It’s normal and good to help individuals who are struggling. We all want relief and an end to conflict. The problem is, if we don’t understand the dynamics of abuse and of any given relationship, we can easily work against those who are hurting. We will find ourselves working against God.
For years a wise woman, Ellen Pence, studied and educated others with a community approach to domestic violence. This is the four-part structure she documented in abusive relationships:
- The notion of hierarchy- It begins with the idea that some people are inherently better than others, more logical, more intelligent, more moral, more, more, more. (Personal note: this is unbiblical. i.e. people are created in God’s image and within the Godhead there is NOT a hierarchy; therefore, among people there is no true hierarchy. See James 2:1, 8-13; 3:9-10; 4:11-12)
- The ability to force those at the bottom of the hierarchy (pyramid) to submit – Victims …accept the domination, the right of the person at the top of the hierarchy to dominate, and their own inferior position. (Personal note: this is also unbiblical (see Scripture in point 1), however, Scripture is most often used to promote this ungodly notion. Submission by demand is subjugation and oppression. This is does not emulate the example or character of Christ.)
- The objectification of those at the bottom of the hierarchy (pyramid) – The people at the bottom are seen and treated as objects. i.e. Women are manipulative, deceitful, they exist to serve men, they are irrational, overly emotional and dependent. (See Scripture in point 1; it applies here as well).
- The ability of those at the top of the hierarchy to use punishment , violence, or coercion without consequences –It is common to make excuses or look the other way when mistreatment is occurring and not confront the abuser. (This is where the rest of us come in. The Apostle Paul clearly lays this out in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.)
If you have heard Chris Moles speak on these four pillars of abuse, you have heard him connect them to Jesus’ teaching about the Gentiles who “lord it over” others:
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves…” (Luke 22:25-26)
All that to say that when we, well-meaning though we may be, step into a marriage situation with the desire to fix it or make changes, we join the party at Step 1. Look again: some people are inherently better than others, more logical, more intelligent, more moral, more, more, more. In other words, “You are incapable of doing what is right so we are here to help you [submit, pray, read the Bible, do better….]”
When we make the assumption that we know what is going on and how to solve a problem/situation/marriage, we have just put ourselves at the top of the hierarchy. And, by default, we have put them in a place of submission or inferiority (Step 2). Just like that (*finger snap*) we have entered the arena of abuse. We are no different than the individual who routinely uses his wife to meet his needs. And, to our shame, we are using these people (Step 3) to meet our desire for importance, approval, influence.
Then…Step 4… there is applause, MUCH prayer, and reinforcement for how we have stepped in and made more excuses and justification for the abuser, further establishing his house of cards (which is no house at all).
Here is an example:
Word gets out that John and Mary are having marriage problems. Mary has asked John to move out. We all feel sorry for John and pray that God would give Mary a heart of repentance. At some point, Joe and Sue decide to get involved. They inform John and Mary they’re going to stop by to share Scripture and pray (Step 1). They don’t realize they are not getting the full picture. When they ask questions, John tells them what he wants them to know. Mary sits silently, fearfully, maybe tearfully (Step 2). Joe and Sue tell Mary she needs to submit more and be a better wife. Can’t she see that John needs her help–now of all times? She can’t let him down (Step 3). After a pat on the back and a wave over their shoulder, Joe and Sue climb in their car and send a text to their frantically praying friends. The problem has been solved (Step 4).
This may be an oversimplification, but if you’ve been in church long enough, you’ve seen or heard it–or maybe you’ve been there yourself. Perhaps you can relate to Joe and Sue. You’re sincere. You love John and Mary. You certainly meant well. But the truth is you don’t know what you don’t know.
The moral of the story is that we need more information about people so we can “rightly divide the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Unfortunately, we often know too little and fall under the spell of “worldly and empty chatter” (verse 16) because it comes in the form of misapplied Scripture and distorted thinking.
We, like the disciples, need to be reminded to “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed…” (Luke 12:15). Instead, we need to meditate on, apply, and be mindful of these insightful words from God through James:
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)