A silent plague, no, the silent plague in the church is so ingrained in churches that we don’t recognize, or we shut our eyes and ears to it, so that we don’t have to deal with it. But as people of God we have to deal with it. This post is just to set the stage for looking at this destructive force in our midst, destructive in our homes and families, but even in our church life together.
This past Sunday, we talked about the issue of abuse in our Adult Bible Class. The focus of that was our challenge as disciples of Jesus Christ and how we can act in mission in such a critical area. That provides a backdrop for this post.
The Hidden Nature of the Plague
This post is directed to conservative Christians, and specifically conservative Lutherans, and even more finely tuned: pastors, male leaders, and males in congregations. As a pastor in The AALC, this hits close to home, so close that I have been blind to it at times. But we have to get this in the open; as Christians we don’t have the option to be silent.
What is the plague? Abuse, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is a sad reality that 95% of all physical abuse is done by a male against a female, most often within the same household. This leaves scars that last a lifetime. Identity, relationships, expectations, all are affected by abuse. Add in alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc., and the problems multiply.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Abuse comes in many forms beyond the actual abuse. Do we listen to what a woman says in conversation? Do we pick up signs of abuse? How about pastors, do we compound the abuse when we urge a wife to remain in a home while abuse is occurring, telling her “she has a responsibility in the marriage”? Do we listen to her undercurrent of fear, uncertainty, shame, guilt? Have we caused her even more fear, doubt, and lack of hope?
These are tough questions—they need to be! We cannot sugar coat this plague. Yes, the victim of abuse suffers from each of these problems. By our indifference or insistence on “being faithful and not moving out” we have added to the abuse, silently. Note, this is not to counsel divorce… far from it. But it is to point out that abuse, especially physical abuse has to be stopped, immediately… before any helpful pastoral care can enter into the situation.
So what can we do?
Let’s begin with Scripture. In Psalm 68:5, we read:
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God himself sets the tone for us with this passage. Further study indicates that throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, especially in Luke’s Gospel, God is concerned about widows and orphans. I suggest that the woman/child who is being abused is in a spiritual state of being a widow or an orphan, only worse because they do not have a voice. Don’t believe that? Spend a little time with someone who does counseling for abused women and children; you will soon discover how on target such an assessment is. If this is a high priority of God’s compassion, then it has to be our high priority as men, as husbands, as fathers, as grandfathers. Right now I am writing to those who are not abusing, but seem to be “ordinary guys” with their own families.
Emily Cook, wife to an LCMS pastor, a mother of six little chilren, has blogged on many important topics—often bringing in critical statements in the midst of incidental aspects of life. Recently she posted about watching her children play in the first snowfall of the year. Then when she mentions her oldest daughter (at the time, 8 years old), and she writes:
a picture daddy loves… and I remind myself to tell him to tell her that, because she is getting to that age when it is so good for a little girl to be told by her daddy that she is lovely.
What a wonderful starting point for each man to begin a change in perception and attitudes! To realize how much influence we all have in the lives of our children (and our wives)—it is huge! A simple expression of gratitude and acknowledgement from a father can shape this young girl for the rest of her life. Don’t overlook the everyday life we live: God places us in our vocations as husbands, fathers, grandfathers, uncles for his specific purposes, living out the new life in Christ.
How are we doing in what we say to our wives and children, grandchildren? Does our speech reflect what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29?
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Yes, we can take a first step right here. But let’s not stop there. How about when we are in meetings in churches? How about when we are in a “guys only” session in the parking lot. Are we showing our real (sinful) colors? Or is the Spirit at work there, too, directing our speech?
What if I have failed?
As I look back over my life in various vocations as husband, father, grandfather, I realize how far I have fallen short—so many times. Perhaps you are there, too. It might be easy to say, “What can I change after so much water has gone under the bridge?” First, God’s mercy is such that when we confess our sins of omission as well as commission, we receive God’s forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. Life begins anew—Paul wrote, “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence” (2 Cor. 5:17 GW).
Second, with that restored status, God showers us with the Holy Spirit, yes, to study and grow in Scriptures, but also to look at all of life in a new way. That is, because you have been forgiven and restored to God, the Spirit can lead you to a new relationship with your wife, daughters, sons, etc. It may be that as the Spirit works, you will become aware of sins that were hidden from you. You can now go in humility to the person you sinned against. Is it hard? Yep, been there, done that, and it is never easy. But it is critical. This is not “family” as usual, this is the beginning of a new relationship with everyone, especially your wife and children. Note, too, that how you speak to your wife will influence how your children view the vocation of wife, and the value of women and girls.
Third, you can now pray unhindered, which is critical in relationships. Peter wrote
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.(1 Peter 3:7)
Do you see that? It is the husband who treats his wife respectfully who then can pray unhindered.