Thursday, October 9, 2008

When Violence Comes Home

(A sermon preached by the Rev. Robert S. Owens, retired minister in the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.), who has been involved in ministry to victims of domestic violence and their families for many years. As Sr. Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, which he served for sixteen years until his retirement, he helped his congregation establish “Hospitality House”, the first transitional shelter for abused women and their children established by a church in the islands (which was managed by his daughter, Julie Owens, a member of PASCH’S Board of Directors). This sermon was delivered at St. Johns Episcopal Church, Charlotte, NC, in observance of “Domestic Violence Sunday.”)
The woman speaking on the phone was obviously very upset, confused, and frightened. Her voice shaking almost uncontrollably, she explained that her husband had been abusing her, almost from the time their honeymoon ended. At first she did not realize it was abuse, and she had been wondering what was wrong with her. Was she failing to meet his needs? Was she not measuring up to his expectations? Was he disappointed in her?
This was her first marriage. She had waited for years for the right man to come along, and had believed David was that man. From the first day they had spent together alone, they had enjoyed each other’s company so much. They shared similar interests, liked the same kind of music, and also seemed to have the same core values. He appeared to be a real gentleman -- i.e. a gentle man. He was courteous and considerate, sensitive and supportive, kind and understanding -- not arrogant or rude, not demanding and domineering like some men she had known, including one who had married her sister, and a few who had married close friends.
How wrong she was! How could she have known that it was all an act, that he was simply extending himself to her in courtship, that he was not revealing his true nature? How could she have known that he had a history of violence? In only a matter of weeks the harassment and intimidation had started, the accusations, the threats, and the verbal abuse. She was so bewildered by it all, and hurting at such a deep level. There was no physical violence in those early months of their marriage, but her self-esteem had taken a beating. She was wondering, “Have I done something to provoke him, or is there something I have failed to do?” The verbal assaults had not only shocked her, and wounded her; they had also humiliated her and crushed her spirit. She felt betrayed, but was naturally looking within herself for answers. Surely there was some reasonable explanation. Were his unmet needs causing him to act this way? What was causing him to say such hurtful things, to call her such horrible names?
The woman on the phone was my daughter!
Our theme this morning is “When Violence Comes Home.” It had never occurred to me that abuse could ever invade our home. There was no history of violence on either side of our family. Like most people who have never experienced abuse in family life, I assumed this was only a problem among those who had come from dysfunctional families, those involved in multiple relationships, extra-marital affairs, and certainly people who were outside the orbit of the Christian community. I now look back and ask myself how I could have been so uninformed, as well as so unconcerned as a pastor and counselor, regarding this terrible cause of human misery? Why had I never given any serious consideration to the problem of domestic violence? Was it because I had been wearing blinders? Was it because so few abused women had ever come to me for counseling? Had I assumed there were no victims of family violence in the churches I had served, or among our friends and neighbors? Like so many well educated persons, people in polite society, those living in nice neighborhoods, I had also assumed that only uneducated, irresponsible, immoral, and irreligious people were guilty of such violent acts.
Regardless of the possible explanations for that false assumption that now come to mind, just like my daughter I have found myself asking: “How could I have been so wrong? How could I have been so blind? How could I have been so deceived?” I now know that domestic violence knows no such boundaries. How easily we label and stereotype people, revealing not only our ignorance, but our prejudices and blind spots. Many of us are also living in denial. We have convinced ourselves that nothing like this has ever happened, or could ever happen, in our own families. Domestic violence could never invade our home. I surely hope it never does, but I assure you an abuser can marry into any family, even the best of families. I can personally testify to that!
I have also discovered that there are indeed abused women and abusers in the Body of Christ, in all branches of the Church, in every congregation of any size. In fact, some of them are ministers, Christian counselors, Christian educators, Sunday school teachers, Elders, Deacons, and Vestrymen. You will find abusers in every profession, including physicians, lawyers, psychologists, teachers, bankers, highly successful businessmen, elected officials, law enforcement officers -- leaders in the community, very respected people. They have been identified. I have confronted some of them myself, having learned of their abuse, not always from their victims, but from relatives, neighbors, doctors, and nurses in hospital emergency rooms.
Those who have not battered their wives seldom consider themselves an abuser, because there has been no physical violence in their home. However, each of them has used his strength and verbal abuse to intimidate, dominate, and humiliate his wife. All of them have abused their wives emotionally, verbally, mentally, and psychologically. There are women listening to me right now who know exactly what I am talking about. Are you one of them? Studies reveal that one out of every three women have been, or will be in their lifetime, a victim of abuse. That shocking statistic includes the women in our church families, including St. Johns. If you have been a victim of either date rape or spouse abuse, if you are in an abusive relationship at this time, you have probably tried to keep it a secret. You are so embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, confused, and also very afraid. Those of you who are single, with abusive boyfriends, find yourselves in a similar situation, though there are differences. If your abuser is your husband, he has probably tried to isolate you from your family, your friends, as well as your extended family in the Body of Christ, except for public worship. He may even participate in Sunday morning worship with you, and may be sitting beside you in the pew right now. He may be in the choir. He may have a leadership position in the church, for that contributes to his reputation as a good man. However, he is not a good man. No man who abuses his wife is a good man!
Others in the church may even see him as a godly man, but he is not a godly man! No man who abuses a woman, married or single, is a godly man! God hates abuse! I did not say God hates abusers, but God does hate the abuse! There is no person in this world, even those who abuse others, who can say, “God does not love me.” God loves everyone, without exception. Even those who are abusers will always have God’s love, but that does not mean they have God’s approval! God never approves of abuse! There is absolutely no excuse for abuse! I say it again, with the hope that this truth will grip your mind this morning, God hates abuse!
So, if your husband is an abuser, I want you to know he is sinning against God, as well as you! He has no one to blame but himself for his own behavior. He may have seen abuse in his family as a child. It is possible, very possible, that he may have learned his abusive behavior from his own father, who abused his mother. However, that is only one possible explanation for his abuse, not an excuse. There is no excuse for abuse! Your husband may also have been abused as a child. That is true of many abusers. Nevertheless, he is still responsible for his own actions and reactions. He cannot blame anyone else, including you! Therefore, don’t blame yourself! Don’t allow him to shift the blame, and to pile the guilt on you! Don’t believe his lies! Your marriage is not the problem. His abuse is the problem!

for the rest of the sermon click the link, it's worth the time. Thank You

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