I remember being a young high-schooler when I first watched the traumatic 1984 movie, The Burning Bed. Not only was the movie a jarring depiction of domestic violence, but it was also a big turn from the usually glamorous roles of its lead actress, Farrah Fawcett. So, there was a lot of “buzz” about that movie. A severely battered wife dousing the bed of her drunk, sleeping husband with gasoline and setting it ablaze made for quite a disturbing movie. I am not sure if I remembered this at the time, but The Burning Bed was based on a true story. In the movie and in real life, the wife was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity. Recently I was curious to research what happened to the woman on whose story this movie was based.
Abuse is never at the fault of the person on the receiving end of the abuse. What I did notice about the latter part of this woman’s life, though, was that it still had episodes of turbulence. Sure, she remarried, but even that marriage was fraught with anxiety, estranged relationships with her children, and accusations of sexual abuse made towards her new husband. Frankly, I was saddened by all of that.
In our churches, hopefully we have cultivated relationships and resources to help people get out of abusive situations. However, what are we doing to help them heal beyond that? As I have said in previous blogposts, there is a difference between serving people and walking alongside them. There is a lot of shame associated with abuse. But, shame was handled on the cross, so we no longer have to walk in that. It is not always enough to help people walk out of abusive relationships, if we are not also walking with them, helping to propel them, into their newness.
Statistics have shown that people, even once they are out of abusive situations, will often return to the abusive relationship. For example, this website explains, “On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good.” And even if they do not return to that same relationship, because nothing has been done to help repair that brokenness, continual interactions with others will stem from that brokenness. The belief that people who have been abused “have the types of personalities that seek out and encourage abuse” is a myth. In fact, some studies show there is no correlation or “…set of personality traits…” that describes or predetermines whether someone will experience domestic violence.
Certainly, we cannot dictate the decisions that people make. However, a pastor once said, “The devil will send something when you’re 5 to mess you up when you’re 50.” It is important for the church to understand that the impacts of abuse are long lasting. Therefore, a need exists for care and resources to help restore people’s self-worth and see themselves as beloved children of God, whether that person is a child or an adult. How are our congregations equipped for this task of building up and walking alongside others?