Say "No" / "Know" to Domestic Violence

Rev Jim Splitt

Sept. 19, 1999

John 8:30-36 II Samuel 13:1-22

John 8:30-36 Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are Abrahamís descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

II Samuel 13:1-22 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, Davidís brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, "Why do you, the kingís son, look so haggard morning after morning? Wonít you tell me?" Amnon said to him, "Iím in love with Tamar, my brother Absalomís sister." "Go to bed and pretend to be ill," Jonadab said. "When your father comes to see you, say to him, ĎI would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.í " So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, "I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand." David sent word to Tamar at the palace: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him." So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat. Send everyone out of here," Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, "Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand." And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, "Come to bed with me, my sister." "Donít, my brother!" she said to him. "Donít force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Donít do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you." But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, "Get up and get out!" "No!" she said to him. "Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me." But he refused to listen to her. He called his personal servant and said, "Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her." So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went. Her brother Absalom said to her, "Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Donít take this thing to heart." And Tamar lived in her brother Absalomís house, a desolate woman. When King David heard all this, he was furious. Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar..

Preaching about domestic violence is not a comfortable topic. As it is uncomfortable to preach about, it may also be an uncomfortable topic to listen to. When we come to church we want to be lifted up and challenged for the week ahead. We want spiritual nourishment from the sermon that brings good news to our lives and proclaims the power of the risen Lord in our life. There is good news to grasp in this message. It is contained in the power of the Gospel message: if we know the truth; and, if we confront the truth; and we wake up to the truth; and if we listen to the truth; and if we speak the truth; the truth will set us free! Sometimes the truth is hidden. Sometimes the truth is denied. Sometimes secrets, lies, deception, or threat overpowers the truth. Sometime we cannot face the truth because we are embarrassed, guilty, shamed, intimidated, frightened, abused, neglected, brainwashed or naÔve. Violence that occurs in many homes is given power when the truth is not revealed. The reoccurrence of violence is fueled by a perpetual lie. The rape of Tamar is a story about domestic violence. The good news in this story is that Tamarís voice is not silenced. She speaks the truth and she cries out in the public square, sharing her disgrace and pain for all to see. While those around her try to silence her, she continues to say "NO! NO! NO!" What is the message for the church? How do we as a church stand by those like Tamar? How do we help those who cry out in anguish like we hear in the psalms?

"My tears have been my food day and night." (Psalm 42:3; Isaiah 6:9). "Every night I flood my bed with tears: I drench my couch with my weeping." (Psalm 6:6).
How do we, as a church, preach to those in such pain the assurance of compassion and the preservation of justice? How do we speak to those who live with anger; who express the need to control and condemn; who dehumanize; who act with violence in the homes where we are called to love one another as family? How do we address those who are not victims; who are not the perpetrators; who simply donít know itís going on; who are not involved; who are the bystanders? The answer is contained in the Gospel message. The answer comes in an intentional quest for the truth and then allowing the truth to have the power in our lives rather than violence. One way to address this subject is to bypass a direct approach and take the preventative approach. We can speak about what we need to do to have more loving families; how to deal with conflict; how to build self esteem and trust among family members. All of this is central to the life of healthy Christian families. However, this morning, we will address this subject head on. We will look at the phenomena of domestic violence and learn how we, as individuals and a community of faith, can hear and speak the truth about domestic violence. We will learn how not to become unknowing allies with the lies and the deception of domestic violence. Recently I experienced the worst case scenario of domestic violence as a chaplain on the Miami Township Police Department. I was summoned to assist families who had witnessed a murder/suicide. A young man who was distraught about the breakup of a relationship came to his former girl friendís apartment about the time she was leaving for work. They had an argument. He had a shotgun and threatened to kill her. Finally it got out of hand. He shot her and ran up behind the building where she had been living, put the gun to his head, and took his own life. A member of Loveland Presbyterian Church stood at her window balcony on a second floor apartment and saw it all. I ministered to her.
When I worked as a pastoral counselor in Toledo, Ohio I spent my mornings as a developmental therapist working with 3 to 5 year old children who had been sexually molested in their homes. In the afternoons I did family therapy with the parents of these children. Usually, it was a single parent, a mother who was also the victim of domestic violence. In order to be effective as a therapist, I studied for three years with Dr. David Grove who developed a therapy called, "Healing the Wounded Child Within." I was able to help adults molested as children to recover, to grow and be given a sense of self-esteem.
In NYC, I worked as a Chaplain in a residential treatment center for abused children. Some of the worst horror stories imaginable were a part of the legacy of these childrenís lives. On the wall in my office was the poster: "God donít make no junk." It was a ministry of reclaiming the very soul of children and teaching them to believe in themselves and to know the truth so the truth could set them free.
My own experience has helped me to understand that domestic violence is a painful and real part of many peopleís lives. It has helped me to become a good listener and it has helped me to become more sensitive to the ways in which families breakdown and begin to experience violence instead of love, hated instead of respect, dishonor instead of grace.
Here are a few things of importance that are a first step in Saying "NO" or "KNOW" to domestic violence. Domestic violence is radical evil (sin). Even when we say NO, violence happens. People try to justify the violence rather than seek justice against it. God wants us to be set free from the violence.

Amnon fell in love with his half sister, the sister of his brother Absalom.Her name was Tamar. She was beautiful. Amnonís love for Tamar was not an affectionate and healthy love of a brother for a sister. It was a distorted feeling. While the Bible reads that he fell in love with her, the word means lust. He had a sexual desire for her, to possess her and selfishly have his own pleasure at her expense. Thatís sin. He admits this to his friend Jonadad who conspires with him a plot to have his desire met. Amnon is to trick Tamar in to caring for him. Domestic violence occurs when we play games with other peoplesí lives, when we disrespect them, and we have selfish desires and intentions for a person that does not respect their will or integrity. The ministry of the Christian to someone like Amnon is to help them redirect these feelings and repress the related behaviors as they learn to understand it as sinful, or radical evil. I use the term radical evil to express the nature of this sinful activity. We may be numb to the word sin. Radical evil speaks to the nature of this violent act.Radical acts of evil may occur through a look, a threat, physical harm, punishment, confinement, restrictions, name calling, intimidation, sexual demands and other forms of abuse. Perpetrators are family members, relatives, neighbors, and strangers. They are not family friends even though we may call them such.People who are perpetrators of domestic violence need to cry out for help to end the behavior. They need friends who will speak the truth in honesty and love. Jonadab was not a true friend, but someone who helped to Amnon to act out his sinful behavior.

Tamar pleaded, begged, bargained and cried out. "NO this isnít right. You will disgrace me." She was not a silent victim. Yet she was overpowered, humiliated. Even though she said "NO", she was raped. Victims of domestic violence say "NO", "Please stop!" over and over again. Yet, they are threatened, silenced, and made to feel worthless and invisible. Their self-esteem is robbed from them. They no longer believe they can overcome the painful experience. They may believe God is punishing them or that God does not hear their prayers. They may be bound to the relationship by vows of marriage they keep even when their spouse does not keep them. Love, honor and cherish is an agreement between two people. Violence violates the marriage contract and threatens the stability of the family to remain united in love. Many are the times I ride with the Police and we return to the same residence where there have been previous reports of domestic violence. It isnít surprising to hear the words; "Weíve been here before."Saying "No" to domestic violence means that we have to know that the violence can reoccur if nothing changes. Recall the story of Moses. Moses came to set his people free from the oppression of abusive slavery. In order to be free and get to the Promised Land, they had to say "NO" to pharaoh and leave. Moses led his people away from the abuse and the violence. Some wanted to go back when the going got rough. The journey through the desert is often the journey of single individuals who grab their children, go to a shelter, and find some manna from heaven as they choose to end the violence by stepping away from it and learning how to reclaim lives of dignity of hope. It is not easy for a victim to leave their home and seek a new life. The journey is frightening, lonely, filled with risks. Leaving also challenges oneís spiritual commitment to the relationship where the violence repeats itself. The church needs to be there handing out the manna and leading the way to the promised land, giving affirmation and acceptance to those who find themselves in the need of freedom that comes from putting an end to the victimization.

Amnon banishes Tamar. He wants to get her out of his life. He does not want to look in the mirror and face the consequences. Everyone else is content not to talk about it. Meanwhile, Tamar is in the middle of the street screaming, tearing her clothes, and crying out for justice. Nobody gets it. Tamar ends up a desolate woman. The only way I understand this problem of denial in the community is in the psychological description of narcissistic pain. People who hide, lie, and try to justify their violence are often living with enormous pain, a pain referred to as narcissistic pain. This simply means an individual has a painful hurt that has never been healed and it hurts so badly that they have to make others hurt too. They are usually unable to identify their own pain except through the form of justification. The child on the playground says, "He hit me first." No one helps soothe his pain, so he has to take out his pain on others. He fights back defending his own violence act. The ongoing unresolved pain in a personís life can become the breeding ground for future acts of domestic violence.When we sin we justify the sin with lies and excuses. And what happens is that there are those who continue to believe the lie. The violence then repeats itself under protection of the lie. Tamar crying on the street seeks justice. The woman who runs to a shelter for battered women is seeking justice. The person who comes to the pastorís office to report a rape is seeking justice. True justice resolves the abuse and the violence and initiates a process of healing. For us to bring about peace is to work for justice. Justification, blaming, and making up excuses for domestic violence is the work of the devil, not the Christian caregiver.

The ministry of Jesus was a ministry of deep compassion for those hurting and suffering from the injustices of humanity. To set people free from this kind of violence is a ministry of risk, challenge and confrontation with the system of lies that try to prevail. When I was pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Toledo, Ohio, a young single parent mother came to my office afraid, in tears, and very troubled. She related to me that a member of the church had sexually abused her five-year-old daughter. This member and his wife we active members of the church. He was on session, they both sang in the choir; they were well-respected members of the church. I encouraged this woman to report the incident to the police. She did. The sequence of events that followed was painful and difficult. This person was arrested. His wife rallied church members against the woman and her daughter, calling her a liar. People accused me of siding with this woman. Charges were filed on me with the Presbytery for inappropriate professional conduct. He was convicted and later admitted to his crime and entered treatment for alcohol dependency and abusive behavior. The mother and daughter moved from the community to another part of town. The presbytery cleared me of all wrongful behaviors. I left the church so did others. After a few years, the property was sold and many of the members transferred to another Presbyterian Church. Yet the daughter of this violent act had been freed. Her cries had been heard. Her mother cried out for justice and justice prevailed. The path to freedom and justice means saying "NO" to the lie and accepting the consequences that occur when you stand for what is right. God wants us to instill in our hearts love centered behavior that transforms lives. It is the love centered home that is a home for the heart. This past week I officiated at the funeral for Irma Mae Barnett, Tammy Kreyenhagenís mom. Her children spoke at her funeral and told of the love her family shared. Here is the model and the hope of what we are seeking. It is important to know that loving families happen. But it takes dedication, spiritual values, and confrontation against anything evil. At Irmaís funeral her son, Jim was proud to say that he had never raised his voice to his mother. Searching his memory for even one example, he was left with a memory of joy of honoring his mom.

In a the book, Women in Travail & Transition, ed. By Maxine Glaz & Jeanne Moessner, they relate the words of a woman who expressed her deepest yearnings:
When I am dying, I want to remember the times when I was real and honest, when I shared myself in open self-disclosure as an act of love. I want to remember the times when I gave to those who were hungry the food of my sharing, to those who were thirsty the drink of my listening and understanding, to those who were locked inside themselves the gentle, extended hands that said, "Come out! You will be safe with me." I want to remember the times when I offered the healing gift of loving and caring to those who were in need." (p. 206).
Will we be a slave to radical evil, to sin? Or will we seek the Christ who sets us free in the truth of his love? When we say "NO" to Satan and come to "KNOW" the love of the risen Christ, we end the cycle of domestic violence. Amen.

References: Women in Travail & Transition: A New Pastoral Care. Ed. by Maxine Glaz and Jeanne Stevenson Moessner. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991. Telling the Truth; Preaching about sexual and domestic violence. Ed. by John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1998.