On Abuse, Part Two: Two Lies That Enable Abuse in the Church

This post is part two in a three part series on abuse. For this series, I teamed up with two other women to share wisdom on abuse in our areas of expertise. My post on the biblical counseling position appeared a couple weeks ago. Today’s post is from Jennifer Greenberg, an abuse survivor and author of Those Who Weep, a book on abuse recovery, which is currently being submitted to agents and publishers. You can read more of her writing at https://jennifergreenberg.net/. Thank you, Jennifer, for your contributions both to this blog series and to the conversation on abuse. 

My mom knew that my dad was a pervert with a violent temper who never apologized for anything. She thought that if she submitted to him and was a good Christian wife, he would eventually become a good Christian man, repent of his sin, and love her. Her background included catholic, charismatic, and reformed doctrines, and there was a copy of Douglas Wilson’s book, Reforming Marriage, on her bookshelf.

Growing up, I knew over half a dozen abusive people. Most were the parents of friends I knew from church or our Christian homeschool support group. One abuser was our church pianist. Two were pedophiles who wound up in prison. Others were violent and ruled silent families with iron fists.

Yet these problems are not native to any one denomination or lifestyle. Even in good churches with solid teaching and wise pastors, abusers creep in with forked tongues, bending the truth in ways that camouflage their sin. They call beating their children “discipline,” and raping their wife “marital relations.” They change the meanings of words so that their actions sound – to the unsuspecting person – completely normal. Even worse, their victims adopt their language, and when they try to report their abuse, their pleas are rendered meaningless.

As we have seen in recent months, public and private schools are far from immune to infiltration by criminals, and numerous secular politicians and businessmen have fallen into scandal. Yet the Christian Church and Christian schools seem to attract a particularly deceptive genus of pervert. Some are mere hypocrites who take pride in their ability to con. Others are false teachers and heretics who lure naïve followers to advance their influence and power.

There are enough heresies and misinterpretations of Scripture to populate a thousand libraries with rebuttals. However, for this article, I will focus on two very specific lies that enabled my own abuse when I was a child, and that I have personally witnessed enable and even justify sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence in the Christian sector.

  • Lie 1: An abusive or unsaved husband can be saved if his wife is submissive, silent, and obedient (ripped and twisted from 1 Peter 3).
  • Lie 2: Women are saved by pregnancy, raising children, and by being uncomplaining housewives (ripped and twisted from 1 Tim 2).

Lie 1: Won Without Words, from 1 Peter 3

1 Peter 3:1-2 reads, “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”

Many interpret this verse to mean that wives should keep quiet and submit to errant husbands without a word, thereby compelling him to repent. But that didn’t work out for my mom. Instead of finding his wife’s behavior compelling, he viewed it as an opportunity to get away with even more evil and harden his heart completely.

What went wrong?

If we hold that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we must operate under the premise that what Peter says is true. Nevertheless, we can see real-world examples of wicked husbands mocking righteous wives and weaponizing their submission against them. The fault therefor must lie – not in God’s inspired Word – but in our own interpretation of the verse.

Note that it says, “if any of them do not believe the word.” The ESV says, “do not obey the word.” This implies that the unbelieving or wayward husband is hearing the word yet rejecting it. But if he’s not attending church or reading the Bible on his own, how can this be? Peter is operating under the premise that a Christian wife will absolutely communicate Godly advice and Biblical doctrine to her husband, whether he reads the Bible or not. Peter is simply asking us to walk the walk as we talk the talk. He is not telling us to withhold the Gospel from our husbands.

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus backs up the use of words for addressing sin among believers, saying, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Even within marriage, the Bible refers to believers as brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, we have it from Jesus himself that if a professing Christian is abusive, the victim should “take one or two others” and confront the abuser. After all, the victim will have already pointed out the abuser’s fault in private during the abusive incident when they asked the abuser to stop. Jesus does not stipulate who the “one or two others” are. They could be pastors or friends, or in the case that a crime has been committed, they could be police officers. If the abuser will still not repent and change their behavior, church discipline and excommunication are required.

We are admonished not to let sin fester in the lives of our brothers and sisters, husbands or wives. We must never neglect doing what is right for the sake of maintaining a false façade of peace. To live with the sin of abuse and pretend that everything is OK is to live a lie, and we do not worship a God of lies but a God of truth.

Lie 2: Saved Through Childbearing, 1 Timothy 2

In 1 Timothy 2:12-15, Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman [Eve] was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

In this chapter context is paramount. Paul is specifically addressing the order of organized worship in the Church. He is not talking about marriage or telling females as a gender to never teach males as a gender. Rather, he is talking exclusively about maintaining decorum during corporate worship services.

It is interesting to note that Paul holds Adam more responsible for The Fall than Eve, saying, “Adam was not deceived.” In other words, Adam knowingly and intentionally rebelled against God, whereas “the woman was deceived” through Satan’s deception and Adam’s failure to defend God’s commandment. But for the sake of brevity, I want to focus on seven little words:

“She will be saved through childbearing.”

In his book, Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson says, “While some in the world may despise her calling and vocation, [the wife] should be praised in it often by a grateful husband. It is truly a high calling. ‘Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.’ (1 Tim. 2:15).”

Wilson attributes these words to all women, or at least, all wives. But is that correct? To understand this, we must discern who the “she” is that Paul is talking about.

Look back at the passage. Paul is talking about Eve. Eve will be saved through childbearing. She is the she. But why would Paul say this?  Because Moses also said it when he wrote Genesis 3:14-16.

“So the Lord God said to the serpent [Satan] … ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’”

Eve was “saved through childbearing” – not because the physical act of being pregnant, suffering through labor, and caring for babies is salvific – but because she literally bore in her womb the lineage that resulted in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the entire world. Her DNA – her lifegiving act of reproduction – would result in the Messiah who would defeat Satan, sin, and death forever. That is why Paul says Eve was saved through childbearing, not by childbearing.

In closing, don’t miss this little tidbit in Genesis: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Adam’s rule was never pitched by God as a blessing. It is literally part of The Curse. Because of The Fall, sinful women fall in love with sinful men, some of whom abuse their power and rule over us in abusive ways. And while it may be a joy to love, honor, and obey a Godly man who loves us in a Christlike way – after the manner of a servant who provides for us, protects us, and is willing to wash our feet or sacrifice his very life for us – his rule is a hardship too, because no human husband can live up to Christ’s standard of love, mercy, grace, and compassion. Anyone who says otherwise has a limited understanding of the severity of sin and by extension cannot comprehend the profundity of God’s magnificent grace.

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