Psalm 140 - Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from those who are violent.
I'm taking some time today to remember an engaging young woman I met some years ago in a suburb of Washington, D.C. I'll call her Eva. Before her marriage, Eva had been a sought-after professional ballerina. Now she was wife to an alcoholic and drug-addicted husband and mother to two little boys.
Eva came to our church at a friend's invitation. She heard the Good News of new life in Christ with an open heart. She prayed for God to forgive her of sin, give her strength and hope, and bless her new friends and sisters in the Lord. She asked us to please pray for her husband who was, she said, "difficult." He had come to church once or twice, and I vaguely remembered him as handsome but frowning.
Tall and willowy with long arms and legs, Eva moved with remarkable grace. She had a beautiful face with large dark eyes, and her brown hair was thick and shiny. More importantly, her spirit seemed beautiful too. She was quiet, loving--and hungry to learn more about God. She began to attend church faithfully, bringing her two shy little boys with her. She attended Bible Study and began to grow in her faith. She was baptized. We rejoiced.
But after a time we began to sense that something was very wrong. Eva often appeared tense. She grew even thinner, and dark circles rimmed her eyes. I remember one sunny Saturday morning as I was sorting Sunday School materials, Eva entered the church wearing dirty blue jeans and a man's long-sleeved shirt in spite of the summer heat and humidity. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her face was devoid of makeup even though there was a bruise on her cheek. I greeted her, concerned, but she passed me quickly and went down the hall to the associate pastor's office.
A few days later we heard the horrible news. Eva had been shot--killed in her own home-- and her husband was in police custody. No one seemed to know where the children were, and we prayed for them for several days. Later we learned that they were with their grandparents.
The associate pastor eventually told me some of the details. I never knew why he chose to tell me. Eva was routinely beaten by her husband who often came home in a rage. The pastor had hoped that the husband, when he saw the transformation in his wife, would become interested in spiritual things. Such was not the case. A counseling session ended badly, and he never came back. Eva did however. She confided in the pastor that she often escaped in terror with her children--running to the woods behind their house and sometimes spending the night there on blankets she stashed in a tree.
What was the pastor's counsel? (He told me this with tears in his eyes.) He had told her to be more submissive. He told her to obey her husband and to strive to please him in every way. He told her that if she did what the Bible said, God would take care of her and her children.
Now she was dead.
What haunts me most about this story is not that Eva suffered abuse and was brutally murdered. It is not that her two children now had a daddy in prison and a mommy in Heaven. It is what my pastor said. He was a young man, good hearted, kind and earnest. He said to me, in distress, "Perhaps I should not have told her those things. Perhaps I should have helped her get away from him."
I am thankful that many mainline churches "get" this, and that many evangelical churches are at least somewhat more aware of these issues today. I would like to think that no pastor would ever give such misguided and potentially deadly advice. I would like to think so--but I do not.
In most states in the USA, October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month." I spent some time looking at statistics from Wisconsin, a relatively rural state. There were nearly 30,000 reports of domestic violence--and the majority of incidents are unreported! Almost 30 people died in domestic violence situations last year in Wisconsin alone.
I read some descriptions of domestic violence that had turned deadly. I noted that many times the victim was a Sunday School teacher, a choir member, or performed some other service to a church body. One was a long-time Lutheran, another an organist at First Baptist, another attended a large Methodist church. I couldn't help but wonder, "Did anyone in the church family know? Did the pastor know? If so, what message did she receive?" And I remembered Eva.
I know from my own ministry experience that not everyone listens to a pastor who seeks to help them recognize and deal with abuse. Sometimes our best and most sincere attempts to help are unsuccessful. I do not wish to say that all pastors or all churches are failing women who are abused.
But many are.
If you are being abused and believe you must submit to such behavior, if you are a Christian who wants to know what scripture says about this issue, if you are a pastor or a concerned person, may I suggest that you please read Keeping the Faith by Marie Fortune.
I keep copies of this wonderful little volume to give away. Written in a question-and-answer format with a combination of sympathy, psychological and theological insight, and solid grounding in Scripture, Fortune provides straightforward answers to battered Christian women. She shares simply and powerfully about how our faith addresses family violence. The author is a recognized authority on the subject of abuse, and she is a minister in the United Church of Christ.
The link above will take you to Amazon.com. You might want to read the reviews posted there if you still think that pastors and other well-meaning but mistaken Christians do not contribute to the problem.
Pray with me for those who hide the pain and the bruises, and the scars--not just the ones on the body but the sometimes deeper ones on the spirit. And pray for the Church, the representation of Christ in this world, to understand that the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of value, freedom and joy.