This post is one of three which touch upon Ephesians 5:21-33 and what those verses might mean for Christians seeking to confront violence and abuse. The authors of these posts have some different interpretations of these verses but they are united in their condemnation of violence and abuse against women.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: violence against women is a massive issue.
When we’re dealing with something as endemic as this it’s not enough to simply focus on stepping in where abuse is already happening. Rather, we must look to fix the source of the problem; since the Fall described in Genesis 3, we have been living in a world of brokenness where hurt and suffering seep into so many areas of our lives. This includes relationships between men and women.
In Genesis 3:16, God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This marks the beginning of the inequality between men and women that we see played out in the world today through oppression, violence and abuse against women. In Genesis 3:15, God also says to Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman”, indicating a special hatred that Satan has for women. The reality of Satan’s historic and ongoing enmity for women can help us understand why women have been subjected to so much violence throughout history and why the battle for equality, including equality of safety, is still ongoing.
When we focus on the bleak reality of our world’s suffering it’s easy to feel despondent. But we, as Christians, know that this brokenness is not God’s intention for humanity. We must focus on God’s initial plan for the world and how He can release hope into the bleakest of circumstances.
If we can get back to God’s heart for relationships between men and women then we can be leading by example, and inspiring change throughout society. But it’s not good enough for us as Christians to condemn violence against women if we let attitudes and behaviours which are harmful and abusive to women go unchecked in our own relationships and communities. We must be the first to condemn violence and abuse and the last to excuse it. I have come up with two things to keep central to our relationships in order to follow God’s heart for healthy and respectful relationships.
It can be one of the biggest taboo subjects.
It’s clear throughout the Bible that God created sex for marriage as an ultimate expression of love. Indeed, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
The description of ‘one flesh’ is one of complete unity and love which is echoed throughout the Bible. Song of Songs speaks at length of how the lover and beloved want to give themselves to each other as an act of servant-hearted love.
Sex is meant to be selfless.
Sexual violence is a complete and total abuse of God’s intention for sex. It is never the fault of the person subjected to it and always the fault of the sexually violent or abusive individual.
As Christians, we say that the Bible does not bless one night stands, friends with benefits or the use of sex to gain power or to fulfil our own needs. Song of Songs repeats the warning “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Treating sex flippantly has a harmful effect on us and on our wider society. With TV programmes like ‘Sex Box’ and ‘Naked Attraction’ we are being fed a lie that sex is something to serve us and our cravings which ultimately leads to distorted relationships which can, in turn, lead to abuse in relationships.
Sadly, we know that abuse happens in Christian relationships. In 2015 Soul Action, a partnership between Tearfund and Soul Survivor, surveyed female delegates at the Christian conference Momentum about their experiences. More than half of the respondents had experienced unwanted sexual touching, 30% agreed or strongly agreed that they experienced fear of their partner in a relationship and 42% had been pressured to perform sexual acts they did not want to by a partner. These are Christian women who have been subjected to sexual assault and intimate partner violence or the fear of it. Although we do not know for sure, we can assume that in some of these cases, it has been Christian men who have perpetrated violence and abuse against Christian women. If you have been subjected to abuse or if you have been a perpetrator of abuse, there is information at the bottom of this post about accessing help and support.
PREFER THE OTHER
The second thing I want to talk about when it comes having a good witness to Christ in our dating relationships is about preferring the other. I find Ephesians 5 helpful.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
I know this is explicitly referring to marriage, but it is helpful to also apply it to dating.
Paul starts by instructing us to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ. He then reminds wives to submit to their husbands, pointing to the positive and life-giving model of the church submitting herself to Jesus.
And Paul is telling husbands to love their wives with the same outrageous, radical love that sent Jesus to the cross so that we could have a relationship with our heavenly father. He is calling for a selfless sacrificial love, where you should be willing to lay your life down for the other.
What Paul is describing is a beautiful, dynamic and selfless co-submission in which a husband and a wife lay down their own interests and seek to honour and serve each other.
What if the way we date looked like this?
Let us strive to have selfless relationships amid an inherently selfish society.
Let us lead by example in a way that will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, seep into our wider communities to transform our relationships and those around us. Let us be people of integrity as we seek to work together to end violence and abuse against women at university.
Lizzie is a second year student at the University of Exeter. She loves being part of her local church and is a Local Project Lead on the Just Love Exeter Committee.
If you are a woman who has experienced, or is experiencing, abuse or violence and it is safe for you to seek support or advice, you can call the National Domestic Violence helpline (which is open twenty four hours a day and free to phone) on 0808 2000 247. You can also access information about local services for survivors of rape or abuse through the Rape Crisis website.
If you are a man who has who has experienced, or is experiencing, abuse or violence and it is safe for you to seek support or advice, you can call the Men’s Advice Line (which is open Monday to Friday, 9am til 5pm) on 0808 801 0327.
If you’re a man who has abused or is still abusing a partner, you can get help to stop abusing by calling the Respect Phoneline (which is open Monday to Friday, 9am til 5pm) on 0808 802 4040.
If you would like to know more about what churches can do to support victims of abuse and tackle abuse within their congregations, please take a look at Restored’s Churches Pack.