One of the most befuddling things I’ve ever encountered in ministry is the role of mothers toward the children that their husbands have sexually abused. One story that has made national news reveals a mother more committed to her former pastor and her abusive husband than her own offspring. Sadly, this is not unusual.
I know of situations where the mothers could vindicate her children’s claims about the abuse they received at the hand of their men. Yet those mothers who tearfully claim to love their babies will not offer the necessary testimony required to substantiate the claims of their children. I know of situations where the mother kept her children in the home of her abusive husband even though he had slept with minors in her bed and yet she does not step forward to accuse. The smog of suspicion that hovers over the home could be dispelled by one clear word from mommy. There are mothers all over this country that could put their husbands behind bars if they would.
Tragically, they won’t.
The question that I have mulled on for years is, “Why?”
Wouldn’t you expect a mom to instinctively turn into a mama-bear when her child has been touched in an unseemly way? Do you not think it is natural for a mother to be overcome with a protective instinct and remove her children from the reach of their predator no matter how much it cost her? Why do mothers who are the first line of defense for the otherwise defenseless children not only put them in scenarios where they may be endangered but when a day of accounting is upon them, whether in a court of law or in counseling with their now-adult children, they actually choose to stand by their man? How come so many abused children that I know (who are all now adults) have the unshakeable resolution of mind that their mom will not help them get justice when the perpetrator is “her man”?
First, it is precisely because the perpetrator is “her man” that indicates part of the problem.
I have come to believe over the years that part of the curse is a woman’s blind loyalty to “her man,” her husband. Whatever man she has chosen to embrace as “her man,” whether by matrimony or by co-habitation, the curse of sin makes her extremely vulnerable to a gripping “desire toward her husband”. In other words, a woman’s prioritization of “her man” above God and Gospel makes her likely to prioritize her man over protecting sexually abused children because “her man” is her god.
I think Wendy Alsup rightly understands Genesis 3:16 in this excellent post. Here she addresses women in general, but my experience with a great number of mothers of children abused by “her man” shows that this could explain their bizarre reticence to put their abusive husband behind bars:
The word for “desire” in Genesis 3:16 can mean craving or longing. The issue is best understood if we make the simple substitution of God for her husband. Her desire SHOULD BE for her God. Instead, her desire/craving/longing is misplaced. The curse is not that women want to dominate the men in their lives. Women’s problem is that they worship the men in their lives and look to them for affirmation and provision emotionally and spiritually for things that God alone is supposed to provide. Their problem is IDOLATRY.
A Christian woman who fails to do her duty of motherhood toward her innocent children because she craves her husband is guilty of idolatry. No man who lives with a Christian woman should feel secure that she is so desperate for his love and security that she will keep his dirtiest secrets even when they involve the molestation of creatures made in the image of God and the breaking of the law.
It is true, of course, that there are many women who would not tolerate the least amount of abuse done toward their children, but having been acquainted with the matter of sexual abuse now for many years I no longer automatically expect a mother to do what she needs to do to get the justice necessary if the violator happens to be “her man” unless God mercifully (for the sake of her children if not for her) spares her from the effect of the curse.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for a mother living with a man that abuses or has abused her children. (And certainly this applies to the woman who is being abused by her man). The Gospel is powerful enough to make a woman who has a craving for her husband or the man she lives with to give her a dawning awareness that she is fulfilled without her man. She doesn’t need any man if it means to have him she must fail her calling to do God’s will. And God has stamped His will into the instinct of mothers: protect your children. This divinely implanted instinct is too often smothered by the curse in which “her desire is toward her husband.”
Some women delude themselves into thinking that they are dutifully pleasing the Lord by remaining faithful to their unfaithful husbands by keeping their mouths shut about his criminal behavior. I know of women that actually convince themselves that they cannot divorce their husbands on grounds of adultery because he hasn’t actually cheated on them with other women. He’s just had sex with their daughters.
For the life of me, I cannot see why these mothers do not understand that to be the worst form of infidelity. Not only is he cheating on her, but he’s destroying for life her precious children. He’s taking something from them that will never be recovered. The debilitating delusion of Christian faithfulness in marriage that these women abide under is nothing more than a twisted self-love that does not want to replace “her man” with her God.
Now, this is a highly emotional and sensitive subject and I know that there are women who are literally afraid for their lives. I’m thinking right now of two women who are literally – literally! – convinced that if they utter a peep about their husband’s vile ways that they or their children will pay for it with their lives. I know of one woman who has left her husband, a man that says he’s a Christian and raises his children under the despicable practices taught by the Pearls. Her children remain under his tyranny and his alleged sexual abuse. She has so succumbed to fear and irrational thinking that she is emotionally and spiritually paralyzed and has still not come to grips with what she must do to rescue her children. She’s conflicted. Why?
She loves him. Still.
But her love is not a gospel love. It’s a curse love. I am convinced that the only thing that will rescue these children and her is for her to to accept the fullness that is in Jesus Christ alone. But she, like many women in domestic violence, finds herself in a conflict of interests: on the one hand she longs for safety and on the other hand she longs for her man.
The beauty of the Gospel is that it rescues us from conflicts of interests. If a mother is deeply drinking from the Living Water she will not find herself thinking, “I’m so confused. I love my kids. I love Jesus. I love my man.” Loving Jesus supremely will dispel the confusion and give her the clarity of thinking, the right prioritization of affections, and the courage to take up her cross and follow Jesus.
Every woman is called to be a disciple of Jesus. I would like to suggest what that may look like (and I am aware that every situation is unique) for many women who live with a man that has abused their children.
1. A woman who has trusted Jesus to save her has also come to trust Him to accept her. All the time. No matter what. Jesus loves her despite how dirty she feels that her man has used her children. Many women would rather bury their heads in the sand than to accept the reality that they have hooked up with a monster. The violator of her children makes her feel filthy as well, a loser at picking out “her man.” But God comes to us through the Gospel and says to us through Christ what Gabriel said to Mary,”You don’t need to be scared. God is very happy with you!” (S. Lloyd-Jones rendition).
There is no limit to what a person can do when he or she feel totally accepted. There is no cure for the curse of trying to find acceptance in “her man” like knowing that “God is very happy with you” through Jesus Christ.
This means that, biblically, she has been made into a follower of Jesus. Jesus defined his followers as those who “took up their cross.” Therefore,
2. In the context of her relationship to her husband and her children, she must “take up her cross.” What does it mean to take up one’s cross?
Unfortunately, this is one of the most confusing cliches Christians use without really understanding the biblical understanding of cross bearing. Too often cross bearing is related to some kind of pain, suffering, or discomfort that one has to put up with; a bum knee, an fussy baby, a flat tire, or – more seriously – cancer or financial ruin. But atheists and Hindus get bum knees and have fussy babies. So “cross-bearing” cannot mean putting up with bad stuff.
To take up one’s cross (cross bearing) is to voluntarily sacrifice one’s personal interests for the glory of God and the good of the church. Let’s parse that definition.
- A follower of Jesus voluntarily sacrifices. The bum knee is not a voluntary sacrifice. Cancer is not voluntary. There can certainly be cross bearing in these things, but the followers of Jesus do as he did and they choose to sacrifice their lives in a voluntary commitment to God.
- This voluntary sacrifice is for the glory of God. Even as Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:52) where he knew he would be crucified for the glory of God (John 17:2), so Christ-followers desire God to be glorified in everything they do – even if it means personal sacrifice and loss.
How does this apply to a mother who finds herself tempted to cover her man’s crimes against her children?
She needs to realize that her children will be most inclined to glorify God when she does good works. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that when they see your good works they will glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The way we bring glory to God is by good works. When people (a mother’s child) observe those good works they (the child) will be more inclined to glorify God.
But good works are more than just making hot meals and maintaining stoic silence in a bad marriage. Just as it was for Jesus, the best works are a dying to our own self interests. A mother, for the glory of God, may have to sacrifice her relationship to her man in order to do what is best for her children, justice, and the cause of societal morality. Her good work may be to report her husband’s abuse to the police. Good works that are the fruit of sacrifice are the kind that cause men to glorify our Father in heaven.
Do you see the contrast? They glorify our Father in heaven, not the father here on earth or the man in mom’s life. The disturbing reality is that in cases of abuse in the church her man may be the pastor. Her pastor may not be the violator, but if she has the distinct impression that she could lose his favor she may be very inclined to cover for her man in order to keep the peace for a man that has become to her what her husband is not, a symbol of spiritual authority.
But she must act for the glory of God.
- Not only is biblical cross-bearing voluntarily sacrificing one’s interests for the glory of God, but it is directed for the good of the Church.
This has been one of the nuances of cross-bearing that I have found to help women find the courage to do what is right concerning their perpetrators, and mothers to do what is right concerning the abuser of their children. A woman must realize that a little bit of leaven, leavens the whole lump, as the Apostle says. Purity in the Church depends on evil being dealt with. The Church at large and society as a whole will never be able to stop the tidal wave of sexual abuse that is destroying children by the millions until many mothers, Christian mothers, realize that they need to kiss the security of their marriage goodbye for the glory of God and the good of the Church. Sin is sin is sin.
Christian homes are not exempt from Matthew 18. If a mother confronts her husband for a sin and he doesn’t repent, she must enlarge the circle of knowledge. Marriage is not allowed to have secret sins. But crime is different. The molestation of a child is not just a sin, by its very definition it is a crime against society. The mother has a moral duty before God and society to report her husband. Molesting a child is not a private sin between individuals; it is a crime, not just against the child, but against society. While the law does not make a mother a mandatory reporter, God does. And there are rare circumstances where this does not require significant sacrifice for the mother. In most cases it will devastate life as she knows it and could likely mean public testimony in courts and jail time for the man she thought was her Prince Charming.
I do not hold anger in my heart toward mothers that bear this horrible responsibility. But I plead with them to realize that the courage necessary to do the right thing is given to the disciples of Jesus. In fact, I would urge her to desist with an artificial moralism that elevates marriage above the law and morality. Marriage is not above morality. Marriage is within the confines of morality; and everything, including marriage, comes after Jesus.
Only the Gospel with all of the assurances of acceptance and love and healing can empower some mothers to rise above the curse of craving her man so much that she sacrifices her children to her idol. Only the Gospel can pour into her heart the love of God to the point that she needs nothing but to know that she is loved by God and thereby able to love others according to the will of God. Loving her children according to the will of God is to protect them and speak the truth even if it means to lose her man. Loving her man according to the will of God is to love him free of the curse.