The murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend sheds new light on the issue of domestic violence.
Police indicate the couple had been arguing over relationship and financial issues for several months and that the team had provided them with counseling.
Domestic violence, it seems, gets little attention until high-profile cases such as this come along. But statistics show the problem is prevalent. In a 2010 survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that 1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Many victims remain in those relationships and never report the abuse out of fear, economic dependence and shame, among other reasons.
In religious circles, incorrect biblical teaching sometimes contributes to married victims' reluctance to get help. There have been many stories of Christian women seeking guidance from religious leaders, but instead of sound biblical counsel, they are blamed for not being submissive to their husbands and reminded of scriptural teaching on the permanence of marriage. This is troubling because many women of faith rely on their church for support.
The Apostle Paul says to wives, "Submit to your husbands as to the Lord." This passage is often misconstrued and used to support controlling and abusive relationships. In the same passage, however, Paul urges husbands to love their wives "just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Christ's relationship with the church is rooted in sacrifice and unconditional love.
The Bible warns against divorce except in cases of marital infidelity and spousal abandonment. But God is love. There is no reason to believe he would want a woman to remain in a violent marriage.
Sometimes Christian couples feel pressured to pretend they have perfect marriages. This can be especially true if one or both of them is a leader in their congregation. As with any relationship, Christian marriages go through ups and downs. Couples do not need to be ostracized; they need support and counsel. Clergy can help by being more open about their own relationship struggles and using the pulpit to encourage relationships based on love and mutual respect.
Initial reports indicate Belcher's teammates did not see any warning signs. This tragedy is a sobering reminder that, even in the age of social networking, we are not as connected as we think.