Why Do Some Pastors Advise Women To Stay In Abusive Marriages?

One of the most widely misread verses of the Bible used by men to justify spousal abuse is…

Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

Who would imagine that a member, deacon, usher or pastor would use the Bible as a source of justification for dominating and abusing their wives – even killing them?

Some husbands feel they have god-like authority over their wives and are justified in disciplining them if they refuse to “obey” or “submit” to their authority. In their sick, twisted minds, it’s their job to “keep their wives in their places”, as ordained by God. With the rising tide of domestic abuse within the Christian community, why isn’t it dealt with more openly?

Shouldn’t this Darkness be exposed to the Light?

Some years ago, in an issue of Essence magazine, T.D. Jakes, admitted that he’d made a grievous mistake in counseling Christian wives to stay, pray and submit more to their abusive husbands, as a way of changing their husbands’ hearts and saving their marriages. What made him change his stance?

One day, one of his parishioners appeared at his office with her 9-year old son. He had been advising her to not give up on her abusive marriage, because “God hates divorce”. However, this time, the wife wasn’t so convinced. Right there, in the office, she pulled up her son’s shirt and showed T.D. Jakes her husband’s latest handiwork. The child’s back was covered with belt marks, some that had broken the skin – others that were wrapped around his little body.

Then she asked him: “Does God still want me to stay in this marriage?”

His answer: “No, of course not. How can I help you and your son?”

Why did it take such a disturbing scenario to show T.D Jakes that his counsel – even if he thought it was biblically sound – could have jeopardized the lives of this woman and her son?

Although he and his wife now, publicly speak out more about domestic abuse, inside and outside of the Christian community, other ministers are still counseling Christian wives to stay, pray and submit more to their abusive husbands, as a way of changing their husbands’ hearts and saving their marriages. In some cases such counseling has led to the deaths of wives and their children, at the hands of their abusive husbands who sometimes committed suicide after the act.

Family and friends may also contribute to battered wives finding it difficult to leave their abusive marriages, by urging them to, in one way or another, to stick with their abusive husbands. This is especially true in the immigrant community, where preservation of the family unit is a must and divorce is frowned upon – no matter the state of the marriage.

Some reasons immigrant and non-immigrant women stay in abusive marriages is because…

…they don’t want to raise their children without their father;
…they feel tremendous pressure from their church and relatives to “keep the family together no matter what;
…of duty. “I vowed to stay married until death do us part.”;
….of identity. They were raised to believe they needed a husband – even an abusive or adulterous one – in order to be complete and/or accepted by society;
…they have been raised in an abusive home and believe violence is the way husbands and wives relate to each other;
…their religious or cultural beliefs condone/ignore domestic abuse, rather than condemn it;
…they don’t think they can support themselves and their children, because the abusive husband will not allow them to get job training or schooling;
…the abusive husband refuses to file papers to legalize her immigration status;
…the abusive husband withdraws, threatens to withdraw papers filed for her residency or threatens to get her deported;
…the abusive husband has isolated her from her people and/or will not allow her to learn English;
…they fear retribution from the abusive husband;
…the abusive husband has hidden or destroyed important documents like her passport, health card, ID card, etc.;
…the abusive husband has threatened to tell immigration authorities that she has a history of prostitution;
…of fear of emotional damage to the children; or
…of fear of losing custody of the children or having the abusive husband take the children out of the U.S, based on his remarks.

In some cases, women in abusive marriages are made to feel they are responsible for their husbands’ brutish behaviors. Otherwise, why would good, loving, well-intentioned men do such terrible things to their wives and sometimes their children?

When abused women do find the courage to approach their pastors for help and advice, their pastors sometimes believe they are mistaken, exaggerating or just being too emotional. What some pastors don’t realize is that abusers are master manipulators and sociopaths who are quite adept at presenting themselves as ideal husbands, fathers and pillars of the church and community. Even worse, some pastors are abusers themselves and less likely to empathize with an abused woman, give sound advice or steer her to counselors who have been trained to deal with domestic abuse, specifically among immigrant women.

Good pastors counsel troubled couples because they believe the power of Jesus can improve the worst marital situations and save the marriage but in some cases, it’s just not possible.

Effective pastoral counseling, regarding domestic violence, requires education, excellent communication and listening skills and being open to seeking outside advice and counsel from other pastors and professionals who are more qualified in dealing with domestic abuse, particularly within the immigrant community.

Abused women, immigrant and non-immigrant should be very wary of any pastor or person who advises them to stay in an abusive marriage, especially if there are children involved. If need be, they should be open to finding a better pastor or a professional domestic abuse counselor who can safely guide them and their children out of an abusive marriage.

This is not the time for women to be silent.

The lives they save may be their own and their children.

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