Let’s Clarify Things At The Pulpit

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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.


THE MAN IS THE HEAD OF THE HOME

That’s a saying we’re all too familiar with. And rightly so, I think. The Bible is clear in outlining that God designed men to be the leaders in the home.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:22

Yep, I’m not shying away from it: that word – “submit”.  It makes many a woman cringe and causes many a man to rub his hands together in glee…

Now before you let either of those knee-jerk responses take you away, let me just zoom in on a small section of that verse: “as to the Lord”.

That one little bit changes everything.

All too often people draw what suits them from verses like these, but deliberately fail to acknowledge the presence of THE LORD within them. In so doing, God’s perfect design is turned on its head and the above maxims are used to justify less-than-godly behaviour.

Let me be clear: the line “women should submit to their husbands” can never, ever, ever be used to justify domestic abuse, as too many like to do.

Let’s take a closer look.

Some like to hammer home part of the next verse in this passage: “the husband is the head of the wife”, but somehow fail to point out that the relationship between husband and wife is meant to mirror that between Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:25 exhorts:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

and verses 28 and 29 read:

So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” 

From this the true model of submission is made abundantly clear: it is not puppy-like obedience to the master; it is instead honouring one who has first loved you, in intelligent submission.

As much as I think it is desirable that in every Christian home there should be a loving husband to set a godly lead for the rest of the family to follow, sadly this just isn’t the case in many homes. And it’s about time the Church stopped sweeping it under the carpet.

As a British-Nigerian, I come from a heritage in which respecting authority is very important. Although this is for the most part a virtue, it does mean that in homes where this African mentality prevails the principle that the husband is the head of the home is more likely to be unduly exploited.

No matter what the situation, a man is never justified in beating his wife. This does not in any way mirror sacrificial love, and if we hark back to the verse above, it indicates “hating one’s own flesh” – because the husband and wife are meant to be one.

Let’s be clear about what we mean by ‘domestic abuse’. Barbara Roberts defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of conduct by one spouse which is designed to obtain and maintain power and control over the other spouse. It always includes emotional and verbal abuse and may also include financial abuse, social abuse (restricting the victim’s contact with family and friends), sexual abuse, physical violence, and spiritual abuse such as twisting scriptures to justify the abuse”.

Sometimes the Church hesitates to get involved in matters of the home because it is a private sphere, and we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. However Jesus tells us how to deal with such matters in the Church:

“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.” – Matthew 18:15-17

In other words, discretion is advised at the start: leaders in the church  should get involved to try and make the perpetrator see their wrong and monitor the situation. If things continue, the matter should be taken to the whole church. Should things come to the point where the abuser tries to condone his behaviour, then the church should stand aside from him and make clear that they do not condone his actions. The aim is always to change the person’s behaviour, firmly yet gently, and not in a self-righteous manner (Galatians 6:1-2).

The church should never prevent the woman who has been subjected to abuse from seeking secular help, whether from the Police, Social Services or from women’s organisations such as Women’s Aid, especially if the church leaders are not trained in supporting survivors of abuse and their children.

Sometimes the husband’s abuse makes the home so unsafe that it is best for the husband to leave or for the woman to make an escape. A woman who has been abused should never be forced by the church to remain with an abusive husband. If the husband repents and changes his behaviour, she might choose to remain married to him but there should be no obligation for her to stay in a traumatic situation.

Church, let’s step up and start addressing the issue of domestic abuse. And let’s not shy away from rebuking those responsible as we walk alongside families in love and faith.


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Ruth Akinradewo is in her fourth and final year of study at the University of Oxford, reading French and Italian. She loves to talk to people about Jesus and is passionate about standing up for change in our world. She writes more about it at http://thechannelforchange.blogspot.co.uk/.


If you are a woman who has been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and it is safe for you to seek support or advice, you can call theNational 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 been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post 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 wants help to stop being violent or abusive, you can get help to stop 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.