China's first law on domestic violence was passed on December 27, 2015. However, the law was passed because domestic violence is an invisible yet common issue in China. A majority of Chinese women unfortunately choose to be submissive and swallow insults leading to abuse due to the concept "do not wash your dirty linen in public."
Domestic violence in the Chinese church is tougher and more invisible than in the secular world. The main reason is that the traditional church suggests domestic violence victims "endure, tolerate, pray for, and overcome violence", making them regard it as a "lesson" God assigns them. The victims, influenced by Christian conservatism, have been abused and even beaten to death.
The Bible: "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment."
Rev. Yang from a local church in Northwest China has encountered many Christian domestic violence cases. One sister complained to the pastor, claiming that she endured beating from her husband for years. Rev. Yang asked why she didn't resist. Another believer even told Rev. Yang that she was almost beaten to death. Yang asked her why she didn't seek a divorce. Each time, hearing her question, the sisters in counseling responded with astonishment, "I haven't met a preacher like you. How could you teach other people to get a divorce?"
Actually Rev. Yang doesn't encourage divorce for all domestic violence cases, instead, she advocates that one must divorce if the abuse is life-threatening.
Even so, most of the victims choose to endure domestic violence.
The pastor believes that it's time for the church and Christians to wake up and change this mindset. The literal interpretation of verses by some pastors and Christians adds spiritual bondage to the issue and distorts Jesus' teachings.
Below are five real cases from Rev. Yang:
A divorced sister remarried, but the family of her husband treated her badly. In pain, she was helpless and turned to the church for help. The preacher told her to endure and not to divorce, or she would commit adultery. Hearing this, she felt disappointed. Humiliated and called names by her husband's family again, she drank pesticide and vomited fragments of internal organs burned by the poison, dying very painfully.
I ask those who consider her divorce as sexual immorality under this circumstance heart-wrenchingly how you feel about her tragic death. Doesn't divorcing again give her more opportunity to be saved than her suicide?
Another sister's husband was a deacon from a church in Shenyang, a northeastern city. He got married three times and every divorce resulted from domestic violence. He kicked and punched his first wife from the sixth floor down to the first one. His third wife was a diligent and devout sister, but she suffered from his beating for years and was black and blue at the worst times. Asked why he hit his wife, he answered --- she wouldn't be sensible if she was not beaten. It was only in the last two years that he put his fists down because his daughter screamed at him and cried loudly when he beat his wife. The sister said that he never beat her after his daughter made a scene.
Thus it can be seen that the man was wicked at heart, lacking respect for his wife and life, rather than unable to control himself. I don't believe that he has real faith in God.
An old lady talked with me on the phone for more than four hours. She kept crying during the call. When she was young, she was sold as a wife. After getting married, she suffered from domestic violence not only from her husband but also from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Later she became a Christian and found comfort. However, she claimed, "You ask me to forgive them, but I can't do it." I said nothing then.
The side effect of family violence was revealed on her second daughter. Smart and sensitive, her daughter left the family at 18 due to domestic violence. Probably because she lacked her parents' love, she had a boyfriend who was more than ten years older than her. The boyfriend was a complete reproduction of her father in character. After she married him, they didn't share a common language owing to his family all being non-Christians and their age gap. Then she started to cheat on him. She told me about it, but since stopped talking when she had another affair. She felt humiliated to see me so she didn't contact me. But I knew that she had an affair. The girl wanted to find true love.
A woman from Heilongjiang died of cancer at just over 40. Her husband was unfaithful to her and wanted a divorce. She refused because the church told her not to get a divorce. The church's preacher said that she should not divorce because divorcing is adultery and anyone who commits adultery cannot be saved. She should endure it, love her husband, and pray for him.
The situation lasted for over a decade. The man was angry that she didn't agree to the divorce. Actually, she wanted a divorce several times, but each time she went to the church and the preacher and believers said, "Men cannot separate what God has joined together. As a Christian, you shall not divorce, otherwise, you commit adultery. Do you want to sin against God and go to hell? " Finally, her husband brought another woman to live at home. Then she developed breast cancer. When she was dying in a hospital bed, her husband came with his lover and said, "Why are you still alive? Go to hell now and leave room for her (the mistress)." He scolded her like this. However, the church made her bear it and no member saw or cared about her. Later she passed away.
I counseled another sister who was a domestic abuse victim from her husband. We kept in contact for two years. I advised her to divorce, but she asked why I did this since her church declared that one who divorced committed adultery. I asked her to read the Old Testament and the New Testament, but her church's pastor told her not to get a divorce. Her husband frequently beat her for no reason and kicked her when she paid no attention. I said, "You must divorce him, otherwise he might beat you to death someday." She replied surprisingly, "How could you teach me to divorce as a preacher? Divorcing is a sin and I can't offend God!"
"What if you are beaten to death by him? What would other people say about you if you died like that? " I asked. She responded that her parents said that she was silly due to her Christian faith. I told her that humans are created in the image of God and God said that we shall not murder! So any abuse or beating that endangers other people's lives in any form makes God angry. She could file for divorce to protect of her life, and there is also an article in the law to support this.
However, she refused even though I tried to persuade her.
She turned to a preacher from Sichuan for help. The preacher told her that she should not divorce even though she was killed by him and she would be regarded as a martyr for the Lord if she were beaten to death.
I told her not to put up with him unless she received clear guidance from God; if not, I suggested she get a divorce immediately. She answered no, saying that her church's preacher said that she should not divorce and commit adultery and that divorcing didn't honor God.
Afterwards, her husband kicked her, paralyzing her lower body. "You still won't divorce? Sue him!" I told her. She responded, "I haven't overcome this. I didn't do well so this happened to me."
The last I heard of her was that her husband began to abuse her sexually because her lower body felt nothing. He could torture her to death without leaving any wound in this way. Powerless to resist, she lived as in a hell every evening. She said that she dared not divorce him because nobody would marry her since she was paralyzed. I said to her, "I'm sympathetic with your sufferings but am infuriated at your indifference." Now she doesn't contact me. I suppose she can hardly survive...
The church should explain the Bible correctly and not dogmatize Biblical teachings to aid the evil-doers.
Having contacted the sisters suffering from domestic violence, Rev. Yang started to realize that it was necessary to write down these family violence cases. She has published online articles about family violence on some platforms and the responses showed praises and condemnation.
Yang said that she released an article one day and the next day a sister told her that she was removed from the church because of her divorce. She suffered from family violence justified by her husband all the year around. Each time she was beaten half dead. Her child hugged her and said, "Mom, get out of here. If you don't go, I will lose my mother." Scared by the child's word, she got a divorce that day. The second day the church expelled her and said, "You are an adulteress. You can't go to heaven but hell. " Wandering outside the church for two or three years, she cried when she saw a church. She didn't dare enter it because the pastor claimed that she was an adulteress. During this period she wept every day. She said that she felt God's comfort when she cried, but she didn't understand why the church sent her out. After reading Yang's online article, she called Yang and said that she found comfort from it. She burst into loud sobs on the phone and said that her hidden scar was healed and she would live with courage and continue to believe in God.
However, it is sad that some victims don't come back. Yang shared, "I have a very close sister. She was formerly in charge of a church choir. Her marriage issue made her depressed. She ended up giving up her faith and got a divorce! I asked why she abandoned her faith, she cried loudly and answered, 'I loved God and wanted to believe in him, but I sinned, divorced and remarried. My pastor said I committed adultery, so I was scared to go to church! Everyone avoided me! The sexually immoral cannot enter the kingdom of God. So this will be my whole life and God doesn't want me! I have lost contact with her at present. Maybe the soul is lost! Who will be accountable for that soul? "
"I absolutely don't teach believers not to take marriage seriously. Marriage is sacred. I never hold that Christians can divorce at will." she said, "Must those Christians who fail in their marriage remain alone until death if they are condemned as 'adulterous sinners' for a divorce? They commit adultery just because they remarry? It seriously departs from the truth."
Afterword from the authors:
Domestic violence is a negative social phenomenon that should not be ignored. It includes physical violence and verbal violence. Various factors result in it. If it is not stopped promptly, it will have a lasting effect on the second and third generations.
When you suffer from domestic violence, first protect yourself with legal weapons or you can lose your life, let alone "faith" and "victory"?
What role the church plays in the negotiation of Christian domestic violence issues needs deep introspection and reflection.
- Translated by Karen Luo