I was born into an abusive home. My father was a drunk and when drunk, he was violent. In the aftermath of our successfully escaping him, my mother, unable to deal with all she’d been through, became a verbal abuser herself. I married into a family where emotional abuse and manipulation was the norm. I know abuse firsthand. I can testify as to the depths of its pain; moreover, I can testify, as an abuse survivor, to the overall failure of the church when it comes to understanding abuse or handling well those who have suffered abuse.
Statistics say that one out of four women experience domestic abuse of some form in their lifetime. Men are victims of domestic abuse far more than most people realize. When those who have suffered are members of the Lord’s church, the faithful among them have an obligation to help them. When, for whatever reason, we shy away from this obligation, either through ignorance or willful refusal to get involved, we lay waste to the Gospel we claim to believe. Christians are called to defend the oppressed yet concerning domestic violence so few do.
What abuse victims need from their fellow Christians is pretty simple and straightforward. We need you to be Jesus to us. Do what He would do, say what He would say, were He the One ministering to us. But isn’t that what we all need from each other, anyway? And isn’t that what we’re called to be and to do? Christians are called to stand in the place of Christ here on the earth and be His representative and do the works He would do. To fail in this is to fail in serving Christ.
Some Christians do care and want to help but really have no idea what to do. Domestic violence is a terrifying and unnerving thing both for the family involved and those aware of the problem. What makes a man (or a woman) treat their family with such cruelty? We can call it narcissism, explain that they grew up in abuse or offer a thousand different explanations but the truth remains the same: Domestic abuse is sin and the abuser is living outside of God’s laws. We can all mess up, treat others with disrespect or even be cruel at times but when it is a pattern, when the abuse defines your actions, you are an abuser, you are living in a continual sinful state and you are not saved. Being an abuser and being saved simply aren’t compatible. That is one thing the church needs to learn: true abusers, no matter how much they pretend to be, aren’t true children of God. They can’t be.
But their victims need help. If God has put them in your path, perhaps He’s calling you to be His hands to them. Don’t know where to start? Here’s some things that Christian victims of domestic abuse need from their fellow believers:
The Pure Gospel
The church long ago got away from the pure gospel. We water it down, mix it up and serve it with a side of fun. No wonder it doesn’t save. It can’t save. It’s poison. We need preachers dedicated to the truth of God’s Word who are willing to stand up and preach that truth without changing it one iota. We need Christians who long after righteousness. When we have that–the pure Gospel preached and lived–we’ll see more Christians helping abuse victims and we’ll see less abusers masquerading as Christians.
Someone to listen to them
If someone came to you and confided to you that they were having problems at home, would you listen? Most of us are uncomfortable when it comes to hearing such information but listening is actually the first step towards helping abuse victims. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up and say, “I’m being abused”. If someone tells you that, sit down with them and get their story. Then see what you can do. Yes, some people lie about being abused and you have to be aware that that can happen but it’s really not the norm; far more women lie about not being abused when they are being abused because they are afraid of their abusers. So listen.
Pray for them and with them
After listening to them, pray with them. Pray specifically for their needs. Then continue to pray for them and let them know you are praying. Prepare to work for often we are the answer to our own prayers. Someone needs to do this–often that someone is you.
Someone to care for their needs
Do you know what keeps a lot of abused women and children with their abusers? The lack of money to leave. If a woman is trying to get herself and her children to safety, don’t spend time telling her why she’s wrong, what you think about her decision or trying to talk her out of it. She knows what it’s like to live in abuse and you don’t. Even if she stays, chances are great that she and her children need something or maybe a lot of things. Financial abuse often accompanies other types of abuse. Instead of lecturing, get busy serving and help them.
Leaving an abuser is a dangerous time for victims. Staying in an abusive marriage is also dangerous. Abuse is killing, even if it isn’t physical. She needs an advocate, someone who will stand up for her, help her find the help she needs, help her to navigate the legal system should she choose to leave. In case she decides to stay, she’ll need an advocate, probably many, to make sure she and her children are safe.
Someone to point them in the right direction
You are in a fog when you live in abuse. It’s difficult to get through the day let alone make wise decisions. You’re constantly afraid and don’t know who to turn to. If you have children, it’s even worse. There’s nothing–nothing at all–more painful for a mother than to watch, hear or see your children being hurt–be it physical or not–and being unable to do anything to stop it. You aren’t sure who will believe you, who will be willing to get involved. So many aren’t. Remember this and get involved. Pray for them. Listen to them. Get their story. Help them to make good decisions, to get to a safe place, to know how to protect themselves and their children. If you don’t, who will?
Someone who will let them make their own decisions while offering guidance as needed
With all that said, it’s also important to let the victim learn to make their own decisions. She must move from victim to survivor and learn to discern truth from lie. She has to learn to trust again and that includes trusting in herself. She’s been lied to by her abuser, told she was worthless, that her opinions didn’t matter. You know what? After hearing it over and over, she started to believe it. She’s been told she can’t do anything and she feels helpless. Help her to grow and learn to believe in herself. Help her learn to discern truth from lie. Help her to find the information she desperately needs and offer your guidance when asked for it but, through it all, help her see the importance of making decisions about her life herself.
Abuse victims have suffered much from their abuser. The one who ought to have loved them, hurt them instead. Don’t add to that hurt by seeing and refusing to help. Get involved. Do something. Anything. Just be determined to honor God in it and He’ll give you the opportunity to serve. You–and she–will be glad that you did.