Domestic Oppression: Time to Talk About It

Overheard:

“I feel like there’s nothing I can do! I feel trapped!”

Day after day, week after week, I sit across from people – women, mostly – who cry these words out as they describe the oppressive conditions they live under.

We hear an ever-increasing number of voices being raised against domestic violence and domestic abuse. And that’s wonderful!

“S’about time!” I say!

What I don’t hear anyone talking about is “Domestic Oppression.” In fact, when I mention domestic oppression, I get looks of confusion and cognitive dissonance from people.

Thankfully, in doing a Google search this morning, I was encouraged to discover that one of my blog posts from four years ago finally moved into second place!

Are you KIDDING ME?!

Sorry. But this is ridiculous! How is it that the seedbed of domestic abuse isn’t part of the conversation about domestic abuse?

Okay. Let me take a deep breath and see if we can get on the same page here…

Let’s start with the working definition of domestic oppression from an upcoming book about domestic oppression that I am collaborating on (If you use this, give proper credit, please?):

Domestic Oppression: Domestic oppression is an ongoing pattern of intimidating and domineering behavior employed by one family member to control one or more other family members. A superior/inferior, hierarchical power differential is established, maintained, and increased more and more as time goes on.

Let’s talk a little about the perpetrators thereof:

Domestic oppressors systematically tyrannize, intimidate, threaten, emotionally coerce, dehumanize, objectify, demean, degrade, manipulate, and bully at least one other person within the family home—usually their spouse. This closely matches the description of terrorism.

Domestic oppressors (DOs) fall somewhere along a spectrum of emotional predation, ranging from harmful exploitation on the less dangerous end to the Dark Triad on the other. On the low end are those whose default is to objectify others and use them as resources to get their needs met.

On the other end are those who are a great danger to others, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, soul-ly, or a combination of any or all of these.

This morning, I (again) sat across from a woman who gave detailed descriptions of a “head-of-household” using intimidation, manipulation, coercion, demeaning, degrading, bullying, and finally low-grade violence [physical aggression without striking or kicking] to dominate and control the members of his family.

The chief targets of this behavior are his several daughters, some of whom are grown yet still living at home because of the oppressive “Covering Theology” the family has fallen for.

After she left, I was alerted to a news story from the NY Times that mega-church pastor and Word of Faith preacher Creflo Dollar was arrested after he choked and punched his 15-year-old daughter.

When you read the news story, you can see the tendrils of the domestic oppression in this family system. Again, domestic oppression is the seedbed for domestic violence!

“Dollar’s 19-year-old daughter corroborated most of her sister’s story, but Dollar disputed it, telling a sheriff’s deputy he was trying to restrain her when she became disrespectful. When she began to hit back, he wrestled her to the floor and spanked her, according to the police report.” (emphasis added)

The story goes on to describe what, in my experience, is an entitled oppressor enforcing his supposed power and authority over a weaker family member and resorting to violence in order to prove his right to dominate.

So, let’s start speaking and speaking well about domestic oppression, shall we?

Oh, and just so we don’t forget to get God’s opinion about all this, God speaks about oppression 84 times in Scripture (the equivalent of how many times He speaks about sexual impurity, fornication, and adultery).

Jesus Himself said, ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send the oppressed away in liberty”” (Luke 4:18 NET)

OPPRESSION IS A BIG DEAL TO GOD AND HE’S AGAINST IT! And it absolutely is not to be happening in “Christian” churches and “Christian” families.

More on this will be forthcoming soon, I promise! There is a lot more that needs to be discussed – especially in and by the church.

Please be in prayer for these families I mentioned, including Mr. Dollar’s. God wants the oppressed rescued and the oppressors redeemed.

And He has a whole lot of justice stacking up against these evildoers if they do not repent (“Woe to you…).

Soli Deo Gloria

Sophia Lee’s Column: ‘We Don’t Talk About That Stuff’

The following is from an excellent piece written by Sophia Lee of World Magazine in her column, “Sophia’s World.” The link to the original piece is here

‘We don’t talk about that stuff’

Dismissing or minimizing accusations of abuse in the church can tear families and communities apart

by Sophia Lee

I remember when I was a 9-year-old pastor/missionary’s kid growing up in Singapore, there was a man who always loitered around our church after Sunday service. My father’s church shared the same building with another church, and that man was a regular attender of that church’s morning service.

Being a pastor’s kid, I spent a lot of time waiting while my parents and other church members talked for hours about grown-up stuff, usually praying for world evangelism or something as eternally consequential. My younger brother and I befriended another pastor’s two kids who were also bored to death, and we would spend that time playing hopscotch, jumping rope, or buying snacks at the nearby shops. It wasn’t long before we bumped into that man.

I forget his real name, but we called him “Uncle.” Uncle was in his 40s, with a gangly frame, knobby knees, and wispy, balding hair. I still remember the day my brother and friends told me they met a friendly guy, and soon, Uncle was hanging out with us almost every Sunday afternoon.

At the time, I didn’t realize how weird it was that a middle-aged man would spend his Sunday afternoons with a bunch of prepubescent kids. I just liked that he bought snacks and cheap toys for us. But I didn’t like how he always wanted me to sit on his lap, and I didn’t like that whenever I refused, he then asked the other pastor’s daughter over. It bugged me that he only seemed to want the girls, that he never asked to cuddle with the boys.

I was too young to understand what’s going on, but even then I was acutely aware of this leaden, sickening feeling in my gut that I now recognize as shame and disgust. I was also confused: If this man is a bad man with unsavory intentions, why would he be in church? Why would the adults let him hang about? I had trusted him because he was a professed Christian and made verbal references to Jesus, but now he didn’t feel safe.

Then one day, when Uncle asked me to sit on his lap again, I decided I had enough. I jumped up and yelled, “No!” Then I stomped away, and I told the other kids that we will never, ever hang out with that man again. I never told my parents about Uncle because shame and disgust made me want to hide and forget everything, and I was relieved when my father’s church eventually moved to another location. We never saw that man again. Today as an adult, I look back and wonder if my intuition was right—and I thank God nothing serious ever happened.

It’s been a while since I’ve thought about this incident, but I’ve been experiencing that familiar uneasy, skin-crawling feeling again as I read today’s news about long-hushed sexual assaults on women and children, as I research domestic abuse cases in churches, as I meet various individuals who tell me childhood stories of experiencing rape and molestation, as I meet homeless women who tell me they lost everything after fleeing domestic abuse. But this time, it’s not just disgust I feel—it’s a slow-rising burn of anger against unaccounted injustice.

One 27-year-old woman I recently met told me she was raised in a very conservative evangelical family who spent a lot of time at church—and that’s where a fellow church member raped her when she was barely a teenager. She told the appropriate adults what had happened, but no one seemed to take action against her perpetrator. The knowledge that the church—a sacred community that’s supposed to be her safe refuge—overlooked this act of grievous wrong almost severed this woman’s relationship with God.

For the last few weeks I’ve been researching how churches handle claims of domestic abuse, and I spent hours talking to women who said their husbands abused them and their children. Several of the women I talked to said when they finally brought the issue up to their church leaders, hoping for safety and relief, they instead felt hurt, confused, and revictimized when their church didn’t seem to take their abuse claims seriously. All these women eventually left their churches, and one told me she still couldn’t enter church doors without having a panic attack.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says one in four women and one in seven men in the United States “have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” With those numbers, the problem is likely prevalent in churches. Biblical counselor Warren Lamb, a former abuse victim who has been counseling abusers and abuse victims for three decades, said he’s been “passionately banging on the walls, windows, and roofs of churches” to alert faith leaders that domestic oppression is real and destructive, and it’s going on inside their congregations’ households: “But we don’t talk about that stuff.” And from what I hear and read from several Christian abuse specialists, it’s not uncommon for church leaders to dismiss or minimize accusations of abuse.

Lamb said many churches don’t want to admit that someone in their congregation could be an abuser, that such evil could exist within their pews. It’s hard for people to believe that the smiling, generous church member or leader who serves so faithfully and prays such sincere prayers could be a master manipulator abusing his wife and children back home. These Christians might agree that wolves can creep into the sheep pen, but few want to believe it is true of their own church. They acknowledge the reality of sin but emphasize grace and redemption without fully fleshing out the necessity of soul-wrenching, self-undoing repentance.

To those churches, Lamb warns that whenever they let an abuser escape accountability for his sin, “It poisons the pond. It impacts everybody.” And that’s what I saw in many real-life stories: The evil of domestic abuse doesn’t just affect the couple involved—it breaks families, friends, and communities apart.

It disfigures the glorious image of earthly marriage as a metaphor of Christ’s union with the Church. It prepares the perfect breeding ground for the devil to wreck more havoc in the most important relationships within the Body of Christ, and it silences other victims who lose hope for justice and redemption.

There is evil in our churches. We are not immune to the devastating disease of sin, and each time a public scandal breaks out in one of our churches, it’s just the smoke pouring out of a whole underworld of various other hidden, hushed-up sins within the church body. No wonder God deals harshly with sin that invades His people, as demonstrated in Achan’s story in Joshua 7, or the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

Dealing with sin is ugly, messy, dirty work. Jesus Christ demonstrated His love for us by stepping into our ugly, dirty mess, and then He demonstrated how ugly and dirty sin is by dying in our place in the most brutal way imaginable. If that’s how God views and deals with sin, that’s how seriously we need to view sin as well, and we must reflect Christ’s love for His Body by doing the hard, hard work of fighting it.

Thank you, Sophia Lee!

Soli Deo Gloria

Found: Independence From Oppression

As America prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we need to remember that the people who gave us this holiday openly (and, thankfully) rebelled against and rejected the serial and unrelenting oppression they were victimized by for decades.

How is it that “the church” so easily forgets that Jesus came to “set the captives [oppressed] free”?

As I’ve mentioned before, God speaks condemningly about oppression and oppressors 84 times! Why, then, do those who claim to speak for Him refuse to follow His mandate to intervene and put a stop to it when it is happening among their own congregations?

Today, in honor of Independence Day and with permission of the author, I am sharing another letter from another adopted-daughter of The Most High who escaped her oppressor in spite of Christ’s Under-Shepherds who failed at their obligations…

Dear Friends:

Over these past years since I learned my marriage was an illusion I have had to heal both from the trauma of the profound betrayal by my ex-husband, and also from kindly-spoken words by many close to me in my church community who took an indifferent stance toward the rightness and the wrongness of what had actually happened. I heard, “We’re not on either side. We’re on the side of the marriage.”  “I’m not taking sides.  I have sin issues too.”  “We’re not taking sides. I will support you and my husband will support your husband.”

Each instance of hearing these words from beloved friends and Christ-followers dealt a blow so harsh to me that I remember every detail about the conversation. There was a victim and a perpetrator in my marriage. A crime was committed and it continued for years. The collateral damage was great. And yet, Christians could respond as though this was simply another case of marriage being difficult and no one really being right or wrong.  I lived the pain of these words of indifference many times over.

My Biblically-oriented church was inept at counseling us. Since I was desperate to save my marriage, and my ex-husband would settle for nothing less than keeping a toehold in his sin patterns, I was the one expected to acquiesce, accept empty words as evidence of repentance and change. This attitude taught by pastors inevitably influences those hearing their teaching. I too used to take a black and white attitude toward divorce and always believed there was something either party could do to save a marriage until I was confronted with my own situation in which I could do nothing outside of enabling sin to save my marriage.

One day I read God’s directive for what the church was to do in this instance. It is one of the clearest directives in the Bible. It’s right there in 1 Corinthians 5:11. “But I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality.”  Read on. This is harsh in order to give the offender every reason to turn away from recurring sin patterns that lead to death. It’s why we would scream harshly at a child who was about to run in front of a moving car. The Lord wants us to take these ongoing sins that seriously.

This journey started five years ago for me. I have learned and grown in the Lord. He has taught me to listen to Him and to take no human’s teaching as accurate without checking it against the whole of His word. There is only one source of truth. I know the myth of God valuing marriage above human beings continues. It is not true. Friends and families and pastors who are misguided and continue to counsel for saving a marriage above all are doing tremendous damage to people who are already victimized. What needs to be done is to follow the Lord’s direction regarding the immoral within the church and to enforce church discipline “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5).

When I read the following from Gary Thomas my soul was warmed by the truth of it.

http://foreverymom.com/marriage/enough-enough-church-stop-enabling-abusive-men-gary-thomas/

May the Lord bless you in your service to Him.

Sandra

Blessed Independence Day.

Speak out against oppression everywhere, and especially in the church!

Sioli Deo Gloria