A Healthy, Loving, and Respectful Relationship

Memorial Church SteepleSunday Sermon by Kevin P. Bryant, Affiliated Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard Chaplain. File photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications.



This sermon speaks of domestic violence and abuse. As Harvard’s Gender Equity Office shares “Sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and related forms of harm have the potential to impact many dimensions of one’s life. Resources are available within the Harvard University and in the surrounding community to address an array of needs that may arise as a result of these harms.”

By Kevin P. Bryant,
Affiliated Minister in the Memorial Church
Harvard Chaplain

(The following is a transcript from the service audio)

Kevin P. BryantGood morning, saints.

I don't know about you, but I'm happy, glad to be in the house of the Lord. Can we give God some praise? Can you put your hands together and give God some praise? That's right. I know you can do better than that. We humans, we love patting each other on the back. How about giving God some praise? Thank you. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, God. Thank you very much. It's always good to give God some praise, don't ever forget that.

Let's bow our heads in prayer, "Lord, through the written word and the spoken word, may we know your living word. Amen."

In Ephesians 5, it says, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which He is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be in everything to their husbands."

My brothers and sisters, this text has been misunderstood by some people. What the text really says is that marriage is not about the wife making the husband happy, but about the husband taking on the role of sacrificial, loving leadership which becomes a blessing to the family, and that is a million miles from a man thinking only about getting his needs met or taking on the role of a tyrant. It's not about putting the other person down and talking about their faults in front of others or using them as the brunt of behavior. Being faithful means not constantly criticizing, correcting, and pointing out the other's faults. True manhood is marked by responsibility. Being a real man means being a responsible man, one who can be counted on. But the real man is one who lives up to his responsibilities and meets the needs of his spouse and his family. Real faith, real manhood is seen in someone who is sacrificial, faithful, and responsible. All you real men out there listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth, because sometimes, when this text get misinterpreted, it gets misinterpreted by controlling, possessive, obsessive men.

Domestic violence occurs in a relationship or a marriage and my brothers and sisters, marriage is a covenant and the covenant is broken when there is violence in the marriage. Domestic violence stems from a desire to gain control and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partner's lives, often either because they believe their own feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship, or because they enjoy exerting the power that such abuse gives them. Domestic violence affects individuals of all sexual orientations and genders. Within the LGBTQIA+ community, domestic violence occurs at a rate equal to, or even higher than that of the heterosexual community. LGBTQIA+ individuals may experience unique forms of intimate partner violence as well as distinctive barriers to seeking help due to the fear of discrimination or bias. And although the response to the LGBTQ victims of domestic violence is gradually improving, the community is often met with ineffective and victimizing legal resources. 45% of victims do not report the violence they experience to police because they do not believe it will help them.

My brothers and sisters, everyone deserves to have a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship. No one should be treated like a doormat. About one in four women and nearly one in ten men have experienced some form of inter-partner violence or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Some of these survivors experience these forms of violence before the age of 18. While violence impacts all people in the United States, some individuals and communities experience inequities and risk for violence due to the social and structural conditions in which they live, work and play.

My brothers and sisters, us, you, me, we, everyone in this room, must demonstrate the same kind of love and concern for our spouses and partners as Christ has for the church. It is a complete giving of yourself. It is to be an agape type of love, a love that does not seek one's own satisfaction. It is a love that protects. It is a love that strives for the highest good. It is a love that is totally unselfish. I believe God would have us lift up our spouses, not force them down. We need to make sure that our wives, our husbands, our life partners, our intimate partners, feel supported, accepted, and understood. When you are in a marriage or a relationship, Christ is the head and we are the body, therefore we are a single entity. This means that you and your spouse or partner are an extension of each other. There is no hint of authoritativeness or superiority. There's a deep concern for the welfare of the other.

My brothers and sisters, everyone deserves to have a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship. No one should be treated like a doormat. Being in a marriage or relationship does not mean that you are the king or queen of the hill. It does not mean that you run your home like a dictator. It does not mean that you tell your wife, spouse, or partner, "Do this or else... or else I'm going to damage and destroy your prized possessions, or else I'm going to hurt the kids, or else instead of beating you, I'm going to beat the family pet right in front of you every time you ignore my needs, or else I'm going to shove you in the corner, physically intimidate you and insult you and criticize you, or else I'm going to beat some sense into you and I'll do it by trying to beat sense out of you, or else I'm going to kill you."

According to the Bureau of Justice's statistics, on average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. My brothers and sisters, we are all impacted by any and all forms of abuse, and it is on each of us to take steps in our daily interactions to end and prevent future abusive behavior. We must make sure that lifesaving specialists, domestic abuse services are properly funded as well as tackling the root causes of domestic abuse. We must challenge sexist attitudes, promote healthy relationships, and have a drive and making a real shift in prevention them. Abuse is a learned behavior and some people witness it in their own families growing up, and others learn it slowly from friends, popular culture, or structural inequities throughout our society. There are many people who experience or witness abuse who use their experiences to end the cycle of violence and heal themselves without harming others. My brothers and sisters, as I said before, marriage is a covenant. Relationships, you've made a covenant when you're in a relationship, and the covenant is broken when there is violence in the relationship or the marriage.

My brothers and sisters, my message is short and sweet. Let me explain this to you before I... In my past life, I was a police officer and I've been to many domestic calls and one is too much. I've been there and taken the wife and the children to safety. I've been there and taken the survivor to safety. I've been there when they're being carried out on the stretcher, and I've been there when we're waiting for the coroner. My brothers and sisters, everyone deserves to have a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship. No one should be stepped on and no one should ever have to be treated like a doormat.


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