A Harmful Text on Love?

I am very involved with the international "Thursdays in Black" campaign. In February 2019, Valentine's Day was on a Thursday, and the World Council of Churches invited #ThursdaysinBlack reflections on a well-known scripture on Love. This reflection was published on the blog of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace on the 11th of February 2019:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NRSV)

This is possibly the text most often used in wedding celebrations and familiar to all of us.

It is often held forth as a romantic ideal and it seems as if this should indeed be our dream – to be patient and kind, not to be envious, boastful, arrogant or rude, not to want your own way, not to be irritable or resentful, to celebrate the truth.

I am sure that marriage preparation classes and counsellors would be happy to promote these thoughts!

But could it be that this text is actually harmful?

It is to the last part of the well-known verse that I would like to turn our focus:

“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (NRSV)

Too many times I have heard women (and their pastors!) quote this text in ways that are harmful and life-limiting:

“Yes, he abuses me, but you know, the Bible says I must bear all things”

“There are many signs that he is cheating and exposing me to HIV, but he says that he is faithful and I should believe all thing in love.”

“Things are very bad, he hurts me badly, but I hope and pray for something to change.”

“The pastor says that as a woman of Faith I have a responsibility to stay with him, even though he abuses me and the children.”

And even:

“My father/pastor/teacher rapes me, but my family says that I should just endure it and not bring disgrace on our family/church/school.”

This can never be the message that Paul wanted to send to the Corinthians or to those of us who read this today!

The very first book of the Bible establishes the position of human beings as ‘created in the image of God’ (Gen1:27) and particularly emphasises that both male and female were created in God’s image. How can we expect that the image of God should remain in a situation of abuse and destruction?

No! There are as many texts that reminds us that this is not what God dreams for us. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus said: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (NRSV)

An abundant life cannot be to sentence people to a life lived in abuse and pain. As people of faith - individuals, churches, faith communities and faith-based organisations - we can not just say that people in abusive relationships should “bear all things, hope all things, endure all things”.

We have a different responsibility: A responsibility to guide and support people who are victims of abuse to become survivors and victors, to live their lives abundantly - physically, emotionally and spirituality! A responsibility to speak out against abuse. A responsibility to challenge unhealthy use of Sacred Texts.

A small part of this responsibility is also to create an awareness of abuse. So, on Valentine’s Day, like every other Thursday, I will wear black as part of the international #ThursdaysinBlack Campaign, towards a world without rape and violence. Because I believe a different reality is possible.

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