By: Anna Merezhko, February 17, 2017
I recently came across the article “Domestic Violence and Christianity: When will we learn?” by Tanya Feygin. In it, Feygin skillfully unveiled the underground world of abuse Christian women often endure because the church they attend preaches the dogma of wives indisputably submitting to their husbands.
She told the story of Lyuba Savenok, a Slavic, Christian woman who was stabbed to death by her husband when she was 26 weeks pregnant. This bone-chilling story became a very public example of the tragic outcome of spousal abuse.
Often in Slavic churches, Feygin stated, the role the church plays in spousal abuse is unforgiving. Many abused women who seek help from the church are often burned because the church does not believe in divorce. In reply to their grief and horror, women hear: “you need to pray/fast more,” “you need to be more submissive, loving, gentle, quiet,” etc.
Feygin says, “Church pastors are often unequipped to deal with domestic abuse reports coming from victims of abuse and violence. The victim can be told she needs to ‘submit’ to her husband… ‘This is your cross to bear’, ‘You will have great reward in heaven.’”
As someone who has had friends and relatives in similar situations, I am all too familiar with the unyielding church position when it comes to spousal abuse. Women are often blamed for their husband’s inability to control themselves, be it straying or becoming violent.
This may not be the case in all Slavic churches, but many choose to remain ignorant of the woman’s helplessness. They may all-too-readily, take the side of the abuser who will cite all the little things wrong with their spouse that make them “lash out.”
It is hard enough to seek help in an abusive relationship. Many women remain in denial of the abuse until it is too late. This is because abusers are often master manipulators that instill into their victims that it’s their own fault they are being abused. This is why many of the women Feygin encountered on the Slavic Facebook group are scared of going to the church for help.
Feygin offers a helpful list of Do’s and Dont’s to church leaders who are approached by victims of abuse. Some Do’s include “taking the victim seriously, determining how at risk she is of physical harm, speaking words of life and affirmation to rewrite the lies she’s been hearing, and offering her hope and purpose…she needs to know God’s got a good plan for her.”
It is unclear if Lyuba was encouraged to stay with her abusive spouse, but it is clear there is an unsightly injustice to the women who come forward with these stories of abuse.
To the Christians who believe and encourage women to stay in abusive marriages, are you not then partially responsible if something happens to them? Did you not play a part in them putting their life at risk? Did you not tell a scared and broken human being to further break herself until she is a walking shell?
Vic, a commenter on Feygin’s article said the following:
“It is human nature, that women express their anger through words (by yelling) and men express their anger physically (by beating the one they’re angry at.) Any church teaches people to suppress your sinful human nature and live by spirit, so to blame a church or Christianity here is a very wrong thing to do. The problem is in the sinfulness of a man and a woman. If a woman is not in close relationship with God and she lets her flesh scream at her husband, and her husband isn’t in close relationship with God and has no patience to hold his anger, his nature takes its turn and does what is called domestic violence. But how could this be prevented? I’m pretty sure that if only one of them was in the right relationship with God, there would be no such thing as domestic violence… Personally I have never seen a husband start beating his wife or any person beating another person when he/she was nice to him.”
Vic then proceeded to list things a husband needs from a wife and things a wife needs from a husband and then asks, “Are you learning your needs or your spouse’s needs? Are you egoistic or do you love and want to satisfy your other half?”
His argument is that the spouse’s inability to attend to her husband’s needs triggered a chain reaction that caused her husband’s anger, but I think he missed the part that her husband’s “anger” caused her death.
To the majority of the world, the above sounds absurd, but these principles are embedded into the minds of many Slavic (and even American) Christians.
At what point is it not the wife’s fault anymore, before or after her death? To what point will we tolerate the world’s tolerance of controlling and abusive people, instilling onto everyone that it’s not the abusers fault? They were triggered. They lost control of their emotions. How out-of-control do you have to be to kill another human being?
The Domestic Abuse Shelter of Florida keys says, “Domestic violence is not a form of losing control; it is an attempt at gaining control. Most acts of violence are premeditated, occurring behind closed doors. It may seem as though the batterer is losing control because of his angry behavior. To that end, most batterers are very good manipulators. They know how to convince others and their victims that they are not at fault for their actions.”
I am not blaming the church for the prolonged abuse it so often encourages in marriages, but when you take it upon yourself to advise someone to stay with a spouse that is threatening their life, you should be held responsible. There is a great language barrier that prevents immigrant church leaders to fully understand the cause and impact of abuse, mainly because in Slavic countries, abuse was something taboo. Still, with all the information that is available now, in dozens of languages, shouldn’t you educate yourself to be better prepared for these situations?
My heart goes out to the Savenko family. I am angered and horrified at how fervently people excuse murderers and blame victims. I am dumbfounded by how little people know about spousal abuse and it’s toll on it’s victims. Of all the things we have to suffer in life, our spouse’s fists are not one of them.
I encourage those who are in abusive relationships or think they might be, to muster up the strength to free yourselves (and your children.) Find hope with people who are willing to listen and help you. There are churches that will lend a helping hand and a crying shoulder. God bless you.