Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence

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Religion and domestic violence: the missing link

After year-old Wubanchi Asefaw was told by her church leaders to return to her husband in early , he stabbed her to death in their western Sydney home shortly afterwards. Unlike the Koran, there are no verses in the Bible that may be read as overtly condoning domestic abuse. To the contrary, it is made clear that God hates violence and relationships must be driven by selflessness, grace and love. There is no mainstream theologian in Australia who would suggest that a church should be anything but a sanctuary, or that a Christian relationship be marked by anything but love.

But church counsellors and survivors of family violence report that many abusive men, like Sally's husband, rely on twisted — or literalist — interpretation of Bible verses to excuse their abuse. Baker, whose book on counselling abused Christian women sprang from years of doctoral research, writes: First are the verses — cited by Sally's husband Peter, above — telling women to submit to their husbands and male authority, under the doctrine known as male headship.

And third are those in 1 Peter that tell women to submit to husbands in a very particular way, as they follow instructions to slaves to submit to even "harsh masters". But Denis Fitzgerald, executive director at Catholic Social Services Victoria, says it is crucial for the Bible to be read in light of the culture it was produced in. And Simon Smart, the Executive Director of the Centre for Public Christianity points to "what [Croatian theologian] Miroslav Volf describes as the difference between 'thin' and 'thick' religion — where thin religion is stripped of its moral content and used as a weapon for goals completely unrelated to the faith.

The doctrine that is most commonly, and controversially cited by abusers is male headship, where a husband is to be the head of the wife in marriage and the wife is to submit, and men are to be head of the church. What submission means takes many different forms. At its extreme edge, it is complete subservience.

In the s and s, literature coming out of the United States suggested it meant putting up with every possible harm. According to Elizabeth Hanford Rice in her book Me? Three female authors — Dorothy McGuire, Carol Lewis and Alvena Blatchley — even praised a woman for staying with a man who tried to murder her. Correct interpretations of scripture are debated in ways not dissimilar to those in the Koran; there is disagreement over translation, hermeneutics, exegesis, the relevance of the culture in which it was written, the then-radical attitudes of acceptance Christ expressed towards women and the role of women in the early church.

These debates hit peak expression in the latter half of the 20th century as most mainstream Christian denominations moved to ordain women to the priesthood, to equal positions to men. Today, those churches in Australia that do not have women priests include the Catholic, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, and the influential Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church.

Some of these groups have responded to the expansion of women's role elsewhere by restricting it further in their own ranks. Today, it is clear proponents of headship intend to teach a form of self-sacrificial love — for a man to be head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, and to sacrifice himself to his wife in the same way. In , prominent American evangelical pastor John Piper, a frequent visitor to Sydney, was asked, "What should a wife's submission to her husband look like if he's an abuser?

His response was that if he was "simply hurting her", then she should "endure verbal abuse for a season", and "endure perhaps being smacked one night", before seeking "help from the church". Almost four years later, he issued a " clarifying statement " in which he called on men in the church to discipline abusers, and uphold "a beautiful vision" of marriage where men lead with gentleness. Another influential pastor James Dobson has in the past advised women to bait their abusive husbands to goad them into behaving badly, which he believed would shock them into realising they had a problem and agree to counselling.

In , American pastor Steven J Cole concluded in a sermon that "a wife may need to submit to some abuse". My view is that a wife must submit to verbal and emotional abuse, but if the husband begins to harm her physically, she needs to call civil or church authorities. Time and again in evangelical literature, marital success is predicated on female submission; it is the basis on which women are judged or praised.

In Sydney, as recently as , David Ould, the rector of Glenquarie Anglican Church — also active in the conservative Anglican Church League — asked if it might be "a Godly wise choice" for women to stay with abusive husbands given the Bible teaching in 1 Peter 3, telling wives to submit to their husbands.

These verses follow on from those in 1 Peter 2 that tell slaves to submit to masters — even those who are harsh, or, in other words, physically violent. Ould, who now works to protect women in his parish and region from domestic violence, later clarified his comments. He told ABC News his central message was: Today, a growing number of counsellors, psychologists and welfare workers are reporting that abusers cite the idea of male headship to sanction violence. Anglican counsellor from Charles Sturt University Nicola Lock, who has been working with domestic violence cases for 25 years, says the use of headship theology in spousal abuse is "very common".

This is a particularly sensitive point in the Sydney Anglican Church, which is known for its robust advocacy of male headship. Any suggestion of its abuse usually evokes vehement rebuke and defence from senior clergy. Ministers who uphold headship say their teachings are just being confused with patriarchy, and twisted by those who abuse power. Those who uphold "egalitarian" views of marriage in this diocese report being sidelined, overlooked for jobs and ostracised.

Some told ABC News they could not publicly state that they believed in equal relationships between men and women, for they would lose their jobs. And as domestic violence advocate Barbara Roberts points out, in conservative churches women are often taught that desire to overthrow male authority is a sign of sin — thereby making feminism innately wrong. In other words, if male authority and leadership is from God, any challenge to that is from women's sinful natures — or the devil.

Kara Hartley is the Archdeacon for Women in the Diocese of Sydney and deputy chair of a taskforce looking into church responses to domestic violence. She stresses there is nothing whatsoever in the Bible to condone abuse, and that men and women just have different roles. But actually when they're put together, a woman's voluntary … willing submission to her husband, in his loving sacrificial care of her, there's a beautiful picture there.

Sydney Anglican Archbishop Dr Glenn Davies agrees, telling ABC News "submission is never coercive, it's always voluntary, so the wife offers herself in that relationship.

Access Check

It is important to understand, he says, that "there is no way in which we countenance domestic violence in any form be it spiritual, emotional or physical, in our church, we are absolutely opposed to that". In February , Catholic bishop Vincent Long cautioned that literal interpretations of the Bible "provide the basis for systematic oppression or structural discrimination of women and lead communities — even church communities — to protecting perpetrators of domestic violence while simultaneously heaping shame and scorn upon its victims".

Sydney psychologist Kylie Pidgeon, who also works with perpetrators and survivors of family violence, wrote in a recent paper that women are more vulnerable in churches where only men lead:. Women usually fill 'support' roles, such as teaching kids' church, reading the Bible, or preparing morning tea. While the intentions of men in positions of leadership are often good; to exercise their authority with love and care, and while a male-led structure by no means guarantees that women will be abused, it is apparent that patriarchal structures place women at greater risk of abuse.

By failing to pastor women, or encourage them to lead or speak, Pidgeon says, male leadership may unwittingly be "giving 'silent permission' to male congregation members to similarly rule over and neglect their wives". In churches where women are not allowed to speak or preach, they may also worry that they will not be believed.

Erica Hamence, assistant minister at the Anglican St Barnabas Broadway in Sydney, wrote recently that in male-led churches, "women have as much room to speak as the male leaders allow.

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That's a profoundly vulnerable position to be in, and one which I suspect some male ministers are not always able to empathise with. Almost all-male hierarchies are common in many conservative congregations across denominations — Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican and Pentecostal — as are poor responses from pastors.

Christianity and domestic violence

Susan, a student and mother, went to a Pentecostal Church in Adelaide for most of her married life. She describes her marriage as akin to a horror story. She says she was "repeatedly raped" by her husband and was continually unnerved by strange incidents that kept happening to her children in her absence. Bruises appeared, faces were bloodied, weak excuses were given. One day her husband was rebuking his daughter for wearing a revealing top when "she ran and hit the wall" and lost a tooth.

A psychologist attached to her church told her divorce was not an option. The pastor's wife told her to separate but not divorce as her husband could change. It was not until she came across the website, Cry for Justice: Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst, run by Roberts, that she realised it might be possible to divorce her husband.

Her ex followed her to her next church, and tracked down the pastor who told her — after meeting him for coffee once — that her ex was a great guy: They won't stand up on stage and say, like they did at the church I attended with my ex-husband, that women should submit and God doesn't want you to divorce.

In Susan's Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God, only 4 per cent of pastors were female in , and the national executive board was all male. Prominent preacher Bobbie Houston told a Hillsong conference in Someone has to step down, to leave a space for God to work, and God put it in feminine DNA to do that. As documented by Meredith Fraser , female submission is touted in Pentecostalism as a cure-all for marital problems: If women pray, are deferential and submit, there will be hope.

JSTOR: Access Check

The culture of self-sacrifice can be so strong it lends itself to "a certain masochism". Many Pentecostal women are advised to separate, but never divorce or remarry. They also report being told by their pastors to go home and make love to husbands who torment and terrify them. In the past three years, alarm bells have begun to ring about the role religion may play in fostering, or concealing abuse.

There have been two substantial inquiries into domestic violence in Australia in recent years. Both have identified religion as a significant, under-reported problem. The report, Not Now, Not Ever, tabled in February , pointed to the "challenge" of religious leaders:. These leaders of faith did not see it as the role of the religious gathering to 'lecture' about what happens in the privacy of a home … The taskforce challenges leaders of all faiths and religions to take a leadership role in fostering and encouraging respectful relationships in their community, and to teach their communities and congregations that coercive control and violence are never acceptable.

In the same month, the Victorian Government established the Royal Commission into Family Violence following a series of family violence-related deaths in the state, most notably that of Luke Batty, who was killed by his father in It sought to identify the most effective ways to address domestic violence, hold perpetrators accountable, and support victims. The commission received public submissions and tabled its report in March , which made recommendations. This commission, too, noted as a "challenge" faith leaders who were "predominantly or exclusively men".

For many women who sought help from a faith leader, the commission reported, "the response was inadequate … some faith leaders were uninformed and ill-equipped to respond to such disclosures, 'often the advice given wasn't helpful because the faith leader didn't know what kind of advice to give'. Examples cited were of religious leaders telling women that their partner's abuse was their fault, or that they should stay in "intolerable" situations. These responses, with some religious attitudes and practices, the commission found, "risk exposing victims to further and sustained abuse by family members".

In its final report, the commission recommended faith communities examine the ways they respond to domestic violence and whether these practices may deter victims or condone perpetrators. Within the church, more and more concerned people have begun to recognise the magnitude and seriousness of the problem in their midst, and agitate for change. Leaders who were previously ignorant or defensive have begun to work to understand the issues; some have been horrified, or at least sobered, to discover the extent of abuse in their midst.

Andersen points out the passage in Proverbs that was so helpful to her. When wisdom enters an abused woman's heart, knowledge, discretion, and understanding will deliver her from the way of the evil man. God is for deliverance from an abuser. Thank-you, Jocelyn for obeying God and writing this book. It must have been tough to have to relive the pain of what you went through in order to write it in such a succinct in that nothing was repeated or wallowed in yet thorough way taking the time to write enough detail that we get the picture and to explain Bible words and meanings. I will definitely use your book as a resource in my effort to help women.

In addition to this wonderful and helpful book, please check out Jocelyn Andersen's blog, [ The post "A Question of Submission" for example, adds insight about the Ephesians 5 question, and other posts keep us up-to-date on the comments, teaching, and efforts of popular Christian leaders.


Waneta Dawn is the author of Behind the Hedge, a novel. Could be very encouraging for someone recently recovering from or having left an abusive relationship.

Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence

I do wish the title was different though. One person found this helpful 2 people found this helpful. Gives sound advice for Christian victims of domestic abuse. The author has survived and been set free from horrendous abuse and explains how she did it, with God's grace. Her own story is mind boggling. She discusses the problem of 'addiction' to an abusive spouse well, without in any way blaming the victim. See all 12 reviews. Most recent customer reviews.

Published 2 months ago. Published on September 12, Published on December 28, Published on April 5, Published on January 6, Published on September 22, A great book from a woman's point of view! Published on November 16, A Battered Woman's True Story. Published on September 2, Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers.

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Conference of Catholic Bishops , "Men who abuse often use Ephesians 5: Husbands should love their wives as they love their own body, as Christ loves the Church.

Family and domestic violence support services:

Some Christian theologians, such as the Rev. Marie Fortune and Mary Pellauer, have raised the question of a close connection between patriarchal Christianity and domestic violence and abuse. So while patriarchy is not the sole explanation for violence against women, we would expect that male headship would be distorted by insecure, unhealthy men to justify their domination and abuse of women.

Few empirical studies have examined the relationship between religion and domestic violence, [6] According to Dutton, no single factor explanation for wife assault was sufficient to explain the available data. Pearson's study in observed "Studies of male batterers have failed to confirm that these men are more conservative or sexist about marriage than nonviolent men". In Responding to Domestic Abuse, a report issued by the Church of England in , suggests that patriarchy should be replaced rather than reinterpreted: Although strong patriarchal tendencies have persisted in Christianity, the example of Christ carries the seeds of their displacement by a more symmetrical and respectful model of male—female relations.

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Bible verses are often used to justify domestic abuse, such as those that refer to male superiority and female submission. Others counter that the use of violence is a misinterpreted view of the male role. A subculture known as Christian domestic discipline CDD promotes spanking of wives by their husbands as a form of punishment. While its advocates rely on Biblical interpretations to support the practice, advocates for victims of domestic violence describe CDD as a form of abuse and controlling behavior. Others describe the practice as a simple sexual fetish and an outlet for sadomasochistic desires.

A contributing factor to the disparity of responses to abuse is lack of training, many Christian seminaries had not educated future church leaders about how to manage violence against women. Once pastors began receiving training, and announced their participation in domestic violence educational programs, they immediately began receiving visits from women church members who had been subject to violence. The first Theological Education and Domestic Violence Conference, sponsored by the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, was held in to identify topics that should be covered in seminaries.

First, church leaders will encounter sexual and domestic violence and they need to know what community resources are available. Secondly, they need to focus on ending the violence, rather than on keeping families together. The American religious news-magazine Christianity Today has published articles lamenting U. In December , academic W.

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Bradford Wilcox wrote for the publication, "Domestic violence is still present in church-going homes This silence around domestic violence has to end.

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