By Bob Allen
Domestic violence is a sin, and more preachers should be saying so from the pulpit, says East Texas Baptist University professor Elijah Brown.
Brown, assistant professor of missions and a Bible study teacher at First Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas, said in a blog posting Sept. 29 that based on the small number of sermons and Bible studies devoted to the subject, one might conclude the Bible does not specifically address domestic violence.
A recent survey by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention revealed that 42 percent of Protestant pastors rarely or never speak about domestic or sexual violence in sermons or other messages to large groups in their church. Another 22 percent say the topic comes up about once a year. Just one in four believe it is a problem that affects someone in their church.
The recent release of security video from February showing Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his wife and knocking her unconscious has prompted a national discussion about the frequency of spouse abuse and the tendency of organizations like the NFL — and the church — to keep it quiet.
A number of women used Twitter hashtags of #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft to share stories of their own abuse and the difficult decision of whether or not to leave an abusive partner. Brown quoted one Beverly Gooden, who tweeted on Sept. 8: “I stayed because my pastor told me God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too.”
“Does God hate abuse as well?” Brown asked. “By the standard of church awareness, teaching and response to the reality of domestic violence one might be tempted to answer in the negative.”
Brown said the reality of domestic violence is addressed specifically in Malachi 2:16: “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
While there is some disagreement about how best to translate the verse, Brown said, the message there and in other Bible passages is “a person engaging in verbal, sexual or physical violence against an intimate partner or family members is committing sin.”
“Domestic violence is sin,” he said. “When a person engages in verbal, sexual or domestic violence he or she has broken faith with his or her husband or wife. Domestic violence is far too often a dirty secret happening behind closed doors and weekly filling church pews in suffering silence. We have a responsibility to name this sin and to be grieved over its prevalence in the world.
“If are to be God’s people then we must publicly teach that domestic violence is sin, acknowledge our complicit silence in this area, provide safe havens for those seeking freedom, regularly pray for those trapped in abusive situations, and model healthy and life-affirming relationships.”
Brown is a graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, with a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He recently was appointed to the nominations committee of the Baptist World Alliance for the term of 2014-2019.