Stop Using God to Justify Abuse

I HAD AN EXPERIENCE with a young man who was having difficulty in seminary, having difficulty with his wife. His wife was a flight attendant, so they had limited time together. He came pounding on my door one morning.

“I’ve got to talk to you,” he said, “because I want you to hear it from me before you hear it from somebody else. I don’t want you to put me out of school. Me and my wife are through.”

“Well, come in. Tell me, what’s going on.”

“Last night, we had a fight and she got upset and she told me that, even when she was there, I wasn’t.”

“What happened?”

“I had to show her,” he said. “I got my Bible and I showed her that I am about God’s work. God comes first and you, wife, come second.”

“What did she say?”

“She said, ‘You and your God can go to hell!’ You know I don’t need a woman like that in my life! I need somebody that’s going to support me in my ministry.”

I said, “You didn’t hear what she said. What she said was, You and yougo to hell. Because your God is you. Because you told her, ‘There are no legitimate needs or desires or feelings in this house other than mine.’”

“Well, what could I have said?”

“You use God to create a hierarchy in your relationship: God first, family second, church third. But God does away with all that. Once God is at the center, every aspect of my existence is informed by my relationship with God. You could say, ‘Because God is at the center, you will never have to be second to anyone. Because I want to love you the way God wants you loved.’ We’ve got to flip this thing so we stop using God to justify abuse.”                          

 —John W. Kinney
From a story told at The Summit 2014, an annual convening of leaders by Sojourners.

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The Slippery Slope of 'Snakeology'

RECENTLY, several highly publicized events of domestic violence have reminded us of the epidemic proportions of relational abuse. While the focus has been on athletes, abuse has taken place from the halls of Congress to the pulpits of churches. We have also experienced, particularly from church leaders, a vocal outcry against such abuse.

This outcry, however, remains superficial, shallow, and disingenuous if we are not willing to challenge some of our dominant theological assumptions that provide the conceptual framework for the maintenance of this abuse.

Many of the early church fathers affirmed the subservient and secondary status of women and even encouraged the “control” and “forceful instruction” of women in order to maintain conformance to what they saw as God’s “relational design.” Even today, some promise to affirm women only as long as they stay in their “God-ordained place.” In other words, women can expect “favor” only when they remain defined by and conformed to a “divinely” decreed order and hierarchy.

Tragically, this hierarchy is established by the curse and the culture—not the creation and certainly not the Christ. When the curse and the culture establish our doctrine, we embrace “snakeology,” not theology. This snakeology distorts the character of God, relationships, authentic manhood, and authentic womanhood.

The revelation of God in creation, Christ, and the Holy Spirit invites us all to experience the breaking of the bonds of the Fall and to celebrate the liberating truth in God’s self-disclosive expressions. The celebration can commence with a return to our beginnings.

THE TESTIMONIES OF the creative event recorded in Genesis provide a core principle related to God’s intent and desire for human relationships, the developing family, and the human community. Men and women are called into a relationship characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, and shared responsibility.

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'Tis the Season

THE CONSIDERABLE gap between Walmart’s declared corporate values and the way it actually conducts business widens even more during the holiday season.

This season, shoppers frequenting the world’s largest retailer are encouraged to select the name of a child and to purchase and donate her wished-for gift from one of the “giving trees” located in stores. Throughout the year, the company works hard to give the impression of corporate generosity, giving, for example, to food banks.

However, many of Walmart’s own employees (or, as they are referred to in Walmart-speak, “associates”) are forced to rely on these same types of programs to get by—such as Christmas gifts for their children (purchased by strangers) and groceries from food banks.

Walmart, the United States’ largest employer, employs 1.4 million Americans; that’s five times as many as IBM. Walmart manufactures the very problems that it proudly claims to alleviate, which is worse than doing nothing at all. The deception would be laughable were it not tragic. Walmart seeks praise for funding food banks and providing toys for children in need, when they are a big part of the reason people struggle to buy food and gifts in the first place.

“A lot of people I work with can’t make ends meet,” Linda Haluska, a 53-year-old mother who has worked at Walmart for nine years, told Sojourners. “[Corporate managers] talk about their appreciation for us. Why don’t they show that appreciation by paying us fairly?”

For the past three years, Haluska has been a part of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Though the company is notoriously anti-union—Haluska spoke of being forced to view propaganda videos detailing “why union isn’t the right choice for Walmart” after corporate learned that a union organizer had been talking to workers at her store—OUR Walmart is gaining members.

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'It Couldn't Happen Among Christians!'

WHEN IT COMES to speaking out on sexual violence, the first barrier for pastors is awareness of the problem, according to a LifeWay poll, “Broken Silence.” Commissioned by Sojourners and IMA World Health, the poll—released in June—surveyed Protestant pastors across the United States on their views on sexual and domestic violence. That church leaders don’t often discuss sexual violence is not surprising; for perhaps the first time in the United States, the poll puts numbers to just how few actually do—and illuminates some reasons for the silence.

The lack of awareness of sexual violence is a multipronged problem. According to the poll, 74 percent of surveyed pastors underestimate the level of sexual violence experienced by members of their congregations. In part, this gap reflects a failure to understand the tragic ubiquity of sexual violence—1-in-3 women in the United States, and 1-in-4 men, will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. In a country in which 80 percent affiliate with religion, statistics strongly indicate that this issue is as pervasive within congregations as without.

Another problem, however, is around the willingness to believe it is happening. Of the pastors who talk about sexual violence, 72 percent do so because they believe it happens in their local community—but only 25 percent acknowledged that their own congregants may have experienced it.

“It couldn’t happen among Christians” is, sadly, a very common refrain among faith institutions. Reported instances of sexual abuse this year at Christian colleges, from Patrick Henry to Pensacola, indicate the deep costs of this refusal to ask whether sexual violence could happen “within the flock.”

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A Legacy of Praying Women

Praying woman, EML / Shutterstock.com

Praying woman, EML / Shutterstock.com

Our shoulders touched slightly like links in a chain, kneeling around a small twin bed, our heads bowed, eyes closed: “ Our Father who art in heaven,” we mimicked, as mama kneeling at the foot of the bed, led us in prayer.

I was four, the second to the youngest child, and the other three were stair steps ahead of me. Hanging on to mama’s every word, we acted as though we didn’t take notice of the sorrow in her voice, the cries that lingered outside her bedroom door just hours ago.

Soon, she would lay in a Philadelphia hospital bed with stitches from the top of her chest down to her navel, and be told to kiss her five babies goodbye because my father had beaten her so badly that he burst both her lungs.

Decades later, I would sit across from her taking notes for Color Me Butterfly, as she told me the story:

I lay there listening to that doctor tell me that I wouldn’t make it through the night, she mused, her face drawn into the memory. I prayed, listened as God spoke to me, told me that I couldn’t let nary a soul touch me—not the doctor, the nurse, not even my own mother and chi’ren. He was gonna see to it that I walked out of that hospital, but I had to trust Him.

Now, as I think back on that day my mother stared into the abyss, as though she could still see the stitches that cinched her chest, I thank God that she was a praying woman.

Miss America, the NFL, and Domestic Violence

Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev and Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, via Disney

Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev and Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, via Disney, ABC Television Group.

Sunday night, 23-year old Kira Kazantsev proved two things when she was crowned Miss America for 2015. First, she can make a nationally television audience “happy” by using only a red plastic cup. Second, domestic violence knows no bounds.

That’s right. This year’s Miss America is one of the every four women who has experienced domestic abuse in her lifetime. During college, Kazanstev was in an abusive relationship that left her “isolated” and “hopeless,” she recently told NPR. In the same interview, Kazanstev says she wasn’t aware of the resources available for victims of domestic violence: "I very well may have Googled it," she says. "But that's not the mindset that you're in when you're in that situation. You just feel alone. You feel helpless. You don't feel like anyone could possibly understand."

Why I Accept Mark Driscoll's Apology ... And You Should Too

Pastor Mark Driscoll says he’s sorry for inappropriate comments made in 2000. Photo: Mars Hill Church Seattle/Flickr

Well, we’ve just concluded another week in American evangelicalism. Which is to say, we’ve witnessed another Mark Driscoll blunder.

This has for sure been a rough year for the Seattle-based mega-church preacher. He was accused of plagiarizing in multiple books, which resulted in a tepid but public apology. He embarrassed himself by crashing a conference hosted by another pastor, John MacArthur. And former staff and church members spoke out about the oppressive environment at Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. These gaffes join a legion of others. After the flood of criticism he received, Driscoll quit social media and has retreated from the public eye.

But another shoe dropped last week when Christian author Matthew Paul Turner posted a series of discussion board comments by Driscoll under the alias “William Wallace II” in 2000. Driscoll’s opinions, though 14 years old, were nothing short of vile. In addition to being expletive-laden, they were misogynistic and homophobic (and I do not use either term lightly).

In response to the furor his comments created, Pastor Driscoll apologized yet again, saying his statements were “plain wrong” and he “remains embarrassed” by them. His apology was predictably rejected by the growing gaggle of Driscoll critics, a group that has become evermore vampirical in their thirst for Driscoll’s blood. But I accept Driscoll’s apology and other Christians should too.

The Loophole That Allows Domestic Abusers to Have Guns

Across the country, dangerous people with records of domestic violence, stalking, and aggression have no legal restriction keeping them from obtaining guns. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to explore the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence. The hearing discussed major loopholes in the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which successfully prohibited some convicted domestic abusers from gaining access to firearms. Yet even with the prohibitions in VAWA, abusers who don’t share a home with their intimate partner and abusers convicted of misdemeanor stalking charges are free to keep the weapons they have and to purchase new weapons.

“I am here today to speak for my sister Zina. I speak for Zina and her entire family because Zina is not here to speak for herself.”

Elvin Daniel, and NRA member and gun owner, lost his sister to domestic violence with a firearm and testified today in support of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) S. 1290: Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2013.

The tragic loss of Zina’s life is not an isolated incident. A study about the relationship between domestic violence and gun violence released by the Center for American Progress highlights how deadly this major loophole can be for thousands of women. The statistics are stunning:

  • While 2.5 percent of men who are murdered are killed by a female intimate partner, 34 percent of women who are murdered are killed by a male intimate partner.
  • Of all the women killed by male intimate partners from 2001-2012, 55 percent are killed with a firearm.
  • More women (6,410) in the United States have been killed by a significant other with a firearm from 2001-2012 than U.S. troops have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.