Monday, August 23, 2010

Abuse In Marriage As It Pertains to Christians

I don't usually publish whole articles in my blog posts, but since I am getting so many questions about this subject right now, I am going to post the contents of an article written in Christianity Today (October, 2007, author David Instone-Brewer) that I'm sure will answer a lot of questions regarding the idea of staying in an abusive relationship. There are so many Christian women who have believed (and for good reason) that it is imperative to stay in an abusive relationship because God hates divorce and that divorce is a sin. This article is like a breath of fresh air and really puts abusive relationships in perspective. Please feel free to share this with any and all women who need to understand this crucial and foundational portion of scripture:
I WAS BEING INTERVIEWED for what would be my first church pastorate, and I was nervous and unsure what to expect. The twelve deacons sat in a row in front of me and took turns asking questions, which I answered as clearly as I could. All went smoothly until they posed this question: "What is your position on divorce and remarriage? Would you remarry a divorcee or divorced man?" I didn't know if this was a trick question or an honest one. There might have been a deep-seated pastoral need behind it, or it might have been a test of my orthodoxy. Either way, I didn't think I could summarize my view in one sentence; when I thought about it further, I couldn't decide exactly what my view was. I gave a deliberately vague reply. "Every case should be judged on its own merits." . It worked; I got the job. But I made a mental note to study the subject of divorce, and to do it quickly. It's a good thing I did.  As it turned out, I was surrounded by people who needed answers to questions raised by divorce and remarriage. My Baptist church was located near an Anglican congregation and two Catholic churches. Divorced men and women from these congregations came asking if we would conduct their weddings, having been denied in their local churches. Then I found that some of my deacons had been divorced and remarried. Should I throw them out of church leadership? If I did, I would lose people I considered some of the most spiritual in the church, people with exemplary Christian homes and marriages.
The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications.  Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: "Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, and remarries, commits adultery" (Matt. 19:9).However, this
has been interpreted in many different ways. Most say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. But some argue that Jesus originally didn't allow even that. Only in Matthew does he offer an out from marriage: "except for sexual indecency." Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment
by a nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Many theologians add this as a second ground for divorce.
Yet some pastors have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so impractical-even cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse, and Paul even seems to forbid separation (1 Cor. 7:10). As a result, some Christians quietly ignore this seemingly "impractical" biblical teaching or find ways around it. For example, they suggest that when Jesus talked about "sexual immorality," perhaps he included other things like abuse. Or when Paul talked about abandonment by a nonbeliever, perhaps he included any behavior that is not supportive of the marriage or abandonment by anyone who is acting like a nonbeliever. Many have welcomed such stretching of Scripture because they couldn't accept what they believed the text apparently said. But does the literal text mean what we think it does?
While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus' time. I "got inside their heads" enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was
to re-read the Bible. I'd read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn't heard before I read the rabbis!
The texts hadn't changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first -century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense. My book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, is a summary of several academic papers and books I began writing with this new understanding of what Jesus taught.
One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: "Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?" (Matt. 19:3). This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the "any cause" divorce. By the time of Jesus, this "any cause" divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament.
The "any cause" divorce was invented from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1.  Moses allowed divorce for "a cause of immorality," or more literally, "a thing of nakedness." Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word "thing" or "cause" when he only needed to use the word "immorality." They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce - divorce for "a cause." They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for "any cause."
This single phrase that referred to no type of divorce "except immorality"-and therefore the new "any cause" divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. "Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?" they asked. In other words: "Is it lawful for us to use the 'any cause' divorce?" When Jesus answered with a resounding no, he wasn't condemning "divorce for any cause," but rather the newly invented "any cause" divorce. Jesus agreed firmly with the second group that the phrase didn't mean divorce was allowable for "immorality" and for "any cause," but that Deutermonomy 24:1 referred to no type of divorce "except immorality." This was a shocking statement for the crowd and for the disciples. It meant they couldn't get a divorce whenever they wanted it - there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced.
Luke and Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32;Luke 16:18),because they were still married. The fact that they said "any divorced person" instead of "virtually all divorced people" is typical Jewish hyperbole - like Mark saying that "everyone" in Jerusalem came to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5).  It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant. Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language often changes quickly (as I found out when my children first heard the Flintstones sing about "a gay old time"). The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the "any cause" divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce. This meant that when Jesus condemned "divorce for 'any cause,' " later generations thought he meant "divorce for any cause."
Now that we know what Jesus did reject, we can also see what he didn't reject. He wasn't rejecting the Old Testament- he was rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. He defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1. And there is one other surprising thing he didn't reject: Jesus didn't reject the other ground for divorce in the old Testament, which all Jews accepted. Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus' day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect.
Before rabbis introduced the "any cause" divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage; the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. Even women could, and did, get divorces for neglect-though the man still had to write out the divorce certificate. Rabbis said he had to do it voluntarily, so if he resisted, the courts had him beaten till he volunteered!
These three rights became the basis of Jewish marriage vows - we find them listed in marriage certificates discovered near the Dead Sea. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language became more formal, such as "love, honor, and keep." These vows, together with a vow of sexual faithfulness, have always been the basis for marriage. Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce. The three provisions of food, clothing, and love were understood literally by the Jews. The wife had to cook and sew, while the husband provided food and materials, or money. They both had to provide the emotional support of marital love, though they could abstain from sex for short periods. Paul taught the same thing. He said that married couples owed each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). He didn't say that neglect of these rights was the basis of divorce because he didn't need to - it was stated on the marriage certificate. Anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce.
Divorce for neglect included divorce for abuse, because this was extreme neglect. There was no question about that end of the spectrum of neglect, but what about the other end? What about abandonment, which was merely a kind of passive neglect? This was an uncertain matter, so Paul deals with it. He says to all believers that they may not abandon their partners, and if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor.
In the case of someone who is abandoned by an unbeliever - someone who won't obey the command to return - he says that the abandoned person is "no longer bound." Anyone in first-century Palestine reading this phrase would think immediately of the wording at the end of all Jewish, and most Roman, divorce certificates: "You are free to marry anyone you wish."
Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:
  • Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
  • Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1Corinthians 7)
  • Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1Corinthians 7)
Jewish couples listed these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. We reiterate them as love, honor, and keep and be faithful to each other. When these vows were broken, it threatened to break up the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, "I forgive you; let's carry on," or, "I can't go on, because this marriage is broken." Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows.
Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible's teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament. Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God's law is both practical and loving.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EMDR Therapy - Very Effective For Trauma

EMDR?  What is that?
A very common response when I mention the use of this therapy in situations where my clients have been victims of abuse, rape or assault.  EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is an extremely effective therapy which allows our emotional process to continue from where it has been stuck.  It was discovered and developed by Francine Shapiro who continues to facilitate the study of and effects of EMDR on trauma survivors.
When human beings have been through situations that are traumatic for them, those memories often get stuck along with the traumatic emotions that were generated along with them.  Why? Because emotions and memories are chemical.  When chemicals are not resolved within the body, sensations or smells, sights or sounds can trigger them again and the person relives those experiences over and over.  This is what Post Traumatic Stress is.  The condition is best seen in combat veterans who have been in life and death situations, over stimulated by sound in fearful circumstances, visually stimulated by horrific images that accompany combat situations.
One way our bodies process these feelings and memories is through rapid eye movement.  Rapid eye movement happens at night in REM sleep....when we reach REM sleep we dream.  It is not uncommon to have nightmares, vivid dreams or sensations after a traumatic incident.  In all reality, that is a good sign; however it can be uncomfortable and/or unpleasant.  I say it is a good sign because it is a sign that the traumatic incident is being processed, which is what we want to have happen.  The optic nerve is connected to the brain in such a way that the rapid movement of the eyes in a side to side (bi-lateral) motion facilitates the emotional process.  EMDR facilitates that same motion, allowing trauma that has become stuck and unresolved, to be processed.  The goal is not to erase the memory, but simply put, to take the emotional charge off the memory so that it simply takes the place of being another memory in our memory banks.  Additionally, EMDR is not guided imagery or hypnosis.  It facilitates our God given emotional resolution processes so that we can heal and move on with our lives.
It has only been in recent times where the use of EMDR has been expanded beyond the combat veteran scenario.  Those who work in the mental health field see traumatized individuals every day who have been in abusive relationships, car accidents, sudden huge losses or assault situations and recognize that these individuals also suffer from PTSD or a form of it.   EMDR is very helpful in facilitating the healing process and helping victims of every sort of trauma move forward.  EMDR also is beneficial for individuals who just find themselves stuck; stuck in their careers, stuck in their situations or not seeming to be able to move past certain behaviors or responses as well as the fears and beliefs that accompany them.
Speaking of fear, it might be helpful to note that there are only four basic fears; the fear of rejection, the fear of abandonment, the fear of death and the fear of dying.  All of our negative emotional responses have one or more of these four fears at the root.  It helps to be able to boil down our emotional reactions to identify which of these fears we are dealing with and then begin to confront the fear, recognize the lies we have believed and ask the Lord to help us see what the truth is.  These types of fears can be debilitating, however that is not to say that all fear is bad.  A feeling of fear walking down an urban street at 1am might be worth paying attention to as a means of discernment to get out of that situation quickly.
In closing, I want to communicate to my readers that emotions are neither good or bad, they are amoral.  Emotions are messengers of what is happening inside and we either choose to listen to them and take steps to correct the issues at hand, or we kill the messenger and refuse to listen.  Emotions can be our friend or if denied, they go on to cause difficulties in our lives in the form of creating self defense mechanisms or as a last resort, the body begins to break down in ways that facilitate disease.  Emotions never die, whether we choose to feel them or not.
If you have been the victim of a traumatic experience, I would encourage you to find a counselor who is well trained in EMDR and talk to them about whether this type of therapy would be beneficial for you.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Red Flags to Be Aware of As You Develop New Relationships

As we develop new relationships with people, it is necessary to understand that there are levels to those relationships and if we do not follow the natural and established progression of those relationships, we can find ourselves in trouble no matter whether it is just a friendship or whether we are courting a more intimate relationship.

What do I mean by levels?  The levels in a relationship are steps that we take to get to know another person.  As we progress from stranger to close friend or intimate partner, we have to give the relationship time to develop so that we can evaluate whether the person is a good fit for our lives, what kind of character they posses and if they can be trusted.  We have to take these levels in order, not getting one before the other so that trust and bonding can happen or if we are moving into a relationship with someone who is untrustworthy, abusive or even dangerous, we know that in time to be able to extricate ourselves.  In so many relationships these days, sexual encounters come way too early in the relationship and intimate bonding takes place before each individual has had time to evaluate the other person.  This kind of bonding then makes it much more difficult to evaluate the "Red Flags" that may come along.

Each level of a relationship has its characteristics.  When we first meet someone, we make small talk and over the course of different conversations we begin to evaluate whether the person is of interest to us.  Sometimes there is a connection, sometimes there isn't.  If the person peaks our interest, we will see them again in a different context...perhaps over coffee, dinner or maybe just by phone.  In these conversations, we can determine whether the person is easy or difficult to communicate with, whether there are mutual interests and what kind of life the person has had or is planning on having.  In these first few levels of relationship we are evaluating on many different levels.  If we determine the other person is interesting to us, we will probably move into the next level of relationship which is denoted by spending more time together in different ways, exploring mutual interests and taking conversations deeper.  We may talk about family, goals for the future and what our dreams and visions are for our lives.  In this level we are evaluating whether the person is safe, what we like about them and they are doing the same with us.

Once trust is established, then there is a time period where we evaluate where the relationship is going and if it is an opposite sex relationship, if we are interested in pursuing a deeper kind of relationship.  From there, the relationship becomes more defined, roles are established, boundaries are defined and there is a structure that starts to take place between the two people.  Moving forward, a foundation is being laid for a more connected and intimate relationship down the road.  Looking at the complexity of these levels of relationship, it is somewhat easy to see why introducing a sexual encounter early on may disrupt the natural flow of things.

However, the focus of this article is what takes place in the early stages of relationship building and what to look for in order to determine whether the person is safe and trustworthy to become involved with.  When individuals are not safe and/or not trustworthy there are certain characteristics that tend to pop out over time and we need to understand that in order to evaluate them, we must take time in establishing relationships with a person of the opposite sex.  Some of these are just common sense, but some may not be so obvious....let's take a look:

  1. Criminal History - if there is any violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse or histories of any type of crime, a person should consider that a red flag.  Patterns of behavior mean something, no matter how much justification is offered.  If you don't want to deal with the behavior, understand that if there hasn't been any outside help to change the behavior, it will probably appear in any relationship the individual has.
  2. Employment Record - look for long periods of unemployment, job instability or job dissatisfaction.  This may indicate a lack of motivation, an inability to get along with authority or even co-workers and even a mental health/substance use problem in the person's live.
  3. Military Service Record - was there an honorable discharge?  That one speaks for itself.
  4. Health and Medical History - is there history of STDs or even HIV?  Have they been through rehab?  Substance abuse is very detrimental to a relationship and a history of sexually transmitted diseases or even testing for them can show a propensity for commitment issues, lack of respect for themselves or others.
  5. Mental Health History - a history of depression, mental illness or even low self esteem can be a red flag that needs to be observed.  Although many people go through their lives with depression and low self esteem, these things can create issues in a relationship because of negativity and lack of boundaries or social skills.
  6. Family History and Relationships with Family Members - How do they resolve differences and disputes?  Is the relationship with family healthy?  Is there any mental illness, substance abuse, child abuse or domestic violence?  These things change the way individuals deal with stress, change or problems and need to be seriously evaluated before considering progress to a committed relationship.  How is mom treated?  How does the person treat their father?
  7. Previous Relationships - was there (are there) violence/control issues?  Did the previous relationship break up amicably or is/was there bitterness and anger?  It may be advisable to speak to the ex to see if their story matches what is being told.  Often two people who break up will not have the same reasons, but if the person you are with is minimizing or being evasive, it is worth the time to check out their story.
  8. History or signs of substance abuse or addictions - these things in a relationship can lead to physical violence, financial instability, child abuse, sexual abuse as well as emotional and verbal abuse.  When a person's mind is altered in any way, you will not be dealing with the same person you know in a sober condition.
  9. Credit History - Does this person own property, a home, cars, retirement accounts.  If not, why not?  A good credit history is a good indicator of stability and responsibility.
  10. Treatment of Pets, Animals and Children - any history with them, is patience and understanding shown, have there been any signs of violence?  Violence against animals is a clear indicator of significant issues and individuals with a history of this should be avoided.
  11. Pornography - pornography is an indicator of how the individual may be able to connect with another person intimately.  Objectification is a fancy word for lack of empathy and connection and it is something that becomes important when someone is addicted to pornography.  When a man objectifies a woman, he sees her as one the pictures in the magazine.  She has no feelings to be considered, and she is there for his gratification only.  The women in the magazines don't talk back, they don't ask for respect and a relationship with them doesn't have to be worked at.  This is the problem with pornography, whether it is in print or on the internet.  It blinds its victim to emotional connection, honor and respect of the other person in the relationship and as we know, that causes a host of problems in relationships.
  12. Honor and Respect - How does the individual see others?  Are people treated with honor and respect or are they yelled at from behind the wheel of the car, pushed aside in order to get to the front of the line or talked about behind their backs?  
  13. Ladies - does the man you are involved with ask you for money?  Do you feel as though you should pay for things because he can't afford them or doesn't have the money to do what he needs to do........child support, bills, fines etc.  Don't do it!  It is a sign of irresponsibility and that should mean something to you.
  14. Boundaries - a lack of boundaries means a lack of respect.
  15. Control and/or manipulation - if the person you are with does not accept responsibility for their actions, if they manipulate you or control you; if they won't let you see your friends or family; if they lie and say they didn't....these are major warning signs and you should run, not walk in the other direction.
  16. Legalism - in faith based relationships it is important to recognize legalism.  Individuals who use scripture to control/manipulate/dominate another person are operating outside of those scriptures.  God is not controlling nor is He dominating.  He has given us free will.
  17. Growth - if you cannot be who you are, if you cannot grow inside the relationship then the relationship is not a good fit for you.
Although you may not see the need, it is important to develop a "Screening Committee" of 3 or 4 people you respect and trust who can give you feedback with regard to the individual that you are developing a relationship with.  This is especially important if you have a history of getting involved with abusive individuals.  Be ready to listen to their concerns and don't minimize them.  They are probably the same ones you've had.  

No matter what people say, character matters!  People are who they really are when no one is watching and that says a lot about character and integrity.  Pay attention to these things and it will save you many hours of pain and perhaps financial devastation in your future relationships.