into our phone’s screen.
If we as Christians will not speak openly and honestly about this violation of the sanctity of life, why should we expect others to?
As a Christian you have the answer.
You know that all mankind is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), that husbands and wives are to love and cherish one another through mutual support, care and sacrificial love (Eph 5:25-30).
We must stand united as a people and boldly say that victims don’t have bad luck picking their significant other. There is sin that must be addressed, rooted out and dealt with.
We must be there for the recovering, and firmly, yet lovingly correct the abuser (Gal 6:1).
Our goal isn’t to ostracize, embarrass, or ridicule the abuser, but show him or her their sin, lead them to repentance, provide forgiveness and teach them how to love.
There is no magic wand that is going to fix this issue.
Only by caring for our brothers and sisters and refusing to give into the world’s motto of minding our own business, will we begin to see a positive change.
So brother … sister … be an intentional Christian; teach, rebuke, correct and train (2 Tim 3:16).
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Patrick Lovejoy is minister of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or [email protected]