Trigger warning: discussion of domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2 KJV
Just in case you have been out of country, live under a rock, or your eyes glaze over and you become momentarily deaf every time you see a football uniform on the TV (like I do), the foot ball world has been recently rocked by stories of family abuse in the last several weeks. A video appeared of Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancé in an elevator and charges were filed against Adrian Peterson for leaving bleeding welts all over his four year old boy’s body.
Some of the social media reaction was predictably abysmal, rife with victim blaming and people defending “spanking”. Many people asked why Rice’s fiancé later married him and in reaction, the twitter hashtag #whyistayed began to trend, with domestic violence victims giving reasons to why they stayed as long as they did in a violent relationship. The reasons ranged from knowing the most dangerous time for a person is when they leave a DV relationship to the abuser threatening their children or animals to the abuser socially isolating them so they felt they had nowhere to go. However, as Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E. addresses in #whyistayed: Chruches Support Spousal Abuse, many of the reasons had to do with the response of the church or pastors to the abuse. Many pastors told the victim to endure to be a good witness or that God hates divorce or that they should be more submissive.
When I read the responses, I was not surprised but I thought the answer was obvious. These churches should council domestic violence victims to call authorities, refer them to a shelter, and encourage them to leave. Something about this response troubled me. I realized that it was the exact response most “secular” people would give an abuse victim. Was my response “conforming to the world”?
With more progressive Christians, a common criticism is that we have conformed to the world and look no different than the secular population. After all, it is easy to feel different as a Fundamentalist or conservative Evangelical. While the “rules” that are followed vary from church to church and person to person, often make differences are external, such as women not cutting their hair and only wearing skirts and men wearing polos and khaki slacks, not drinking alcohol, not watching R rated movies, not swearing, exclusively homeschooling, and not listening to secular music. When I was in a more conservative Evangelical environment, I often felt different. I hadn’t listened to that new album all my “public school friends” were listening to and I couldn’t bring myself to say a swear word, even when I stubbed my toe.
Now, I look at those things as legalism, simply following rules. However, what makes me different than the rest of the world? What is my response to the pastor whose version of not conforming to the world is to encouraging a wife to stay with her abusive husband so she can be a good witness, or those who condone child abuse as scriptural, or those who say that God hates gay people?
It hit me then that our call in the face of abuse is not to conform to the world by handing a domestic violence victim a card to the shelter or encouraging her to leave him to leave his abusive spouse. I should not conform to the world by only reporting child abuse if I happen to see it. I should not conform to the world by voting for leaders who will provide more welfare for the poor. I should not conform to the world by just putting a Facebook profile picture confirming I believe in marriage equality.
We should be running the domestic violence shelters.
We should be preaching from the pulpits against domestic violence and child abuse.
We should be actively teaching our children respect and non-violence in relationships.
We should be feeding the poor and running food banks and soup kitchens.
We should be foster parents for abused and neglected children.
We should be meeting the needs of women who are unsure how they are going to provide for their unborn child.
We should be standing in support of the victims of sexual abuse in court.
We should be foster parents for the enormous amount of LGBTQ youth who are homeless because their parents kicked them out.
We should holding the AA and NA and Al-anon groups in our church basements.
We should be advocates and running hotlines for victims of sexual assault.
We should be different. We should not be conforming to apathy or to doing as little as possible.
We should be the ones on the front lines, combating poverty, abuse, racism, homophobia and sexism. We are the church. We are called to be the light and the salt of the world.