This article was prompted by a news article about a conviction of coercive control against a person of another faith who used scriptural abuse to support their broader domestic violence.
Coercive Control is a criminal offence in more and more countries and is being considered in a number of states of Australia. Regardless of whether it is criminal in your jurisdiction, it points to the true nature of domestic abuse that seems to escape us at times. The reason it escapes us is because we want to look at the individual indiscretions or individual actions and not the pattern of controlling and coercive behaviours that tell the real story and do the most damage.
When Peter said to dwell with your wife in an understanding way, and described the nature of the relationship as "heirs together of the grace of life" he was describing a partnership with a single shared goal: ensuring both partners receive the grace of life.
When Paul said to render to our wives due benevolence he highlighted the breadth of the self-sacrifice and sharing that is the responsibility of the husband and by extension the couple to each other. The resources of the marriage do not belong to one party or the other, even if sommehow they are formally registered somewhere in one name. Benevolence is the quality of being well-meaning, filled with kindness and by implication (often of kings or of God) providing goodwill and generosity.
When we see coercive control in our midst how do we respond?
Do we accept it because we not only tolerate survivors being given breadcrumbs of decency and respect but we expect them to be grateful for it?
The law-makers of many lands are children of men in this matter wiser than the children of God. When the children of God are making victims and survivors face their abusers and demanding they forgive them and have them back or move back home they are demonstrating this graphically. When the Apostle Paul considered exactly this situation he said to Timothy, "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Taking Paul's words at face value our attention should be to the abuser who fails to show benevolence to his wife and family (or less often, others using coercive control against their family, children or elders). The behaviours should be called out for what they are and these people treated as unbelievers.
The ecclesia should be supporting the oppressed financially and materially and ensuring that they can maintain an independent life if that is what they wish.
Where the jurisdiction has God-given laws for our good and for the punishment of evil-doers (Romans 13) we should ensure that people affected are supported to go to the authorities for help and encouraged to allow the Police to prosecute criminal behaviours just as we would other criminal behaviours.
When marriages are broken by these behaviours we need to understand the depth of mistrust and damage inflicted over years, and expect that trust will not easily be rebuilt, if ever or perhaps only in the light of the searching eyes of our Lord at the judgement seat. It is not our place to (however subtly) put pressure on people to return to these sort of coercive relationships when it is they who know best the extent and nature of the behaviours that happened behind close doors, and the risks and threats that are their reality. And if divorce occurs we need to show the compassion of our Lord. After all, Paul has clearly defined the nature of offenders and their relationship to our Lord: they have denied the faith and are to be treated as unbelievers.
The ecclesia may accept them back, and the ecclesia may accept their repentance, but it is in no position to decide for the victims and survivors what constitutes "fruits meet for repentance". If the victim or survivors don't wish to fellowship with the abuser we should expect that it is our responsibility to make arrangements for the spiritual welfare of the apparently repentant abuser and this may extend to supporting them transfering to another ecclesia or providing meetings for them apart from the body.
After all, we are disciples of our Lord who in his first public speech said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.