Hate, Love, and Survivors of Domestic Violence

Hate, Love, and Survivors of Domestic Violence

I am absolutely not a biblical scholar. I am quite relieved that Catholicism is not a sola scriptura kind of gal for many reasons, but I understand and recognize the importance of sacred readings. Please keep this in mind as I write and dissect in this post!

One of my biggest pet peeves as a domestic and sexual violence advocate and as a Christian, is hearing folk profess loud and proud: “God hates (fill in the blank)!” To think that real, live, human people truly believe that the best way to spread the message of Christ and to evangelize/minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ is to start out by professing that our God (who is LOVE) “hates” something, is devastating. Not just to those hearing this message, but for all.

This subject had me so worked up, that I sat in my uncomfortable chair grumbling for a few days. “No way the bible says hate.” I told myself. So I looked it up on my handy dandy bible verse cheat sheet, and I see this:

So I pull out my NABRE study bible, flipped to the Old Testament, and prepared to see some sort of translation notes related to the original text to English. While I did not, I came to a greater understanding of the text. Here is the full text:

You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
– Malachi 2:14-16

An interesting note in my study bible reads, “2:14 Companion…covenanted wife: the Hebrew word haberet signifies an equal, a partner. This woman, in contrast to the daughter of a foreign god, shares with her husband the same covenant with the Lord.”

What I take away from this, is that Christian marriage is a partnership where both parties are equally responsible. A woman is equal to her man. I find myself less focused on the text “I hate divorce” and more focused on the message that marriage is a covenant and partnership.

This quest lead me to want to give a more thorough review of other ‘marriage’ mentions in the bible. Here is a list of options for readings during a Catholic wedding. What I found are some common themes that I want to share:

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Matthew 19:4-6

This first example relates to the “two become one” aspect of marriage, and comes from an instance where the Pharisees are trying to trick Christ into saying something blasphemous. It shows marriage as something to be taken seriously.

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

-Ephesians 5:21-30

Ephesians 5 is the reading that I was most familiar with before marriage, and it might be my least favorite if I am being totally honest with you. There is an extraordinarily large emphasis placed on the first portion of this reading in many traditional faiths: “Wives be subordinate” with little commentary mentioning the reciprocating verse that asks husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the Church.”

The problem with taking portions of this verse (and any verse) out of context, is that you lose important information and instruction. This is less a call for wifely subordination and dominating husbands, and more a call for mutual devotion.

Even in times and cultures where women are not valued as equals partners in marriage or in society, this is a call for equality and sacrificial love.

One of the Pharisees, a scholar of the law, tested Jesus by asking, “Teacher,which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:35-40

And then we have:

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
-John 15:9-12

Do you see where this is going? The constant message in the bible as it relates to marriage, is love one another. The emphasis is continually placed on what God loves, not what God hates. So, let us apply this to intimate partner violence (IPV). (Note: The following lists are by no means comprehensive; more like a rough overview.)

According to these passages and the Catholic faith, marriage is:

  • A sacrament.
  • A commitment/covenant/promise.
  • Entered into by a man and a woman as equal, consenting partners.
  • Love.

A relationship involving Intimate Partner Violence (IPV):

  • Is consumed with power and control.
  • Gives one partner dominance over the other.
  • Warps love.
  • Is harmful and devastating to all involved.

If we combine a sacramental marriage with the consequences of IPV, the relationship lacks some crucial ingredients. When we focus on the aftermath (divorce, separation, etc.) and not on the wrongdoing or the warped interpretation of marriage, we are harming survivors.

It can be very difficult for a devout person of faith to leave an abusive relationship. Religion is often a reason why people stay. If you entered into a marriage honestly and with the understanding marriage is “death ’til you part,” leaving feels like giving up. If you feel this doubt and it is encouraged by a faith community (both lay persons and pastors) that preach “God hates divorce!” without exception and without a deeper understanding of the context/complexities of marriage or IPV, you feel that there is no way out. You feel conflicted and guilty for not being able to hold up your end of the marriage when, in reality, the marriage was built unequal. The message appears to be “Divorce or Stay.”

As Christians, we must have a deeper understanding of marriage as well as IPV. Marriage is not built on the standard cultural view of submission. Marriage was not created to hold one partner (and children) captive. Marriage is love, not abuse. Our faith community must not help abusers hold their victims hostage.

Posted originally here, republished with author’s permission and edited for clarity.


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