The first lesson in this series made a strong case from scripture that we need to respect and listen to our parents; that is the “default mindset” we must start from. This lesson will adopt the complete opposite approach, and discuss the obvious exceptions – the times when things are very clear-cut in the other direction. For example, if our parents try to get in the way of our spiritual responsibilities, if they try to make us do something illegal, if they are abusive towards us… all of these situations give us clear cause to break with the general principles that are otherwise in effect.
Things that go against our spiritual responsibilities as Christians (including failing to obey the government)
If your parents tell you to do something that goes against our spiritual responsibilities as Christians, then you have an obligation to obey God not them, of course. (Compare the circumstances under which we ought not submit to government authority: Daniel 6:6-12 as an example of the principles overriding Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17; if our parents forbid us from praying, we should carry on and ignore them). The only opinion we ought to truly value is God’s – what does God think of our actions?
Incidentally, those verses about government obedience above also give rise to a second exception: because we are called to follow the law as Christians, if our parents order us to do something illegal (and it is not something analogous to praying in Daniel’s situation, as above), then we should obviously not obey them.
Christians are called to provide for those in their house (1 Timothy 5:8). If parents are so deficient as to not only not adequately provide for their children, but instead become abusive towards them (whether physically, emotionally, etc.), the relationship has already been severed.
Children in this situation owe their “parents” nothing at all – and would be best served cutting ties and minimizing contact, if at all possible. Forgiveness is mandatory for us as Christians, but that doesn’t mean continued contact or trust is mandatory.
To use an analogy, anybody who has beaten us to the point of hospitalization is free to approach us to ask forgiveness (and it is right and proper for us to give it to them – and mean it), but they ought not be surprised to find the business end of a shotgun aimed squarely at their chest the entire time. Forgiving does not mean foolish.
Some people are best loved from a distance. Perhaps even with a restraining order or two between us and them.
Spousal abuse and divorce
The above holds true not just for children, but also for women who are victims of spousal abuse. The Bible may not directly mention domestic abuse as valid grounds for divorce as it does infidelity – compare Matthew 19:9 – but if women are already allowed to sever contact with husbands not willing to honor the marriage bed, it is inconceivable that God’s Will is that women suffer years of terrible abuse at the hands of men worse than unbelievers, as 1 Timothy 5:8 puts it.
My counsel for all women who are victims of domestic abuse is to make every effort to leave (heads high – the shameful behavior of their abusive husbands is not their fault in any way) so as to protect themselves and any children in the equation.
In such situations, women have every right to divorce and leave (…duh). Just because continued marriage would be ideal does not mean it is mandatory, and it is especially reprehensible to force such a position upon women who already have to deal with abuse from the very people that are supposed to love and cherish them. It’s not them who are causing the marriage to fall apart, after all. They are the victims here.
It blows my mind that there are teachers (or rather, “teachers”) who teach and promote points of view along the lines of “the Bible never directly makes an abuse exception for divorce, so women have no right to leave, and if they do divorce their abusive husbands, they can never get into any other relationship without committing adultery.”
Matthew 18:6 comes to mind – such gross and hypocritical legalism, especially coming from people who ought to know better, will in no way go unpunished. (Compare James 3:1).
God is the one who decides what abuse is
Severely questioning and being overly skeptical of victims of abuse can be problematic for obvious reasons. But it is also true that some parties feel like shouting “abuse!” at the top of their lungs should be an escape-consequences-free card, and this is improper.
In other words, teenagers do not get to selectively disobey rules their parents set by declaring them “abusive.” Curfews, forbidding underage drinking and premarital sex, and punishments like grounding are not “abuse.” A girl being beaten half-to-death and sexually assaulted by her father is abuse. People should be scorned any time they try to paint the former as in any way comparable to the latter, as it does actual victims of the latter a grave disservice.
Not everything is so cut-and-dry as this though. There certainly are parents out there who emotionally damage their children and undercut their self-confidence to such a degree that it is absolutely abuse – even if it doesn’t leave physical bruises.
Should we step in if people aren’t parenting how we would?
As long as what we perceive does not seem to cross the lines of actual abuse (i.e., that which would be reportable to the authorities), then it is not really for us as third parties to try and step in and meddle – it’s none of our business (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13, Romans 14:4).
According to scripture, we are not to be meddlesome busybodies.
Moreover, there are plenty of factors that make getting a true “read” of situations difficult:
- Parenting is hard and parents are just imperfect human beings too, so sometimes they may come down too hard on their kids without any malevolent intent. In fact, their intent may be completely pure even while they end up being overly harsh: they want to discipline and correct their kids for their own good. Most parents hate punishing their kids as much as their kids hate the punishment, if not more.
- Kids (even relatively young kids) can be manipulative and only present a skewed version of things to outside parties if they think it will help them get what they want.
- Sometimes our own views as to what is or is not proper are very much culturally conditioned (contrast physical punishment of children à la Proverbs 13:24 with modern American sensibilities) – and even unconsciously so. Things are further complicated by the fact that certain brash, headstrong children may need a good bit more punishing to get the point through their unrepentant heads, while you might just look at a quieter child the wrong way and they’ll burst into tears. In other words, what might in fact be cruel treatment for one child will be entirely necessary to discipline another… but since they aren’t our kids, there is no way for us as outsiders to know the one from the other.
The parties involved know the realities at hand, as does God. If a child is arrogantly resisting their parents’ legitimate authority, God won’t let it stand. He also won’t let actual parental abuse stand. In the final accounting of things, all will be revealed, and justice will be perfectly rendered.