Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Book Signing Day, Part 2

After the signing, I shopped at a small Mom and Pop establishment, and thought I’d offer the proprietor my novel, "Behind the Hedge," as a gift because she had been so good to me over the years, and because I had heard from several sources that there was un-dealt-with domestic violence in her denomination, too. The store owner said she had read about my novel in the newspaper and was not interested. She wanted to live by the Bible. She wasn’t interested in the teaching of people, and the way she said it, I gathered that she meant something along the lines of “the teaching of rebellious women.” I replied that I, too, thought living by the Bible was important, and that I thought with her work putting her in contact with many people, she would be in a key position to know about domestic abuse, so that she could help those who needed help.

She repeated that all anyone had to do was read and obey the Bible, and Jesus said divorce is not acceptable. I pointed out that the problem is that people seem to think the Bible focus is on ‘wives submit’ and they usually do not put nearly as much emphasis on ‘husbands love self-sacrificially’ (my paraphrase for loving as Christ loved the church). She said she hears both sides in sermons at their church.

I agreed that we hear both sides, but that the ‘woman submit’ side is emphasized, and that most of the time marital problems are blamed on the woman. She did not think this was so and replied that God had commanded Eve that her husband was to rule over her. I said, that was not a command, it was a prophecy because of sin; we would not want to promote sin.

She still thought if the woman submits, her husband would not abuse her, and that if a woman submits out of love her behavior would bring her husband to Christ. I told her that abused women are more submissive than most women, and that it is very rare for abusive men to come to Christ because of the submission of their wives. Usually the abusive man becomes even more abusive in response to his wife’s submission. Even with non-physical abuse, the woman is on super alert trying to make sure all is as her husband wants, so that he has no reason to get angry, (I acted out a woman looking this way and that, trying so desperately to make sure all danger was alleviated) and then he pounces from a completely different direction. She ends up getting panic attacks because of his threatening, fear-generating behavior and her constant effort to be so perfect.

I pointed out that the church gets the cart before the horse and tells women that their submission will bring forth love from their husbands, but that the Bible says the husband’s loving self-sacrifice comes first. We don’t love Christ first, and then He dies to sacrifice for us. It’s the other way around, ‘We love Him because He first loved us.”

She simply did not want to be persuaded and kept bringing up reason after reason as to why a man’s abusive behavior was his wife’s fault. She said if a woman makes sure a man loves the Lord and has her parents blessing in her choice before she marries him, he would not abuse her. I answered that abuse does happen, because the man goes out of his way to deceive her and her family into thinking he is a nice man and a wonderful Christian before they marry.

I went on to say that even if a woman made a mistake and her life was a mess because she married a non-Christian and didn’t have her parent’s blessing, that did not mean she had to stay in a marriage where she would either end up dead or insane, and where the children were in danger, too.

At some point in the conversation I pointed out that contrary to her statement that wives were not always the ones blamed, her arguments were always blaming the wife. I tried to end the conversation as peacefully as I could, saying how difficult it is for me to trust men because of this tendency to deceive, and asking if she had a loving considerate husband. She did, and I commented that she is so blessed. I don’t know why I added that it bothered me that even husbands that appear to be nice often make decisions that are at their wife’s expense.

On the way home I felt like I was in shock. How could an offer to give a gift end up with such a blame-the-abused-wife conversation? As I recalled the details, I wished I had remembered to tell her that the man my parents and siblings wanted me to date became a Christian when he was in jail. They told me he had such a wonderful testimony. I wanted nothing to do with him, since I had dated a man like that once and did not want to deal with that again. The man I dated ended up beating his wife, and the man my family wanted me to date ended up becoming an alcoholic and abusing his wife. Last I heard, the first couple is divorced and the second is separated. So contrary to the woman’s belief, marrying a man who loved the Lord and who had my parents blessing, had no guarantee of marital bliss, nor of the absence of abuse.

But this conversation, plus the ones referred to in part one, gave me a very good glimpse into the huge amount of work that is yet to be done. Indeed, blaming the wife for her husband’s abusive behavior—even if one has to blame her for marrying him—is alive and well. Even churches who claim to oppose domestic violence, often secretly blame the victims of abuse and isolate them by refusing to be close and supportive friends, and by avoiding the topic of domestic violence as much as possible.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" Please visit


  1. I have identified the attitude in the church (both men and women) that God hates divorce more than He hates abuse, so therefore lets keep the marriage "together" at all costs, even when abuse is present. So if the abusive spouse doesn't change despite counseling, prayer, etc., etc., you're stuck. And this is from a church system that claims to believe in equality in marriage and women leading in the church. I'm having trouble reconciling these two ideas.

  2. I have difficulty reconciling the two ideas, too. Isn't it crazy how they can "get it" but not get it at all? I didn't realize that churches who teach equality would also keep families stuck with their abuser. What kind of equality is that? It sounds like something is "fishy" about their equality, that it isn't genuine.

    I got the impression from several fair-minded churches in this area that they kind of got it, but individuals still saw me as unforgiving, or too angry, or that it probably wasn't bad enough to leave. I keep talking and educating. My novel, "Behind the Hedge" helped some of them get it. One male reader commented "Can it really be that bad?" And the story is about non-physical abuse! He would be really shocked if it was about physical abuse.

    For the doctrinal misunderstanding, I recommend Barbara Robert's book "Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery, and Desertion." Her book talks about the difference between treacherous divorce, hardhearted divorce, and disciplinary divorce. Malachi and Jesus were talking about treacherous and hardhearted divorce, since they are a form of abuse. Without disciplinary divorce, what is there to keep a person from choosing abusive behavior? They can counsel all they want, but abusers are especially into "what's in it for me." The benefits of maintaining control through abuse are just too great to give them up for anything but the heaviest deterrent.

    Perhaps you could put copies of Christian books about abuse in that church library, and if you attend there, put it in the bulletin that the books are in the library, so all know about them and they aren't hidden.

    It seems you have your work cut out for you, Sara! Keep educating. Don't let them silence you. Having said that, be careful to not sound "strident" or "pushy" or any of those other "aggressive" words that put people off when women do them, but that they seem to like in men.

    One thing that has often worked for me is to ask questions. Why is abuse permissible, but divorce is not? Is it ok to not obey verses like "Be ye kind one to another?" Why is the forgiveness in Ephesians 4:32 emphasized more than the kindness in that verse? Is it more important? Is divorce a greater sin than unkindness? Do various sins have ratings?

    Have you come up with other ways to addess that attitude?