Religion does great good and great harm and the deciding factor between the two options is often tied to how a person interprets that religion’s sacred text. That is true for my faith and probably every other faith. How I interpret and interact with the Christian scriptures will influence and shape what I do with those interpretations. Another way of saying that is that theology effects ethics. How I live is influenced by what I read. And so on.
When it comes to intimate abuse or domestic violence or abuse in relationships, this has great weight. For people of faith, relationships are often viewed and embraced through the lens of faith. When religion or faith works (i.e., when faith is working on you), everything changes because of that religion or faith. Everything excludes nothing. How you engage in and develop relationships will be adjusted or approached through the experience and understanding of your faith. I think this relates to relationship abuse and interpreting our texts in the following ways.
- Staying close to our sacred readings helps us define abuse. When our readings build on a foundation of love or justice or hope, it is easy to locate abuse or violence when it happens. In my faith tradition, love is seen in the personal life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus, in love, lived and died by love, because of love, and in order to extend perfect love. There’s no way I can express faith in Jesus and not follow that example in my marriage. That means I’m looking out for my wife’s growth and peace and nurture, not her harm. Debbie Jansen, in the article I linked in yesterday’s post, says, “If a dysfunctional definition of faith allows one partner to destroy the talents and abilities of their spouse, it can only be labeled as abuse.”
- Relationships are places of redemption. Jesus is not the only exemplar in my tradition. There are others in our scriptures and there are others in our corporate faith tradition called life. In other words, another source of how we think and talk about God is people (and the relationships we’re in). We get to look at the lives of others and witness how God has used those good people to be redemptive in relationships. So we look for women who use their identities as women to be redemptive, pulling the men around them to be something better, something different, something closer to the Divine. Or we watch and learn from the men who hold their relationships with increasing gentleness because they have been redeemed or blessed or loved by God.
- The reality of abuse changes how we talk about God. How we speak of God and God’s relationship to creation has always been important. Always. And the real and harsh truths associated with violence makes God-talk that much more significant. For instance, growing up in a Baptist church, we learned to speak of God as a Father to the fatherless and a Mother to the motherless. But those same Baptist communicators would shudder if I said to them that they were doing the same thing that my seminary profs taught me to do in acknowledging that God can be talked about in both masculine and feminine terms. The presence of brokenness in the form of relationship violence makes those connections more important, particularly since everybody can’t always relate to the over-used and often destructive masculine images of God. Those biblical images have to be paired with others that are fresh or new and still biblical.