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Advice for Ministers on Abuse in a Christian Marriage: Part I
How to prevent the worst from happening?
I am writing this post after one of my teachers was killed by her physically abusive husband. Apparently he “lost control” and accidentally killed her. When she saw what he had done, she tried to cover up the crime by burning his body. Then went to the gym to work out. It not only burned his body but destroyed the house. He returned from the gym and “discovered” the fire department by trying to put out the fast-burning fire. When their families came to town, they had nothing to take with them except what they had at school. It was heartbreaking to watch them cling to all of her things while crying as she carefully loaded the contents of her classroom into bins and boxes.
At that time, this teacher was five months pregnant. Her husband was eventually convicted of double first-degree murder along with first-degree arson. Both she and her husband were active in the local church. As I understand it, he was giving advice on anger management. In addition, the couple was counseling at their church. They had a brief separation early in their marriage. This was after he missed two weeks of school because of the beating. Since we started teaching that year, I knew about this event. Because of my experience, I tried to talk to him more than once, but to no avail. Why?
I realized that people only listen when they are ready. My pastor told me, “You’ll know when you have enough.” In Christian families, women tend to feel more ashamed because they believe they must somehow rely on God to fix the “problems” in their marriage. When things don’t seem to be working out, women tend to think they are doing something wrong because they don’t trust God enough. This alone will prevent many Christian women from reporting domestic violence issues. Don’t let your husband get in trouble for revealing the abuse.
To make my teacher friend’s case even more interesting, I had another abuse incident in his pastorate a few years ago. This woman was one of the sorority workers I worked for. After listening to her concerns, I arranged to meet with her pastor. All she wanted was to help her husband. A minor was also involved in the case, so he threatened to call the relevant authorities. At this point, he finally took the matter seriously. He told me that the church was responsible for everything and that there was no need to call the authorities. In my mind, I agreed not to make this terrible call.
Keep in mind here that in some professions (including thinkers), I have learned over the years that they are considered “mandatory reporters.” Anything involving a child or “vulnerable adult” must be reported to the appropriate authorities. The pastor did not follow the law and his counsel did not help the situation.
Within five years, the other pastor was dealing with a teacher friend’s marriage. (We’ll call her Lisa) Only this time a member of her church died. Although many pastors try to help with abuse cases, I believe that this type of counseling is generally outside the realm of what ministers are trained to deal with. Lisa’s husband (we’ll call him Kevin) may have been in counseling, but Kevin didn’t seem to get the help he really needed unless he saw someone who specializes in abuse. Ministers should know that it is appropriate to refer a member of their congregation to professional advisors when necessary. There are good counselors who understand the Christian ideals and can deal with the mental problems of a “believer”.
FACT: abuse doesn’t just happen in families outside the church. In reality, this happens more in the church, because there is a religion that teaches that the wife must submit to her husband and that his word is the final word. Husbands can use this as an excuse to dominate or dominate their wives. Husbands often use scriptures to support their views when their wives do not follow instructions. This is spiritual abuse. God never forces us, so why should a husband submit his wife to HIS will? I believe the last time I checked the scriptures it said we are to do the will of God and not man. If God treated us as we usually treat each other, no one would want to be a Christian. God is love. We are commanded to love one another.
So, how does a pastor deal with the current issue of domestic violence within his congregation? I believe that Lisa would have lived if Lisa’s pastor had not encouraged the couple to stay apart for long periods of time and not allow them to live together until there was good evidence of reduced violence. I heard Kevin and Lisa are together in a few months. In this case, one year may not be enough time.
I understand that many Christians feel that “outside counseling” will discredit them and their belief system. With the right mentor, that won’t happen. All forms of domestic violence should be provided with professional counseling to enable resolution of the abuse. A minister can still provide spiritual counseling, but abuse counseling should be left to those trained in domestic violence.
Christian women feel that loving their husbands enough or having more faith will make them a better person, even if the husband is abusive. Many people are taught to pray harder and sincerely believe that their husbands will change. He has to be patient and show her that he loves her no matter how she treats him. Continue to win her over with gentleness and then she will change. The problem with this mentality is that the abuser takes advantage of this kindness and kindness. Thus, violence often escalates. A vicious cycle began; the wife tries to love unconditionally and be more gentle, while the abusive husband allows her to exert more control. He keeps putting her off more and more, believing that things will get better if he can convince her to change. At the same time, the husband takes more and more control until the situation spirals out of control.
What happens next? Enter… stairs left; minister or pastoral counselor. Enter…stage right; Christian friends, co-workers, family, etc. The confusion begins when the wife has different opinions and takes advice from all sides. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, she often convinces everyone that her husband is leading a normal life and that it is not a problem because he is a star citizen or a high-ranking member of the congregation. How can he be a troubled person? Sounds like the wife is in trouble, so what’s the big deal? The key here is that his public behavior is not the same as his private life. In reality, husbands should treat their wives equally in public and private situations.
All forms of domestic violence fall under the category of selfishness. A man who abuses his wife only wants to control himself and his wife. Last I checked, that’s considered a sin. One goal for Christian ministers is to help church members live Christ-like lives. People must understand all aspects of sin and then deal with it. Knowingly sinning deprives us of God’s blessings. When a husband abuses his wife, even if he holds a high position in the church, he needs to know that he denies what he thinks the abuse is scoring for him. His prayer will not be respected.
See part 2 of this series for a checklist of what to do and how you can help a member of your congregation who is experiencing abuse.
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