Domestic Violence and the Identity of the Church[i]
Our nation is in the midst of a seemingly interminable crisis. One in six Australian women over 15 has experienced domestic violence (d.v.) from a current or former partner. Nearly half these women had children who had witnessed the aggression. Police are involved in a d.v. incident every 2 minutes. About 1 in 6 murders occurs through d.v. with 2 women dying weekly from intimate partner violence. Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence. When PM Malcolm Turnbull announced an injection of $100m into d.v. prevention programmes he stated, “Real men don’t hit women.” But who are our models of “real men”; sportsmen, actors, musicians, politicians? I can say without pride that I have never laid a hand on Donna. My chief role model was not gentle, but having lost his own dad at 4 and being raised by a mother who disciplined him with a stockwhip my father made a vow that a man could never touch a woman. Leaving behind ordinary influences, for the Church to lead our nation in healing this profound relational wound we will need a much more intimate relationship with the depths of God’s life.
In The Beginning
Intimacy is the substance of eternity for “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The dynamic of the Trinity is the initiating Spirited love of the Father for the Son and its return in the same Holy power (John 17:24). The creation of male and female together in the image of God is the making of a relationship in which the eternal love of the Trinity may be clearly reflected (Gen 1:26-28). Gendered marriage in particular exists for a revelation of God’s glory as unity-in-diversity. Awareness of these profound realities was imparted by the Spirit to Adam and Eve on their wedding day.
When God from his own hand presented Eve to Adam the man was immediately confronted with an image of the destiny of the universe; for the goal of the universe is marital bliss that continues forever (Rev 21:9ff.). Symbolically, the marriage of Adam and Eve pronounced the eternal love between Christ and his Bride (Eph 5:31-32). As a new husband Adam was spiritually overwhelmed by a sense of high calling, rich glory and weighty responsibility. To be presented by God with a new form of human being, “Woman”, as a sheer gift was an ecstatic and total experience for the “Man” (Gen 2:23). As long as Adam abided in the powerful presence of his Creator the knowledge that “woman is the glory of man” brought him only joy (Rom 1:20; 1 Cor 11:7). When however Adam abandoned his glorious relationship with God he lost the power to lead Eve to her destiny and a deep abiding frustration came upon Adam, and so all fallen husbands. (Rom 3:23). Instead of pure blessing Eve became a nameless impersonal object, “the woman whom you gave to be with me,” (Gen 3:12). The consequences of this marital catastrophe permeate our culture.
Intimate Partner Violence
To understand what is happening in strained marriages, or de facto arrangements, we need to remember that the basic structural order of a marriage is unaltered by the Fall. Whilst like Adam and Eve all fallen couples share an intimacy in shame and together seek to cover up, it is the man, as created first, whom God primarily holds responsible for failures (Gen 3:7-8; 1 Tim 2:13-14). The shame of failed headship in an intimate relationship where things start to go wrong quickly turns into male anger, dominance, abuse, aggression and violence projected onto the woman. All of this is an attempt to cover over, repress or deny his leading responsibility for a traumatic relational fracture. All d.v. is a sign of the absence of the glory of God (Rom 1:22, 28-30). At this level of intimate partner violence men lose touch with reality. When the owner of the local cage fighting arena is about to pound Marge Simpson his words tragically ring all too true; “You’re the only woman I’ve ever hit that I didn’t love.” Unless there is a cultural recovery of the pleasure of God in intimate relationships our nation will remain in a pit of despair. Our only hope of the re-glorification of intimacy is Jesus.
The Son’s sufficiency to be the forever Bridegroom of saved humanity flows from the Spirit borne love of the Father who baptises Jesus in his pleasure; ““You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:22). Knowing that “a vast multitude more than man can number” is a Bride-as-gift from the all wise Father who holds everything together in love empowers Jesus to go ahead with this marriage at whatever cost (Rev 7:9). Christ’s marital love for the Church as Wife is nothing less than the gift of his own life sacrificed apart from the experience of the loving pleasure of God (Mark 15:34; 2 Cor 5:21). The cross is all the evidence the Church needs of the undefeatable love of Christ, this is the revelation of spousal faithfulness a Christian husband needs to overcome his feelings of inferiority, failure and shame that trigger spousal abuse (Eph 5:25ff.). In the light of the cross the true glory of a husband is to bear cost for his bride for the sake of their marriage in the power of the Spirit.
I was recently faced with a simple situation which tested this. It was Donna’s 60th birthday celebration and I had the choice between cheaper or more expensive dinner arrangements. My miserliness would normally prevail, but I sensed the Spirit say, “Bear whatever it costs to bring your wife happiness.” The proverb “Happy wife happy life.” is in general use cowardly, but through the lens of the cross it radiates eternal glory.
The domestic violence crisis reflects badly on a Church impotent to image the eternal truth that marital bliss will fill the universe forever to the glory of God. This issue is mostly too hard for our Bible-believing churches. There is far more terror from d.v. in Australian homes than from Islamic terrorism, butit is far easier to preach on the latter. Correcting someone else’s doctrine is straightforward, but when was the last time you became aware of the exercise of church discipline for d.v.? At another level, the marriages of too many pastors are not spiritually mature enough to tackle these issues with authority. How can the Church be an instrument to heal the world when she is herself so spiritually sick? Spiritual abuse in the Church takes many forms, from berating and blaming congregations to failing to take pastoral visitation seriously. Jesus never bashes his Bride because he sees in her his glory as a gift from the Father. This is the key to it all, to come to the Son so that he might teach us the things of the Father in the powerful presence of the Spirit. The sort of revival we need today is far more profound than a display of signs, wonders and numerical conversions; it involves a deep rediscovering of the marital identity of the people of God in the light of the sacrificial spousal life of Christ. These things are very much on the mind of the Lord, may they be very much in our prayers.
[i] This paper is limited to male initiated violence. Abuse of husbands is very real; but I believe that where men internalise the teaching of this paper they will inspire respect from their wives.