This past week has been a tough one in many respects, leaving me dejected in some respects but with some new found hope and a renewed sense of purpose.
On Wednesday, I attended the second annual Men's Leadership Forum against domestic violence in Tijuana.I have been a part of the planning for the event, along with representatives of the government offices Human Rights, Women's rights and Child and Family welfare, the domestic violence department of the Tijuana police and several other NGO's.
Our purpose in organizing the event was to sound out a cry for men to take leadership in the effort to end violence against women.Several hundred people who were in attendance learned about the subtle forms of violence which can be anything but subtle in the destruction they cause.The press also covered the event well and hopefully will help us get word out that violence has no place in our families.The men present signed a declaration stating that we will end our silence and assume our responsibility as leaders in the community to end violence.
It was a great moment and I couldn't have been more encouraged by what was taking place.Until…
The last part of the forum was a panel discussion among religious leaders in Tijuana who were there to let the community know that our churches too will take a stand.There were four leaders representing Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists who had agreed to participate and who would represent their churches by stating clearly that violence is not allowed in our practices. Or at least that's how it was supposed to be.
We had decided to include this panel in the forum because for too long women have been subjected to abuse not only by their husbands but also by religion.Far too many of the women we have worked with tell us that for years they had been abused and the only intervention of their churches or pastors was to tell them that as a wife they must remain subject to the husband and perhaps by humbly submitting to his brutality their example might win their husbands for the Lord.Though they will counsel the husband to be less violent, the husband knows he can always ask forgiveness and keep going on the same way; as long as he knows that she will never find permission from the church to leave, he has little incentive to change.
We had asked the leadership of various congregations if they could speak out in favor of victims and these four said they would.In interviewing them beforehand, I had asked them if they could all, despite any other differences they might have, be able to state loudly and clearly that they do not condone, can not justify and will not tolerate violence against women.They said yes.
As the first panelist, the Pentecostal, began, he shared his analogy of a boxing match.As the fight is in progress each fighter is trying to kill his opponent, after the bell rings the two fighters will embrace and all is forgiven.You can only imagine where he went from there as he told the shocked room about his philosophy on raising and correcting children and wives.His point was that the violence that he has had to use in maintaining discipline was by no means an indication of a lack of love, and that a father and husband needs to maintain discipline.Though there was no way to go from here but up, the other panelists couldn't seem to figure out how.
The Adventist began his remarks talking about how radical feminists are destroying society and family as they try to push women into roles that they shouldn't take.Not one of them would clearly and unequivocally state that violence toward a spouse is wrong.
It seems to me that they each became defensive about their faith and were reacting to some ideas from earlier speakers who talked about total gender equality, equal rights and equal authority in the family.This became clearer as one of them remarked that they must be careful in limiting the authority of the man (to not abuse his wife) because some women will take those liberties too far.
How sad this was for me, to hear that we can not speak out clearly to a forum on men's leadership about our responsibility as husbands because women will then take that out of context.We weren't there to talk about the responsibilities of women, but rather our responsibility to do no harm as men.
The final question put to the panelists was by a woman.She asked them how they would respond to her if she came to them as an abused woman asking for their permission to leave her husband.The answer she received was that the bible is clear.She must stay with him and submit to him, and perhaps by example lead him to God.
Though the session was supposed to end on that, I asked for the mic and tried to share a different word.I told the women that my advice would be to run, far and fast.The best hope for husband, wife and children would be away from that cycle, where perhaps they might all find healing.As I said before, he has little incentive to change as long as he knows he doesn't have to, that she will be there no matter what.Run, find help.
I know that I don't speak for God and am trying to discern His will in some very difficult circumstances and with some very difficult passages.I may be wrong, but I don't believe that a woman should be sacrificed for our theology.And I can't really believe that the Jesus that I know would want that for her, for him, or for their children.The cycle of violence deepens with every new act of abuse until there is no where left to go but the grave.Is the hope that in her death he will repent and find God?How many women lose faith because they are presented with a God who seems to be on the side of the abuser?What about the hope for life and salvation for the children, growing up seeing this abuse, learning some twisted idea of love, expressed so clearly with right hooks and left jabs?
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Adalia and I were invited to give a series of conferences on counseling for our Baptist churches along with several pastors.On Thursday the focus was on early childhood development, Friday on adolescence, and Saturday, on marriage.
I spoke on that last day about the biblical view of the couple from Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5.My emphasis was on how God created us to be in relationship.The greatest thing about that night was not anything any of us said, but rather who was in attendance.
One year ago, we began working with a woman, "Blanca" who was beaten continuously by her husband.She had been hospitalized several times and it would only be a matter of time before she was killed.She is the first person that we took into our shelter, along with her four sons.In fact, we moved up the opening date for the shelter because of her.Her sons were out of control, having never learned to show respect to their mother or that she was anything other than an object to be abused.It took a long time, but she has learned to love herself and to demand the respect of her sons.They have also grown tremendously and have learned to live at peace and in peace.They wouldn't stop fighting one another when they first came to us, now there is no sign of violence in them.Well, maybe a little, they are normal boys after all.
She and the boys are now living on their own, and doing fairly well, though we continue to work with them.
Blanca's husband, "Carlos", came to us after a couple months, looking for help as well.He wanted his wife and sons back, but he also admitted that he needed help and would do anything we asked of him.Adalia has been counseling him since November, once a week, and he has changed remarkably.We have been able to provide an opportunity for him to see his sons and to help him learn how to be a better father.He knows that he will probably not be able to be with Blanca again, but he still wants to do what is right and has been struggling to support them as much as he can on very limited income.
Adalia required Carlos to be at this conference on Saturday, and he came.Blanca, knowing that he would be there asked if she could attend as well and so one of the women of Deborah's House made arrangements for her to come too, with the four boys.
As I spoke, it was so heartening for me to see them seated side by side, with four boys crawling over their laps and them both trying to learn how to be the best parents and people that they can be.I have no idea if Blanca could ever get over the pain enough to allow him back into her life or if Carlos could prove worthy of her forgiveness.But what I do know is that they are trying to live the best lives that they can.They are no longer living in a turbulent hell, but have found some peace and stability.I know that their sons have never been happier or healthier or had a better chance for a good future than they do right now.
This is only possible because she had a pastor who dared to tell her that she could and should leave.This is only possible because that pastor knew a group of women from a ministry called Deborah's House where she could find peace.
I am so hopeful having seen Blanca and Carlos and I am glad that they have helped me put Wednesday's experience into a new context.But I know now too that there is a whole lot more work to be done out there.