This is the most liberating book I’ve ever read. The author, Marie M. Fortune, helped me debunk and jettison distorted religious teachings that held me prisoner and severely damaged my self-perception. It ignited a feminist spark within me and launched my quest into biblical scholarship. I was absolutely astounded and shocked by what I learned. After I moved to the Seattle area, I was blessed to meet Rev. Dr. Fortune, who is an ordained minister and founder of the Faith Trust Institute.
Ironically, Rev. Dr. Fortune is ordained in the United Church of Christ which was the spiritual home of my childhood. Before I read her book, I felt abandoned by God. The first lesson I learned from her is that we are God’s temple. God’s spirit dwells in us. The fire-and-brimstone preacher of my childhood had taught me that God was vengeful and pretty much out to get me. . .an officious hall monitor just waiting for me to screw up. She set me straight:
You are valued in God’s eyes. . .You do deserve to live without fear and without abuse. . .no matter what kinds of things you have done or neglected to do, you do not deserve to be abused.
You should not have to live in fear in your own house. You have a right to be safe. But it takes courage to leave and to face the unknown.
She asserts it is a husband’s responsibility to treat his wife with respect: “Any man who brings violence and abuse into his family life is putting asunder the marriage convenant that God has blessed. The violence is what breaks up the marriage. . .[which has been] destroyed by the abuse.” We are not obligated to be doormats. Our obligation, instead, is to provide for our own and our children’s safety. Forced sex is rape whether it is done by a stranger or your husband.
She similarly takes issue with the notion of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” She believes the “rod” in Proverbs 13:24 “encourages parents to. . .guide and direct” their children ~ “to pull them out of dangerous places, not to beat them. . .good parenting is. . .guiding, directing, teaching, and protecting children.” Further, “anger at the injustice done to [children] is an appropriate response for an abused child.”
Because domestic violence and abuse often entails isolation, we often feel abandoned when we most need to be surrounded by the love and support of a protection circle. I found great comfort in her prophetic advice:
God will send people to you who do understand your experience, people who may have had a similar experience in their lives and can appreciate the decisions you have made and the actions you have taken. Look for these people and walk with them. . .God will use many people. . .to assist you. . .look for the doors that God opens for you. . .we cannot just sit down and do nothing and expect God to take care of us. . .[emphasis added]. . .Ask, seek, knock. God expects us to do something. . .
It may take time to find a person whom you can trust and with whom you do not feel afraid. Trust your instincts. You deserve a relationship in which you feel safe and respected. . .Listen to your own wisdom. . .Trust your expectations, and be straightforward in stating them. Look for another person who is also discerning, rather than someone who wants to control you.
She cautions that it is important for us to “forgive and remember.” Forgiveness frees us from painful memories so that we can go on with our lives. At the same time, she cautions us against premature foregiveness which means he must first engage in true repentance: “he never hits again and that he learns to relate to other people in ways that are not controlling, demanding, and dominating. . .Only when you have seen true repentance (and over a period of time) can you consider forgiveness.”
For those of us who have survived, she issues a call to action and a prayer for service:
You are a strong woman. You have survived. . .You have kept body and soul together; you have kept the faith. There are many who walk with you. And there are many others who need you to walk with them. Pray that God will help you to remember what you have learned. And share what you know with other women. We offer our anger. Make it a passion for justice. We offer all our skills. Use our gifts to end violence.
We offer our faith, our hope, our love.
The book closes with prayers and meditations as well as suggestions for abused women, clergy, and laypersons.