Domestic Abuse Misconception #30: Religious beliefs and scripture will always be used to encourage and comfort the victim. Oh, people! It is just not so.
Most people understand that domestic abuse sometimes does include physical abuse. Hopefully most now understand that it always includes emotional abuse as well as financial abuse. Domestic abuse can also include sexual abuse, resulting in a victim's inability to say no, or at times resulting in flat out rape. But many people don't understand that there can also be spiritual abuse.
Spiritual abuse happens with the person with the power uses specific religious ideology or scripture (often out of context) to maintain control over the victim and to coerce the victim into some activity.
It is common for an abuser to demand obedience and submission to demand power over his victim. He might also demand forgiveness and reconciliation, emphasizing the sacredness of marriage vows. He might use scripture to his own advantage. He might use the words of faith to manipulate and give the appearance of repentance and transformation, pulling the wool of the eyes of both victim and onlookers.
But spiritual abuse doesn't just happen between the abuser and his victim. If the victim's church becomes involved in the situation, the same dynamic can take place, in effect, giving the victim a double dose of abuse.
As I discussed in Misconception #14, uninformed and ill-equipped churches are rarely a safe place for victims of abuse. Churches carry their own authority with them. Pastors and elders speak of their spiritual authority over their flock. Victims are beaten down and unsure of themselves and, at this point, very vulnerable to others telling them what to do. It is a perfect storm.
Here are some of the ways (and there are so many more) church leaders or members can use religious ideas and scripture in ways that are harmful to anyone, but especially to victims of domestic abuse:
-Forcing the couple to meet together.
-Treating the abuse problem as a marital problem.
-Demanding the victim examine her heart and confess her sin which is causing the abuse.
-Telling the victim she needs to be meeting the abuser's needs by having more sex with him.
-Commanding forgiveness from the victim and reconciliation with the abuser.
-Insisting the victim get help only from "approved" therapists and community groups.
-Telling the victim it is God's will that she suffer emotional and physical harm at the hands of her abuser.
-Threatening church discipline if the victim refuses to comply with their demands regarding her relationship with the abuser.
When those who claim belief in God then use those beliefs to get and maintain control over another, it is abuse. And it isn't only abuse, it is a slap in the face of God because it is a blatant lie about his character and who he is. He is not a God of oppression but of safety and freedom.
Here is a good article that spells out spiritual abuse.
(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)