Divorce: The Narrative is Important
I'm walking with leadership in my church to increase awareness of domestic violence. In doing research to present reasonable ideas, I listened to two podcasts that were helpful for me. The first was the most recent Roys Report, found HERE. In it, the story of how a prominent church handled cases of domestic violence raises the question: is the institution of marriage an idol itself?
The second podcast was a discussion hosted by Kevin DeYoung, found HERE. The two men talk about how they would approach counseling in domestic violence cases--I'm not in total agreement, but they raised some good points and seemed to truly want the best outcome for individuals.
My most important takeaway from the second podcast was an idea the speakers briefly mentioned: that the church's mishandling of abuse cases was probably a reaction to the climbing divorce rate, and they desired to keep marriages together at all costs.
Come to think of it, it seems reasonable that following WWII, when women had to enter the workforce (earning a second family income and experiencing more freedom), they now had more choices. Add to that the rise of feminism, and there was the perfect recipe for divorces for all causes. What the church may have missed, though, is the "story"--the reasons for divorce.
Granted, marital conflict gives rise to disappointing relationships, and having both men and women in the workplace gives opportunity for temptation for people of both sexes to look outside marriage to meet emotional needs. The REASON for divorce is just as important as the divorce itself. The impact and devastation of divorce should never be underestimated.
However, many individuals and churches made an idol out of marriage when they prioritized it above an individual's safety. (This could result in mishandling Scripture to validate their own beliefs.) Forcing people to be together does not enhance relationships; people must choose to stay together of their own free will (that's another discussion altogether). [I'm remembering a conflict I had with a classmate in elementary school wherein the teacher imposed our shared space for a day, thinking that would resolve the conflict. LOL!]
Oppression has been with us since the fall (God prophesied that in the Garden). Those who are bigger, stronger, and faster, power over the weaker and more vulnerable (think "abortion"). Who knows but what part of the rising divorce rate were individuals who finally had the means to break free? And who are we use legalism to impose forced cohabitation?
We, the church, have no power to save marriages. Only God can do that. The greatest hope we have is to shepherd people in grace, providing safety to those who need it, and shielding the flock from those who would walk in blatant unrepentance and disbelief.
Here are some things to look for when we work with people who could be abusers or victims: when they come to us as "victims"-- and we are discerning whether they are either telling the truth or distorting the truth-- are they looking for sympathy and affirmation, or are they looking for safety?
A person who is distorting the truth likely exhibits these qualities:
2. blaming the other person
3. feels entitled, claims no fault
4. justifies, minimizes, or denies behavior
5. takes no responsibility for the problem
6. tries to make you regard himself/herself highly
A person who is telling the truth likely exhibits these qualities:
1. blaming himself/herself
2. takes more than their fair share of responsibility
3. is looking for safety (physical or emotional)
4. is confused, living in 2 realities, unsure what to believe
5. is genuinely fearful
6. cannot articulate what is happening (trauma brain)
7. making erratic decisions, in "survival" mode
8. makes no sense to "logical" thinkers
9. hypervigilant, depressed, anxious, emotionally uncontrolled
Many victims of oppression within marriage are not looking for divorce. In fact, they're looking for reconciliation so adamantly that they return to the abusive relationship up to 7 times, on average, with the hope that things will change. In my experience, safety is what victims are looking for, not divorce. Divorce may not have even entered their minds. If a counselor or pastor doesn't slow down and listen, taking one step at a time to discern what is being heard, it's a mistake to assume that it's his/her prerogative to keep this relationship together and "jump the gun" to the idea of reconciliation. The individual's safety in the present is tantamount to saving the relationship (which may be beyond saving).
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©2021 Julianne Knapp. Originally published 9.4.21