The Family’s Bermuda Triangle

EPHESIANS 5:21 – 6:4

One of the things about the planet earth is that she contains many interesting and mysterious places. One such place is the Bermuda Triangle.

The Bermuda Triangle is an area of the Atlantic Ocean that is bordered by the island of Bermuda on the north, the island of Puerto Rico on the south, and the city of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on the west. It is a place into which ships, planes, and the people have vanished. It is one the earth’s mysterious places and spaces.

There have been many theories as to why this patch of earth has created such tragedy. Some say that there are magnetic currents that create problems with compasses and other navigational instruments that create confusion for pilots and captains. Others have suggested that human error is to blame for the loss of life in this area.

This image of the Bermuda triangle came to mind as I prepared for this week’s message. A message that I believe is the most difficult one that I have ever preached because it deals with what I call the family’s Bermuda Triangle: Domestic Violence.

This month is Domestic Violence awareness month and this Sunday has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday by the Noble County Domestic Violence Task Force of which I am a member. And so, in remembrance of victims’ – women and men as well as children, I prayerfully and carefully address this very serious social and spiritual issue.

I call Domestic Violence the family’s Bermuda Triangle because it has sucked families into a no-return zone of fear, rage, abuse of all kinds, and even death. This is not God’s will for spouses, parents, children, and families.

This dollhouse, used during this month by our county’s domestic violence task force to raise awareness, has some very sobering statistics attached to it.

  1. 1. In the year 2000, there were 251 domestic battery cases filed here in Noble County.
  2. 2. In the fiscal year, 2000-2001, there were 41 deaths due to domestic violence in the state of Indiana.
  3. 3. In 70% of the households in which wife abuse by men occurred child abuse also occurred.

Very sobering statistics, aren’t they?

I have had a hard time putting thoughts for today into words because the very mention of the term Domestic Violence creates a variety of emotional responses from uneasiness, to uncertainty, to anger. It has also been hard because there is a lot of denial about this issue within the church of Jesus Christ as a whole.

Al Miles, a fellow Church of God pastor and author of the book, Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, illustrates the challenge of breaking through the denial of this very serious issue in a story in which he recalls the responses to an article on men’s violence that he wrote for religion section of the Honolulu Advertiser. Al says, “male clergy reacted with the most hostility” to the article calling him, among other things,  “heretic,” “lesbian lover,” “male basher,” and “troublemaker.”

But what is domestic violence? From the Stuben County, Indiana Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence Protocol come this definition:

Domestic Violence is defined as a pattern of coercive, manipulative behavior used for the purpose of gaining power and/or control over an intimate partner. It is a learned behavior. It is not a single incident. It is not anger based.

I want us to turn to the book of Ephesians this morning to chapter 5 and verse 21. I am going to read from verse 21 to chapter 6 verse 4. Then I am going to make four suggestions based on this and other passages to help us start understanding this terribly tragic and wrong societal Bermuda Triangle.

(READ THE PASSAGE)

Suggestion number 1. “Admit there is a problem.” A few weeks ago in Wednesday night Bible study we visited the story of David and Bathsheba.

David had an affair with Bathsheba while her husband, Uriah, was with the Israelite army. He then tried to cover up both the affair and the subsequent pregnancy from the affair by first bringing Uriah home in the hope that he would act in a way that made it appear that he got her pregnant. When that failed, he had Uriah placed at the front line where it was highly likely he would be killed. And he was.

Well a year passes. Bathsheba is now David’s wife. But, the prophet Nathan comes to David, as we read in the opening verses of 2 Samuel 12, and tells a story about two men, one rich, one poor, and the one sheep owned by the poor man that is stolen and slaughtered by the rich man. This story, which is really a story about David and Uriah, infuriates David and he demands justice to be done to the rich man.

But, Nathan as we read in verse 7 says, “You are that man!” and drives home the point of David’s reckless greed and passion and David is brought face to face with what he has done.

In verse 13 David admits the truth about what he has done. David walks through his denial and confesses his sin.

When it comes to Domestic Violence we need to admit two things: 1. There is a problem and 2. The potential for Domestic Violence exists in every human heart.

Suggestion number 2. “Acknowledge and begin to understand the issues of power and control that underlie Domestic Violence.”

Returning to 2 Samuel, we encounter a tragic story in David’s family that contains elements of domestic violence. The tragedy begins in chapter 13 with the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar by a half-brother, Ammon.

Ammon is obsessed with his half-sister. In fact, as we read in verse two he is so obsessed with her that he became ill.

A crafty cousin makes suggestions as we read in verse 5 on how Ammon can “have” Tamar. They appear to be harmless at first. But, we have to understand that cousin Jonadab appeals to Ammon as the “son of a king.” And to be the son of a king was to have anything one wanted.

Possessiveness or, as we might call it today, control is a characteristic of an abusive relationship and while the text does not share all that took place behind the scenes, I think that we can safely assume that cousin Jonadab knew what cousin Ammon really wanted.

Well as the story continues, Ammon is able to set the situation up and “have” his way with Tamar. And then disregards her after he uses her. She is an object to be used, not a person to be loved and his actions make his real intentions known.

But, also I want to point out something Tamar says as she desperately tries to stop Ammon from raping her. In verse 12 she says, “You know what a serious crime it is to do such a thing in Israel.”

Domestic violence includes not just physical abuse such as hitting but also sexual abuse such as rape. It was wrong in Ammon’s day and it is still wrong!

Suggestion #3. Understand the power of words.

A couple of weeks ago I said that preacher pastors “pause before preaching” because their words have the ability to name worlds that help or hurt. That is true of all of us. The words of each one of us have tremendous power. Words spoken in anger and spite can create wounds and memories that are long lasting. This is no truer than in the verbal and emotional battering that takes place in domestically violent relationships.

In James 3:9 we read that the tongue “Sometimes praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God.”

All of us have had moments when the pressure and frustration of life spills out in a verbal torrent of words that shock both others and us after they leave our mouths. And in the heated moments of family life, we have to learn how to say, “I am angry,” or “time out,” instead of release a cascading flow of words that cause more barriers to be erected or acting out our anger on those that we love.

But in Domestic Violence words become weapons that can strike fear into the hearts of spouses, children, parents, and others. They are darts of demonic rage that can lead to acts of other kinds of violence. They are emotional cruise missiles that can strike fear and uncertainty in hearts of people who do not deserve such treatment. They are words that hurt deeply.

Finally, suggestion #4: Understand all of Ephesians 5 21 – 33.

Too many times victims of Domestic Violence have reported that passages in the Bible, such as this one, have been used to justify acts of physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse. This is misuse of the Bible! It is wrong!

We need to look at and understand the entire passage not just a few verses that tend to support a personal position. I believe that the following verses are critical to understanding this passage:

A. 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Quite frankly I wish that Paul had used another word that could have been translated from the original Greek as something other than submit. It is a powerful and emotionally laden word.

But, we need to look at what he is really saying to married couples in Ephesus. He is saying, “out of honor to Christ, let go of your personal agendas and honor and respect the other as a way of showing honor to God through your marriage. Don’t let your marriages be like those outside the church; love, honor, respect, and respond to one another like Christ does to the Church!”

In a marriage in which mutual respect and honor is practiced by both partners, the threat of domestic violence is reduced because such honor keeps anger and fear, power and control from entering the relationship and doing their terrible deeds.

B. 5:24 “As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.”

Now I’ve really stirred things up, haven’t I? I have mentioned that verse!

But, please listen, we get so hung up on the second part of this verse that we fail to look at the first part! And what does it say? As the church submits to Christ. But there is a problem here because the church is made up of flawed and sinful human beings, of both sexes, that do not often want to submit to Christ. They want to do their own thing, don’t they?

Now we need to take a look at the next verse because there is an important point I want to make with both verses in our mental mirrors.

C. 5:25 “And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean.”

What kind of love did Christ show the church? A tremendous love! A self-sacrificing love, one that caused Him to die on its behalf!

The point I want to make is this, Paul is really talking about God’s love for the church and uses the analogy of marriage to help the Ephesian believers understand just how deep and profound that love is! And in doing so, he reminds us that we, the church, struggle in our commitment to Christ because of our sinfulness and yet God’s love for us is grand and powerful.

So as he speaks, Paul is speaking to best and highest, not the lowest, common denominator in marriage. He is saying our marriages should reflect the reality of God’s love for the church and the world. The focus is on love, as Jesus Christ has demonstrated it not on power, not on position, not on control, but on love. A marriage, a relationship that is based on love is one that will grow and last. God did not create males and females, as we read in Genesis 3 to make a life-long commitment in marriage that is based on power, control, or domination, but only one thing – love and the respect, care, and support for one another that this love can create.

D. 5:28 and 5:33 5:28 says, “For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife.” 5:33 says, “So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” A spouse who engages in abuse, physically, verbally, or emotionally is filled not with love and respect for one’s self but with self-hate and therefore cannot love the other in the right way and the respect that is spoken of in this verse cannot be present because the love that creates and helps respect to thrive is not present.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself and if we have trouble loving ourselves then we are going to have trouble loving our neighbors and that includes family.

Here are some common characteristics of those who batter others. This is taken from the Steuben County material I referred to earlier:

  • Possessive
  • Suspicious
  • Intrusive
  • Assertiveness problems
  • Low self-concept
  • Few social supports

Are these characteristics of a person who loves him or herself in the way that Jesus would speak of? No, it is not.

If we are going to see families gain freedom from the vicious and demonic cycle of domestic violence, then we must enable the Holy Spirit to do the work that must be done in order to overcome denial of the problem, understand and begin to deal with the issues of power and control, being to change tones and content of speech, and understand, accept, and practice God’s pattern of relationship and care as stated in scripture.

But, it also requires something else on the part of those who batter others; It requires true and sincere repentance and acceptance of responsibility for one’s action and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to begin a life of love, honor, respect, and non-violence.

Finally victims of domestic violence must have the right to a life of, among other things, respect, safety, and dignity. No one has the right to treat another person as a possession or an object. That is wrong!!!

If you are aware of, or are concerned about a situation in which domestic violence might be occurring, I encourage you to contact Noble House and ask for help. Noble House is a shelter for victims of domestic violence here in Noble County. The number for Noble House appears on the informational card that is in your bulletin this morning.

This is a hard subject to speak on and there is more that can be said, and should be said. However, today, I simply wanted to raise our awareness of the issue and help us understand that all of us are created in the image of God and because we are, we are valuable to God and it both grieves and angers God when anyone is subjected to the terrors and anguish of Domestic Violence. May God help us be His people – people of love, forgiveness, and also justice in His way and under His direction. Amen.

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