Why I no Longer Believe in the “Permanence View” Of Marriage

The “Permanence View” of marriage is the view that a marriage is always for life for Christians. Some believe that even divorce is a sin: all believe that remarriage is a sin. This belief is based largely on Jesus’ words:

“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32

The Permanence View is common among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians. Some of the most outspoken proponents of it are John Piper, Gordon J. Wenham, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I once firmly held this view. Here is a summary of my previous position: below, is my current position.

1. The most important thing about marriage is that it reflects Gods glory (John Piper)

2. God does not break His covenant with us: we should never break our covenant to our spouse

3. Jesus said, “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mat. 9:6, Mark 10:9)

4. Jesus said if anyone marries a divorced person, they are committing adultery (Mat. 5:32, Luke 16:18)

5. Paul said that if a divorced woman marries another man while her husband is still living, she is an adulteress (Rom. 7:1-3)

6. Paul said that a woman should not divorce her husband: if she does, she should remain unmarried or go back to him (1 Cor. 7:11)

7. In a fairly complicated (but convincing) argument, Heth and Wenham make a lengthy argument based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4

a) the reason why a divorced couple could not remarry in the Old Testament is that marriage bound them together like family.

b) Therefore, remarriage would be like incest.

c) This also means that divorce does not break the marriage bond (they are still “like family,” this is why they cannot be remarried…do you understand the logic?)

d) …thus a divorced person is still married. This is why their second marriage counts as adultery

8. Jesus & Paul said that anyone who has sex, even with a prostitute “becomes one flesh” with that person. (Mark 10:8, 1 Cor. 6:16) Therefore, having sex with a second partner is being “one flesh” with three or more people, or committing adultery

9. It is OK that the “permanence view” of marriage consigns many spouses (especially women) to terrible, even abusive marriages, because life is supposed to be suffering. It is good character development. (Nancy Leigh Demoss)

10. It is also OK that this will result in a lot of singles. As John Piper once mentioned, “Such singles are honestly a great blessing to our church.”

…here is why I no longer hold to this view:

A Biblical Basis for Divorce and Remarriage:

1. According to Jesus, “man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man.” (Mark 2:27) This means that rules were meant to guide and aid human behaviour, not provide inflexible and painful boxes to limit expression and the fluidity of real life

But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Matthew 12:7

2. He further said that God desires “mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mat. 12:7). The permanence view seems unmerciful, demands a very high sacrifice, and seems to condemn the innocent

3. Jesus, James, and Paul say that the Christian life should be about protecting the most vulnerable (Mark 12:40, 1 Tim. 5:16, Jam. 1:27): but the permanence doctrine seems to protect abusers, and force victims to go back to bad marriages. It provides no protection for abused spouses. Most churches have no singles ministries, and I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of a “single mothers pastor” in a church. Divorced and separated people often have little support in the church.

4. Jeff Crippen argues that there are not many types of covenants in the bible, but only two: bilateral and unilateral covenants. Unilateral covenants are covenants where only one party fulfills all of the obligations of the covenant (eg. God to Christians) whereas in bilateral covenants, both parties have obligations.

5. Marriage is a bilateral covenant.

a) If a spouse commits adultery, they are breaking the covenant. If they abandon the other, they are breaking the covenant. If they abuse (the opposite of “love, cherish, have hold, in sickness and in health… “) then they are breaking the covenant.

b) Once the covenant is broken it is…broken. The party that broke it is responsible for the dissolution

c) It is not reasonable to expect one party to continue being bound to the covenant that the other has broken, because marriage is a bilateral covenant. This would be abusive and unreasonable.

d) Once one or both parties have broken it, the covenant is no longer in effect.

e) If one party choses to get a divorce, when the marriage is already “over,” that person is not necessarily guilty of breaking the covenant. Physically leaving one’s house is not the act of “breaking the covenant,” when said covenant has already been broken.

f) The words, “she should not leave” (1 Cor. 7:10) are not meant to prevent a spouse whose marriage covenant has already been broken from physically and legally leaving their marriage.

13 

Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

Malachi 2:13-16, NLT

6. It is clear that marriage is meant to be a lifelong union. The most common form of abuse is for a spouse to seek a divorce out of boredom or due to a desire for another person. This is the practice that was confronted in Malachi and in Matthew: religious men seeking a divorce to legally commit adultery by switching to another woman. When Jesus said, “What man has joined together, let man not put asunder,” he was saying that the marriage covenant should not be broken. It is cruel and ungodly to end the marriage for any reason, except if the covenant has already been broken, as in the case of adultery.

Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

Matthew 19:3, NASB

7. Paul also adresses this in 1 Corinthians 7, stating that a mixed marriage is not grounds for divorce: unless the unbelieving spouse breaks the covenant, the believer should stay. If she has left, she should return, lest the covenant be broken.

But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commitadultery.

Matthew 5:32, NASB

8. The person who broke the covenant bears the guilt of “adultery,” according to Jesus. (Mat. 5:32)

Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living?For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.

Romans 7:1-3, NASB

9. Paul is using marriage as an illustration in Romans 7:1-3. He is using shorthand, and speaking in generalities: we understand what he means. Usually, marriage is until death. He is using marriage here to illustrate a theological point about covenants being broken in death.

a) This verse is not actually about the remarriage question, which is handled elsewhere. It is unreasonable to expect that every time Paul mentions an issue he will mention all of the exceptions and caveats. This verse needs to be interpreted according to the verses dealing more specifically with the topic. This verse should not be read as a once-for-all statement, which overrules the other passages

b) Taking this verse out of context would seem to say that any remarriage is a sin. This unreasonable, because actually Jesus has stated elsewhere that remarriage is clearly permitted in the case if adultery

10. The “incest argument” of Heth and Wenham (above) is…

a) A very recent argument with virtually no historical support. It has never enjoyed widespread support. Even John Piper says that not all of his elders at his own church agree with his position on this point. Furthermore…

b) The logic of the argument would seem to forbid a divorced couple from getting remarried (that is literally what the verse in question forbids). But this is exactly what such teachers are trying to mandate! They are actually saying the exact opposite of their own proof-text!

c) The “one flesh” argument would seem to say that anyone who is not a virgin when they marry is committing adultery. This would include rape victims. This seems unreasonable.

d) (Or) if previous sexual experiences are not a hindrance to marriage, but a previous marriage is a hindrance, then they are being inconsistent. The argument is supposed to be that sex creates a bond that divorce cannot sever. But in this case, previous sexual encounters are not the problem, but a previous marriage covenant is the problem. Which is it? Is it the marriage covenant, or physical sex which is permanently binding? They seem inconsistent on this point.

11. Requiring a second marriage to dissolve (as some do) would cause both parties to break their new vows. Calling these vows illegitimate is unfounded, because even unreasonable vows in the Bible are binding

12. Requiring a person to return to their divorced spouse or remain single may cause an abused person to return to, or never to leave, a situation of abuse. This is a terrible reality, which I don’t think is given nearly enough weight in these discussions

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1:27, NASB

13. God maintains over and over that He has a heart for the oppressed and outcasts. The permanence view of marriage literally creates widows and orphans.

14. The Bible states over and over that humans are sexual beings, and that we are not meant to be alone

a) It was not good for the first human to be alone (Gen. 2:18)

b) Jesus said celibacy was not recommended, and should be only for those who had a biological necessity, or those who chose it (Mat. 19:12)

c) Paul recommended celibacy, in view of the terrible persecution the church was the experiencing: however, he recommended that those with strong sexual desires should disregard this advice and pursue marriage

The younger widows should not be on the list [to receive church support], because their physical desires will overpower their devotion to Christ and they will want to remarry. Then they would be guilty of breaking their previous pledge. [Apparently, receiving church support included a pledge to celibacy] And if they are on the list, they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t. So I advise these younger widows to marry again, have children, and take care of their own homes. Then the enemy will not be able to say anything against them. For I am afraid that some of them have already gone astray and now follow Satan.

1 Timothy 5:11-15, NLT

d) He encourages young widows to seek marriage, to prevent their becoming “busybodies” about the church, and also being lead into temptations (1 Tim. 5:11-15).

e) Requiring that a normal, sexually-active person live the whole rest of their lives without love or sexual fulfillment seems contrary to the design of God. It seems to be “tying up heavy burdens,” on people, without “lifting a finger to help.” (Mat. 23:4)

15. The Permanence View seems to place an incredible amount of power in the hands of abusers. Imagine. An abusive person can deceptively marry an innocent victim. They may abuse them physically, sexually, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and in other ways. But this doctrine makes the victim feel trapped. Do they really want to live their whole lives alone? If the abuser decides to leave, they can break the covenant, and have married or unmarried sex with whomever they want, and move on with their lives. Yet this doctrine ties a victim forever to their abuser. The victim is told that their only hope ever of sexual and romantic intimacy is with their abuser. Does this sound like God’s heart for the “widows and orphans” to you?

16. The Christian religion is centred on love (Mat. 22:37-38), and love involves consent.

a) Non-consensual intimate relationships are subjugation, not love

I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce.

Jeremiah 3:7-8, NASB

b) God allows Israel to enter into a bilateral covenant with Him. When they are unfaithful, He is patient but He finally divorced the northern state of Israel, as well as the Southern state of Judah. God takes Judah back, and makes a new spiritual covenant only with the faithful Israelites. God invites gentiles into this new covenant.

c) The fact that God divorced Israel proves that divorce itself cannot be a sin: because God is incapable of sin. (Jam. 1:13)

d) God allows people to leave this relationship. As CS Lewis famously explains: “Hell is locked from the inside,” and, “There are only two types of poeple, those who say to God, ‘thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘thy will be done.'” That is to say, God is willing to allow people to leave Him, and exit their relationship with Him.

e) But the permanence view seems to lock people into a relationship that they no longer chose, even if the covenant has already been broken by the other party

My EMDR/PTSD Experience

I hope one day soon to restart my podcast. I would like to prioritize interviews, and begin with several interviews with the main counsellors who have helped me on my recent journey. I would like to talk to Bob, the counsellor from Alongside who helped me so sinficantly with my Post Traumatic Stress syndrome from my kidnapping in Africa through the technique called EMDR.

A few weeks ago, as I was driving home, I was thinking of this and running through a dialogue with Bob in my mind. However, I found that I did not really want to think of the specifics of the accident. I could talk about it in the actual interview, I thought, but I don’t want to right now.

This decision alone was huge. Before, making such a decision would have been pointless: the memories of my trauma were everywhere, and they popped up all of the time. Literally — all. of. the. time. But this time I just casually said, No, I don’t think I wan to open up that box.

I still wanted to continue with my mental interview, and so I created a metaphor. The interview went like this:

Myself: I just wanted to thank you so much for the difference that you made in my life through EMDR.”

Bob: Oh, you’re welcome!

Myself: I would like to talk more with you about how it works. But first, I thought it would be nice for listeners to hear from me just what a difference it made.

Bob: That would be great!

Myself: Well, as you know, something bad happened in Africa. My life was in danger, and for several hours I was a captive with no escape and was forced to do things (sign papers, etc) and go places (into dark rooms) that I did not want to.

Bob: Yes, this sense of intense danger and powerlessness is the precursor to PTSD. Your mind was overwhelmed, and stored the memories in a very jumbled way in your mind. Your mind also wanted to “fix” the trauma after it happened, by making sense of it, and making sure that it would not happen again. Most PTSD survivors find that they struggle with unwanted thoughts, nightmares, thoughts intruding into their regular lives, obsessing about the trauma, and very intense guilt.

Myself: Yes, that about sums it up. When they did a brain scan at your retreat centre, they found that a part of my brain was lit up almost all of the time. I often had headaches in that region. Part of me was still trying to escape from that small room in Africa.

Bob: OK, so what did that feel like? What did EMDR do for you?

Myself: Well, it was a bit like this. Imagine that there had been a very tragic death. Someone important to you had died. Not just died, but been dismembered. And now, their body parts were scattered everywhere.

Bob: OK…

Myself: So now, when I go to brush my teeth, I see a dismembered arm there next to my toothbrush. And my heart suddenly races, and I take a few deep breaths. Everyone around me is still talking and I’m trying to get the kids ready for bed. But inside, I am now trying to think how to put this person back together again.

Bob: Wow…

Myself: And then I go down to talk to my wife, but on the way I trip over a dismembered foot. No idea why it is there. These things don’t make sense. But rather than talk to her, I walk over to the kitchen. There is a dismembered leg on the table. I sit and spend about ten minutes thinking about the accident, and trying to put these two limbs back together. I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and put then in the corner for safe keeping. My wife asks me, “What were you thinking about?” and I say, “Nothing. How was your day?” I try hard to come back to reality, and feel normal.

Bob: And so these dismembered body parts you are talking about — these are images from your accident?

Myself: Yes. I don’t want to talk about the accident. It doesn’t feel nice, even now. And so I am making a metaphor. But in many ways it was like that. Like I kept tripping over dismembered body parts all over. They had the same effect on me as a rotting hand would have on a normal person: except that I was the only one who could see them. Sometimes it took a lot of effort to not be frustrated at the kids, or to pay attention to my wife as she talked about “boring normal life.” My trauma seemed very important to me, in a way, even though I just wanted to stop thinking about it.

Bob: And did you try to stop thinking about it?

Myself: All the time! Of course I did! I would shove the body parts anywhere that I could: under the mattress, in the garbage, buried in the garden, or thrown off a cliff. Somehow, they would always come creeping back in.

Bob: Spooky!

Myself: Yes, it was spooky. And the worst of it was the messages.

Bob: Messages?

Myself: Yes. They all had messages. Sometimes they would speak them, sometimes they were written in big black letters, and attached like an old-fashioned price tag to a finger or an eyeball or a femur.

Bob: What did the messages say?

Myself: Mostly, variations of, “It was your fault.” That was the worst message. Also things like, “What were you doing there?” “Your kids could have been orphans!” “You were in over your head!” “If you had’ve done xyz, you would have died! You were this close to a horrible death, and you didn’t even know it!” “You’re such an idiot.” “You’re such a fool!” “You always mess up.” “You’re never enough.”

Bob: Wow. Those are some pretty negative messages. How did it affect the rest of your life?

Myself: I knew, on some level, that the messages weren’t true. But it was very hard to go on with life sometimes. I felt like these messages were the truth, and I was just trying to delude myself that I was OK, and a good person. I felt like that accident tested me, and found me wanting. Really, I was a terrible person inside. I was a coward, I was weak, I was a bumbling fool that almost got himself killed. That is how I felt.

Bob: OK, so aside from trying to stop thinking about it, what else did you do?

Myself: Something that really didn’t help was the “testimony culture” of Christianity. I really felt like since this accident happened while being a missionary, I should weave that into a testimony somehow. And so in addition to the times when it popped up unannounced, I was trying to stick hands and arms and limbs together with bible verses, to make some sort of a sermon or testimony.

Bob: Gross

Myself: Yeah: that really cost me a lot of night’s sleep. It was really unhelpful to try to do that.

Bob: Did you end up talking about it to others?

Myself: I did. I used it as a sermon illustration once, in fairly great detail. It really wiped me out. It brought up a lot of emotion while I was speaking, which definitely communicated loudly to the audience, and made for a memorable sermon. But it was extremely taxing for myself. I remember leaving with a very strong headache. Then I had to teach for four hours: it was not a wise move.

Bob: Did you talk to counsellors as well?

Myself: The day after the accident, I talked to a director with my mission about it.

Bob: How did that go?

Myself: He meant well, but he listened to my side, then told me all of the things that I did wrong. Later he sent out an email to everybody else, earning them not do do what I did.

Bob: Did he mention you?

Myself: No, but everybody already knew about it. It was a tight community. It’s worth noting that I had not received specific training on handling traffic accidents in that country: they are handled completely different than in the west. Also, our office was in the territory of a very powerful gang. Almost nobody knew this before my accident. Those were some details shared in the email. I was glad others now knew, but the timing of it also made it feel (to me) like I should have known these things, and that I was out of line.

Bob: What was that like?

Myself: Not good. This time is really a blur to me. It felt like my brain liquified and was trying to find itself again. The story of “it was your fault” and “you’re such a bumbling fool!” Made sense to me. So my brain kinda ran with it. I started feeling a lot of guilt.

Bob: What did that feel like, in your body?

Myself: My wife tells me “you were not alright.” I’m not exactly sure what that meant. I was there, but not there. There were things that I had to do, and I did them, including facing my accuser and going to the police station again. Somehow I found the strength to be totally normal when I wanted to, but I was not seeking and things like casual conversation were totally impossible. My right eye began twitching and that stayed with me for three years. It still comes back.

Bob: What helps, when your eye twitches?

Myself: Oddly enough — eating bananas. Something I read online. I think it’s a potassium deficiency? But my eye never twitched before the accident.

Bob: Did you have any more helpful interactions?

Myself: I did several sessions. A few days after the accident, I talked with a therapist who listened to the details, and calmly said, “It sounds like you did your best. This accident really was not your fault, but you made good decisions for yourself and your family.” That really helped a lot. I think that my stress level went from about a nine to a four out of ten.

Bob: That is a big reduction!

Myself: Yes, but then it stayed there.

Bob: Did you try other types of counselling?

Myself: I tried some Christian visualization counselling called Caring for the Heart. I visualized Jesus there with me, and forgave everyone.

Bob: Did that help?

Myself: I’m not sure. It felt good while I was doing it. But I think that my stress still stayed at about a four. Strangely enough, although I forgave everybody and forgave myself and God and the whole works…I still struggled with feelings of both guilt and blame. The accident involved a motorbike, for example. I had a hard time not feeling feelings of rage towards reckless motorbikers after that. I think I felt less rage towards motorbikes after the counselling. But I still felt just as much internalized shame towards myself.

Bob: So how did EMDR help?

Myself: Well, as you know, you asked me what message summarized all of the other messages. I said something like, “I was a fat, ugly, white, incompetent fool. I got in over my head, and almost got myself killed.”

Bob: Yes, I remember.

Myself: Then, you asked me what message I would like to believe. This one took me longer to think of. But somewhere inside of me, I knew that those messages weren’t true. I know that a lot of people have analyzed the accident, and told me that I did very well, considering the impossible circumstances. I forget exactly what I wrote down. But it was something contrary to the “ugly and fat” message.

Bob: OK, and then what happened?

Myself: Well, you gave me those vibrating things in my hands. First the right, then the left would vibrate. When they did, a light would flash on top. This would get my eyes moving back and forth. I felt like as I moved my eyes like this, I went into a calmer and more meditative state of mind. We worked together to imagine a “happy and secure” place, which was for me running down a trail in a light rain. I guess so that I could mentally return there after the session. Then you asked me to think of the event for a few minutes, then pause and talk about it. I was not very good at it at first. I just ran around collecting all of the body parts, and reading the tags, and then everything that I had written onto the bottom of the tags. Like, “It was my fault…but it wasn’t really my fault, because of xyz, but also, this connects to that and there’s this bible verse and, and…”

Bob: I think I probably told you not to think rationally about the accident.

Myself: Yes, you told me just to hold the images in my mind. Just to let them pass by, like images going past the windows of a train.

Bob: How was that?

Myself: Hard! I had spent so much time dealing just with the jumbled “body parts,” I hadn’t really thought about the accident. I tried to bring up memories. The images were very strange. It was like there were two-dimensional slides of things from that time. They didn’t seem life-like, and didn’t always fit what I thought I remembered about the event.

Bob: Where did that take you?

Myself: Well, as we would do the vibrations, I slowly worked my way in my mind through the stages of the accident. It was all very familiar: and yet I noticed things that I hadn’t seen before.

Bob: What did that feel like, in your body?

Myself: It was taxing, and tiring. I went back to our dorm exhausted after that session. However, it was not traumatic.

Bob: How do you mean?

Myself: It is traumatic to find a toe in your coffee. It is not traumatic to attend a funeral. It was really sad, it really bothered me. All of me felt the pain of it. But it didn’t disturb me in the same way. It wasn’t “wrong,” if you know what I mean? It just felt like…you know, for the first time, it felt like I was feeling the right things at the right times for the right events.

Bob: (wisely) hm….

Myself: I think that the first thing that I said after we were done our first session was, “Well, that happened.” That was actually a very profound thing to say. It happened. I am honouring it. I am admitting that it happened. And it happened. It happened in the past. We are honouring the pain of it through grief. It was terrible, what happened. But now, it is in the past. It happened.

Bob: That makes sense. When we have a traumatic event, it overwhelms the brain’s systems. And the memory is not stored into long term storage correctly. It is scattered around the brain, and the brain tries to process it. This processing usually happens in the front part of your brain, responsible for rational thought, and things like guilt and shame. We do not exactly know why EMDR works. We only know that when we move our eyes rapidly back and forth (or stimulate the body bilaterally, for example through vibrating one hand, then the other) it turns all of our brains on. This enables our whole brains to process the event, and to gradually put it into its place.

Myself: That is really how I felt. I went back to our dorm that night, and quickly journaled out everything that we had discussed. (See my journal entry, here) It made me sad, but again — did not traumatize me. I did not feel “activated,” like I needed to solve a problem, or like my heart was racing. I did not feel guilty — just sad. When my wife read it, she commented that I had noticed many details I had not noticed before. Later, when I read this version of the accident and compared it to what I had written before (I have written the accident out a few times) what stood out to me was the calmness of it. In previous versions, I am so angry at some of the people that hurt me, and sometimes very defensive of my own actions, or ashamed. I did not ever feel like I could share the records with anyone. It came across as vindictive and spiteful. But this account was just…neutral. “Here lies the record of what happened.”

Bob: How did that look inside of you?

Myself: It was like there was an undertaker who came from deep inside. He was a quiet man: sad, but regal. He was very clean and professional, dressed in a suit. As we worked, he quietly moved around my mind, collecting body parts, and placing them in a casket. As he did, “Amazing Grace,” “It is Well,” and “When Peace Like a River,” rang out on the church organ, and purple and dim orange light filtered through the stain glass windows. When I left, I felt peaceful, sombre, and more whole.

Bob: Sometimes, when we do EMDR, there is something like a “deep wisdom” that comes up from deep inside and speaks to our issues. Did you have an experience like this?

Myself: Oh yes! For sure I did!

Bob: Would you like to share that?

Myself: Well, the ordering of things is a bit hard to reconstruct. As you recall, we had several sessions, and we kept getting distracted by all my other issues and things that I had always wanted to talk to a counsellor about. We talked about masturbation, Pink Floyd, and how to discipline children in an emotionally healthy way.

Bob: I remember!

Myself: …but once we got back to the actual event, I remember at some point, a strong message began to surface. A continual theme, as I reviewed the accident with fresh eyes was that actually, I did pretty damn good in how I handled things. I was there because I cared. I put myself in a very difficult country, in a difficult and dangerous situation. Not because I was a fool or selfish, but because I cared deeply — even for people I had never met. When the accident happened, I made a split-second decision to save my family, at the risk of my own safety. This decision cost me, and was what ultimately placed me in harm’s way: but it was a brave decision. I may have saved my wife’s life: and I may have aced my own children from significant childhood trauma. I had not been trained on how to handle traffic accidents in this country: I was doing the best that I could with the knowledge that I had. I saw how time and again, one tactic did not work, I shifted to another tactic. I eventually found the tactic (passivity and contrition) that worked to get me out of that dangerous situation.

Bob: How would you summarize that?

Myself: I remember the message, I am competent. That came very powerfully from inside. All of a sudden, the body part that I was holding now had the message attached to it, “You are competent.” The message was written in the same dark, permanent marker. I did not write it, but I knew that it was true. I handed it to the mortician as he soberly placed it in the coffin. The coffin was now becoming full of little white tags, all with the message, “you are competent,” “you are competent,” “you are competent.” I feel like crying. It was very true, that message! I still did not like looking into the coffin, obviously.

Bob: Obviously.

Myself: There was another message. Looking at it again, I began to see (becoming emotional) just how often God came to save me. I did not even realize it, but even when I thought I was completely alone, I was surrounded by deliverers.

Bob: Go on…

Myself: I found out later that even my main captor was secretly a Christian, who was pretending to be angry, to work for my release. God had gotten hundreds of people praying for me. Several people found their way into the room with me. I found out later that even the army was ready to pull me out if I needed it!

Bob: Wow!

Myself: God…(gentle sob)…God was there. Not just in a spiritual sense, like I was told to visualize by the Christian counsellor. But God was rescuing me. It is so true, I cannot deny it. I began to see many of the body parts had this message written on them as well. I feel like this message was written in red, so deep and so clear: “God is always coming to rescue you.” Over and over I saw this message (tears). As we kept talking, the coffin slowly filled with body parts. From my vantage point, I could not see the body parts anymore: but all of the tags stood up. They were black and red: “You are competent, and your God is always coming to save you!”

Bob: I think I remember that we ran out of time towards the end.

Myself: Yes, you said something when we were about half an hour overtime. Thank you for being generous with your time!

Bob: What did it feel like to be asked to wrap up quickly?

Myself: Well, there were kind of endless details after the accident that were also hard. Conversations with the mission (in themselves, traumatic). I had to go back to the police station. I had to face the person who had been in the accident, and had caused my kidnapping. There were lots of triggers that I did not have time to process with the same care.

Bob: Did these things stay “out of the coffin” after the fact?

Myself: Strangely, no. When you hinted that we were running out of time, I distinctly remember myself being pulled up from the scene. I saw all of it — in quite vivid detail, actually, I can still visualize it — from the air. I could see all the buildings, the street, the accident from above. All of this is in the past, I thought. I guess it went in the coffin too. I am not sure.

Bob: What did it feel like leaving the session.

Myself: Honestly, it was a bit weird. I feel like I could have handled 3-4 more sessions on the accident. I hate it when counselling sessions run out of time! But that is the reality of life.

Bob: Yes…

Myself: I do remember as we were wrapping up, I suddenly and very calmly said, “I almost died.” I think that was the first time that I really got it.

Bob: Yes, I remember you saying that.

Myself: I left, and I said it again, several times: “I almost died.” When I got back, I told my wife I was going for a run. I put music on and just cleared my mind and jogged through the woods.

Bob: Jogging is also bilateral stimulation. It can also stimulate the EMDR effect, especially if you are jogging through the woods, as your eyes will naturally be drawn back and forth.

Myself: I don’t remember the jog much. But I think that is when the mortician gathered up the last of the toes and swept up the fingernails and put it all in the coffin. I looked in for one last look, but he had already wrapped it up like an Egyptian mummy. The memory was all white and clean and together. In big black letters he had written very darkly and and in block letters on the wrapping, “You are competent,” and below that, in very full, curvy and vivacious letters it said, “…and my God is always coming to save me!” It made me happy and sad to see it. It makes me want to cry when I think about it, but in a good way. By the time that I got home, the mortician had closed the casket. The casket was an old Egyptian sarcophagus. It was made in the shape of the dead body, but all in gold and beautiful. On the chest was a small plate that read, “One day in Africa, there was an accident. The negotiations went sideways, and I was kidnapped for an afternoon, and had symptoms of post traumatic stress for four years, until they were resolved through EMDR.” Anyone who wants to can see the sarcophagus. It really is beautiful. It is kind of an elegant lie, in the way that all very true things are. Anytime that I want to, I can open the lid. Inside, I can read the message, “I am competent, and my God is always coming to save me.” This message is not for others, they would not understand. But I know that it is true. It is very true. It was written in strong marker: I did not write it, and cannot erase it.

Bob: That is really beautiful

Myself: On his way out the door (I’m speaking metaphorically)

Bob: Yes, I gathered that…

Myself: On his way out the door, the mortician handed me a card. It was from one of the body parts. It read the same message, in the same writing, “You are competent, and my God is always coming to save me.” I didn’t know where to put it, so I attached it to my left index finger. It flutters about from time to time, and sometimes when I get scared, it catches my attention. Then, the mortician went out the door, and I think he climbed down a deep well to go to sleep. He is happy down there and will come back anytime that he is needed.

Bob: It has now been six months since your EMDR session. How has your experience been since?

Myself: Well, now that I think about it, the weeks right after the session were a bit messy still. I think the mortician and I were still working to find all of the “body parts” from all the parts of the brain. After the funeral, we had to keep opening up the casket to put in one more piece.

Bob: Few things in the mind are completely cut-and-dried.

Myself: Yes, but the EMDR really gave me a great tool. Once I learned what it felt like, I could give myself a hug, bow my head, and tap my shoulders alternately. I could drop pretty quickly into an EMDR state, and invite my brain to fix itself.

Bob: Really? What was this like?

Myself: Well, for example, maybe I was bothered about something, but didn’t know what. Maybe I only knew that I felt irritable, or my stress level seemed high.

Bob: So what did you do?

Myself: I learned to find a quiet place — usually in the shower, actually — and to do this self-EMDR practice on myself. I would ask myself questions. “Why are you stressed,” or “What fo you want to say to me, body?” I learned to talk to myself as though there were a small boy living inside. This boy was not very articulate, but had very strong emotions.

Bob: Yes, that is a common way of describing our unconscious and emotional minds.

Myself: I learned that when I felt “off,” I could often ask my inner child what the problem was. If I listened, he would tell me.

Bob: What did that feel like?

Myself: It would usually be one or two words, but accompanied with a lot of emotions. It was always something that surprised me, but instantly made sense. Something that I had not been paying attention to, but should have. Like, “I am scared,” and I had a mental picture of a person or situation that my rational mind thought was normal, but parts of me felt uneasy. Or else “I am lonely,” and I realized that I have been working very hard, and not taking adequate time for self care.

Bob: That sounds like a really powerful tool.

Myself: Yes, it has been! EMDR not only helped me to resolve this very significant trauma, but also helped me to see myself as a whole person, composed of body, soul, and mind. It helped me to get in touch with the deep wisdom of my mind, and it enabled “all of me” to begin speaking and communicating once again. Really, it has boosted me onto a journey of becoming a whole, and integrated person.

Bob: That is really wonderful! I am so glad that I was able to be part of this experience.

Myself: When it came to EMDR, you were just the facilitator. My own brain did all of the work.

Bob: I know. This is how it usually is.

Myself: …but when it came to other topics, your wisdom was incredible!

Bob: Oh, thank you!

Myself: Now that we’ve talked bout Pink Floyd, there is a song from Queen that I really would like to discuss sometime.

Bob: I hope that we can make it happen!

Myself: Sometime soon, I hope!

Bob: OK, well, glad that I could help. God bless!

****

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a clinically proven therapy technique for resolving post traumatic stress and other traumas. It is non-obtrusive, and simply involves moving one’s eyes back and forth while thinking about the trauma. I have also found that it can be helpful in “mindfulness,” or in the journey of becoming more aware of one’s own emotions, or the feelings that one is feeling in their body.

Christians should not feel afraid of EMDR. Unlike talk therapy, there is very very little “talking” in an EMDR session: the person simply relives the event. It feels very normal, like having a conversation. No matter what your theology, it does not seem like EMDR should be objectionable: you won’t get demons, and you won’t get led astray. This is just your mind healing itself.

People who have been through a deeply painful trauma (such as I was) may rightly feel that “they just don’t want to go there.” I totally get that. There is a wisdom in each person that will not allow them to face a mental trauma that they are not able to endure. I will not tell anyone to ignore that voice. EMDR is hard work, and it is emotionally draining. It is just wise to be in a place where you can handle it. However, considering the enormous relief of having trauma “put to rest,” one may consider that it is worth the short-term pain for long-term gain. I would say, from experience, that EMDR does not feel like reliving your trauma. It feels more like attending a funeral about your trauma. To put it another way: your anxiety, fight-or-flight, adrenaline responses are not triggered (at least, they weren’t for me). Rather, what I experienced was profound sadness, and feelings of loss. Afterwards, I felt sad for a while, and also felt like, “wow, I did a lot of hard work!” I wanted to sleep, and do “sad things,” like drinking coffee and staring out a window into the rain would have been perfect. It was a sad time, but “grief means something is moving into the past.” Grief is not all bad. I understand that some people may not want to do EMDR because they do not want to face their trauma. That is your own decision to make; I hope my thoughts here can help you make that decision.

People who have been traumatized over a long-term relationship, or a childhood of moderate to extreme domestic abuse or dysfunction can also find relief through EMDR. As I found towards the end of my session, it seems that the mind is able to “summarize” things: as I flew at around 300 ft above, I could see most of the city in which I was kidnapped. My mind told itself, all of that is in the past. And really, it was. And so it seems hopeful that EMDR could help a person realize that all of that is in the past, as it relates to a difficult person or relationship in their past.

For a more detailed look at the event in question, and for a record of what I wrote after the EMDR session, you can read my post, “I Almost Died in Africa.

20 Reasons Masturbation Is Not A Sin

1. The story of Onan in the bible is not actually about masturbation. It is about coitus interruptus. Onan was having sex with his brothers widow, as the law required. However, he was pulling out and “spilling his seed on the ground” at the last minute, so that she would not be one pregnant and bear a son to inherit her estate and protect her in old age: he wanted her property for himself. It was a cruel and dastardly action, which is why God killed him for it. He was not struck down for masturbating. 🙄 (Gen. 38:6-10)

2. The Catholic arguments that “spilling seed” is wasteful or even murderous is completely unscientific and wrong.

3. “Seminal emissions” are mentioned in the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. If one has such an emission, they are to wash, and they are unclean until evening. This is exactly the same as regular sex, menstruation, and a host of other bodily functions. Ceremonial cleanliness is not about sin: it’s about “being clean.” These passages do not condemn masturbation.

4. True enough, the pagan nations around Israel worshipped fertility gods, and the Ashera poles were giant phalluses. But their worship involved temple prostitution, and masturbation is not mentioned. This should not be brought up in the current discussion.

5. Both men and women have natural build ups in their bodies, which crave release. Without sex or masturbation, these buildups can make it hard to concentrate, hard to keep ones mind off of sex, hard to resist illicit lustful thoughts, hard to sleep, and can sometimes (for men) become physically painful

6. Making it a sin to masturbate seems to place many people in a “no way to win” situation. If they resist throughout the day, they may have very vivid and potentially troubling “wet dreams,” often with very vivid sexual images, leading to deep shame and confusion.

7. If they find it impossible to resist the urge to masturbate, they may feel that, “well, I am sinning anyways. I might as well enjoy it!” …causing them to engage in lustful thoughts, pornography, or other sinful or unhelpful practices

8. If such a person finds that they are thus caught in cycles of irresistible temptation, they may become far too comfortable with the temptation—sin—shame—repent—feel forgiveness—repeat cycle. This cycle may start to excuse greater and greater sexually deviant behaviours

9. Feelings of shame surrounding ones sexuality may lead to feelings that “sex is dirty,” and that it should be divorced from ones life. Like in Jeckyl and Hyde, ones sexuality could become something hidden, ugly, and shameful. In the darkness, it may grow very dark and twist towards the perverted, the selfish, and even the criminal. Or, perhaps equally devastating, the person may become successful in really killing their sexuality, thus destroying an integral part of what makes them human

10. …it seems like a far better option would be to simply masturbate — with no shame, and without lust or pornographic images — to release the “pressure,” and go on with ones life. Far from encouraging lust, it seems that such an action could be essential in fighting lustful thoughts and porn addiction

11. It is true enough that the more that one masturbates, the more the body will adjust to increase the bodily desires. Excessive masturbation is a problem recognized by psychotherapists and others. This seems to be a reason to have adult conversations with trusted friends or therapists about “how much is too much?” A person may perhaps find the need to work out some guidelines, even rules for themselves. By way of illustration, it may not be a sin to eat the whole box of Oreo cookies…but it may be unwise and unhealthy. Similar guidelines could be made for ones personal practices, without any shame. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12

12. One important factor for Christians to weigh is that masturbation can create powerful links to seemingly unrelated images, thoughts, and even objects. These may also be things to discuss and weigh out carefully in ones own conscience. “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” 1 Corinthians 10:23

13. It is true enough that in marriage, ones body belongs in part to the other, and that masturbation may dissipate important sexual energy that should be directed at ones spouse. 1 Cor. 7:4-5 If a spouse is not comfortable with masturbation, the other probably should not engage. However, this is not a reason to forbid it for all singles. When travelling, masturbation may be a much needed escape from temptation. These are matters to be worked out as a couple.

14. Some have argued that masturbation before marriage will “defile the marriage bed.” Heb. 13:4. There is no indication in the context of this passage that masturbation is being referenced: the danger here is almost certainly adultery.

15. In her book, Pure, author Rebecca Davis did research and extensive research on people raised within the evangelical subculture of the 1980’s-1990’s, which tended to teach a hard line view on masturbation, sex, and even romantic thoughts. She found a very high prevalence of sexual dysfunction in marriage, including erectile dysfunction and vaginismus. One couple who shared their story were only able to achieve sex a handful of times in a decade, and were considering a divorce, since their “love life” had never really worked out. Although not talked about, she found that similar stories were very common. Anecdotally, she reports that health nurses who deal with vaginismus say that there is a very high correlation to religious upbringings. It turns out that attempting to “shut down” ones sexuality during ones formative years, cloaking it in layers of shame, and divorcing sexual thoughts from other positive feelings in life is not necessarily the best formula for the “fireworks” that our pastor promised would happen after marriage.

16. Calling a natural function a “sin” with no biblical basis seems in keeping with the warnings against legalism in the Bible. “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines….men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:1-5

17. It seems to “tie up heavy burdens” on people, especially singles. (Mat. 23:4) One notices that it is mostly married people making these harsh rules.

18. The argument, “We’re not sure if it’s sin. It’s kind of grey. So let’s err on the side of caution and call it a sin.” Is a stupid argument. Grey issues are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8-10, Romans 13-14. We are to consider them carefully and make up our own minds, using our consciences. Those with more rules are called “weak in conscience,” those who can live their life “in of the Spirit” with a minimum of rules are called “strong” Christians

19. Making black-and-white pronouncements on matters of conscience is warned against in Scripture. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for “teaching as precepts the doctrines of men.” (Mat. 15:9) Paul warned his readers “not to let anyone take you captive through…the basic principles of men…acting as your judge [in regards to disputed matters]” (Col. 2:8-23).

20. Rather, he encourages people to weigh matters, and come up with their own convictions. “Each person should be fully convinced in their own minds.” (Rom. 14:5)

…now that you’ve seen my examination of the topic, what do you think? Is masturbation a sin for you, or not? What guidelines might you need to bring into play to make it healthy for yourself? What does your spouse think?

I pray that God’s spirit gives you wisdom, as you seek to honour God with the beautiful and powerful and sexual body that He has gifted you with.

The Body Keeps the Score: Citations

I am reading The body keeps the score: the body keeps the score brain mind and body in the healing of trauma. This is one of the most important books on PTSD and trauma out today. It is long and detailed, but not difficult to read. Written by a clinical psychologist who has spent a lifetime studying trauma, and being on the forefront of the evolving face of trauma research over the 20th century, here is a summary of what he found:
1. Traumatic responses used to be labelled as “hysterics,” and generally dismissed as “the weakness of women” up until the 20th century.
2. Freud found that actually, many women who suffered from bouts of uncontrolled emotions were actually molested as children, causing very complex reactions later in life. Other phenomenon were also noted, such as mind-induced paralysis and illnesses as a result of trauma.
3. Freud (the father of modern psychology) developed the “talking cure,” and found that often, when someone was able to describe their traumatic event in exact detail, they were able to put it to rest and their physical symptoms subsided
4. After WWI, tens of thousands of war vets came home, displaying symptoms of “shell shock”: an inability to cope with life, irritability, moodiness, flash-backs, depression, a tendency towards substance abuse, and intense guilt. Even “the talking cure” was often not adequate for helping veterans. Psychologists began trying in earnest to find a cure for “shell-shock.”
5. WWII erupted, causing even more cases of “shell-shock.” Both the Germans and the English military repressed the term “shell-shock” because it caused soldiers to be sent home early from the front, and cost them too much in medical discharges. Psychologists continued to study the issue, eventually labelling it, “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.”
6. What was discovered is that when the body experiences extreme stress, the brain can become overloaded. Memories of the event are stored in a chaotic and jumbled way. These memories come back in pieces to torment the victim of PTSD, often for their entire lives.
7. During and after the Vietnam war, the issue was once again studied in depth. One helpful therapy which was developed was group therapy sessions, where survivors of similar traumas would share their stories together. Like the “talking cure,” it was helpful for many, but not all
8. Since that time, advances in neuroscience have unlocked many of the mysteries of PTSD. When asked to recount the events of a traumatic car accident while under a brain scan, for example, it was found that the mind of the person re-activated in exactly the same way as a person currently experiencing a trauma. What scientists discovered is that PTSD survivors are in their own personal hell: they mentally re-experience the worst moments of their lives over and over and over again
9. Scientists also found that these episodes of reliving trauma can be “triggered” by sights, sounds, seeing their abuser, smells, or sometimes by no cause at all.
10. Scientists also discovered that certain portions of the brain light up, and certain portions shut down during such episodes. The speech centres shut down, making it hard for people to put into words what they are experiencing. The “time-keeping” portions also shut down, causing people to experience the flash back “as though I am still there.” The visual portions of the brain are activated literally as though they are seeing the same things over and over.
11. In the case of one car accident, two responses were recorded by a husband and wife in the same car. The husband displayed typical PTSD symptoms: flash-backs, anxiety, high heart rate, and hyper vigilance. The wife, on the other hand, went completely numb. She experienced the accident as though it happened to someone else. This numbness continued after the accident. She felt like she was floating, and had a hard time describing experiences in her own body. This response is called “disassociation.” It was found that this woman had had a difficult childhood, in which she was often screamed at by her mother. She learned the coping skill of disassociation (becoming a stranger in her own body) to cope with the abuse
12. As PTSD became more widely understood, it was observed in other places as well. Especially children raised in dysfunctional homes. Often, such children displayed all of the same symptoms of war veterans. Because the trauma occurred in childhood, and was usually due to multiple events and not just one trauma, the term “complex PTSD” was developed to describe it.
13. Sufferers of complex PTSD may appear “shy,” or hyper-agressive. They perceive the world as being filled with threats. They usually perform much lower than their peers, and have lifelong difficulty “fitting in.”
14. The issue of molestation in girls was particularly studied, finding that young girls who are molested have lifelong difficulty coping, and often have symptoms of PTSD.
15. Complex PTSD was often mis-diagnosed as bipolar, depression, and a host of other conditions.
16. In the 1970’s, various drugs were prescribed to treat PTSD. SSRI drugs such as Prosac were found to have a “miraculous” curative powers for people with PTSD. However, without therapy the gains that they received when on the medications did not last when they went off of them. Other types of medications were also developed which had stronger short-term effects (especially in calming the brain), but may have caused more harm than good due to their addictive nature.
17. Over the course of the 20th century, a wealth of knowledge, and a host of tools was developed to understand and address PTSD and complex PTSD. Most contemporary therapists are well versed in these skills.
18. In the late 1980’s, the technique of EMDR was developed. This is simply the technique of moving one’s eyes slowly back and forth (often just watching the therapist’s finger) while reliving a traumatic event in one’s mind. The activity of moving one’s eyes in this way activates both hemispheres of one’s brain, enabling chaotic memories to be analyzed, categorized, and finally put to rest. Although initially greeted with suspicion, the technique of EMDR has been found to be the most effective technique in the treatment of PTSD, and is now recommended by the US departement of defence, and is widely available today.

The body keeps the score: the body keeps the score brain mind and body in the healing of trauma.

Abusers & Victims in the Church

It seems to me that the church has a much better history of protecting abusers than it does in protecting victims.

Among other things, this comes down to the fundamental nature of our religion. Showing grace, forgiveness, and “one more chance” to sinners is at the core of the Christian message. But verses about protecting the vulnerable from attack, leaving a wicked person, refusing to forgive an unrepentant sinner, and calling attention to sin — while they exist — are not front and centre in the Gospel story. It takes significant work and thought to integrate these ideas into our theology. That work is rarely done.

In the mean time, victims are made to feel that they have no voice, that they aught to just put up with abuse, (“submit”) and shamed if they end abusives relationships. If they bring up the debilitating pain of trauma, the PTSD, the flashbacks, the triggers, the anger, the confusion, the intense shame, the loss of joy, the hyper-vigilance, the loss of hope, the lost sense of sense of security, and the loss of hope in humanity that comes with trauma, they are often told to “pray through it,” and forgive. If they find forgiveness hard (especially if “forgiveness” seems to mean reconciling with the abuser, and not holding them accountable for their actions, and being placed in harms way all over again), they are at risk of being called “bitter,” even a dangerous “root of bitterness” to infect others. 😳

Our commitment to show grace and love to everyone is commendable.

But many times, our support of survivors could use some work.

[I see you. I care. Keep holding on. You’ll get through this. One day at a time. ❤️]

“Be Modest or Men Will Stumble!” — False!

Unbiblical sermons #1
“Women need to dress modestly so that their weaker brothers will not be caused to stumble.”
Well, actually…
1) “Stumbling stones” normally refers to adults corrupting or harming little children. It is not about grown men shaming others for their sins. Matt. 18:5-10, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2
2) The discussion of “weaker brothers” is not gender specific, and is in regards to the ancient question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. This has nothing to do with lust or modesty. (1 Corinthians 8 )
3) Modesty is only explicitly adresses once in the Bible. The purpose of modesty here stated is contrasting inner vs. outer beauty, staying that a beautiful spirit and a kind life are better adornments than braided hair and jewels. Male lust is mentioned nowhere in this book. 1 Tim 2:9-10
4) Men are specifically addressed by Jesus, told that if they are “lusting,” they are sinning. Period. The modesty of the woman after whom they may be lusting is not mentioned. (Mat. 5:28)
5) We are told that “pornea” (sexual sin) comes “out of the heart,” and not from externals (Mark 7:21)
6) Using figurative language, Paul tells men to “possess their own vessel in sanctification and honour.” (1 Thess. 4:3) He does not add an addendum, “…unless she’s really hot” or, “…unless she’s immodestly dressed,” or, “…unless you’re really tired, or feeling entitled.”
7) Paul tells the young Timothy to “flee from youthful lusts,” (2 Tim. 2:22) and “treat younger women as sisters in all purity.” (1 Tim. 5:2) And to be an example of purity (1 Tim 4:12)
8“) “Yes, but what about very provocative women who are really trying to seduce men? What if alcohol is involved?” In Proverbs 7, the question of seduction is looked at in depth. There are three men, and one seductive woman in the scenario. The seductive woman is out seducing. A man goes to her, becomes intoxicated, and commits adultery with her. He is held completely liable for his actions, called a fool, and the commentary is that he did not know that her steps lead down to death. There is also a father and son in the scenario. The father resists “going down” to the seductrice. He instructs his son to avoid situations like this, and warns him of the mortal danger that they represent. Elsewhere, he tells him of the joys of married love, prays he finds a good wife, and blesses him: “may her breasts always satisfy you! May you always be intoxicated with her love!” (Prov. 5:19) Lesson: even if a prostitute is flaunting her wares, men are still responsible for their eyes, for their “vessels,” and for how they model integrity to the next generation. Sex is beautiful, and desireable. We should tell our daughters and sons how wonderful it is, so that they can be motivated to save it for the person of their dreams! What a beautiful gift! ❤️
…but telling women that unless they dress modestly, they will become a victim of male lust, (or even responsible for their own rape! 😵) is a form of victim shaming. It is wrong, it is unhealthy, it is abusive, and nobody can show me where it is in the Bible. This verse does not exist.

“Turn the other cheek” — Not a Reason to Allow Abuse!

Jesus said to “turn the other cheek.” Here are twenty reasons why that does not mean that a spouse or child should overlook physical abuse.
1) In the original context, Jesus was speaking to men, in a world of men. The implied audience was people who had the ability to strike back, not women or children.
2) Jesus told His followers to flee from persecution and physical danger.
3) Jacob, David, Abigail, and many other saints fled from authority figures, when they became physically dangerous.
4) Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. A temple was the most sacred possible place in anceint times: your body is THAT precious! God promises to destroy anyone who destroys your body (1 Cor. 3:17).
5) Jesus said, “let the little children come to me,” and “if anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he be thrown into the sea.” Children need to be protected from harm. So do you.
6) “I’m sorry…you just made me so angry” is not an apology. It is a lie that their evil actions were the fault of their victim. If a person is not able to restrain their violence unless people around them “walk on eggshells,” that person should not be around vulnerable people until they find help.
7) “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t control myself,” is a lie. After all, they controlled themselves just fine in public.
8) “This is normal/all men do it/everyone slips up” is not true. Most spouses do not hit or abuse one another. The Bible tells us to love and care for our spouses as we would our own bodies (Eph. 5). Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, and laid down His life for the church. Care is normal, harm is abnormal.
9) “You have to forgive me,” is a lie. You do not need to forgive them if they do not repent. (Luke 17:3…notice “IF he repent…”) Repentance means bringing their actions to the light to people who can provide tough accountability (James 5:16). It means getting help, and making sure that it does not happen again.
10) “The Bible says ‘forgive and forget'” No it does not. This verse does not exist. You can release bitterness in your heart while still remembering. Memories are there to remind us of danger, and to keep us safe.
11) The Bible says, “Do not be deceived, whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” The natural consequence of violence is the loss of intimacy. “Do not make friends with an angry man, and do not associate with a hot-tempered man” (Prov. 22:24)
12) “This punishment is unreasonable! I miss you! I need you! People will be mad at me if they find out!” …is exactly what Cain complained to God after he murdered his brother. Truly repentant people (like David, Peter) are sad about their sins. Evil people (like Cain) are sad about the CONSEQUENCES of their sins. Know the difference.
13) “I love you….” saying the words, “I love you” does not mean the person loves you. Love is patient, kind, and unselfish. It is not provoked, does not hold a grudge, and does not act unbecomingly (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). If their words say “love,” but their actions say “hate,” that is hypocritical love (Rom. 12:9). “Let us love not in word and speech, but in action and truth.” (1 John 3:18) “You will know them by their fruits.” (Mat. 7:16)
14) “The Bible says don’t gossip.” That is true. Gossip is untrue or uneccesary tidbits, spread around to harm someone. But telling appropriate authority figures about abuse is exactly what Jesus told us to do (Mat. 18:15-17)
15) “You have to keep our secret.” Is impossible. The Bible says that all sins will be brought to light (1 Tim. 5:24). One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional family is secrecy. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20) But “the truth shall set you free,” (John 8:32). Good people have nothing to hide.
16) “I don’t trust the police/social workers/authorities.” …is a telling statement. “rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing.” (Rom. 13:3-4)
17) “You are wrecking the family!” is a lie. The one who is unrepentantly harming others, and not seeking help for their issues is wrecking the family. Those who protect themselves and others are salvaging what remains of the family.
18) “You hurt my feelings when you told me that I abused you. You always complain so much! Why are you so negative? You are always so mean to me. YOU should apologize to ME.” …is a gaslighting. Gaslighting is a technique of changing the facts, in order to confuse the victim. A typical attack is blaming the victim for the actions of the abuser. This is a form of psychological abuse: it is an attempt to break down your mind, confuse you, and weaken your most powerful defence: your trust in your own sanity. If reading this post causes you to feel dizzy, confused, anxious, an upset stomach, extreme fatigue, a headache, or an unexplained ache in a part of your body, you may have been a victim of psychological abuse.
19) “You can’t report this because I am your spiritual head,” is a lie. People in positions of leadership are held to a *higher* standard in the Bible: “judgment begins with the house of God” 1 Peter 4:17, and “If a church elder continues in sin despite being warned, rebuke him in the presence of all so that others will be warned not to sin” (1 Tim. 5:19)
20) “God forgives me, so should you” is not true. Nowhere does God forgive unrepentant sinners. God also does not forgive people who use grace as an excuse to continue sinning. Neither should you. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
If you believe that you are the victim of physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or financial abuse, please find a safe person and/or the appropriate authorities with which to share your story. If you believe that you are in physical danger, please leave now or call the police. Yes, Christians are allowed to call secular authorities: in fact, I would recommend that you start there.
You were meant to thrive, not just survive. And the Bible was never meant to keep you in a cage!

The Dangers of “Biblicism”

Reading the Bible, all by yourself, with no commentaries and no input from others is the ultimate in confirmation bias. A person can conveniently ignore or explain away anything that challenges them, while finding “biblical support” for all of their personal prejudices and ideas. If no support is given directly from scriptures, the person can simply say, “the Holy Spirit told me…” and put some very outlandish spin on a verse. It happens all the time!
“Bible teachers” like this can be very attractive. “Wow, he only quotes the Bible!” “Wow, he is self-taught! He wasn’t corrupted by some dirty seminary!” “Wow, God seems to speak to him so much!” …but the person isn’t really speaking to them about Gods way, but their own private ideas, wrapped in Biblical language. The effects of such teachers can be devastating: among other things, it can make it seem like anybody can make the Bible say anything that they want. Which of course, they can. So how can we avoid this confirmation bias? We cannot. We are only human. That is why we need one another. “Let one or two speak, and the rest pass judgment.” “But the Bereans were more noble, because after Paul spoke, they searched the Scriptures, to see if these things were so.” “*Study* to show yourself as a workman approved, able to *accurately* handle the word if God.” “You Pharisees…teach as doctrines the ideas of men…” “see to it that no one takes you captive through the…basic principles of men…”
The believing community is:
1) A local church of people who can respond in some way to the “teacher.” If the teacher is never told that they were wrong, and never revises their views, they have no such community
2) Commentaries and other pastors. You don’t know it all! The Bible wasn’t written in your language — or your millennia! You need help understanding some things! Be humble enough to ask for and receive help!
3) The wider faith community. Not every good Christian agrees with you. Some have very good Biblical reasons for what they believe. Learn from them! Learn to sit with the fact that there are more than one way to see many issues. Gradually, you will begin to see that while *some* issues in the Bible are black and white, many are grey. And some things you were taught to believe aren’t even in the Bible at all!
…as you emerge from under the dictatorial cloud of one narrow minded teacher, into the light and colour of the family of God, you may begin to find that the Bible is more like a grand story, where we can all find meaning and purpose and direction for our own lives. It is less like an instruction manual, telling us how to conform to the ideas and biases of one narrow minded “Bible teacher.”

Debate: Can a Victim Leave an Abuser?

I have been posting more on narcissism and spiritual abuse on my Facebook. Yesterday, I posted the following meme:

I wrote:

Words like “submit,” “obey,” “honour,” “forgive,” “reconcile,” “love”…were never meant to be used as chains. ⛓ You have permission to end a relationship with someone who is unrepentantly harming you. No matter how they are related to you, and no matter what they tell you God wants you to do. You have permission to protect yourself from abuse. Always.

This sparked a discussion with a friend I will refer to as Etienne, who started off the discussion by saying:

You didn’t find that teaching in the Bible. 
To find what love looks like look at how God treated Israel through the old testament, right up until He died to save those who were/are literally abusing Him.
If you want to see what selfishness and “toxic” look like, view the same passages from the opposite perspective.
The love God commands us to give, constantly requires us to set aside the justice we was to receive in order to give mercy and grace.

As I often do, I took a moment to write out my candid thoughts to myself in long form on notes, before taking a few breaths and responding to him. What I wrote to myself was:

“You did not find that teaching in the Bible”

…actually, I did. All throughout the Bible, we see God’s people following Jesus’ teaching, “whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next,” (Mat. 10:23). Jacob left his emotionally abusive father in law Laban. The Israelites fled from the deceptive and abusive king, Pharaoh. David fled from his verbally and physically abusive king and father in law, Saul. Abigail went behind the back of her stubborn and un-listening husband Nabal. Elijah fled from the unrepentant and moody King Ahab.

God instructs us to forgive our enemies. Forgiveness is something that happens inside. But reconciliation cannot happen when there is not true repentance. Repentance means a change of behaviour: and a change means at a certain point, harmful behaviours need to stop happening. Like David, there’s a time to just get out of town when one fears one too many times for their own safety.

Your choice of God as a symbol of someone who puts up with abuse is poorly chosen. Here is what God did in His relationship to Israel: he pointed out their sins; he stated that there would be consequences for their sins; he followed through on those consequences; when they repented, He forgave and reconciled; this cycle continued numerous times; eventually God identified that they were not truly repenting (no change in behaviours) but only trying to avoid consequences; His warnings became more severe, and he saw less and less hope in the cycle; Finally, God told Israel that He was formally divorcing it; God enacted a separation, by sending them to Babylon; when some repented, God made a new covenant with only the faithful Israelites; God sent His Son to make a way of salvation for those who repent; God follows through on His final consequence, of Hell, for those who persist in wounding Him by their sins and self-destructive actions. We are told that the same applies to Christians: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” (Heb. 10:26-27).

Properly read, the Bible is on the side of victims, not abusers.

***

When I decided to talk with Etienne, I decided that it was actually best for him to clarify his rather confusing post first. I was not entirely sure what he was advocating. And so I gave him an invitation to make himself more clear by writing:

Myself: So it would seem that you do not agree with the statement, “You have permission to end a relationship with someone who is unrepentantly harming you.” Do you find this unbiblical, or incorrect, or both? Thank you for your comment.

Etienne: First, I’m not saying that abuse is ok. Abuse is not ok.
Second “love, respect, submit, unity, etc are not chains to hold one to bad relationships, if they are treated that way, that’s a great sign that there is abuse or at least very wrong thinking going on.
I am suggesting that pursuing ones “rights”, “protecting myself”, etc are the real chains in this scenerio.
Look at what the Bible teaches about how God thinks relationships work, it’s never pursuing justice for self. Pursue justice for those around you, but for yourself, pursue learning to give grace and mercy.
This is a hard lesson for every believer, but if it can be learned; they will be free of the chains that put themself first. That’s a lot of freedom.
Another way to describe it, don’t think of God’s commands as chains that restrict out freedoms, think of them as fences that protect us from harm that we don’t fully understand. Inside that fence we are completely free, and far safer than going beyond the fence.

***

At this point, it was bedtimes for my family, and I had work in the morning. I did not pick up this discussion until the afternoon. This gave a few other people a chance to chime in.

***

Sally (One of my friends): But you still haven’t answered whether a person should be able to leave an abusive relationship. I’ve seen people weaponize those commands to shame a person for leaving an abusive spouse. You didn’t pray hard enough, you didn’t trust God enough, you didn’t follow the commands correctly. Instead of acknowledging their abusive partner didn’t follow God’s guidelines for a relationship, how God never wanted his child to suffer at the hands of someone who is supposed to be a partner and love and care for and with them, they put the blame on the victim.

Etienne: I’m not going to answer that, God has already answered that, if you care what He thinks, you can find His words pretty easily.
All I’m saying is that responding to sin with sin, is sin.

Sally: So if a woman is being beaten by her husband, you would shame her for fleeing to safety because God would want her to stay?
I am honestly trying to understand.

Sally: Also to ask me to find the proof to your point is lazy. In no other discourse it is acceptable to say I’m right, look up the evidence to prove my point yourself. You are required to provide the scripture that explains your points.
If your lawyer goes to court and says “Your honor, the evidence is all there. Just look yourself.” You’d loose. If your doctor said “This is what your disease is, the evidence is all there. Research it youself.” You’d upset.
If a cop pulled you over and gave you a ticket and said “what you did all just happened. Remember it youself” you would fight that ticket.
It is the responsibility of the person asserting a notion to defend it, not the person questioning it.

Etienne: The answer to your question is, no. I would not shame her.
Unfortunately, it’s the wrong question.
The right question is, “if a woman is being beaten by her husband, what does the Bible teach?”
Then you must break it down into its parts,
One, what does the Bible teach about abuse, and how husbands should treat their wives?
Two, what does the Bible teach the believers response should be when someone is sinning against them?
In regard to “look it up yourself”, if you want an opinion poll, Facebook is the place to bring your problems; however, if you want to know what God says, that’s best by far if read yourself.
If you’re new to the Bible, an easy way to start is a Google search with something like “Bible passage abuse” or “Bible passage response to sin”.
After you have the relevant Bible passages in mind, reading some commentaries is helpful to some, talking about them with some mature believers is helpful to others.
Looking for people who tell you what you want to hear or else you’ll reduce their statements ad absurdum is not going to be helpful to you in finding the truth.

Myself (when I resumed the conversation the next day): I am glad to hear you say that “abuse is not OK,” and that Biblical commands to love, forgive, etc. should not be used to legitimize staying in an abusive relationship. 
…however, I am a bit confused, because you seem to be saying exactly the opposite in the rest of your comment, and elsewhere. You are saying that “rights” and “self protection” are really a form of bondage. You seem to be saying that an abused Christian has no rights, and should not flee, even to protect themselves. This stance should be understood as “freedom” I am just repeating your words back to you. Is this not what you meant to say?
You seem to be trying to have it both ways. What do you actually believe? Can an abused person leave an abuser? Or not?

Etienne: what I’m trying to say is, responding to sin with sin, is not ok.
So, find what God says is the correct response not what popular option says is right.
You have the tools, you probably have the relevant passages memorized.
After the Bible is read, it’s just a matter of interpretation and application.

Myself: OK, so what you are saying is that it is a sin for an abused person to leave their abuser? I disagree with that. 

Let me show you some biblical examples of Godly people leaving situations of danger and abuse by the person in authority over them:

Jacob left his emotionally abusive father in law Laban. The Israelites fled from the deceptive and abusive king, Pharaoh. David fled from his verbally and physically abusive king and father in law, Saul. Abigail went behind the back of her stubborn and un-listening husband Nabal. Elijah fled from the unrepentant and moody King Ahab. On several occasions, Jesus left an angry mob, sometimes mid-sentence. Paul left cities before he was killed. The early Christians fled Jerusalem, and from there, city to city. These godly people followed Jesus’ teaching: “whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next,” (Mat. 10:23).
These people did not “return evil for evil.” David in particular had reason and opportunity to exact revenge, but he did not. However, he also did not stick around to see if next time Saul’s aim would be better. Christians are not to retaliate: but there is a time to leave. It is not sinful or evil to simply walk away. In fact, this is what we are told to do.
I re-affirm that it is not a sin for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. I think these passages are a strong support of this pattern, and can provide others if you would like.

Etienne: great biblical examples!
Now keeping in mind the context and culture we’re in, how many of those examples apply to husband and wife divorcing, or friends ditching former friends at the first sign of trouble?

Myself: ”first sign of trouble”? No, we’re talking about abuse here. 
I would see them all as applying. As I said, these are examples of godly people leaving situations of chronic mistreatment and unrepentant abuse by civil or familial authority figures.

Etienne: ok, then at the interpretation level you and I differ slightly, as long as you’re being diligent before the Lord, God bless.
I will leave you with one reminder, in all interpersonal problems, the goal needs to be reconciliation; and reconciliation starts with forgiveness, not with making amends nor with justice (as the world likes to believe).

Myself: That is not correct. We are only responsible to reconcile “so far as it depends on you.” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes, as in the cases of abuse I mentioned above, that was not possible. We are to let go of bitterness every time that we pray. That happens in the privacy of our own hearts. But we only forgive and reconcile our brother/sister if they repent first. (Luke 17:3-4). We are not only allowed, but instructed to separate from those who continue to sin against us, and are not open to Godly rebuke. (Mat. 18:15-17).
I want to thank you for this interaction. God bless you on your journey, as you seek to honour Him in all things.

***

Clearly, there is much to be parsed out in the conversation. Among other things, we see fairly clearly that some people do indeed think that the Christian message states that an abused person should stay with their abusive partner, no matter what. These people seem to think vaguely that, “that’s what the Bible says,” and “that’s how God treats us”…but when pressed for specifics, they punt, go on the offensive or say, “well, you must know all the verses by now!” He shifted his position numerous times, but it seemed clear that he was still unchanging in his belief that an abused person should go back to their abuser, no matter what.

Another thing that is interesting is that I kept coming back to the word “abuse,” while he kept shrinking from it, trying to replace the word in our discussion with, “at the first sign of trouble.” This is gaslighting: our conversation was not about people giving up on one another “at the first sign of trouble.” It was about abuse. Abuse is a word in the English language that means something like, “ongoing, significant harm caused to a person.” It is not the same as, “minor annoyance.” When people try cheap tricks like this in debates, they show their true colours. I knew then that Etienne was not interested in learning anything: rather, he only wanted to justify himself and win an argument to prove that he was right.

He demanded that I do the work to prove that his view was right: which as “Sally” pointed out, was unreasonable. He was the one making a claim, and yet he provided no evidence for it. I also had made a claim, and so I provided logical and Biblical evidence for it. He retorted that my logic was not Biblical, and so I provided more Biblical evidence. He responded that these examples did not apply because the culture and times were different. Strange how culture and time only applies to verses that we find inconsistent with our beliefs. But I responded that actually, I think that these verses all spoke directly to the question at hand, at which point Etienne simply said that we had a “difference of opinion” about that.

The technique of asking for proof, then changing one’s demands when proof is given is called “moving the goal-posts.” This is another deceptive debate tactic.

Also, notice, Etienne never stated how he himself would interpret these passages. While trying to posture as someone who based their interpretations on the Bible, Etienne actually did not cite one single Bible passage. He referred broadly to “how God treats Israel,” but did not provide any specific Bible verses to analyze: this is because he had none on his side.

In a way, I should not have let him off the hook so easily. I certainly could have pressed him. How would he justify his belief that an abused person must remain with their abuser? What does he mean by that? And if he choses not to use the word “abuse,” what word would he use for continual, unrepentant, serious harm caused by an individual?

…but this is not my first rodeo. And I learned long ago that in online discussions, if someone choses to excuse themselves from a discussion, then it is just best to let them go. It is childish to try to get in the last word.

“if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” 1 Corinthians 7:15

These topics will be a major topic of discussion in future posts.

For a great resource on domestic abuse in the church, see Rev. Jeff Crippen’s carefully researched and groundbreaking book, Unholy Charade, Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church.

The Coal Miner’s Dirge

It was summer when they found him,

And he still knew how to grin,
“Come and work and sing with us”
That is how these things begin.
And at first the work was pleasant
Working hard and hardly sore
But that day has come and come again
When he wanted to say more
For his friend was bright and cheerful too
Buried under miles of coal
And the lie that made it bearable
Was was the profit to his soul
And another who was old and grey
Coughing big black globs of goo
And the lie that made it bearable
Was “he chose to work there too”
But the loudest lie of aching soul
As he shoveled through the clay
Was the way they made him cover up
And they paid him not to say
For the man was bright and clever,
And a useful sort of chap
Bright mind for sorting numbers,
Bright mind for setting traps
Not traps to kill men instantly
Tell me, where is gold in that?
But traps that killed them shamelessly
From the negligence and draft
And ways to turn a profit
And to round out boys and dimes
As the fellas toiled on fearlessly
And his silence was his crime
And the working stole his soul away,
And the silence stole his joy
And the lie that made it bearable?
“I am silent for my boy.”
But one day he came home sheepishly
As he struggled to make sense
Of his aching sense of dignity
And his mischief to his friends
And that day turned brightly crimson,
When his eldest turned to say,
“I will work with you tomorrow,
I am old enough today!”
And then what oh what, I ask you
Could his bright and good heart do?
Could his silence hold the bloodshed
Would his son be buried too?
It was autumn when he said it,
Said it clear and said it grim
“Men,” he said, “it’s time we strike”
And the men, they stood with him
Stood and watched that is, they watched
As the scabs all broke the line
Working hard and hardly sore
And they whistled as they mined
But the man could not be silent,
And his fury did not dim
And his clever mind and bitter whit
Made him strong enough to win
It was winter when he wrote it
Bound it tight with miners twine
Sent it off to be a book
Sealed in black a dying mine
And some say his hairs grew whiter,
And some say his ears grew dim
And they said it was his anger
And his selfish way to win
But then win he did,
In a sorry sort of way
For the trying times could roll no dimes
And it all shut up one day
It was springtime when they found him
With an arrow through his heart
And a note in blood attached to it
“Thanks a lot, you bloody lark!”
And his son was crimson bitter
For the way his old man died
And his friends they turned to mourners
And his widow wailed and pined
But that message that he spoke that day
Bound with twine and inked in truth
Sent an arrow to their dragon heart
For his sacrifice was proof
And in time the story changes
From a martyr to a friend
And his son took up the banner
And the workers made an end
Of a tyrant of silence
Overcheerful ever gay
Of the dark and ill-found riches,
Of their narrow, crafty ways
It was summer when he found himself
And he knew his dad not dead
Beat within him, speaking through him
As with flaming heart he said:
“No lie could make it bearable
To suffer on in dread
Be the man and break the silence
Tremble not but write instead!”
Tremble not,
but write.
Instead…