I read with much anguish the article titled Hush, Battered Church Sisters Suffering in Silence in the Sunday Gleaner dated September 7, 2014. Oh if it could only be a farce that the reporter made up to catch readers’ attention; that would have been a little more palatable for the church and its members. But the truth is made real when thick layers of makeup are washed off with praise and worship perspiration and the black and blue swelling evidence is revealed. It is also seen in the limping struts from non-athletic women who smile and nod with you in the pews as though everything is alright and they simply had a fall. Sadly, however sometimes it is not revealed; the pains and scars tucked under layers of clothing, bright smiles and long-told lies.
The article caused me to reflect on an incident some time ago when I was having car trouble and a nice man came to my rescue; staying with me throughout the ordeal, sending his friend to purchase a car part from the gas station a few minutes away so that they could fix my car and I could be on my way again. Very nice man, I thought. No ulterior motives.
Months later I met a very nice lady who was starting life over because her husband (a pastor) was a horrific wife-beater. Much strength and grace to her for having the courage to finally take action to leave and protect herself and her children. To my shock however, I soon found out that the ‘very nice man’ who helped me with my car was her husband! You certainly can’t judge a book by its cover but if you asked me at the time, this was a nice ‘good good’ Jamaican man kind enough to patiently help out a sister like me with car troubles. His no-strings-attached help renewed my hope in a kinder Jamaica where we serve and help each other. Clearly however his home life was not kind or gentle.
That is the two-sided mystery in which our communities – inside and outside the church – find themselves. In the public domain, wife beaters are oftentimes ‘nice’ men; helpful, gentle, kind and generous. In their private lives, they are barbaric villains.
In the Sunday article I agreed to a large extent with much of the comments and perspectives offered but felt the need to reiterate the biblical framework for how a husband should treat his wife especially within, the context of wife beating.
President of Women Incorporated, Joyce Hewitt was as quoted as saying that “They (pastors, preachers etc.) are not in the majority of cases equipped or trained adequately in terms of looking at domestic violence as an issue, and when they do, they look towards the biblical response which is totally inadequate. This is what of course continues to perpetuate the situation; it is hushed up, it is not discussed,” said Hewitt.
I can agree with Ms., Hewitt that the response of the leaders and members in some church communities have been inadequate and more training is required, but if not a direct response, the biblical model does provide a sound framework for how a husband ought to treat his wife. The trouble is the many questionable pastors and congregations that don’t take heed to the teachings of scripture and sadly cover for their colleagues’ sins.
Here is just a sample of what the bible requires in terms of how a husband should treat his wife:
- “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” – Colossians 3: 19. There is no ambiguity here. I would imagine that this instruction to “not be harsh with them” includes no shouting, shoving or slapping. I believe churches must hold husbands who are harsh with their wives accountable. After all “a spiritual leader must have a good reputation. He must have only one wife and have children who are believers. His children shouldn’t be known for having wild lifestyles or being rebellious.” Titus 1: 6. Essentially the good reputation that a spiritual leader has must first be with his wife and children. To be abundantly clear, a wife-beater does not have a good reputation with is wife.
- “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church,” – Ephesians 5: 28-29. So if you love your wife like your own body, you wouldn’t beat her, unless you’re sadistic. Also, Christ loved the church in a sacrificial way – giving his life for her good. This is a tall order for a husband but is the biblical requirement in marriage. This type of sacrificial love is antithetical to wife beating or abuse of any kind.
- “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers,” – 1 Peter 3:7. So as joint heirs (and not your slave) how dare you hit her? Both of you have the gracious gift of life – how dare you make her life painful? Additionally, it is interesting to note that treating your spouse poorly or unfaithfully can also cause the universe to frown on your life; bad Karma some may call it. Malachi 2: 13-15 reinforces the point: “You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant…So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.”
So the biblical teaching has a lot to offer on how a husband should treat his wife. What is wrong is the hearts and minds that have not yielded to the instruction of scripture and are masquerading as righteous men in our midst. In society we can liken this situation to how we may have adequate laws for a crime, but weak enforcement. The church must call a spade, a spade and stand by what the bible teaches when it comes to how a husband should treat his wife; using that biblical framework to build an adequate response to domestic violence. Maybe these wife-beating members and church leaders are why some of the prayers of the church go unanswered (if we believe 1 Peter 3:7 and Malachi 2:13-15). God will not be mocked. It may also be a smart idea to have private interviews with wives about their husband’s character before they are accepted in church membership or leadership.
In the end, may every husband who beats his wife truly repent (stop beating her) and find biblical counselling that both rebukes and counsels him; and may every wife who suffers in silence find the courage to escape like a thief in the night and find good counsel that restores her self-esteem, health and overall well-being and may she also find a friend or God-sent stranger nearby ready to provide hope, healing and help. Kudos to the Bible Society of the West Indies for making an effort to reach out to people in communities on this issue, may their efforts bear fruits of peace, healing and love.
Shelly-Ann Harris is a women’s rights and family advocate, journalist and communications specialist. Visit her blog at www.letsgoUpstream.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @harrisshellyann