These past weeks I have been accompanying two friends going through separations from partners they thought would be life-long. “Acompañar” is one our roles as Seeders here in Colombia that at times is confusing. Being an emotional support in situations like these – offering practical assistance and just being present – is one of the ways ‘acompañando’ has been meaningful.
One friend has been dealing with long term lying and psychological manipulation as well as the dehumanizing aspects of machismo. As this relationship comes to an end, few have been able to truly affirm the pain of her loss due to the unconventionality of her partner. Despite this, her family, community and church have surrounded her with love and support in many crucial ways.
Another friend has been living with a controlling and at times psychologically violent partner. The pressure to complete societal and familial expectations of having a lasting relationship coupled with her partner’s manipulation (‘crazy-making’) have made the separation particularly difficult. While some in her circle place pressure on her to put up with the mistreatment as this is her role as a Christian woman, others in her church have taken a different stance, supporting her decision to leave and helping out logistically with the day-to-day needs that have arisen due to the loss of her partner.
Overall, I see the church in Colombia supporting my friends in their choices to leave relationships of control and psychological violence. As I remember a time a close friend from the USA left an abusive relationship she was in, I recall the insecurity and confusion she experienced when her partner used ‘crazy-making’ to control her, as well as the paralyzing fear and shame generated within her from deviating from societal or cultural expectations. I am reminded of Jesus’ words concerning the oppressed:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” – (Luke 4: 18 – 19)
Those imprisoned within relationships of abuse and control, find their Good News in liberation. Today, this prophecy is being fulfilled every time someone leaves an abusive relationship. The church can be a part of this Good News when it chooses to support women throughout this process. As women (and sometimes men) liberate themselves from controlling relationships and the violence of abuse, they experience more and more the Good News and God’s Kingdom here on earth. I am relieved that my friends have found support from their church communities in Colombia as they walk through their process of liberation.
Liberation also comes when we free ourselves from the shame of deviating from rigid societal norms and standards for relationships and feel free to construct more equal partnerships. The church can support new meanings of masculinity and femininity, transforming ideas of traditional gender roles and relationships and encouraging more equality between partners, or it can perpetuate the societal status quo.
As Herbert McCabe, a Dominican priest and theologian said, “The Kingdom of God is present wherever people are striving to make it present.” Let us strive to make this presence real in our churches and communities, labeling abuse when we see it and teaching equality.