The woman whose spirit is being crushed and whose life is endangered by domestic violence needs straight answers—not unrealistic expectations or clichéd, stereotypical platitudes. In this book, she will get straight answers, clear scriptural direction, and some tough challenges from one who has been there but is there no longer.
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If a choice needs to be made between saving a life or making certain that we are making a theologically correct decision, go for the life every time....
The “stay and pray” counsel may be applicable in most marital disputes, but in the case of domestic violence it is not. It only serves to enable the abuser to comfortably continue his sinful and illegal behavior while keeping his victim in harm’s way. But such counsel is commonly accepted among evangelicals as the Biblical solution to domestic violence.
When a battered wife wrote James Dobson that the violence within her marriage was escalating in both frequency and intensity and that she feared for her life, he replied that her goal should be to change her husband’s behavior—not to get a divorce (Love Must Be Tough, 1996).
He did suggest leaving as a temporary solution, but only as a way of manipulating the husband’s behavior. I found it inexcusable that not one note of real concern for this woman’s immediate physical safety was sounded in his response—in spite of the fact that she clearly stated she was in fear for her life.
Dobson counseled her to precipitate a crisis in her marriage by choosing the most absurd demand her husband made, then refusing to consent to it. This was not only absurd advice in a domestic violence situation, but life-threateningly dangerous as well, and very telling of the fact that, in spite of over 1000 deaths per year due to wife-beating, the wife beater is not generally viewed as a real threat to his wife’s life or safety.
The option of legal recourse, such as arrest and prosecution for her husband’s criminal behavior, was never mentioned, and no spiritual or emotional remedies, such as church discipline or counseling for her husband, were explored—even though she wrote that her husband was a highly respected leader in their church.
Dobson is not the only prominent evangelical who takes wife-beating so lightly. In an interaction recorded and transcribed from the tape entitled Bible Questions and Answers Part 16, the following question was asked by a member of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California and answered by the pastor, Dr. John MacArthur Jr. “How does a Christian woman react and deal with being a battered wife?”
In answering this question, McArthur gave some very dangerous advice to battered wives. He said divorce is not an option to a battered wife, because the Bible doesn’t permit it. MacArthur did say it was all right for the wife to get away while the pressure was on, but only with the perspective that she was going to come back. He warned wives to be very careful that they were not provoking the abusive situations. Because, he said, that was very often the problem.
Three years later, MacArthur said essentially the same thing (softened with a few disclaimers) in a booklet he still distributes today entitled “Answering Key Questions About the Family.”
Dobson and McArthur seem to be on the same page when it comes to wife beating. How carelessly these two men, along with many other evangelical leaders, deal with the lives of women. Christian wives appear to be simply expendable in the name of good solid, patriarchal, male supremacist theology.
Statistics on domestic violence vary widely, but it is estimated that four to five million women are violently abused each year in this country alone. And it is documented by the FBI that over one thousand of them die. But in spite of the danger, there still seems to be a strong taboo within the Christian community against counseling women in abusive marriages to get out.