(An excerpt from Stepping In, by Ron Hitchcock and Sherri Gordon)
Domestic abuse is a problem that knows no social boundaries or class distinction. It affects women and children of all races and religions. Yet, it is one of the most misunderstood crimes in our country and often the least obvious. What’s more, churches are not immune to the effects of abuse. Christian women and children are just as impacted by abuse as non-Christian women and children.
Domestic abuse is not about money either. It is about human brokenness – a brokenness of humanity that reflects our need for Jesus. This is not a new thing. It has been with humanity since day one. Two examples include:
- Genesis 4 – detailing the story of Cain/Abel
- Leviticus 19 – warning against sexual abuse among family members because it damages the emotional and spiritual health of a community.
Nonetheless, we are not powerless when it comes to abuse. In fact, the church’s strength is reconciliation. The gospel declares that the ministry of reconciliation has been given to the church for the world (2 Corinthians 5:18). If the church can demonstrate reconciled relationships, we can help bring healing and restoration to marriages and families broken by domestic abuse. This also will transform communities because we have empowered them to embrace healthy models of relationship and family life.
A commitment to reconciliation should never occur at the expense of someone’s safety. Safety is the first priority in an abusive relationship. The first priority of Couples counseling should not occur when physical, extreme verbal or emotional abuse is active in a relationship. However, the pathway for reconciliation begins when the abuser is engaged in a batterer’s class for physical abuse or an anger management class for verbal and emotional abuse. The victim of such behaviors needs to be engaged in an educational process that empowers them to identify abusive behavior for what they are. These are sinful and sometimes criminal behaviors that are solely the responsibility of the perpetrator to overcome through education, accountability, honoring boundaries and demonstrating a heart of repentance.
Physical abuse is one of the most damaging forms of abuse. It can include everything from hitting, pushing, slapping, shaking, pinching, biting, restraining, grabbing and choking to beating, burning, whipping, kicking and throwing a person. Essentially, physical abuse is any physical action that leaves marks, causes pain or causes injury.
Physical abuse also includes the threat of physical abuse. Some examples include pointing a gun or knife at another person or making statements like “I am going to kill you” or “You will pay for that!” Other examples include punching a wall, damaging property or throwing things.
Verbal abuse is a communication style used to intimidate and shame another person. Words are used to label, identify and define a person or reality. Some examples include calling a person names like “fat,” “ugly,” “crazy” and “stupid.” It also involves defining statements like “you are too sensitive,” “you’re not making sense,” or “your ideas are ridiculous.” Verbal abuse creates a sense of shame and fear in the victim.
Emotional abuse can be the most difficult form of abuse to detect because it is often subtle. Unlike physical abuse, there are no visible marks. The words and actions are cloaked in what seems to be normal words or behavior. In fact, victims of emotional abuse often do not realize that they are being abused. They know there is something about what was said or done that just did not “feel right,” but they often have a hard time communicating it to other people.
Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks. It also includes withholding emotional support and approval, and denying access to money and medical attention. Victims of emotional abuse are rarely complimented or told what they do well. Instead, they are criticized, humiliated and intimidated on a regular basis. They also are “hit” with statements that are hurtful, blaming, rejecting, critical or sarcastic in nature.