What Does the Bible Say About Domestic Abuse?

What Does the Bible Say About Domestic Abuse?

 In Part 1 Ally Kern told some of her personal story and today she shows how the Bible does not support abuse.

You Know a Victim of Domestic Abuse

Around the world, 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of abuse from a male intimate partner in their lifetime.[1] In the U.K. the number of women who have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 15 is comparable[2]. And a survey conducted by the CDC reported that 1 in 3 women in the U.S. experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

This is arguably the largest human rights violation of our time. And yet, despite this prolific reality being mirrored in the church[4], we have largely remained silent on this life-altering experience so embedded in our homes and neighborhoods.

The truth is that you know a victim of abuse. It might be your mother, sister, aunt, friend or a teenager in your church youth group. The chances are she hasn’t felt safe enough to reveal the terrible pain she has suffered in the privacy of her relationship. Domestic abuse is easy to hide, but can be challenging to identify.

What exactly is domestic abuse and who encounters it?

Domestic abuse within a dating, cohabiting, or marriage relationship is a pattern of one partner using power and control over the other. This may include physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, financial, spiritual or cyber/digital abuse. All forms of domestic abuse are harmful and often have long-term impact on the survivor, even after they escape the violence of their partner.[5]

It can be hard to come to terms with the reality that domestic abuse can happen in our churches at the hands of fellow Christians—even our pastor or lay leader. But abuse is often perpetrated by Christians, and many women suffer in silence due to shame and the failure of the church in addressing domestic violence.

The main perpetrators of abuse are husbands and boyfriends, although it is important to note that men can also be victims of abuse by their partner.[6] Whenever an individual is abused, it is a serious violation of one’s God-given personhood and human right to freedom. As such, it is critical for the church to break the silence on domestic abuse and advocate for the end of gender-based violence.

What does the Bible say about abuse?

If you’ve ever skimmed through the Bible—especially the Old Testament—you’ve seen stories of violence, from rape to slavery and war. How do we reconcile the God of the Bible, who at times seems to promote violence, with our experience of domestic abuse?

Scripture is often used to keep women silent about their experiences of domestic violence, to urge them to stay with an abusive partner, and even to justify abuse. But the Bible is clear that God opposes those who oppress, marginalize and abuse others.

Who is sinning: the person who abuses, or the victim who wants to be free?

The Bible views all forms of domestic violence as sin (Mal. 2:16-17; Psalm 11:5; Col. 3:19), including verbal abuse (Prov. 12:18; Prov. 18:21; Col. 3:8), and exhorts us to protect ourselves from violent people (Prov. 27:12; Prov. 11:9). Even in troubled relationships where one is provoked, the Bible speaks out against responding with violence (Eph. 4:26; Luke 6:45).

God’s heart is to deliver the abused (Psalm 5, 7, 10, 140; Acts 14:5) and to protect women by calling husbands to provide for the physical and emotional needs of their wives with sensitivity and gentleness, encouraging them to become all that God created them to be (Mark 10: 42-25; Eph. 5:1;2; Eph. 6:21-29). Any form of abuse is unacceptable behavior and defies God’s calling for Christ-followers to relate to each other in love.

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Ally Kern
Ally Kern is an Adjunct Professor in Practical Theology at Azusa Pacific University and a Ph.D. student at Claremont School of Theology. Her research integrates theology, psychology, neuroscience, and women’s studies to create faith-based resources for women to heal from relationship abuse. She brings two decades of pastoral ministry to her work as a speaker, writer, and advocate for women's flourishing and the end of violence against women and girls.

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