Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Ugly Reality of Abuse & Why

This is not a fun topic to write about and it is not fun reading. It is true and it is going on right now. So many of us, in and out of the Christian community, feel the need to close our eyes to the ugly things that we know are going on around us. Maybe we thing that by ignoring these things will go away? Or have we found a kind of peace in not knowing? Maybe we know all too well, by experience, what is going on, and don't want to talk about it? After all, these things "don't happen" in "good Christian homes, right?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm talking about domestic violence and abuse, whether it is directed at the women, men, or children.

The Problem

Yes, abuse is a 24/7 reality in countless homes. And make no mistake, I'm sure it also goes on in Christian homes. I'm sure of this because we Christians also retain our sinful natures and though we have access to God's power, far too often yield to temptation. First, abuse is not just the PHYSICAL ABUSE which goes on in far too many non-Christian and Christian homes and goes undisclosed. PHYSICAL ABUSE, obviously abuse, involves hitting, beating, punching, and any kind of physical assault. Men, as well as women, are also victims of this form of abuse if less often than women. EMOTIONAL ABUSE is much more subtle than other forms of abuse but far more damaging, especially long-term. It involves intimidation, playing with the victim's emotions and use of control to keep victims in line and doing the will of the abuser (for example, bullying a family member from coming forward about family criminal activity). VERBAL ABUSE also is very damaging and has long-term effects on the victim. It includes threats, lying to and/or about the victim, insults, mud-slinging, cursing and name-calling. SEXUAL ABUSE also is very damaging and has long-term effects on its victims. It involves using ANY position of power (parent, stepparent, teacher, pastor, priest, or simply adult) to gratify one's sex drive on victims whom the person has authority over. SEXUAL ABUSE includes making ANY UNWANTED sexual advances toward anyone, and it involves not just violent rape, but also involves ANY unwanted touches of a sexual nature, toward a victim, or asking for UNWANTED sexual favors. FINANCIAL ABUSE is probably the most subtle abuse of all, but its impact can be very damaging and long-term. It involves forbidding a partner access to his or her finances or those of her offspring's, identity theft (which goes on in families!) and using a victim's account to for one's ends. SPIRITUAL ABUSE involves invoking the Name of God or use of His Word as a means of controlling a victim, as in men asserting their authority over their wives force submission, for example. Since abuse encompasses such a wide range of behaviors, we only lie to ourselves if we tell ourselves that these things do not go on in the homes of our friends, in the homes of the people we attend worship with, or even in the homes of relatives. Perhaps some of these things are going on in your own home?

Why Does the Violence Continue?

I have not even spoken to the kind of violence that takes place in larger society. I mean the school shootings, the workplace shootings, and other shootings and murders we hear about in the news daily. These are only the cases we hear about! I'm not speaking to this kind of violence because we know that preventing violence starts in our homes. It starts with, first of all, loving each other as parents and children and as wives and husbands. It comes with preventing abuse in our homes. It comes with teaching and modeling empathy and compassion. Since these things so often do not happen, people who often come from loveless homes of possible domestic violence, vent their unhealed hurts by committing violent crimes against us. We reap the rewards of loveless, abusive homes by seeing violent crimes being perpetrated against innocent people. Research says that now, four children dies daily from child abuse. I see countless cases daily, and hear about cases almost daily. Many of you, maybe most, will wonder or say, Why do victims stay in abusive homes? Why don't they just leave? Why don't they just call the police or contact their pastor or therapist? I'll tell you why. Control is at the heart of all abuse. Victims are often so beaten down by their abusers that they have entered a state called "learned helplessness" and see no options for leaving or for getting help. They have been made to feel shame, worthlessness, fear, and often hopelessness. Call the police? Many times, victims have found that Law Enforcement (LE) have not been helpful. Victims are often intimidated from coming forward about crime or abuse, which is what abuse is all about! Contact a therapist or pastor or brother or sister in Christ? They often fear that they will not be believed, or may hear unhelpful platitudes like, "Just have faith," "Let Jesus be your Spouse," "Keep praying; God will change your situation," or "You will get a greater heavenly reward if you persevere." These keep abuse going.

Abuse, Do we need to Look in the Mirror?

Abusers always have good qualities. They are so often upstanding community members, hold jobs and are taxpayers, are frequently clean-cut, may do a lot of good deeds, and may be very charming, even magnetic. Abuse is an "equal opportunity destroyer" and it transcends all social classes, financial brackets, races, nationalities, and walks of life. Being an abuser does not mean the abuser is all evil, just as being a victim does not mean a person is all good. This is one HUGE reason so many victims will not turn in family members for crime or abuse. A second huge reason for this phenomenon is that so many victims are economically dependent on their abusers. Because abusers are people with much good in them, we all need to know that if given the "right circumstances" or temptations, we too can cross the line into abusive behavior of any kind. Sadly, pastors, priests, and Christian leaders have been exposed as guilty of sexual abuse of children. I know all them are, otherwise, people with many good qualities who have served God and furthered God's Kingdom in this world. But they have allowed themselves to let their weaknesses overcome them. Or, maybe they have not received the care, support, and accountability they needed to avoid their tragic downfalls.

How We Can Help Change This

Educate yourself about abuse. Do a general Internet search of "abuse" and you will get many results. Avoid abuse in your home and if it exists, hard as it may be, try to get help. If you witness abuse or suspect it, involve LE. Pastors who educate themselves about this topic can preach about it from the pulpit. If you have survived past abuse or domestic violence, consider sharing your story to help others. If an abuse victim or survivor shares their story with you, please believe them and listen. We parents must teach and model empathy and compassion, the opposite of abuse and control. If you have financial means, consider supporting worthy domestic violence or child abuse causes. If you have used cell phones, donate them to a local abused victims' shelter. If you can, volunteer at an abuse shelter. Consider finding, taking part in, or starting a group geared to providing confidential support and accountability to people in abusive situations. There are many things we can do. Doing our part to prevent and end abuse should be a part of following Jesus.

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