The Irony of the Threshold

Most girls dream of the day when their prince charming scoops them off their feet and carries them over the threshold of marital bliss. Some married couples, like my parents, have taken part in a tradition in which the groom carries the wife over the threshold into their new home as a newly established family. This symbolizes the groom’s role to protect his wife from evil, making sure that she is safe from all harm and danger. In the biblical account mentioned below, the threshold has a different meaning.

In the 19th chapter of Judges, we are shown one of the most graphic stories ever told in the Bible. The Levite in the story has a concubine who decides she’s had enough of dealing with her abusive husband, and is going to return to her father in Bethlehem.[1]

Months later, her husband heads to Bethlehem to persuade her to return home with him. She has a change of heart and decides to return to her husband. While they are heading home, they stop to rest in a city for the night. Just when we think this story may shed some hope for the woman, her husband – the one who she thought had changed his ways, the one who was supposed to protect her from danger, the one who won the approval of her father – throws her into a violent mob of men like shark bait and allows the crowd to take turns raping her until they grow tired.

She’s left physically, mentally, and emotionally drained after the horrific ordeal. Think of the pain she had to endure as she walked back to the house where she was staying for the night. Every step she took, she was crying out for help and no one was there to hear her agonized cry. As she reached out her hands to open the door, she collapsed to the ground, and her hands landed on the threshold.

The next day, as her husband was leaving, he found her still there, unconscious on that threshold. As he called her to get up, there was no response. Eventually, he took her home only to cut her up into pieces, sending each of the pieces to every tribe of Israel. And as they looked at the dismembered body parts, their response was, “Who is going to speak out about this?”

This story reminds me of an epidemic that is plaguing our societies today. This epidemic is not selective in race, gender, age, or geographic location. I am convinced it’s transcended mere epidemic to become increasingly a pandemic of the ages.

This pandemic is spreading every day as we speak. We hear it on the news continuously, we read it on billboards while we drive. It is killing women, men, and children one by one. It is infecting our communities and it is seeping into our churches. This pandemic is called Domestic Violence, or Intimate Partner Violence.

This account in Judges gives us an eye-opening look into the reality of Intimate Partner Violence. After the woman decided to return to her husband, we read later that she was found unconscious with her hands on the threshold, before she passed away in her final cry for justice. Likewise, we have women, men, and children who are unable to defend themselves – placing their hands on the threshold and crying out for justice in the world every day.

There are women covering their faces and bodies to hide the marks that were placed on them by the men who are supposed to love them as Christ loves the Church. There are men who feel emasculated if they report their spouses abusing them, and so stay silent. There are children who act wayward in our Sabbath School classes, and we wonder why, never knowing it is because they have witnessed their father nearly choking their mother to death. Their waywardness is their way of placing their hands on the threshold, it is their cry for help.

My question to you is this: who is going to speak up about domestic violence? What is causing us to keep silent on this issue? How can we manage to hear and see issues of domestic violence in the news and do nothing about it? When are we going to speak out against it? Will we speak up when there is another casualty that ends up orphaning the children of our churches?

Why do we think domestic violence does not occur within the walls of the church, when research shows incidences of abuse in some Adventist homes follow the same trends documented in non-Adventist populations?

33.8% of women and 20% of men are victims of domestic violence.[2] It breaks my heart hearing individuals discouraging programs that help raise awareness in our churches. It’s disheartening when we spend time talking about Ray Rice and other celebrities involved in an intimate partner violence situation when we should be addressing the deacon who emotionally abuses his wife 24/7.

It’s appalling when I hear stories of women going to their pastors for help and being told that they need to be submissive because God hates divorce. It’s painful as a woman to hear people investing their energies to speak out against women pastors and not women victims of domestic violence.

Once again, “Who will Speak Up?”

It is time for us to do something as stewards of our communities. God has called each of us to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of justice as mentioned in my previous article. He has called us to be upstanders, not bystanders. In order for us to do so, we must be able to foster a safe environment in our churches for survivors seeking a place of refuge, and educate ourselves in become more vigilant to discern signs of abuse while working with children in our churches.

It is time for our churches to become the Thresholds of Justice, the Thresholds of Empathy, the Thresholds of Safety, the Thresholds of Unity, and the Threshold of Satisfaction, because we serve a God who has graced us with our Threshold of Salvation, and His name is Jesus.

Notes & References:

[1] During this time period, a concubine was a second-class wife who performed marriage duties without the same rights as a full wife.

[2] http://www.sdaabuseresponse.org/research

Darnisha Thomas is serving as the pastor for Student Ministries and Volunteer Engagement at New Hope Adventist Church in Fulton, Maryland. She also blogs at www.nishaisnaturallyadorned.com where she frequently discusses practical theology and life with a touch of pink.

Image Credit: Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8313
2 Likes

Judges 19, in my opinion is the worst, worst chapter in the Bible, followed closely in “worstness” by chapters 20 and 21. While this assaulted and murdered second-tier wife lies dead on the doorstep, her charming hubby enjoys his breakfast then snarls at her to GET UP - too bad, so sad. Is he any worse than his charming host, who previously had offered to toss his young (virgin) daughter out to the howling mob? Oh dear me, mustn’t gang rape a man, that would be profoundly disrespectful. Just find a woman, shove her out the door, and…oh well, these things happen. If only she hadn’t died? That would have been okay?? Then we proceed to the Benjamites, who failed to show up for the war over this, so most of the Benjamite men were wiped out, leaving only a few – who needed wives. So, let’s send them all up to just take possession of the virgin girls of Jabesh-Gilead (all the other men, women and children had been massacred). Still not enough wives for the poor deprived Benjamite men? Hide in the bushes around Shiloh, and when the young girls go by, GRAB them. See a pattern here? Possess/overpower/repeat/possess, overpower/repeat. Who has value, and who is expendable and replaceable? I love the Bible and have read it through, over and over, yet I see in these three chapters as a cautionary tale of what happens when people of power are utterly disconnected from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is my belief that the greatest tool of Satan for the destruction of the earth is the subjugation and degradation of half of the human race by the other half. Nothing in his toolkit (past, present, future) works as well as this. Nothing.

4 Likes

i’m almost speechless reading this article, and the comment by carolyn…

as a single person living alone, i can’t say i’ve given IPV much thought…but i am a regular member of a church…i will certainly keep my eyes open for any signs of domestic violence in the future…i suspect this type of violence thrives on secrecy, which means that the more it’s uncovered and confronted, the less it should occur…

1 Like

i have to admit, i was SHOCKED at the parallels between this passage and the narative in Genesis 19 regarding Lot’s experience in Sodom! An important difference is that while God destroyed Sodom by Divine fire, he chose to use the Israelites as instruments of His judgement in this and many other times. While the abuse of ANYONE is repugnant to me, it would be fitting if, perhaps, a little more thought and a LOT more prayer is underwent before drawing conclusions…

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F[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:14546”]
Why do we think domestic violence does not occur within the walls of the church
[/quote]

Could it be because the church has sanctioned and made it easier to engage in violence? After all that is the main issue behind WO, Male Headship theory, LGBT and even the Last Generation Theology. The first step towards domestic violence is to demean and to devalue the partner then it becomes easier to subject her/him to abuse or negligence and to lose empathy with them. Studies show that babies born of congenital malformation or with intellectual disabilities have a greater chance of being abused. It is for this reason that every means be applied to our church leaders to correct our corporate sanctioned injustices before we can blame the ever ubiquitous punching-bag Satan.

3 Likes

Elmer –
REASONS WHY It is EASY to be abusive, and continue Abuse by church members toward church member [spousal abuse, AND Child Abuse] may be the POOR COUNSELING by Pastors. #2, by the reading of Ellen White in the churches regarding Marriage.
The ABUSED is TO FORGIVE the Abuser is the Biggest LIE foisted upon the Abused [spouse, child]. Pray for the Abuser is #2.
And #3 is “MAYBE” you are Doing Things that irritate the Abuser. [and so you are receiving your just reward for your actions or words].

SELDOM do we hear of Pastors telling the Abused [spouse, child] to LEAVE the situation on a permanent basis. Which SHOULD BE THE FIRST thing they are told.
NOR is any Social Services made aware of the problem.
YES! Our Church Doctrines MAINTAIN the culture of Abuse in the SDA church.

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Thank you, Darnisha, for bringing us to the threshold of awareness. Our theology can, indeed, contribute to the violence.

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DAmisha, may i add an argument I repeatedly have heard : Those who just have heard a telltale of f the xx family playing cards on Sunday afternoon - and there is pepper and vinegar onthe potato salad they bring to potluck, all at once claim for “Privacy” the church should not stress.