We’ve all heard about an abused wife going to speak to her pastor…
… only to be told to “reconcile” to her husband or “stop doing things” that make him angry.
But we know God hates abuse – and here’s how churches should respond.
By the time a woman (and sometimes a man) gets the courage to go to their pastor about abuse in the home – chances are it’s already been going on for a while.
Many pastors aren’t trained to recognize the signs of abuse – especially when it’s verbal, emotional, or financial abuse.
Even though the family may attend church together each Sunday and the abusive spouse might act like a “great” and “helpful” person…
…things could be vastly different behind the scenes.
So when a spouse has the courage to ask for help in the initial stages of abuse – it’s crucial they get support from trusted leaders at church.
Get Educated On Abuse
To put it bluntly – most churches aren’t equipped on how to handle abusive marriages.
They might be quick to suggest “marriage counseling” …
… not realizing that the real issue goes way deeper than typical annoyances or grievances that happen with new marriages.
Oftentimes when abuse is involved, couples need INDIVIDUAL counseling first to identify and deal with underlying trauma from their past… before they can even begin to come together and work through marital counseling.
But since most churches aren’t trained with how to respond to trauma and abuse – they are quick to try and bring the couple back together – and frown upon things such as separation and divorce.
While God does hate divorce – and divorce should always be a last resort – it is not Biblical to expect a wife to stay in an abusive marriage and just “suffer for Jesus.”
While it can vary, generally speaking, it is usually the woman who takes the greatest hit financially and is most vulnerable during separation.
And if she has children, she can find herself without the funds to provide for herself and her children (especially if her husband controlled the finances and cut her off) – and sometimes she may even end up homeless!
Churches can help by providing practical things such as food, clothing, and shelter.
Whether it’s renting out someone’s basement apartment for a low rate, or even allowing her and the children to stay rent-free for a while, the resources of the local church body could – and should – be a lifeline to a woman fleeing an abusive marriage.
Abused spouses often end up isolated during the marriage and are just starting to come out of their shell.
In addition to providing pastoral counsel (and receiving psychological/trauma-based counseling from a specialist), pastors should ensure the spouse is cared for practically during this difficult season.
Ex-Communicate The Abusive Spouse
And finally, after discernment and understanding what’s really occurring within the marital home, it’s crucial the pastor evokes Biblical discipline to the abusive spouse if they both are part of the church congregation.
This of course isn’t the first step – and the pastor should reach out to the spouse and compel them to repent – and get help.
But if the spouse is in denial or refuses to get help for their issue – whether it’s alcoholism, past trauma, mental health, etc. – it’s crucial the pastor protect the other spouse and other members of the congregation from harm.
Matthew 18 can be followed – and other brothers (or sisters) could try and talk to the offending spouse – but oftentimes with domestic abuse, the abuser is unwilling to change until they hit a personal rock bottom or face major consequences.
So, by being able to still attend church and fellowship with other believers as if nothing is wrong…
… not only does it make the abused spouse feel unheard and unprotected – but endangers the soul and enables the abuser who is unrepentant.
Sadly, abuse is more common than one would hope in Christian homes, and it’s crucial pastors take the issue seriously should someone come to them for help.
How do you think churches should handle abuse in marriages?
Do you agree the church often misses the mark in this area?
You can post your answers to our Facebook page and join in the conversation with other believers from all around the world.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17
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