By Willie and Elaine Oliver
In February 2013, people around the world were watching their televisions closely to hear the verdict in the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the famed Paralympic and Olympic Games runner. He was found guilty of shooting to death his girlfriend Reeva Sceenkamp; he claimed he mistook her for an intruder in the apartment they shared.
Clearly, we don’t have to look further to know that violence has invaded our society, and there are many cases all over the world char will never make the headlines.
Families are being torn apart by senseless violence right in their own homes, as many people choose violence as the primary means of communicating with each other. The impact of these choices is incredibly far-reaching and very destructive to individuals of every age, and also to their families.
While we may not be able to control the violence around us, the good news is that through the power of God, there is an unlimited supply of self-control available to those who request and accept it. God’s Word is filled with counsel on how to build healthy, strong relationships, especially in our families.
In this chapter, we will briefly look at the destructive nature of violence and abuse in the family, and we will review God’s original intent and perfect plan for our relationships and families. We will also explore the elements of healthy, godly relationships. Many groups all over the world are committed to stopping the violence and preventing violence by providing individuals and families with skills and insights needed to have wholesome relationships.
It is evident from the pervasive incidents of abuse in our homes today that we are far removed from God’s ideal for human relationships. Many who profess to be Christians possess none of the characteristics of Christ.
Unfortunately, in too many situations, abuser have misused Scripture and theology to justify their abusive behaviors. In addition, other well-meaning helpers have also misused the Bible to convince victims to accept continued violence in their families. This misuse of Scripture can be dangerous and even lethal to the victims involved. Responsible communities can no longer remain silent.
Silence continues the cycle of domestic violence and does not lead to change. Efforts must be made by every community –especially church communities– to help families stop abuse and assist in creating healthier environments for children, teenagers, and adults.
Of course, it is obvious that we are living in an age of violence. Our senses are bombarded by an age of violence. Our senses are bombarded by violence in the news, music, television, and other media outlets. Many people are the target of violence. The victims that most touch our hearts are women and children. It is true that men are also victims of abuse and violence, but in smaller numbers–which may be due to lack of reporting. Regardless of who the victim is, domestic or family violence is incompatible with God’s plan for the human family.
Let’s first look at some definitions and general information about domestic violence. Domestic violence includes, physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse There is no hierarchy of abuse–each one is destructive.
Physical abuse may include behaviors such as pushing and kicking, and it can escalate into more harmful attacks. While it can start with minor bruising, it could end in murder.
Sexual abuse can include inappropriate touching and verbal remarks. Rape, molestation, and incest are also included in this category.
Emotional abuse includes behaviors that consistently degrade or belittle the individual. It can include verbal threats, episodes of rage, obscene language, demands for perfection, and invalidation of character and person. Extreme possessiveness, isolation, and depriving someone of economic resources are all psychologically and emotionally abusive.
There is no real profile of abusers or victims. Both may come from all age groups, ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, professions, and religious or nonreligious communities. Abuse and violence may take several forms: physical, sexual, or emotional. In the case of the elderly and children, it may also include severe neglect.
- In the United States of America, one in four women will experience domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, during her lifetime. 1
- Women are more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner.
- Women between the ages of 20 and 24 are at the greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. 2
- Every year, one in three female homicide victims is murdered by her current or former partner. 3
- Survivors of domestic violence “face high rates of depression, sleep disturbances,” and other emotional distress.4
- “Domestic violence contributes to poor health for many- survivors.”5
- “Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults.”6
- “Without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/ or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation.”7
- Most incidents of domestic violence are never reported.8
In domestic violence, there is always misuse of power. Domestic violence is characterized by fear, control, and harm. One person in the relationship uses coercion or force to control the other person or other family members. The abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional.
There are several reasons why abusers or batter may choose to abuse their power:
- He/she thinks it is his right; that is, part of his role.
- He/she feels entitled to use force.
- He/she has learned this behavior in his past.
- He/she thinks this behavior works.
In most reported cases of abuse, the abuser is male. However, abusers can also be female. Abuse has no place in healthy, godly relationships.
Abusers assume they have the right to control all members of their family. The willingness to use violence to accomplish this control is from things that he has learned. From various sources, the abuser has learned that it is appropriate for the person who is bigger and stronger–usually a male–to hit others “for their own good” or because he “loves them.”
Abusers learn abusive behavior from various sources, including observing parents and peers, misinterpretation of biblical teachings, and from the media-jokes, cartoons, and movies-that portray control and abuse as a normal part of relationships. And sometimes victims even think they are the cause of the abuse. But this is not true. The behavior of the victim does not cause the abuser’s violence. The abuser is in control of the violence; the victim is not.
There facts are not pleasant and remind us of the brokenness of the world we live in. The good news and hope for today’s families is that God has not left us alone. The Bible presents the true picture of how human relationships should look.
Human beings are created by a loving and relational God who created us to be in relationship with Him first and then with others. Because we are created in His image (Genesis 1:27), all of our relationships should be a reflection of Him and His love. Of course, unlike God, we are not perfect, and because of theses imperfections we will struggle in our relationships. Therefore, we must seek God’s guidance for grace and strength to be more loving, kind and patient and to exercise self-control in all of our relationships.
God has provided a way for us to have healthy relationships. We are called to build each other up; this is called empowering. When we empower one another in the family, we build high trust in the relationship. When we misuse power by dominance and coercion, we tear down trust. Trust is the key in the empowering process.
Parents who empower their children and prepare them for responsible interdependence will provide their children with the skills necessary to live as healthy adults and to build and maintain healthy relationships. When parents use unhealthy forms of power and control with children, the children detach from their family and learn negative ways of using power and relating to others.
Empowerment is love in action–a godly characteristic we should imitate. If we are able to practice empowerment in our families, it will revolutionize the view of authority in our homes. Coercion and manipulation are the opposite of empowerment. They are a distortion of what true power is. Empowerment is about mutuality and unity.
God’s love and grace give us· the power to empower others. When mutual empowerment occurs among family members, each will grow exponentially in humility and love. Truly, family members will begin to grow more into the likeness of Christ. And His power is promised to us as we seek to have healthy relationships.
Many today find themselves outside of this model of healthy family relationships. In homes where abuse has infiltrated, we encourage you–starting today–to strive toward making your home and relationships abuse free. We beg you to recognize the abuse and to seek counsel and professional help as soon as possible to begin the healing process. This step will bring greater hope to your family today.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE and Elaine Oliver, MA, LGPC, CFLE are Directors of the Department of Family Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.
- “Get the Facts and Figures,” The National Domestic Violence Hotline, hnp://www.thehotline.org/resources /statistics/.
- “Domestic Violence,” Bay Area Women’s Center, hccp://bawc-mi.org/site15/indcx.php/2015-03-30-00-21-30/domesticviolence.
Source: Oliver, Willie; Oliver, Elaine. (2018). No Excuse for Abuse in the Family. Hope For Today’s Families (pp. 62-70). Review and Herald Publishing Association.