The words of a prominent Southern Baptist leader (made several years ago but brought to public attention in the last few weeks) has caused a firestorm of anger, accusations, debate, and defense. The leader essentially said that in the case of physical abuse, a woman should rely upon prayer and the help of the church and stay in the relationship.
He was wrong.
I believe in marriage and the family. I believe in prayer. And I believe that the church can and should help strengthen marriages.
But I also strongly believe that a woman should get out of a physically abusive relationship immediately. And she should stay out until her spouse has sought and received real help. I’m not counseling divorce. I’m saying that a woman in an abusive relationship needs to protect herself. There will be time later to talk about reconciliation, but she shouldn’t be reconciled until there is real evidence and an established pattern of change.
An apology is not enough. Tears and deep regret are not enough. Promises are not enough.
The truth is that in a huge majority of cases–even when apologies, tears, and promises are offered–the pattern repeats itself and the abuse becomes a cycle. And usually the cycle grows worse each time around.
Women, my advice is simple. Get out of an abusive relationship until help from outside the family is sought and received. It’s good that you want to believe his apology. It’s appropriate to believe his tears are real. It’s loving to believe his promises. But an abuser needs to do more than apologize, cry, and promise to be different.
Men, my advice to you is also simple. I know that your apologies are sincere, your tears are real, your shame is genuine, and your promises are heartfelt. But you need outside help. Start with your pastor. Go to the classes and counselors he suggests. Join a men’s group. Make deep and honest changes–before you try to talk your wife into coming back.
My prayer is always for reconciliation. But no woman should feel that she has to stay in an abusive relationship. It’s not the right thing. It’s not the Christian thing. It’s not a helpful thing.
My advice to this Christian leader at the heart of this firestorm is also simple. Rethink your words and your advice. Repent of your remarks. You’ve backed down somewhat from your original statements, but you didn’t go far enough. No woman should feel like her church is leading her to stay in an abusive relationship. And as a leader, you need to make that abundantly clear.
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