How do I honor parents who were abusive?

Question: In Matthew 19:19, Jesus speaks of honoring thy father and mother. Could you elaborate on what that entails? In what light would Jesus see children/adults who are subject to child abuse?

qb_abusive-parentsAnswer: In this particular passage Jesus is quoting from the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20). Since the family is the basic unit of human community, the relationship between parents and children is the most universal and thus the most important to maintain for a strong social fabric. In this case, the duty of children to honor, respect, assist, and care for their elders is balanced by the parents’ responsibilities to educate their children and provide for their physical and spiritual needs. It is a law of love that is meant to be life-giving and beneficial for all parties involved. Children get their basic needs met while parents receive needed assistance from the younger generation. It is a call for goodwill and respect between parents and children, not a requirement for blind obedience that is meant to squelch the dignity of the child.

In today’s world, honoring a father or mother doesn’t mean a college graduate must to go to law school because that’s what his parents want him to do, but it does put the responsibility on that graduate to listen with openness to his parents thoughts, hopes, and desires.

Unfortunately, in some families there is such woundedness that this primary relationship is destructive or dangerous rather than life-giving. Nowhere in the gospels do we hear Jesus tell a child who is being abused to continue to “take it” from his/her parents. In such a case, our faith instead challenges us to offer care and protection for that child so that he or she might receive the dignity and respect due to him or her as a child of God. Notably, in this same passage in Matthew, Jesus reminded his listeners to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In some destructive family relationships, the most loving thing to do might be to remove oneself from the relationship in order to seek the healing that is necessary.