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January 27, 2014

God Hates Domestic Violence

Gary Thomas — 
photo: alexandria lomanno, Creative Commons

photo: alexandria lomanno, Creative Commons

Two days before Christmas, I accidentally sent a decorative reindeer hurtling off a small table in our library. This reindeer definitely could not fly and it shattered into five separate pieces. I picked each piece up, knowing there was no way I could repair this, and presented the demolished deer to Lisa.

“That’s fine,” she said, surprising me. “It wasn’t that expensive, I got it at Home Goods, and I wasn’t that into it.”

Our passion over the destruction of something is directly related to how important it is to us.

On another occasion, I dropped a glass cup that had belonged to Lisa’s grandmother. She knew I didn’t mean to break it, but she couldn’t pretend it didn’t hurt because it did. The cup was precious to her. Lisa didn’t even have to speak. I could feel the loss just by looking into her eyes.

When will we men understand how precious God’s daughters—our wives—are to him? To hurt them, even just to make them miserable, must raise a passion that we can’t even imagine. If we don’t strive to understand the depths of God’s love for our wives, we’ll miss the breadth of his wrath when we abuse them.

There’s a reason I’m picking on the men, here. The Bible does, too.

Christians are known for quoting Malachi 2:16 in which God clearly says, “I hate divorce,” but it’s amazing to me how infrequently the rest of the verse is quoted: “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment.” The sad consequence is that this verse is sometimes used to cement the opposite of God’s intent: keeping a woman in a dangerous home.

The force of a sacred marriage—love, absolute benevolence, living to bless each other and showcase each other, being for the other, nurturing each other, supporting each other, encouraging each other—is diametrically opposed to any form of assault. The church should hate domestic violence as much as it hates divorce. It should speak against domestic violence as much as it speaks against divorce. It should support women caught in domestic violence as much as it offers divorce recovery programs.

When we assume that God hates divorce more than He hates domestic violence it shows how little we understand His passion for His daughters. It also leads to the disastrous consequence of making women feel like they are obligated to stay in a dangerous situation that God hates. The last thing a woman fleeing a dangerous home should feel is guilt. She is serving God’s purpose by ending something He hates—violence against her.

Pastors, we must hold all forms of marital assault with the same contempt with which God holds it.

He hates it. Sometimes, it seems like we are more concerned with keeping the marriage going than ending the violence, when in reality, violent men need to understand that in order to keep the marriage going the violence must stop, now. Notice how we put the onus on the woman instead of the man: “Wife, stay in the marriage,” rather than, “Husband, we cannot support your wife staying with you as long as you harm her.”

We won’t counsel like this until we hate domestic violence as much as God hates it.  The harm it does to the children; the deplorable witness it gives to the world; the damage it does to a woman’s soul (not to mention her precious body); the corrupting influence it has on the male perpetrator; the pain it causes our Heavenly Father-in-Law who hates to see His daughters abused—it is as ugly a sin as you can find.

Would you ever counsel your daughter to stay in a place where she winces when she sees a knife, or flinches when her husband touches her? Would you ever tell her to spend a night in a home where she’s not entirely sure she’ll wake up alive or unbruised in the morning? Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get her out of there, sooner rather than later?

Every Christian wife should be able to look at her husband’s hands not as a threat but as a source of provision

—he will work hard for her and her children. She should view his hands not as instruments of pain but as tools of tremendous sexual pleasure—over the course of their marriage, he should provide countless sessions of loving caresses and experienced affection. His hands should be thought of as a source of protection— those hands will become a fist only to protect the family he loves, never, not even once, to turn on them.

May every church have signs in the women’s restrooms telling women where they can find help. May every woman’s group be on the lookout for any signs that any of the church’s daughters are afraid to go to their homes.

When we think keeping a marriage together is the only biblical solution, even if it means preserving a violent situation, we have become beholders of legalism and strangers to God’s true passion. The destruction of a marriage is a terrible thing; the destruction of a woman’s soul, the damage to the children’s psyches, the triumph of fear and hatred where there should be faith hope and love, is just as bad.

The last thing I am is “soft” on divorce.

I think a case can be made that adultery should still be a criminal offense. You harm a family and a child far more by stealing a mom or dad, a husband or a wife, than you do by stealing a television set. Yet the latter offense will put you in jail while the other gets you, literally, nothing in the way of legal punishment. I have pleaded with couples to reconcile, and I have stressed that making a poor choice in your twenties doesn’t give you an escape clause in your thirties when you meet a “better” choice.

But when I truly understand that my wife is God’s daughter, that every believing woman is God’s daughter, domestic violence isn’t something I just want to “treat.” It’s something I’ve learned to hate, as God hates it. And if getting the woman out of the house is the only way to bring it to an end, then the sin is on the man who hurts, not the woman who flees.

When Jesus seemed so hard and so cold to the Scribes; when he called them out and sounded vicious in His denunciations, what was He angry about? “They that devour widows’ houses.”

If we start messing with God’s daughters, we’re hitting Him where it hurts the most. We’re raising the most furious of His passions. We’re putting ourselves directly in the line of His red-hot wrath.

Let’s hate domestic violence as much as God does.

My youngest daughter Kelsey is strong-minded, as a college editor-in-chief (which she is) needs to be. That has led to some fascinating discussions on what it’s like for a 21 year old woman to sit in evangelical churches. Rather recently, she challenged the way modesty is often handled in local churches. In a follow-up email, she added some thoughts that I’d like to share with you (with her permission), to start the discussion on the best way we can teach this important biblical principle to today’s generation.

Dad,

So I never really got to finish my thoughts on why I thought the way the church has approached modesty in my experience is harmful. I pulled out a few thoughts from my journal and added to it here. This is really long, so if you make it all the way through I will be grateful.

In all honesty, there are some things that as a man you will never be able to understand.

You don’t get whistled at walking down the street. You don’t experience the feel of men’s eyes helping themselves to your body on a regular basis. You don’t get cat calls walking out of a coffee shop that only get worse when you put your head down, ignore them, and walk quickly. I’m sure you’ve had a girl whistle at you a few times in your day, but the fact is this isn’t a constant reality for you. And for me, and most women, it is.

I can’t think of the last time I went more than several weeks without receiving an unrequested comment or call from a stranger about my body. What you then, as a man, also probably don’t know is that it makes absolutely no difference how we dress. The type of comment might change (“why so covered up, pretty lady?” is as offensive to me as whistling at my sundress), but the frequency doesn’t. Men are able to objectify women with little provocation. In some cultures, seeing a women’s hair or ankles is considered tempting and evocative. Men can undress a woman with their eyes whether she is wearing a bikini or a burka.

The world tells women on a regular basis that they are objects. If they dress “modestly” and are virgins they’re called a prude. If they wear slinky tank tops and sleep around they are called a slut or whore. Either way, women are objectified and considered a sex object.

When women are constantly having this degrading message beaten into them all day out in the world, it would be wonderful if they could come into a church and find refuge from objectification. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Growing up, I went to my share of modesty talks and was told it was my responsibility to cover up my body so that I did not lead boys into temptation. I went to a private middle school that walked around handing out oversized (and smelly) t-shirts to girls supposedly not covered up enough. I have a vivid memory of sitting between Willy Hanson, who was sporting a cut-off, and a girl in a spaghetti strap tank top, when the head of the school came in with her bag of t-shirts and made the girl put one on and completely ignored Willy. In high school I got a rash from having to wear a shirt over my two-piece swimsuit at a church camp while all the guys were allowed to run around without a top at all.

This way of approaching modesty gives women the exact same message as the rest of the world: your body is a sex object. You are a sex object. Your body is dirty and needs to be covered up.

Telling women to cover up for men holds women responsible for men’s lust. And that’s rape culture. It’s no large leap from that to telling women it’s their fault they were raped because they were wearing a short skirt.

My freshman year at Baylor, I went to a seminar for all freshman women on basically how to not get raped. The whole time I was wondering why the freshman boys weren’t forced to go to a seminar called how to not rape girls. And you know why? Because it’s seen as my responsibility. It is my job to cover up my breasts so they don’t lead men to lust, and it is my job to not attract or flirt with a man in case this leads him to have sex with me against my will. At their nature, these two responsibilities are not such different things.

I dress modestly because I have known my entire life that I am loved and I have worth and I am valuable, but it is increasingly rare for women to grow up with an intrinsic sense of self-worth like I did (thank you!). Far more beneficial than telling girls to put on a t-shirt to cover up their bodies is to tell them they are loved. They have worth. They are valuable. They are more than a sex object. Because the world isn’t telling them that.

It is even more crucial for men to hear the same thing: Women have worth. They are valuable for far more than their breasts. No type of dress gives a man license to objectify a woman. It is men’s responsibility to change the way women are talked about and looked at by men.

Basically, I believe the church is objectifying me as much as the world. Yes, the church is giving women a different solution: modesty as opposed to parading their bodies around for men to enjoy. But a different solution is not good enough. It’s time the church stopped obsessing over the length of my skirt and changed the message all together.

This is me (Gary) again. This post is already pretty long, so I’ll refrain from making any other comments except for this short one: what Kelsey hits on that the church might be missing is that whenever Paul addressed relations, he spoke to the men first. He doesn’t tell wives to submit to their husbands until he tells husbands to become sacrificial living martyrs for their wives. Have we missed this with our youth? Have we made young women (rather than young men) bear the burden of dealing with lust?

December 9, 2013

Celebrating Humble Families

Gary Thomas — 
photo: lucy96734, Creative Commons

photo: lucy96734, Creative Commons

The storming of the Bastille was the seminal event that unleashed the tumultuous French revolution; Europe would never be the same.  And yet, astonishingly, King Louis XVI’s diary entry for that day was “14/7 1789: Nothing”.

It’s incredible, when you think about it. The road to King Louis’ execution was paved that very day, yet he sat in his palace and thought, “Nothing to write about.”

The greatest events are often missed by contemporary observers.

That was certainly the case with the birth of Jesus. A relatively poor husband, a soon-to-be mother, and an unborn child stood poised to change the course not just of history, but of eternity, yet there was nothing to mark the grand occasion–no parades, no banners, no reporters, not even the most basic comforts. People on that day would be astonished to learn that much of the world, over two thousand years later, now annually celebrates an event they didn’t even know about.

Martin Luther writes, “Behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven. On earth it occurs in this wise: Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth, not highly esteemed, but of the humblest citizens of the village.  No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears, she is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town…. Imagine how she was despised at the inns and stopping places on the way, although worthy to ride in state in a chariot of gold.”

If you were writing People magazine during the first century or “reporting” for TMZ, there would be thousands of couples you’d include before you would mention this one.  Mary was from a segment of the population that would never be featured in The New York Times.

Luther goes on, “There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of prominent men at that time, who lived in fine apartments and great splendor, while the mother of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying circumstances.”

How much we miss when our eyes follow glamor instead of substance, and romance instead of love.

“They were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle…while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord.  No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable… See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.”

This Christmas season, let’s remind ourselves that the values of God’s Kingdom bear little resemblance to this world’s.

This ignored baby would one day teach His disciples, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  But even at His birth He demonstrated, as Luther writes, “the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes.”

As followers of this humble baby, we are called to notice and hold dear what a world lusting after glamor often ignores. We are to prize character over immodesty, generosity over affluence, and humility over power.  We are not to value people because they have fine clothes, expensive cars, or famous faces—God’s greatest heroes are often nondescript, anonymous, and less than pleasing to the eye. Humble parents of anonymous families—faithfully serving God and raising their kids while everything else is valued—are celebrated in heaven this Christmas season.

Luther reminds us, “Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men…  The angels [couldn’t] find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news; but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people upon earth… See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty!  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as if we had no honor to seek in heaven.”

This advent, what do you find yourself seeking–approval from the world, success in society’s eyes, or obedience to the King of Kings?

The world may care little what’s going on in our homes, but God does. The world won’t clap when a little boy or girl avoids a life-time of regrets by bowing their heads and submitting to Jesus as Lord, but heaven rejoices, and so should we. TMZ won’t mention a husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church, or a wife wrestling in prayer for her husband’s soul. But this season of all seasons should remind us that heaven watches what the world ignores.