Three Reasons Why Staying Neutral is not Biblical
Author: Leslie Vernick
Last month I received an avalanche of responses on my Facebook page to last month’s blog “Let’s Not Call it Abuse”. Many women recounted painful experiences of invalidation, minimization and silence from their Christian counselor when she disclosed what was happening at home.
From the overwhelming feedback I received, it obvious I hit a raw nerve and I think it best that we, as biblical counselors pay attention.
Refusing to call certain behaviors abuse and watering them down with more palatable words like mutual sin is like telling a rape victim that she had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It’s true but imprecise. It doesn’t tell the whole story. We diminish the reality and intensity of an offense by our choice of words.
One woman, after reading my blog, decided to ask her counselor why he never stood up for her. Why he never confronted her husband on his abusive behavior. He said, “I can’t be your advocate because that would mean taking sides and I can’t believe one person over the other. I have to counsel someone in a way that won’t drive him away.”
While I understand his position, in these kinds of cases it is unwise. It’s true that the counselor’s goal in marital counseling is to stay neutral and not take sides, but that is not Biblical when it comes to serious and repetitive marital sin. We must not stay silent and not speak the truth just because it may cause someone to get upset, walk away, or stop counseling. Jesus never did.
Here are three reasons why I believe staying neutral is unbiblical and even dangerous to the individuals as well as the marriage.
1. We don’t tell the truth. As biblical counselors we are not merely truth seekers; we are called to be truth tellers. If we are counseling someone who is caught in a repetitive and dangerous sin and we minimize it, whitewash it, or ignore it how are we helping that individual?
Biblical counselors are trained to tell the truth when it comes to sins so why do we stay silent on marital abuse? Most biblical counselors have no problem telling a woman who decides to divorce her abusive husband that she’s wrong, or God hates divorce. When she’s expressing bitterness and resentment toward her abusive spouse she’s told that she’s unforgiving and hard hearted. Yet why in so many situations has no one said to her husband that he is abusive and destructive to her and to their marriage? God’s word is quite clear. Scripture amply supports God’s stance against abuse and the tactics of abusers.
The Bible says God hates injustice, oppressors, revilers, liars, hypocrites, and those who abuse their power to hurt and take advantage of others. Marriage is not the exception to God’s guidelines on how to treat people.
2. Neutral is not neutralwhen it comes to abuse and other serious sins. Yes, it’s true that both people in a marriage are sinners and therefore we should not cast more stones in one direction than another. But speaking the truth doesn’t have to be done with scolding and shame. It can be done in love but it must be done.
When we stay silent and refuse to name something for what it is, we are not neutral. Whether we realize it or not by our silence we collude with the abuser that their behavior isn’t that bad. By our silence the abuser believes that we agree that if only his wife was more _____ he wouldn’t act that way. This places the burden on the abused to manage the abusers actions and attitudes. By our silence, we send the wrong message. We’re implying that we agree with the abuser’s interpretation of reality. That is not neutral or helpful.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, a martyred Lutheran pastor during Adolf Hitler’s regime said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.” When the church refused to speak out against Hitler’s abuse of the Jews, the abuse became culturally acceptable behavior.
3. We fail to love
In Hans Christian Andersen’s book, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the King’s most trusted advisors were afraid to tell him the truth about his new non-existent wardrobe. Instead they allowed him to make a fool out of himself parading around in his nakedness, believing that he looked fabulous. It took a child who was willing to tell the truth to shake people awake to their fear and foolishness. Those closest to the King failed to love him well by their unwillingness to tell him the truth.
James reminds us, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
We do someone no favors when we silently collude with his delusion that it is his wife’s problem that he acts his way or it’s his wife’s sole responsibility to fix their marriage.
In 1836 two sisters in an upper class Southern Family, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, took a bold stance against their family practices, their church, and against their culture.
First Sarah, then Angelina began to speak out against slavery even though their family owned slaves and their church taught slavery was biblically sanctioned.
They were attacked, persecuted and were not permitted to return to their own hometowns because people thought they were unbiblical.
Today when we look back we applaud these young women for their courage and bravery. Today Christian’s everywhere are speaking out against modern day slavery and would never defend slavery as biblical even though the Bible never speaks directly against it.
I hope it doesn’t take a hundred years to for the church to speak out against any kind of abuse in marriage. I hope it doesn’t take a hundred years for churches to begin to speak out against emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse in marriage and stop turning a blind eye to a woman or man or child being treated as a slave or object especially in their own home.
I hope that a hundred years from now we look back on this time in church history and feel great shame for the way we have failed to defend or speak out for the victim and by our silence and often our very words, we have empowered the “Christian” bully to continue to abuse those under his or her care.
Edmond Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing”.
As Biblical counselors you and I have an obligation and responsibility to do something. We must speak up.
Posted on September 7, 2012