Seeing the video of football player Ray Rice abusing his then-fiancée was shocking; however, the greatest shock should be that this is a daily occurrence in many families in our country. Today, more people are aware of the pervasive nature of domestic violence in our country and that it affects 1 in 4 women during their lifetime.
Many are watching the NFL to see how it will handle players who are perpetrators of this violence. I’ve heard more conversations about this violence in the last three weeks than I have heard in the previous five years. It seems that the NFL has not been diligent or responsible in dealing with perpetrators.
Some parts of the Christian community also share in a lack of attention and responsibility in dealing with domestic violence in their own congregation by either avoiding conversation or public education about domestic violence or addressing the issue with inappropriate actions and counsel.
While many may have thought that this would never be an issue in their congregation, all of us now know that this affects more people than we imagined.
If a woman is a victim of violence in the home, her life, and her emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental well-being are at risk. If there are children in the home, they, too, are at risk.
The children may or may not suffer physical harm, but boys begin to learn that this is the way a man treats a woman. Young girls learn that this is normal behavior. Not only do people suffer in the present, but their futures are compromised as well. The dysfunction in the family often passes from one generation to the next.
The Christian community has often failed those who are affected by abuse. It is difficult to imagine that the person we know and respect could ever be a perpetrator of violence. By all outward appearances, the man looks and acts as if he is the loving husband. And when it is discovered that violence has taken place in the home, too many women are counseled to return home so that she and her husband can work things out.
This is the same as looking the other way. Is it possible that some theological understandings of the role of men and women in marriages have played into reinforcing this common failed response to families suffering from abuse? Has the verse admonishing women to be submissive to their husbands created a culture or practice that allows or fosters continuing abuse?
We’ve come to learn that the recovery community has been most helpful to persons who seek to overcome their addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. It is time for us to claim that there are skilled professionals who have knowledge regarding domestic violence and its effects on families. They are more skilled than many of us in helping women and their families, and it is unwise for the Church to advise women to remain in situations that could bring more suffering.
Theologically, we need to claim the holistic view of Scripture regarding the relationship between a husband and wife. We could start by reading the first creation story that depicts God creating humankind. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
In the beginning, God created male and female as equals. No one was created to be beaten by another human being, especially in a family. In practice, we should become aware of community resources that not only address the issue of domestic violence but that also help victims. During this month, I hope you and your church will continue to represent Christ and the wholeness that God desires for all.
Bishop Michael McKee
North Texas Annual Conference