I think most of us tend to think of abuse within the Church when we hear the phrase spiritual abuse
. Sadly, it’s what comes to mind because of the prevalence of stories in the news of sexual molestation. But this is not the kind of spiritual abuse I’m talking about today. I’m not even talking about when pastors and church leaders misuse their power over church members. Or even when victims of unsought divorces are made to feel dirty and disapproved of and in sin. In fact, I’m not talking about the Church at all. I’m talking about spiritual abuse within the confines of a Christian marriage. Spiritual abuse is defined as use of Scripture to dominate and control
, and it happens more than you might think.Here are just a few examples of words that actual husbands have used with actual wives under the guise of Christian love. “He used ‘your body is not your own’ from I Corinthians 6:19-20 when he wanted sex and I didn’t because he showed zero repentance.”“He would claim his Biblical headship rights saying I had no authority to ask him to leave until he could stop yelling, such as in the middle of the night when he was scaring me and the kids.”
“He would say ‘I am the father and God will hold me responsible’ to try to control what I did with the kids even though he had no interest in following God.”
“He told me to practice the Sabbath on a weekday so the kids wouldn’t see me doing it and think they could get out of chores.”
“He tells me that God appointed him head of the household which means head of our finances and how the money is to be spent. I have to fight to spend money the majority of the time.”
“When he comes home drunk, he will tell me to stop crying and pray about our problems.”
“He’ll say, ‘I thought you were a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to…(whatever he didn’t want me to do)’.”
“He was into pornography. When I asked him to stop, he said he would when I started respecting him or obeying him or when I lost weight.”
“When I told my husband that I needed to tell the kids about his drinking for their safety, he told me that I’d be going against his authority; and that if I didn’t obey him, he’d bring the church into it, it would get ugly and I’d be in sin; and that I had brought Satan into our family.”
I think we become seduced by our desire to be the good Christian wife. Most of the women I have talked to in abusive marriages desperately want to follow God and desperately want a God-centered marriage. When their husbands throw words around like this, it can be so mind-numbingly difficult to discern what is true biblical headship/submission and what is abuse/victimization. We must continually ask the Holy Spirit for clarity of thinking.God’s word is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) but that absolutely does not mean we have the right to wield it against someone in an effort to get our way. And biblical headship – if Jesus is any indication, and I think it’s super safe to say that he is – is one hundred percent servanthood based, not ruling with an iron scepter.If this sounds like your spouse, this is not how a marriage is supposed to work. Please tell someone that you trust and get help.
And if this sounds like you — if these words sound like words that have come out of your mouth, please do as one recent blog reader did: humble yourself enough to get help, make amends, and stop yourself from passing along these destructive behaviors to your children. There is always help available and there will always be healing on the other end of humility and repentance.
Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of this prison, that I may praise your name. –Psalm 142:6-7a-