Does the Bible specifically address domestic violence?
If the number of sermons or Bible studies you have heard directly discussing this reality were an indicator, what would it suggest about your church’s biblical engagement with this issue?
A recent survey revealed that 42 percent of Protestant pastors rarely or never address domestic or sexual violence or both in their sermons.
However, one in every three women will experience physical violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime.
This raises the question: Why have nearly 50 percent of these pastors rarely or never addressed a critical issue faced by 33 percent of all women?
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.”
The NCADV notes:
− On average, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States.
− More than 10 million women and men experience domestic violence each year.
− On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
− The cost of domestic violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.
In recent weeks, national news has focused on the reality of domestic violence due to the wide circulation of a specific incident caught on an elevator video between an NFL player and his girlfriend.
According to a recent Associated Press article, a number of women used the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft to “share their own stories reflecting the sometimes difficult choice of whether or not to leave an abusive partner.”
One woman tweeted on Sept. 8, “I stayed because my pastor told me God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too.”
Does God hate abuse as well?
By the standard of church awareness, teaching and response to the reality of domestic violence, one might be tempted to answer in the negative. But what does the Bible say?
Malachi 2:13-16 addresses the reality of domestic violence. Through the prophet, God responds to a petitioner who has “flood[ed] the Lord’s altar with tears” and given the requisite offerings but received no reply.
“You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant … I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 2:14,16).
These husbands were weeping and wailing before the Lord and offering sacrifices to him.
Yet, they were rejected because the Lord hates divorce and the Lord hates a man who covers himself with violence toward his spouse.
Though there is some debate about how to best translate verse 16, the NIV text’s translation, “covering himself with violence,” indicates that when it comes to discussing familial health, churches ought to address intimate violence in a substantive way.
According to Scriptures, a person engaging in verbal, sexual or physical violence against an intimate partner or family members is committing sin.
Other passages join Malachi in implicitly addressing this reality:
− Genesis 1-2 articulates marriage as a helping relationship forged in the unity and equality of one flesh.
− Psalm 11:5 notes that the Lord “hates with a passion” those “who love violence.”
− Isaiah 59:2 condemns those whose “hands are stained with blood” and “fingers with guilt,” and Isaiah 59:6 condemns those who commit “acts of violence” with their hands are doing “evil deeds.”
− Matthew 18:1-10 describes children as those highly regarded in the kingdom of God and, therefore, they are to be welcomed, honored and protected.
− 1 Corinthians 13 offers a portrait of love that is patient and kind and free of intimidation, abuse or violence.
− Ephesians 5:21 discusses mutual submission, while Ephesians 5:25-33 calls upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church: sacrificially unto death.
− Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 emphasize that fathers should not provoke their children.
Domestic violence is sin. When a person engages in verbal, sexual or domestic violence, they have broken faith with their husband or wife.
Domestic violence is far too often a secret among those weekly filling church pews in suffering silence. We have a responsibility to name this sin and to be grieved over its prevalence in the world.
If we are to be God’s people, then we must publicly teach that domestic violence is sin, acknowledge our complicit silence in this area, provide safe havens for those seeking freedom, regularly pray for those trapped in abusive situations, and model healthy and life-affirming relationships.
Elijah Brown is the director of the Freedom Center and associate professor of missions at East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) in Marshall, Texas, where he also serves as a faculty in residence. A version of this article first appeared on ETBU’s blog, The Intersection, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ElijahMBrown.
Elijah M. Brown is the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.