enturies ago Isaiah was inspired to record this message for the future experience of God’s people: “No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise” (Isa. 60:18).
This promises a flourishing Christian church wherein neither threats nor triumphs of those who perpetrate violence, nor the outcries and complaints of those who suffer violence will exist. Those who follow Christ will live peaceably within the borders of our faith, where there will be no wasting of possessions or destruction of persons.
Yet followers of Christ living in the last days must confess that this is more dream than reality. For on its Web site the Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (CCADA) states that there are “five basic forms of domestic abuse that adults, teens, children and elderly can experience.” Although its list is not exhaustive, it includes: (1) verbal and mental/psychological abuse, such as stalking and harassing behavior; (2) physical abuse, such as pushing, hitting, kicking, etc.; (3) sexual abuse, such as forcing or coercing unwanted sexual acts; (4) destruction of property and pets; (5) spiritual abuse, where Scripture and other dogmas are used to justify abusive treatment.
Although one in six men will experience physical abuse in their lifetime, the CCADA affirms that “in 1992, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, stated that domestic violence perpetrated by males [was] the single greatest cause of injury to American women.”* Would it shock you to learn that things have gotten worse since these statistics were published, and that religion is not a deterrent, because, according to the CCADA, there’s “just as much abuse (spousal, child and sexual abuse) in Christian homes as in non-Christian homes.”
Many experts assert that strong religious beliefs, such as ours, for which I am grateful, can also have a dark side in that some adherents are more likely to stay in abusive relationships because the abuse may be mixed up with their beliefs. They may be afraid of being isolated or excluded from fellowship if the truth is revealed. The urge to protect the persona of a perpetrator or the reputation of the church is a driving force behind the cover-up of some painful, humiliating behaviors that permanently damage or scar families, especially children.
Domestic violence has a debilitating effect on its victims. It robs them of the opportunity to lead productive, joyful lives. It prevents them from worshipping God with the passion and purpose they desire and dream of. It erodes self-respect and creativity, replacing them with shame, fear, and self-doubt so that victims cannot face God or humans, withdrawing instead into a lonely world of suffering. Domestic violence flourishes because both society and the church allow it to continue to debase men and women created in the image of God.
So let’s say we’ve all been suddenly jarred awake by these statistics, despite the fact that almost everyone knows someone whose silent cries of abuse have gone unanswered. What should we do?
Even though because of inadequate information, sometimes perverted theology, and incompetent pastoral practices we have often given wrong, destructive advice to this problem, the church can immediately employ several strategies. For instance, we can teach and learn to practice Christ’s command “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can disseminate, in sermons, enditnow programs, and other writings, insights about the cause and prevention of domestic violence. Ellen White suggests that these “precious souls” should be rescued (see Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing
, p. 125), and we can do this by providing safe places for victims seeking sanctuary, or healing in its aftermath. We can cease shielding abusers and hold them accountable to the law of the land, as well as our religious rules that denounce this behavior.
Until such time as domestic violence is rendered repugnant in our faith community, until any person can find refuge and healing without fear, shame, or censure, there will be no fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise in this regard before Jesus returns.
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was published May 17, 2012.