What would you say if a woman at your church told you that she was being abused by her husband? According to Dr. Gary Barnes, one out of four people sitting in your church may be in an abusive relationship. In his experience, sometimes timid victims don't report abuse to a counselor or a pastor. Instead, they confide in a friend. That could be you.
On an episode of The Table podcast called, “A Christian Response to Abusive Relationships,” Dr. Darrell Bock talks with Dr. Barnes and Debby Wade about responding to abusive relationships in the church. He mentions two key points:
1. Don’t let the abuse remain a secret.
2. Get the person professional help in one way or another.
Dr. Barnes, Professor of Professor of Biblical Counseling at DTS, agrees: “The thing that perpetuates the whole problem is the secrecy, or the sense of ‘this is normal’ or ‘this is justified.’ Or, in many cases, the victim actually is led to believe that, ‘I am the problem. This is all because of me that this is happening.’"
Other victims may not have close friends. Where do they turn for help? Wade, a marriage and family therapist, observes that:
If an abuser…has the victim so controlled that they really don't have any close friends, the next best option— if they're associated with a church—is going to someone on staff at the church.
Indeed, victims of spousal abuse need a support system which includes not only professional care, but their church communities as well. This is where every believer—but especially pastors and other church leaders—can help people in abusive relationships. Dr. Barnes explains:
They would surely need to have the right professional care, but they really need to have their church community come around them in a loving way…And the way that they can do that is to have awareness building within their own church community…to give people permission to begin to talk about it is very, very important.
Churches need to take the initiative to build awareness and demonstrate the redemptive message of the gospel as it relates to this issue. As Dr. Barnes says, “The church needs to be stronger on…the redemptive message of Christ. And this is a real-life situation that Christ can be redemptive in.”
Watch the entire episode: A Christian Response to Abusive Relationships
About the Contributors
Mikel Del Rosario (ThM, 2016; PhD, 2022) is a Professor of Bible and Theology at Moody Bible Institute. While at DTS, he served as project manager for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, producing and hosting The Table podcast. You can find him online at ApologeticsGuy.com, the Apologetics Guy YouTube channel, and The Apologetics Guy Show podcast.