Of misogyny and mental illness

The discourse around domestic violence in our midst is worrying. Have you noticed it? Are you a part of it? Are you taken in by it? By looking at our Lord's teaching and the response of our Lord to people he met we should be instructed as his disciples in living our life in the 21st Century.

Our Lord commanded us to "Love your neighbour as yourself" - the second of the first and second commandments - two commandments inseparable because if we do not love our neighbour how can we show our love to God.

Further, it was these commandments that "certain lawyer" reiterated in Luke 10 that prompted our Lord to speak the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was particularly his question which Luke prefaces, "he willing to justify himself said until Jesus, Who is my neighbour?".

Domestic Violence: "falling amongst thieves"

We should be under no illusion that the parable of the Good Samaritan has little or no relevance to us in, perhaps, wealthy developed countries where even the poorest live safe lives. I know some readers may not be so blessed, and may have perils of robbers in their everyday lives - may God bless you with protection, and consider your obligations as Christ's disciples to others affected. For the sake of this article, I would like to be clear that domestic violence in our midst - sometimes in our family, or our ecclesia, very much fits the picture painted by our Lord. Please, adopt a very considered point of view here. Consider, just for the sake of the argument even, that it may be a discussion about your sister, your daughter, your niece or your aunty, your grand-daughter or your closest friends daughter we are talking about here. Don't think of them as young - domestic violence doesn't discriminate based on age - and I have had 70 year old sister escaping domestic violence that has been present in their marriage for more than 40 years.

"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho": Christ echoes a certain discourse that attended that person and that action in his day. This certain man belonged to a class of people spoken of in those sort of terms - the thing that he did prompted a discourse - a discourse that was judged the man's actions. He "went down" - it was a degrading thing he was doing. He was needlessly going from a wholesome place - the place of salvation, safety and blessings to a dark place - a profane and unGodly place. We don't know why he went down, but we do know what was being said about him. That he chose to go down there is part of the story - it is the picture our Lord is painting. That even in the man's act, which may well have been perfectly legitimate for trade or other wholesome purpose, he was judged for what he did.

Do we ever find ourselves part of that discourse? I mean the judging discourse that in the context of domestic violence might go like:

"She knew he was like that when she married him", or

"She has such a high-paying job it's not surprising (her husband feels insecure...)", or

"All her family are so hot-headed and difficult. If I was him (her husband) I might have done the same", or

"She is so loud and opinionated (on that dark slippery slope vs quiet and gentle)".

We don't know other people's lives or motives. We don't live behind the same doors that they do - closed doors that may hide a lot.

We also have not heard and will never hear the real story that should be told, because that sister may never trust us because she senses our prejudice and that she is judged already. Maybe the true story goes something like:

"She married him because he swept her off her feet (love bombing is the most common early warnings of power and control behaviours), and after so long (these behaviours target the vulnerable) she felt that he must have been God's provision of a husband for her (she thought everything he said was genuine including the promises he made to her to change, and she didn't know the half of his vices).

Sister's career decisions may not be ours, and they may even perhaps be unwise, but who are we to judge another man's servant. If a sister finds interesting employment and can manage those responsibilities in the workplace it is never cause for domestic violence at home. If her prospective husband didn't like it he should have made that decision when he realised that she didn't share his values. On the other hand, perhaps he should have loved her for her skills and had respectful conversations with her, and lived with her as Peter directed him - in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). For the rest of us we have no role to play in offering an opinion one way or the other. If that is her decision we should respect her for it, and even if it doesn't work out for the best in her home or spiritual life, support her as a sister with all the love and understanding we can muster as "all one in Christ".

It is no doubt by design that the ecclesia is made up of people of all different characters and this includes people who have short fuses, who have family traits of speaking their mind or who just rub a lot people up the wrong way. We all have our faults. The ecclesia is a place where the sharp edges can be rubbed off, and where we can learn to live with people we share a love of God's Word and the Hope of the Kingdom. When people's role models are not so healthy and where bad patterns of behaviour in the home have been taught over the years, it may be difficult for someone to recognise when a prospective husband doesn't have the hallmarks of the husband of Ephesians 5 who loves his wife as himself. None of us are perfect disciples and we should accept that some people's failings may never be fully resolved until the Kingdom. Again, no amount of cantankerousness, no temper, no loud voice, no angry words ever justify domestic violence. Rather her husband should live with her in an understanding way and respect her for who she is and the hopes she has for the marriage venture - to raise a Godly seed, and to be heirs together of the Grace of Life.

And after all, it may be that harsh language and even lashing out may be the only autonomy that someone suffering domestic violence has. If we aren't living people's lives we are in no place to judge them. We are taught by scripture that we are all imperfect characters that need developing, and people suffering abuse are included in this. We should have sympathy and care of them regardless. Their behaviours may not always be Christ-like or appropriate for Christ's disciples, but we can be leading them to repentance whilst relieving oppression of domestic violence if that is what is happening.

"passed on the other side"

The Certain Priest in the parable passed on the other side. Now imagine that you have just had a call. A brother or a sister you barely know has called to say that in a family close to yours there is a domestic violence problem and they think you are best placed to be of practical help - they are requesting you go with them to visit a brother apparently using abusive behaviours, or care for a sister who has escaped them. Too many times Hear Believe Act has reached out to ecclesias and people all over the world at the request of people wanting support, only to be told, "Sorry, we don't want to get involved", or "We don't want to take sides", or "You know, most of our ecclesia wouldn't want us to help her".

I am sorry to say, passing on the other side is the common response. It is a discourse of privatisation - a sort of "none of my business" response (and often at Hear Believe Act we get the accusation too, that it is none of our business!). Privatisation has no place in the body of Christ where we are members every one of another and cannot do without each other. It is our business to do what was our Lord's first order of business in his ministry when he stood up in the Synagogue of Nazareth and said that he had come to relieve oppression and to set the captive free. Domestic violence is outright oppression and isolationist tactics that keep people as captives where they can see no way of escape are common.

"Came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side"

The Levite made a pretence of care and made the first steps to look at him, raising the injured man's hopes, but failing to respond to his need. Christ doesn't say why, but we ought to think about why - perhaps the Levite considered the man may have been judged to have been deserving of his treatment for whatever reason - he had broken a law or two and had received the consequences.

Of course he was not perfectly obedient to the law, but then what Jew really was?

Are we deciding that people deserve domestic violence - that they are pretty flawed people and have it coming to them.

For just a moment put yourself into the shoes of a dear sister. For her long marriage she has been emotionally and psychologically abused. Her husband has denied her intimacy, care and attention for many years. He is rough and short and the whole house walks around on egg-shells whenever he is there or even coming home. She feels useless - because he tells her that she is useless, ugly and good for nothing. She feels trapped - because he has told her she won't have any money, and he has threatened she will never see the children again if she leaves. Don't think that this is a dramatic description of an imaginary situation. I have saved you from some of the most ugly realities we see. It is an amalgam or common things heard from sisters suffering abuse.

Do you think it surprising that in some otherwise normal situation, another man - not her husband, shows her some affection, treats her with respect, provides love and even safety... that she falls into the arms of another man? Was this adulterous relationship acceptable? Of course not. Was it understandable? Absolutely. Is it cause for us to look on her and then pass by on the other side. Absolutely not.

As he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, had compassion on him.

By now I hope you get the message. It is the obligation of Christ's disciples to come where the oppressed are. This may mean going out on cold nights and long depressing conversations. This may mean seeing the situation people are in and waiting for the Police to arrive. It may mean a husband and wife spending hours and hours listening to a sister who has even left the Truth explain the years of oppression she has endured and crying with her. But most importantly it requires a compassionate response - a response devoid of judging.

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast

The wounds of domestic violence cut very deep. Much deeper than any physical bruises or cuts there may be. Some are scared for life with traumatic experiences no doubt never to be spoken. For some the oil of pastoral care and the wine of good medicine will help a little - it is our job sometimes to make sure people can get this. There are specialists in caring for these people - our ecclesias should be making sure they get access to that help. There are people in our ecclesias also who can give good pastoral care - perhaps they don't even know it yet, but who I have seen from nowhere, give of themselves and their own crowded home - a room for a sister and her child or children for months at a time, even despite the threats of an abuser calling late at night or driving past and making their presence felt (or other stalking behaviour). These things may even put the helper's safety at risk. But there are people doing it and we all need to be ready to do it when the knock comes on our door, of it is our phone that rings with the disclosure or the plea for help.

As ecclesias we do well to prepare for such an eventuality.

This blog is titled, "Of misogyny and mental illness".

"Misogyny" (or woman hating) because frankly this doesn't happen to men in our community (generally). Too many sisters tell us of the hate they experience - hate from men, but not just men, women - their sisters too.

"Mental illness" because too often this is the discourse I hear when pleading for people to help: "You know she is... [depressed, unwell, a bit of a nutcase...]". Unfortunately the medicalisation of trauma is part of the discourse in society and it is certainly part of a discourse of justification by abusers. How many husbands have we heard of who explain their wives absence from the table of the Lord as, "She is unwell" or "She is down at the moment" and how many of those situations end up with sisters in medical care, if not "sectioned" or otherwise under compulsory "care". We are manipulated to accept this discourse as fact - a fair representation of the situation. The brothers remain in roles of responsibility and respected - after all they are so helpful with other people in the meeting that everyone loves them. Yet in reality what happens behind closed doors has escaped us all.

A few final questions to think about:

What would our Lord have done?

What is the discourse around domestic violence in our midst?

How are we manipulated by (usually male) power and control behaviours?

What are the red flags we will now be more aware of?