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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ray Rice, Janay Rice and An Opinion


I saw a news report that compels me to write today’s blog.  This will probably be one of the hardest blogs for me to write, as the issue of domestic violence is one that I find especially troubling.  Forgive the length of the blog, it is a topic dear to my heart.  Sadly, I have known far too many women (and men), who have suffered abuse in the home, some already married, some who married the individual after the fact as Ms. Rice has done.  It is such a terribly sad and unacceptable home life. 

I have also learned that while physical abuse is an awful thing, there is also the harder to define emotional abuse which is equally devastating.  Let me say at the very start, if you are physically striking your spouse or being struck by your spouse, please seek counseling now, before it is too late.  If you know someone suffering in this way, you could offer to go with them to a counselor or someone who can help get the healing started.

So with that, let me tell you what happened today.  I am sure that you, like me, have seen newscasts about NFL player, Ray Rice, and the abusive episode with his then fiancĂ©.  Now a video has been aired of the event and in the aftermath, his wife, has spoken about how troubled she is that so many are intruding on their personal life.  Understandably, it must be very hard for her or them to be able to work through their difficulties with the whole world scrutinizing them.  

It is all very sad.  

Watching the video, it is clear there was more going on between the two than that Ray simply slugged Janay; it appears to be quite an aggressive argument by both parties.  Nonetheless, when Ray throws the punch…lots and lots of lines have been crossed.

In CNN’s Headline News report this morning, a twitter post was shown written by an abused woman who stayed with her husband and explained why.  Included was a mention that her pastor told her that God hates divorce.  That was when I decided I had to address the abuse issue in a blog.  I don’t know who the woman was they were quoting, whether it was Ms. Rice or somebody else.  And I don’t know whether that woman’s tweet indicated she was still with her husband and everything worked out, or whether she eventually left.  But I was a bit miffed at the quick mention of the pastor who told an abused woman that God hates divorce. 

If that is all he told the woman in this matter, then she walked away with the understanding that God hates divorce MORE than he hates seeing her beat up by her husband.  That doesn’t fit with the description of God that find in scripture.  

Nowhere does scripture indicate that husbands are allowed to abuse their wives (nor is it right for husbands to be abused, either, and I have known some of those.  

Unfortunately, guys are even more embarrassed to admit they are being abused than abused women are.) 

Based on the descriptions of marriage found in scripture, an abusive spouse has already clearly abandoned the sanctity of the marriage vows.  A husband beating his wife is in NO WAY submitting himself to Christ or laying down his life for her or doing everything he can to make sure her faults are covered and protected, or treating her with respect and recognition of the fact that she might be physically weaker and therefore needs to be treated with care. 

Let me ask you:  Does God hate divorce more than He hates when husbands (or wives) flagrantly disregard their marriage vows and violate them with raised fist?  I think not.  In fact, if I were selecting the lesser of two evils, I think I’d vote for divorce long before I’d approve of genuinely abusive relationships.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I fully believe that the very best solution is for a couple to deal effectively with the dysfunction of the relationship, stop the abuse, each face his or her own issues, and then together build a marriage that is healthy and good.  And I believe that divorce should be way down the list of options, that every attempt should be made to build a healthy marriage.  

But what if only one spouse is willing to address the dysfunction?  

What happens when the abuser refuses to recognize his or her own need to change? 

Well, of course that one spouse should make meaningful attempts to bring about change, and God may well use that spouse to cause the changes.  But not if things escalate and that spouse dies from abuse.  After all, it takes two to make a marriage (actually, three when you count God), and one spouse cannot make marriage work alone, especially when he or she is beat down at every turn. 

There sometimes comes a point when something needs to be done.  There are times that choosing to walk out of a marriage could be the thing that makes the more guilty spouse wake up and face his or her abusive behavior, and realize that sinful actions carry awful consequences.  A victimized person should not be victimized again for choosing not to accept the charade the marriage had become. 

Sometimes it seems that some Christians and pastors think that the only thing God ever said about divorce is that he hates it.  That reference is found in Malachi, and yet that same Hebrew Bible contains in Deuteronomy instructions for how to divorce.  In other words, God gives instructions on how to properly do the very thing that he hates!  Why would he do that?  When I think of the important scriptures, I think it is very significant that the one record we have of Jesus dealing personally with a person apparently divorced tells of the incredibly compassionate way he treated the Samaritan woman he met at the well, described in John 4.

OF COURSE God hates divorce!!!  So do most people who have gone through one.  It is NOT a fun experience, and leaves people broken, mistrustful, devastated and lots of other things.  I hate going to the dentist, too, but that doesn’t mean that the drilling in my teeth isn’t sometimes a necessary or even a useful thing!   It is apparent from scripture that even God recognizes that in this world filled with imperfect people, there will be times that marriages don’t work, and so hate it though he does, he gave the instructions for divorce.

When the pastor told his parishioner that God hates divorce, she likely walked away with the understanding that God hates divorce, but he doesn’t hate the beatings she suffers...at least not as much.  That’s a stark contrast to the exuberance the Samaritan woman felt when leaving the presence of Jesus.  Having counseled with a number of abused individuals in the course of my ministry, I know first hand how awful the stories can get, and how dangerous the situations can become.  I remember one young woman who was sometimes beaten in front of a very young daughter, and I asked her if that is what she wanted her daughter to grow up believing is the proper way for a man to treat a woman.  Heartbreaking though it was, she wrestled with the choice of staying or leaving, and decided to stay.  I am hopeful they worked things out well, but do not live in that area any longer, so do not know for sure. 

Do you suppose that pastor with his advice that God hates divorce wanted the woman to stay in the marriage until “premature death at the hands of her husband” do they part?  That isn’t what the marriage vows say nor intend.  If not, and the abuser refused to change, how long DID he want her to stay legally attached to him in a relationship that does not even deserve the name “marriage”? 

Well, I’m ranting now.  I guess the truth is that pastors like that are the reason I wrote the books I did, because individuals who have experienced divorce, and especially those in the church, need to know that they still are precious to God, and that God dignifies their being, rather than diminishes it.  And the books attempt to fill the gap that too many in the church leave void for those who are struggling with divorce, because all too often the only thing they are told by the church is what that pastor told the woman above.

Finally, for any who have suffered real abuse at the hands and words of someone who is supposed to be loving you, realize that what you are experiencing is NOT love from that person, no matter how often he or she apologizes.  And realize that you are a person who deserves real love, not the treatment you have received.  I know that because Jesus decided you are so worth loving that he died on a cross for you so that you could experience the love of God throughout eternity.

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