Tag Archives: justice

Sacred Cows in the Church: Honoring Marriages over Lives

Recently our ministry hosted a conference on domestic violence in the church. We promoted it to pastors and church counselors, but the majority of participants turned out to be former and current victims of abuse. As participants introduced themselves, I heard an all too familiar story. Several mentioned surviving abuse only to find themselves being hurt again by their churches.

One dear lady said she left the church altogether after she reported the abuse and separated from her abuser. Her husband was in leadership at the church, and the other leaders believed his story over hers– even when she provided proof and got a protective order. Rather than finding help when she mustered up enough courage to reach out for help, she received blame. According to the church, she was desecrating the holy institution of marriage by separating from her husband, and there was no way she could convince them otherwise. Eventually, she chose freedom from bondage over the church, and she has been out of church ever since. She gets sermons online and on the radio, but she is afraid to trust Christians in a community setting again. There were other participants with similar stories, but most moved to other churches rather than leaving the church altogether.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this story over my years as an advocate of domestic violence victims. Why do churches so often seem to honor institutions over people? Apparently, it’s fairly common among religious people. Jesus regularly offended the religious leaders’ understanding of the Sabbath. In their eyes, he was constantly violating it, but Jesus responded with “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, when God ordains something, it is out of love for his people, but too often we get religious and elevate the institutions above the ones they are intended to bless. Even in ancient Israel this was a problem.

Say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. Ez. 24:21

It’s interesting to me that when God brought judgment on Israel, he even destroyed his own sanctuary. The thing he had set up as holy and valuable would become completely desecrated. As a parent, I know how difficult punishing my children could be—sometimes it hurt me as much as it did them. This had to be the case for God. He could no longer sit by and watch their self-destructive course, and the only remedy was severe consequences, because all the warnings in the world had not even fazed them.

They had turned his sacred sanctuary into an object of idolatry, and as a result he even allowed it to be destroyed. He cares far more about our devotion than any institution. The modern church certainly seems to have their own set of idols, and marriage seems to be at the top of the list. When we allow a good thing that was instituted by God become more important than those it was intended to bless, we miss his heart. It reminds me of the sacred cows in India. People die of starvation daily while they walk around unfettered and unused as a source of food.

In the modern church, marriage has become a “sacred cow.”  Yes, marriage is a wonderful thing, but when one partner chooses to break the covenant it can become a source of harm rather than blessing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to save failing marriages, but when that is not possible, we must never condemn someone for leaving a harmful situation. God cares more about people than institutions—even those he established. Legalism cares more about the institutions, even when people are perishing in the midst. My heart grieves for people like that dear lady who came Saturday. Since she was not honored above her marriage, she has walked away from another institution (the church) that should be speaking life into her wounded soul.

Lord,  awaken your church, and help us learn to love you and your people above anything else– even good things you have ordained. Amen

The Blessing of Blessing Others: God’s Heart for Widows & Orphans

Let’s be honest, most of us spend a great deal of time focusing on how to improve our lot in life. We think about how we can increase our income, improve our health, and find satisfaction in our relationships. It’s rare that we meditate as much on how we can bless others. Yet, in the passage I read this morning God tells us that blessing others is one of the keys to being blessed.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Dt. 14:28-29)

I love how God highlights helping the “fatherless and the widows.” Besides traditional widows, in modern terms, we have many single moms and children who no longer have full time fathers in their lives. I believe the church has greatly failed to answer his call to these assist the “least of these” among us. This is a theme that runs throughout the bible; yet it certainly doesn’t seem to be much of a focus in many of our churches today. In my counseling ministry I have seen many single women and their children struggling with poverty. Women who chose to stay at home with their children have suddenly been forced back into the work force after a divorce. Many face constant court battles just to get a small fraction of their previous income in spousal and child support. It can take months to years to get these issues finalized, and I have seen many women give up because the system seems so unfair.

Rather than seeing churches reaching out to assist these modern widows and orphans, too often I have heard the women complain that they feel like second-class citizens because they were unable to save their marriages. Most of the women I have seen in these situations were stay-at-home moms, and did not want divorce. This is not to say the all the fault lies with husbands, but that when these situations occur the women and children are often more negatively impacted financially. In cases of abuse, abusers are masters at using finances to keep their wives at a disadvantage, and in cases of abuse we should be more concerned about the welfare of the individuals than saving a broken covenant. Too often our counsel seems reminiscent of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time who elevated rules over individuals. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen women counseled to return to abusive situations and to try to win their husbands with a quiet and gentle spirit. Unfortunately, such counsel leaves women and children in danger. Regardless of how it occurs, the bottom line is that there are children and mothers who are suffering, and the church needs to come along beside them rather than stand over them in judgment. Sadly, over the years, I have watched scores of women and children move from plenty to needy with very little help from God’s people. They are forced to seek government assistance, which is usually far from adequate. How it breaks my heart!

James 1:27 says that caring for widows and orphans is pure and undefiled religion. It is the sort of religion God accepts and desires. Perhaps we don’t get involved, because the task seems overwhelming. Yet, there are people out there in the trenches, and they tell me fundraising is extremely difficult. How difficult could it be to give a few dollars to ministries who are helping? It seems most Christians prefer to turn a blind eye to this type of need. According to this verse, refusing to see the need will not only hurt the women and children in need, but it will withhold blessings from the church as well. Until his people begin to obey his command to care for widows and orphans, I doubt we will see the revival so many of us say we want. Until we learn to care for those who are suffering and needy, we will not be the church he desires. God’s heart is for justice, and caring for the needs of others. When we rise up and answer that call, we will finally be acting like his people, and then we will bring blessings on ourselves.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Is. 58:5-12)

 Lord, help you church rise up to become repairers of broken walls and restorers. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, but with you all things are possible. Open our eyes and show us how to minister most effectively. Lead us and we will follow. Lord, please wake up your slumbering church to the needs of the fatherless and widows in their midst. Amen