I do not have a personal #metoo story, but growing up in a ministry family, I have been a firsthand witness to, and counselor with, many women and teens with these stories from a young age. For years, women have come through our church doors, asking “Did I sin by leaving my husband who was abusing me and my children?” or, if they were currently in an abusive relationship, “I’m scared I will be disobeying God if I leave.” Over and over we would hear these women describe being told by a pastor at some point that if they left, they were in disobedience to God and would be walking into a life of sin. “You are the only hope for your husband’s soul!” or “It is through your strength and steadfastness that he will come to the Lord.” They were given scripture to manipulate them, and it was then my father, mother and grandmother’s, and at times my own, opportunity to explain the truth – that they had been not only abused by their husband, but by those whom they trusted to be their spiritual guides.
Throughout my life I heard my father give fiery sermons from the pulpit on the subject of abuse. After recounting horror stories of the women who stayed in violent relationships because of abuse of power from religious leaders, he would say to the congregation in a matter of fact statement that would leave some silenced in shock:
“If you are being abused in a relationship, God does not want you to subject yourself to that. God will never ask you to submit yourself to the devil! Leave!”
He still preaches this, and it still shocks some – it is a sad commentary on the state of the church that this kind of message would be shocking. Because it is the truth, freedom and life-saving message of Christ.
There is a culture within certain religious ranks in ugly sects of the church that serve as a cover-up for abuse and suppression of victims. It is present in the same as it is in Hollywood, the media world, music industry and, as we continue to have uncovered, nearly every subculture and industry. The only difference in the world of religion is that they take scriptures like Ephesians 5:22 and misquote, misinterpret and twist them for the purpose of control, silence and oppression to keep an outdated patriarchic order intact. It is time we uncover the veil and speak out against the religious leaders that abuse God’s word in this very dangerous way.
Why is it dangerous? Because I personally know of dozens of women who stayed in relationships because of this kind of gross manipulation, only to have the abuse grow worse. Some nearly died, some had children who lived under gross abuse, and I have also heard the stories of women who did not make it out in time to tell their story and find freedom. Their blood is on the hands of these so-called men of God who have given out irresponsible and destructive advice.
When women (and men, because emotional and physical abuse is present in both genders) hear the truth about what the Bible actually says about relationships, marriage and women, it is freeing, not oppressive. It is empowering, not imprisoning. That is why those who want to preach man-made doctrine instead of the real truth of Jesus Christ choose to leave certain scriptures and context out! Dorothy G. Stevens of CBE International said, “His teaching repudiates one human exercising coercive authority over another. One of Scripture’s eternal principles is that before God, we are all equal. Christ’s new order, in Paul’s words, was that there “is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”
Even with this fundamental truth however, for decades Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5:22 has been one of the most misquoted and misunderstood scriptures that has been used to manipulate victims. You have probably heard it before: “Wives should submit to their husbands,” with no further explanation, elaboration or context. They do not often talk about the next verses, which describe the role of a husband as equally submitting to his wife and relationship built on first the mutual submission to Christ, then to one another. In fact, husbands are to give their very bodies and lives up for their wives, “as Christ for the church.” Verse 33 summarizes the entire meaning of this passage well in the Amplified version, which is rarely quoted by those with a right-wing or ultra-conservative agenda: “However, each man among you [without exception] is to love his wife as his very own self [with behavior worthy of respect and esteem, always seeking the best for her with an attitude of lovingkindness], and the wife [must see to it] that she respects and delights in her husband [that she notices him and prefers him and treats him with loving concern, treasuring him, honoring him, and holding him dear].” Sounds like a pretty nice marriage of mutual respect and devotion, doesn’t it?
Nowhere do these scriptures even hint that should the husband not live up to his role of submission to God and his wife that the wife should still continue to submit to the man first, before God. In fact, the opposite is a theme throughout New Testament scripture! What we see described in scripture, the over-arching values in the New Testament, is a change in the view of the current culture towards women at the time and a focus on mutual respect. What many use in our time to oppress and prevent progress, in the context of Biblical historical perspective was used to bring new equality, new rights and status for women that was unheard of before.
To any women (or men) struggling with religious peer-pressure, suffering in an abusive relationship or who has been hurt by the manipulation of church leaders, I want you to consider the words of Christ – whose word is really the only one that matters. He said in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If the burden you have been told to live under is heavy and burdensome, that burden was not placed on you by God, but by people with a misunderstanding of God’s Word. Take Jesus’ words instead, be empowered in Him to be the beautiful and free creation you are, and find rest.
Christina Forrester is the Founder and Director of Christian Democrats of America. Follow her at @Christinaof9, Christina Forrester on Facebook and Christian Democrats @ChristianDems.