Social media has been awash with the sad story of the demise of Osinachi, the beautiful voice that composed a popular gospel song in Nigerian Igbo local parlance ‘Ekweme’. She passed on to glory at the young age of 42 because of complications resulting from an abusive marriage. Domestic violence is an unfortunate social menace that is taking lives away in their prime at an alarming rate. While not restricted to a particular gender, it is more often suffered by women at the hands of the men they love. Rooted in fallen humans’ sinful nature, the act of domestic violence is exacerbated by ungodly norms, values, and culture. The Word of God says the servant of God MUST not strife. Unfortunately, because of the understanding that God hates divorce, many churches and pastors encourage people going through abusive marriages to give the abusers second or even more chances. This position has however proven fatal for many people. My appeal to women today is that they should please cry out before it is too late. Someone should please cry out on their behalf if they lack the courage to do it. Sad to say, some men go through similar cruelty at the hands of some ‘powerful’ women.
I grew up in a violence-free home and it has no doubt impacted me a great deal. The example led before me by my father became one of the reasons why I decided not to be abusive as a husband when I was several times tempted to be when I was a young and immature husband. This example was reinforced by that of my pastor and spiritual father who became another role model in my life. As a temperamental sparky sanguine, such propensity was not far from my bestial instincts but the good examples that preceded me always helped me to restrain myself. Most violent people were victims of violence themselves or molded by unhealthy examples in the environment of their development. While there was no violence in my home, it existed in some of the neighborhoods of my upbringing and for us children, there was a sense of normalcy about it that made us violent towards one another in what basically looked like regular sport. That kind of environment is the one in which many abusive men grew up. Men, in particular, seemed licensed to use their might to whip the women into line, and as barbaric as the behavior is, they feel justified in it. Interestingly, some daughters grew up under the nurture of violent mothers whose husbands either walked away or bore it in silence.
The other side of the coin has to do with the manner of upbringing a child is given. As a pastor of over 30 years, I have dealt with a few cases of women being violent towards men. The most common scenarios however are those of women who are physically abused by their husbands. It is unbelievable but true that some abused women consider it normal either because they have been manipulated to believe it by their abusers or they grew up seeing and accepting it. They have been trained not to think of the possibility of separation or divorce under any circumstance but to weather the storm in silence and in so doing, some have met their untimely death. Unfortunately, this position while often traditional and cultural is also often religious. I hate to be hypocritical and must admit that many years ago, my theological position was as sacrosanct as taking the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 and other similar passages in the gospels literally to mean adultery is the only ground for divorce and nothing else. By the early church, Paul had added desertion to the grounds of divorce which had become common due to the conversion of some to Christianity but with spouses not converting(1 Corinthians 7). There is a need to broaden our minds to imagine how Paul or the early church fathers would have addressed certain problems that did not come up in their times. Other principles of scripture can help deduce the mind of God. Paul had to differentiate between what the Lord Jesus addressed directly and what his own sanctified apostolic opinion was in circumstances not addressed by scripture(1 Corinthians 7:12).
I often wonder, what would Paul have written if domestic violence was also a common development in those days. In the face of grievous bodily harm or death, would Paul have admonished women to stay in their husbands’ houses or the men to remain in a house where they were being slapped regularly? I cannot imagine that being the case. We must never forget that separation is allowed both in the gospels and 1 Corinthians 7. It is remarriage that is not allowed outside of adultery and desertion. There is nothing in the word of God that encourages people to stay in a place where death and danger are imminent. The same God that hates divorce hates the lovers of violence(Psalm 11:5). The same God who redeems people from violence cannot encourage people to stay in it(Psalm 72:14). Where there is violence, flight to safety should be the very first instinct.
There should be separation and a woman should only return if she is confident that the violence has been rehabilitated after counseling and therapy. It’s her life and no one should force her back to such a man. It is also my advice to men who are often provoked by verbally abusive wives that they should separate if they are finding themselves increasingly unable to control their emotions. It is better to temporarily or in extreme circumstances permanently walk away than to strike a woman with your hands. The word of God admonishes men to give honour to their wives as unto the ‘weaker’ vessel, which is terminology for delicate and costly housewares. Women are to be treated with caution, care, and respect. (1 Peter3:7).
Separation and divorce are costly decisions to make and our societies should stop stigmatizing those who make such difficult decisions. Nobody goes to the altar with the hopes of breaking up their union at the end of the day. It is true that the rate of divorce is growing at an alarming rate today but a few examples close to me have revealed that it is easy to judge people from a distance but if we realize the mental and emotional agony that people go through in marriage at times, we would rather support their decisions to stay alive rather than die in silence. I remember trying to persuade a friend to stay in a marriage and had to decide to back off. Each of the two times, as I pressured her, she burst into agonizing and deeply painful tears for which I had to apologize and promised never to try again. There is no one size fits all to solving marital problems. Some have the staying power to handle some situations and some do not. On another occasion was a separated wife who needed pain killers daily to survive her marriage and couldn’t sleep without tranquilizers. She only became free from the sleeping aids, after several months of therapy. An attempt by her spiritual father to persuade her to return to her matrimonial home sent her back to her fears, anxiety, and sleeplessness. I had no choice but to encourage her to stay away as long as it was that hurtful and only then did she find peace again. While I believe it remains the first line of action to do our very best to salvage marriages, we should support separated people to find healing and personal peace first and only seek the restoration of their homes where it’s physically, mentally, and emotionally safe for both of them. At times repentant abusers may not be taken back by their spouses and you cannot blame the victim even though they should be counselled to forgive the repentant abuser too because God has forgiven him. I have seen God restore homes and at times two people have moved on and God gave them beautiful new homes. Your theology may differ from mine on that but that is for another day..
I want to close by addressing the importance of saving children from violence. Separation and divorce are very challenging for children but so also is domestic violence. Children should be removed from such an atmosphere as it is very damaging to their souls. They either grow up violent or grow up with deep-seated fears that could lead to behavioural dysfunctions.
My greater appeal to married people is to kindly ‘grow up’. Propensities to violence and also to verbal insults which often provoke them are manifestations of the flesh. The challenges of marriage are opportunities for character development that can be found nowhere else. With reliance on the Holy Spirit, let us renew our minds and refrain from verbal exchanges, uncontrolled anger, and violence. If for nothing else, at least for the sake of the younger generation we are raising. I pay tribute to my mother as I end this article. Our dad testifies the only time he was tempted to be violent, she instantly appeased him. A soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Any woman who has a temperamental man on her hands should employ this biblical principle. We will never be wiser than the scriptures. In like manner, every man with a temperamental woman in his home should do the same. Many homes that are held together are held by the commitment of one of the two parties to be self-controlled. In the long term, they positively influence the other party. May we not contribute to the challenges of our societies but rather be problem solvers and change-makers as we raise godly seeds who will impact their generation positively. I condemn and abhor violence completely and so does the Bible. There is no place for it whatsoever in the Christ-life and it should be condemned by all. May we all play our parts in reducing this malaise in our societies rather than contribute to it.