Sherri (not her real name), a newlywed, was suffering from intense mental abuse that had the potential to escalate to physical abuse. When Christian friends tried to intervene, she smiled and said quietly, "I don't mind doing that for him. I love him." She ducked her head and walked away—alone.
It's difficult for Christian women to separate the demands of their husband from the demands of their faith. The hardworking Proverbs 31 woman may make some women feel totally responsible for the home, the children, and anything that goes wrong. Rather than evaluate circumstances they accept the abuse hoping that their Christian love will cause the situation to change. These women often refuse to believe they are victims and instead view their role as peacemakers. These women rarely acknowledge abuse until it becomes physical.
Sherri was one of those women. She reluctantly came to me for counseling at the urging of her parents. Her mother wasn't sure it was abuse, but worried that something was wrong. Sherri quietly talked about her desire for a Christian home and that she was committed to doing whatever was necessary to keep her home together. Her husband made unreasonable demands, criticized every action, damaged her self esteem, and blamed his inadequacies on her choices. He even refused to share control of bank cards or the checkbook, and often left her without change to purchase a small drink while shopping. She endured the mental abuse by quoting Scriptures and the fact that she might be able to bring her husband to a deeper walk with Christ. By quoting 1 Corinthians 7:14 she felt it was her duty to take the mental abuse thinking that her prayers, her patience, and her love would heal her home.
It's easy for a newlywed to explain changes in personality, friends, and obligations as a desire to be the devoted spouse. A devoted Christian can take a verse like, "Wives submit to your husbands" (Ephesians 5:22) or "The two shall become one flesh" (Ephesians 5:31) and turn it into a reason to accept mental or physical abuse.
If you fear your friend or family member is a victim of abuse, there are four ways you can help her, especially when she uses faith to justify the abuse.
1. Don't try to argue into understanding. Faith abuse is rooted in the lack of scriptural understanding concerning God's desire for women and marriage. If you choose to argue marital opinions with a victim, you'll create avoidance and the loss of all incoming information. Instead coordinate your efforts with friends and family, agree to be pleasant, kind, affirming, and compassionate. Your goal is to share Scripture as if you were planting a seed that will counteract what he/she is hearing at home. Be patient and compassionate as you wait for the seed to take root.