Do some churches inadvertently promote gender-based violence?

This week was the start of the international campaign of “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” (focussing on violence against women and children).

“Police statistics indicate that the murder rate of women in South Africa has increased by 16% in the past five years and the number of reported child rapes in the same period has gone up by about 3,000 from 15,000 to just over 18,000.”  (EWN News)

According to research, intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common form of gender-based violence (GBV). GBV includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and controlling behaviours by a current or former intimate partner or spouse.

As Christian people, we ought to be at the forefront of condemning any form of GBV.

We are commanded in the Bible to love our neighbours as ourselves and to especially care for the weak and vulnerable.  Husbands are called to love their wives and be willing to die for them.

Our churches ought to be safe-spaces where victims of abuse receive help, care and support.  We ought to assist in reporting any perpetrators of violence to the civil authorities.

I wonder, however, if some of our more conservative churches may unintentionally promote intimate partner violence in their teaching about marriage and divorce?

Most Christians, even the most conservative ones, would agree that the Bible permits divorce in at least two circumstances: adultery and abandonment.

I would add another: abuse.

Many Christian women find themselves in abusive marriages and are led to believe that it is God’s will that they remain in the marriage and that it would be sinful for them to get divorced.

In 1 Corinthians 7:13 we read the following:

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.

The phrase “he consents to live with her” presumes that he consents to live with her “within the normal bounds of marriage”.

I would argue, along with others (including Frank Retief), that abuse is not within the normal bounds of marriage spoken of here.

The unrepentant abusive spouse has broken the marriage covenant.

Therefore, the harmed spouse in an abusive marriage has legitimate grounds for divorce.

1 Corinthians 7:15 reads:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

The abusive spouse is acting like a non-Christian who has refused to live at peace.

I counsel abused persons that if there is no repentance by an abusive spouse – demonstrated by a prolonged and visible change in behaviour – the sooner the abused person files for divorce the better.

Frank Retief writes in his book, Divorce (Hope for the hurting):

“It is possible for a marital situation to become so bad and the behaviour of one of the spouses so evil that it is more sinful to stay in the situation and allow it to continue than for the marriage to be dissolved.

One need only to think of the current spate of child abuse, often by fathers, or of wives who have to put up with sexual perversion because their spouses try to enact the pornographic video material they watch. The demeaning, disgusting things wives are called to do make it impossible to continue in the home and make it imperative they move out.”

Life-long, committed, loving marriage is the first prize and aim.  We uphold the sanctity of marriage and the importance of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Divorce for any and all arbitrary reasons is wrong and wicked.

Nevertheless, as much as God may hate divorce, he equally hates violence and abuse.

I would argue that in ongoing, unrepentant abusive situations God would commend divorce.

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What can you do to about the scourge of gender-based violence?

  1. If, like me, you are a man: have a deep respect women and children and treat them with the utmost dignity.
  2. Pray for the victims of gender-based violence.
  3. Pray for the police, the courts and social workers who work under tremendous pressure.
  4. Report any abuse.
  5. If you are in an abusive relationship, end it or leave it.
  6. Publicly reject all forms gender-based violence, abuse and manipulation.
  7. Pray that God would convert and change people, including the perpetrators of violence, through His powerful, life-transforming gospel.
  8. Share the gospel whenever you have an opportunity.

Stop Gender Violence helpline: 0800-150-150 (South Africa)