“We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms—verbal, psychological, physical, sexual—is detrimental to the covenant of the human community. We encourage the Church to provide a safe environment, counsel, and support for the victim and to work with the abuser to understand the root causes and forms of abuse and to overcome such behaviors. Regardless of the cause or the abuse, both the victim and the abuser need the love of the Church. While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God’s redeeming love.”¶161.II.H. “The Nurturing Community, Family Violence and Abuse” in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2016
What does it mean that the church is a place for both the abuser and the abused? This question resonates deeply with me as a survivor of Domestic Violence. Can there be space in the church for both me and the person who tore me to shreds?
Yes. The short answer is that the church absolutely must be broad enough for both the abused and the abusers. Although I have my issues with the imperfect nature of the Book of Resolutions, to the best of my ability I understand that the church must make room both for those who need redemption and for those who lives need to be redeemed from the places of desolation, sorrow, and shattering.
Why? Wouldn’t it be easier to lean into the more judgmental parts of scripture? Although I generally refer to the larger section of the scriptures as the Hebrew Scriptures, can’t God “go Old Testament” once in a while with the fire, flames, and what not? Won’t God bring damnation to those who have hurt people deeply to the point where it feels imprinted on the soul? Aren’t there places where the wicked find out that they can’t have their cake and eat it too?
Absolutely those places exist in scripture. Honestly, my soul rests better at night knowing that such places exist in the theological life of the church. That being said, we can do better as a people than rely on damnation as our first recourse to sin in the world. Who among us is without sin in their lives?
Once upon a time, most of us crawled on the earth as toddlers. Each of us grew up in the same world that was filled with imperfection and brokenness. Some of those who abuse were once the innocent ones being abused. Some of those who abuse walked down dark roads none of us would choose to walk.
Would we want to be left to our own sorrow and judgment after we went on such a journey? If there truly is a chance for redemption, would any of us truly ask for redemption to pass us by? Would we want to suffer when grace might lead us back to life and lifegiving ways? Is that what we would want if we walked down such roads in those shoes?
We are called to love one another. We are called to treat each other like we would want to be treated. We are called to live lives filled with the unmerited favor known as grace. Judgment belongs to the Lord and there may come a day when judgment falls, but between now and then we are called to lives of faith, hope, and love.
Yes, that means that my abuser may one day shelter under the wings of the God that shelters me. Yes, that means that the Holy Spirit may need to sit us both down one day or keep us under opposite wings of the divine Mothering Hen (Mt. 23:37).
Should such a day come, I will ask God to help me to make room, even if I still have moments where the tears flow and I ask for God to “go Old Testament” every now and again. I will stretch for God as I believe and ask God to help me in my unbelief.
Even after such a moment, I do have to state clearly that forgiving and making room for an abuser does not justify abusive behavior, ever. Also, let’s be absolutely clear that I don’t need to be the person to bring my abuser back into the community of life. While I may give my blessing for their restoration, I do not feel the need to do it myself. If you have been abused, it might not be your responsibility either.
October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.