Over the weekend, it came to light that a prominent denominational leader and the president of a large seminary (where our future pastors are being trained) counseled women who were in abusive marriages to stay in them, because by staying and praying for their abuser, God might save those men. Now, I get where he got this teaching – 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 7 both give instruction that if a woman is married to a man who isn’t a believer, and the man is willing for them to stay married, the woman shouldn’t seek a divorce, and, it’s possible, that the man might come to believe because of the woman’s holy conduct. And, of course, I have no problem with that teaching.
Where this pastor goes off the rails is when he uses these verses to justify the evil, dangerous behavior of an abusive spouse (NOTE: I’m making an assumption that he’s using these verses as justification – none of the statements he has made have referenced these or any other Scripture, but I have heard other “pastors” use these passages for similar justifications). In neither of these passages do we see Peter or Paul advocating for a woman (and likely her children) to live in danger so that God might save a husband.
[This dangerous teaching, by the way, is the direct result of the Church making marriage into an idol. Marriage is not the be all end all of the Christian life, and being married is not more holy, more mature, or more godly than being unmarried. It is also the direct result of churches that teach that women are somehow less than men and that women are to submit to men, ignoring the call to mutual submission between all believers, and distorting the teaching found in Ephesians 5.]
This pastor gives the horrific example of a woman who came to him for help in such a situation and he encouraged her to stay in the home and to pray openly for her husband. He even warned her that the husband was likely to become more abusive when he found out she was praying for him. He ends the story by saying that the following Sunday, the woman showed up at church with visible bruises on her face, but guess what? Her husband came to church too! So it was all good. (What?!?)
Anyone who has experience with an abusive partner knows that abusers are master manipulators and will often apologize, behave for a while, and then, more often than not, pick up right where they left off. Showing up at church is not repentance, and this pastor (and the elders who didn’t challenge him and protect her) sinned grievously against this woman.
We could talk more about that, but that’s not my point today, so let’s go there instead. My point is that it seems this pastor serves an impotent god. Any god who requires someone to be abused in order to “save” the abuser demonstrates a terrifying lack of power (not to mention the evil that requires).
This is, perhaps, an extreme example, but how many of us serve that same impotent god? How many of us worship an impotent god who:
- Can only answer our prayers if we phrase them just so, and repeat them the exact number of times the god arbitrarily and, unknowingly to us, requires?
- Can only keep us safe on a road trip if we ask for “traveling mercies” before we leave the driveway?
- Can only keep our kids safe if we pray for them everyday? (I’m not saying don’t pray for your kids everyday, but ask yourself, are you worried that something bad will happen to them if you don’t?)
- Can only give us what we need if we promise to [fill in the blank]?
- Can only bless His Word and use it to teach, correct, and comfort if it is preached by a man?
- Can only accept our worship if we sing certain songs and read the Bible in a certain translation?
I’m guilty of some of these superstitions too (which is exactly what they are). We all are from time to time. But the good news is that we serve an omnipotent God who doesn’t need us to do anything at all for Him to act in our best interests.
Like any loving parent who cherishes His children, He wants us to ask Him for what we need, but how often do we fall into the trap of believing we didn’t get something we felt we needed because we didn’t think to ask for it, or we didn’t ask for it “correctly”?
God does not need anyone to stay in an abusive relationship so that He can save the abuser. God can reach that person just as well in a jail cell as He can laying in his or her own bed after causing damage to a spouse or child.
God does not need to hear us say exact words before He’ll listen to our prayers and answer them in a way that is good for us. He can give us what He knows we need without us even asking because He knows our needs better than we do. He wants us to ask, but He doesn’t need us to ask before He’ll act.
God does not need to limit His voice to only men who have been to seminary and have passed their ordination boards by giving all of the right answers. He can speak just as clearly and powerfully through women, through men who dropped out of high school, and yes, through the mouths of children who have His Word hidden in their tender hearts.
Bad things don’t happen because we didn’t pray right. Bad things happen because we live in a world that is full of sin and evil and sometimes, bad things happen simply because we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and we fall victim to the consequences of someone else’s actions.
We serve an omnipotent God. That means He can do anything He wants to do on His own, without our input. He needs nothing from us. But He wants us to serve Him, He wants us to love worshipping Him, and He wants us to talk to Him and tell Him what’s on our hearts and minds.
And I firmly believe that He wants us to live free from all forms of abuse and oppression, even if it means leaving an abusive spouse or a church that allows its pastor to preach a false gospel unchecked.
** If you are in an unsafe situation, get out and get help! Do whatever you need to to keep yourself and your children safe.
If you’ve gone to someone in your church for help and haven’t gotten it, leave that church and find another one. But more importantly, again, get out and get help.
If you’re local to me, I can and will help if you need it. Email me today: amy at aymiejoi dot com. If you need help, just ask. **