***To read this post in Russian, please, go HERE.
By now many, if not most, Slavic-American residents have heard the gut-wrenching news of a beautiful young woman who left this world as a victim of domestic violence.
Lyuba Savenok became a well known name to Slavics across the US as people shared the GoFundMe account that was created to help her surviving children and family.
I have never met Lyuba.
It is very probable that our paths would never cross on this earth if her life had not been cut short.
And it is extremely unfortunate that the circumstances that made her name known to me and to others across the US were that she was yet another victim of domestic abuse and violence…
As I poured over the news stories related to her tragic death at the hands of her own husband, as I scrolled through her own Facebook profile, as I tried to make sense of the whys, I couldn’t help but feel anger and frustration coupled with grief and sympathy for her surviving children and family.
I felt angry and frustrated because the one question that plagued my mind since Sunday was: “How many women need to die before we learn to recognize that domestic violence is a serious threat to our women AND children, and that we need to take an honest look at ourselves (Christians), our attitudes, our traditions, our misconstrued interpretations of the Bible, and our stigmas?!”
Lyuba is one woman who suffered and lost her life at the hands of an abuser – her own husband.
How many more Christian women are continuing to live in abusive relationships? How many more are silently suffering? How many children suffer and are traumatized by witnessing domestic abuse and violence day in and day out?
Even one is too many…
With all the gruesome statistics on domestic abuse cases, I believe there are many more cases that are never reported. (And yes, men can be victims too. Even in the Slavic Christian community).
Not too long ago, I became a member of a closed group on Facebook – a group that now boasts over 14,000 Slavic Christian women.
Honestly, with all of my awareness on the reality of domestic abuse (and other kinds/forms of abuse) in Christian homes, I was still taken aback at the number of women dealing with serious marital issues.
These are women who are reaching out anonymously, crying out for help, their hearts screaming with pain and searching for any glimmer of hope for a brighter future.
So many don’t know where to turn. So many are burned by negative experiences of seeking help in their churches. So many are not willing to go and seek help at their churches for good reasons…
From the account of this news story, Lyuba Savenok reached out for help multiple times. She filed legal complaints. She cried out for help. She sought help from the law, her family, and her church.
The grievous fact remains: for some reason all her cries for help were not enough.
For some reason she stayed by her husband, didn’t leave the abusive relationship, and now is gone from this life…
Sgt. Donald Stewart, a retired police detective who spent 25 years handling domestic violence cases, reported that 1 in 4 Christian couples experiences at least one physical abuse episode in their marriage. He is also an author of Refuge, a book he wrote to help domestic violence victims understand what they are dealing with and to help victims flee from abuse.
Let’s be brutally honest…
Christian church members and church leaders can be the enablers of domestic abusers.
Church pastors are often unequipped to deal with domestic abuse reports coming from victims of abuse and violence.
The victim can be told that she just needs to “submit” to her husband, “according to the Bible.” She may even hear things such as, “This is your cross to bear” and “You will have a great reward in heaven.”
Church members (which may include the victim’s own family members) can blame the victim, telling her she is the one that is not trying “hard enough” to be a good Christian wife and that if she would only be more submissive, more loving, more gentle, more quiet, more this or that, would pray more, etc., then her situation would get better.
Is this what God’s Word really teaches? Or did we twist it to make it fit to our misconceptions and traditional ideas?
I grew up hearing church pastors and preachers hammering into me the idea that women are to submit to their husbands.
While this command does come from God’s Word, many sincere Christian believers have a distorted view of what “wives submit to your husbands” really means (Ephesians 5:22).
Another passage often used by abusers to justify and defend their evil actions is 1 Peter 3:1-6.
Satan has always been very good at twisting God’s Word to achieve his own agenda “to kill, steal, and destroy.” It is no surprise that he does it time and time again. Unfortunately, history provides an abundant testimony of men who used (and continue using) the Bible to justify their own sin, a root cause of their desire for power and control.
Growing up, I’ve heard many sermons on how women need to submit to their husbands because women are the “weaker vessels,” because a woman’s judgment is flawed, because it was a woman who caused the downfall of the entire humanity.
How refreshing it was for me to recently hear one of my church pastors affirm what I personally always read and saw from my Bible!
When we read Genesis 3:6, we often hear something along the lines of “Oh, if it wasn’t for that Eve, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today!” This verse along with 1 Timothy 2:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 11:3 are often used to justify a low view of women and to misinterpret Paul’s command for wives to submit to their husbands.
Yes, Eve was deceived. And yes, she was the first one who ate the fruit.
But while Eve was talking to the serpent, where was Adam as the leader of the family? Where? Why didn’t he protect her from sinning?
In fact, Romans 5 talks about how sin entered this world through Adam. Do not blame Eve for what Adam did after neglecting his God-given role of a leader and his wife’s protector.
That is why Jesus, the only sinless man, had to be born of a virgin, bypassing the seed of a man that carries sin!
Fascinating, is it not? (Explore this topic more HERE).
However, Eve continues to be blamed for humanity’s fall and Christian women continue to be blamed for their husband’s sin (domestic violence stemmed from their desire for power and control).
Stop it already! The blood of many women is on your hands as well!
As I mentioned above, submissiveness is often defined in light of Eve’s weakness, her supposed craftiness and womanly wiles she used to persuade Adam to eat the fruit as well.
The topic of wives submitting to their husbands is rather exhaustive and there is no way I can sufficiently cover it with even one blog post.
Moreover, this is not the intent of this blog post.
I only want to make it abundantly clear that the church often enables and covers domestic violence and abuse by misinterpreting and taking Ephesians 5:22 out of context. For more study on this topic, you can read “What Does It Mean For A Wife To Submit To Her Husband?” and “Submission In Marriage” and “How Should Wives Be Submissive To Their Husbands?” and “Six Things Submission Is Not.”
So, for those of us who may know women that are experiencing domestic abuse, what can we do?
First, a woman who is abused often doesn’t even realize that she is being abused. Brenda Brenson lived in an abusive relationship for 20 years before finally seeing that she was a victim who was emotionally and physically abused by her husband. She is the founder of Focus Ministries, a “Faith Based Domestic Violence Help for Women and Families.”
Both Brenda and Sgt. Donald Stewart were interviewed by kyria.com on how battered women can get help as well as how Christians can respond to this crisis. They also talked about different types of abuse – emotional, verbal, and physical – and discussed how other people can tell if abuse is taking place in a woman’s life. Read this interview here: “The Silent Epidemic.”
Finally, there are also signs or red flags young women can watch out for in their potential spouses.
Abusers don’t become abusive overnight. They are usually victims themselves, coming from abusive homes where they learned the behavior from their parents’ relationship.
I do not know Lyuba Savenok, her husband and what family he comes from. He may have been a witness to domestic violence as a child. Or not.
However, there may have been signs and/or red flags that Lyuba may have missed or disregarded for whatever reasons.
- Controlling Behavior
- Quick Involvement
- Unrealistic Expectations
- Blames Others For Problems
- Blames Others For Feelings
- Cruelty to animals or children
- Past Battering
- Rigid Sex Roles
Finally, in her article “Confronting Domestic Violence With Love And Authority” Dawn Walker gives a helpful list of DOs and DON’Ts that can be used by church leaders and church members who are approached by victims of domestic abuse.
- DO take her seriously when she comes to you for help. Usually by the time she is naming it or saying she is done, she was done years ago.
- DO ask questions, listen attentively and believe her (unless the Holy Spirit clearly directs you otherwise).
- DON’T tell her to be more submissive or more loving as a solution to the abuse in her relationship.
- DON’T say “God hates divorce.” She will shut down and not trust you. She may even leave your church and never return.
- DON’T suggest marriage counseling. She needs separate counseling for safety and autonomy.
- DON’T send her to file a protective order by herself. This is an overwhelming process to face alone.
- DO try to determine how at risk she is of serious physical harm.
- DO help her understand that setting boundaries and allowing her partner to experience consequences is a biblical model of addressing oppression and abuse (Exodus 7-14).
- DO follow up to make sure she and her kids are safe and doing ok.
- DO have a list of crisis phone numbers, local shelters and an action plan to help her in any transition.
- DO have a plan in place with church families who are willing to provide temporary housing for women and kids who may not be in immediate physical danger, but who have to leave an abusive environment.
- DO be prepared with grocery or gas cards to cover her immediate needs if she has no money.
- DO equip several key leaders who can come alongside these women and provide prayer and support during crisis situations.
- DO commend her for her courage. Understand she is taking an enormous risk and has a godly instinct to protect herself and her children from further harm.
- DO speak words of life and affirmation over her to rewrite the lies she’s been hearing.
- DO offer her hope and purpose…she needs to know God’s got a good plan for her.
- DO give her ongoing practical help…financial, housing, childcare assistance, and support as a single parent.
Leaving an abusive relationship is usually a frightening and overwhelming process for a woman. She needs to know that someone will come alongside her, that she will be loved and protected, and that God will not abandon her, but will stay close and provide for her and restore her as she continues to trust in Him.
We as the Church can make sure she knows this by bringing the evil of domestic violence out into the light, confronting it openly and taking decisive action against it. When we do this, we will strip away the enemy’s power to continue oppressing. We must recognize that as the Body of Christ we are uniquely and POWERFULLY positioned to be the Strong Protector who will end the tyranny of domestic violence, in individual lives and across our nation. Yes, it is a dark and risky place to go, but who better to go there than those who have been given ALL power and ALL authority to confront, protect and rescue in Jesus’ name!
Are you a victim of domestic violence or do you know someone who may be?
I am praying and hoping that this post will serve its purpose.
I am praying that you and I would be bold and courageous to stand up against injustice perpetrated by those who may be using God’s Word to justify their deeds or who enable the abuse to continue.
I am praying that Lyuba’s death will not be for nothing and that men and women everywhere can learn from her story.
I am praying that her life would be celebrated for who she was – a loving mom to her two precious children, a lovely sister to her siblings, a precious daughter to her parents, and a beautiful friend to those who knew her…
I am praying for her beautiful and innocent son and daughter to be healed from any trauma inflicted by the enemy, in the name of Jesus.
I am praying for the Holy Spirit to comfort and heal her family and those who loved her dearly.
We will see you and your precious son in heaven, beautiful Lyuba…
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