October 20, 2020

iMonk Classic: Why Doesn’t The Church Talk About Domestic Abuse?

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From Sept 17, 2009

From Kentucky.com, following a high profile murder that followed a high profile history of domestic abuse:

The news reports of the recent death of Amanda Ross, allege that she was a victim of domestic violence. Based on statistics, it is likely domestic violence is happening across all faith communities in Kentucky. (According to the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, in 2007, over 4,000 Kentuckians were in shelters, including 2,313 women and 1,760 children.) Are faith communities adequately addressing the problem?

Why doesn’t the church talk about domestic abuse?

1. It’s an issue where women and children are the victims of men’s sins (primarily), so it’s an uphill battle right there.

2. Scripture deals with “love your wife as Christ loves the church,” and the application is obvious, but none of Paul’s sin lists or our favorite parables or stories contain a guy who slaps around his girlfriend or a man who beats his wife when he’s drunk.

3. What’s the payoff for the average pastor who brings this up? Counseling women and hearing embarrassing secrets. And then….divorces. We all know how evangelicals feel about those….or, at least most of them

4. Never has the church’s need to develop its own counseling resources with women specializing in helping women been more obvious.

5. Deal with this much, and someone in your church is either going to jail, or to a lawyer. Families will point fingers, phones will ring, emails will be sent and it will all be your fault.

6. You can be sure it’s going to hit very close to home. Maybe too close for a lot of church leaders. Lots of people are going to be wrong. Lots of people are going to be guilty and lots of people are going to admit some scary things. Who wants to go there?

7. Plenty of women and men prefer to hear about how submission will get you through any marriage problem, and they need for that to be right. It’s what they have been told and what they are telling other women. If someone says I’m leaving a man who is hitting me, then a whole lot of problems occur for some people’s version of submission. (I do not believe that is necessary, btw. I think that is a wrong emphasis on submission and a right emphasis is what’s needed. Mutual love in Christ.)

8. You have to talk about emotional abuse, and now the circle just got very, very, very wide. Are you sure you want the women talking about that one? Pastor? Pastor? Hello?

9. Sexual abuse? Religious abuse? Financial abuse? A lot of roads, all with similar dynamics. Let’s just say we don’t want feminists and liberals starting trouble. IOWs, Who are we empowering with this discussion? Uh-huh.

10. And, as everyone knows, we don’t have those kinds of problems. We’re Christians.

A big salute to those churches and pastors who are on the front lines and involved in this issue. They are real warriors for compassion, justice and reconciliation.

For Further Reading: Check out: “Seven Reasons Women Stay In Abusive Relationships and How To Defeat Each One of Them,” by John Shore.


  1. May I wholeheartedly recommend Quivering Daughters, website and book by a survivor, which goes into great detail about religion-based domestic abuse of women and girls. Guess how often that gets discussed in a typical church. Thank God for the Internet.

  2. Matthew Peak says

    On this issue I struggle with a couple of things.

    The Christian scriptures are overwhelming slanted toward a male audience with an assumption of male patriarchal authority and Christianity is inherently based on a male savior endorsing a father God, seeming to envoke male worship.

    I once read that “if God is male, male is God,” so how can a male-oriented religion (Father/Son) promote and protect wives, daughters and women? Equality seems like only part of the answer. I personally wonder if Christianity should explore options such as diefying Mary or the worship a of Mother in heaven so that instead of men feeling justified in their dominance over women by a Father/Son religion, they are instead led to serve the needs and leadership of women. But would that actually make women safer? Of course, this is an extreme reaction to the problem and I recognize it as such.

    • Matthew, I disagree with your premise. In my opinion, the Scriptures blame patriarchy and its abuses on the sinful situation of the world (Genesis 3:16—Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.) The ideal is full partnership between men and women as priests serving together in God’s temple (Gen. 1). The ministry of Jesus, whose finished work came to a climax on the Day of Pentecost, inaugurated a new creation in which there is no male or female in Christ (Acts 2:17-18, Galatians 3:28); which obviously doesn’t mean all gender characteristics have been eliminated, but rather that we all have equal access to God through Christ and are equal partners in serving him.

    • The only reason that God is called male is because ‘it’ is for objects. The Bible is quite clear that God is not a human and is neither male nor female. There are even times when God is compared to a mother.

    • I totally love this post–it is the post that brought me to iMonk. I spent 12 years in an emotionally abusive marriage and went through the fundy wringer trying to get out. I experienced just about everything on the list.

      Michael hit on the one thing that holds some Christians back from reaching out to or believing abused women–their theology doesn’t have an answer to it. If a woman submits her heart out and the man is STILL abusive–what then? Wifely submission is supposed to be the final answer to a perfect marriage. Unfortunately what ends up happening is that she keeps being blamed for his abuse, she needs to pray more, she needs to submit more. Eventually the pastor throws up his hands in frustration because this pesky woman keeps telling him her husband hasn’t changed. His theology ends there, because divorce is not an option. He can’t let it get out that he counseled a woman to divorce her husband. That’s a career killer.

      What Michael didn’t touch on is that abusers are often the most popular people at church. They are gregarious, generous, helping out with ministry, smiling and cracking jokes, etc. So when a woman finally confides in someone that he is a monster at home, she is not believed. “Brother Paul? He can’t be abusive. He led my son to the Lord in Sunday School last week. You must be mistaken, you must have misunderstood what he said or did. Perhaps you are a bitter, contentious, unsubmissive wife, have you thought of that? I’ll pray that you can be a better wife . . . (and please don’t ever talk to me again about this because it makes me uncomfortable).” Then Brother Paul, if confronted, will break down in tears and either admit to a little abusive behavior (he will greatly minimize it) or completely deny it, wondering why his wife would accuse him of such a thing. I dealt with several pastors who were convinced that if a man started crying then he was automatically telling the truth. I didn’t stand a chance.

      Abuse is messy and ugly. There is no black-and-white answer, and no one gets out without scars. Each situation is different. But it is more than a well-meaning pastor without training can handle. Churches need to either educate themselves or partner with counselors/shelters in their community. A lot of churches don’t want to do this because those places are secular and that would make them look bad.

      @Matthew–I get what you are trying to say, but the Catholic church has been doing that for centuries and it didn’t necessarily have the wanted effect. I think more of an emphasis should be put on the fact that God is both male and female, and the fact the God has been referred to as “He” is because of the limits of the human language. But I recognize that is controversial.

      • Thanks, Michelle. Everything you write here is important for people to know and learn from.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        What Michael didn’t touch on is that abusers are often the most popular people at church. They are gregarious, generous, helping out with ministry, smiling and cracking jokes, etc. So when a woman finally confides in someone that he is a monster at home, she is not believed. “Brother Paul? He can’t be abusive. He led my son to the Lord in Sunday School last week. You must be mistaken, you must have misunderstood what he said or did. Perhaps you are a bitter, contentious, unsubmissive wife, have you thought of that? I’ll pray that you can be a better wife . . .”

        I grew up with an abuser (and probable sociopath) in my immediate family. I can attest that SOCIOPATHS ARE MASTERS AT CAMOUFLAGING WHAT THEY REALLY ARE, ESPECIALLY TO AUTHORITY FIGURES.

        Remember that Sweet Little Angel of a little girl in The Bad Seed — the B&W version, without the obvious deus ex machina ending tacked on by the Hays Office? That is NOT fiction.

    • Matthew, I’m a Catholic and let me start off by saying we don’t deify Mary. Now, there may be a fruitful discussion to be had about exploring Mary and the other faithful women and how they are models for the faithful, but deification is not the way to go.

      That out of the way, oh Lord, yes. Never heard a word in discussion or a sermon or the like about this problem. And it happens to men too, if not as much and in different ways. How can we start addressing it? I suppose acknowledging there’s a problem in the first place.

    • Hey, Matthew, the quote (from Mary Daly) is not an example of great logic. It’s like saying “If humans are mammals, then mammals are humans” (formally called “affirming the consequent”). The Bible does portray God as masculine (among other things!), but that doesn’t imply anything about human males. Daly’s words were designed to provoke, but I’m not sure they should – or even can be – taken seriously. Hope this helps, friend.

  3. The post states that domestic violence is an issue where “women and children are the victims of men’s sins (primarily)…”

    I’m not sure that this is true. There are many large and well-done studies that indicate that men may actually more often be the victims of spousal abuse than women.

    Reference: http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm

    The overall thoughts of this post, I agree with. The presumption of a male patriarchy and the inherently violent nature of men as compared to women? Not so much.

    • I apologize for making this thread more inflammatory than it should have been. Please take the above link as interesting and useful data, not as an expression of sexist ideology. Some people seem to be commenting on it without even having visited the link; the studies are not about reports of abuse, such as might be provided by the justice department. And it’s also not the work of ‘some crank’ out to prove a point; it is a compilation of hundreds of sociological studies, many performed by respectable scientists and institutions.

  4. Lukas, you are right that abuse goes both ways. Absolutely. I don’t think conversations about which gender is abusing the other gender the most is going to be beneficial. I’m not sure anyone mentioned “the inherently violent nature of men”–did I miss something?

    I’ve heard patriarchalists say that patriarchy does not cause abuse. I’m not so sure about that, but that’s my opinion. But patriarchy does give a man with abusive tendencies “permission” to abuse his wife. She is supposed to obey him, and he is supposed to keep his family under his authority. His soul depends on it. It’s a perfect situation for a sick man to get away with abuse in the name of the Lord, and then blame it on his wife. And the woman is left in extreme pain wondering why her submission isn’t working. She is told the lie that the abuse she is suffering for the sake of her marriage is glorifying to God. Yes, I was told that if I endured spousal abuse then I was glorifying God by keeping my marriage intact. I marvel that I believed it at the time. I’m not a big fan of patriarchy, if you can’t tell.

    • Michelle, thank you for your reply. You are perhaps right to point out that the, as I put it, ‘inherently violent nature of men’ was never mentioned. This was perhaps more rhetorical than interpretive. But in a post that basically implies that spousal abuse is a male problem, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that one gender is deemed as being more prone to violence than the other.

      But let me be direct. I do not believe that the patriarchy, as it is imagined by the general feminist movement, is something that exists. In those times and places where some strong form of patriarchy did exist, it certainly did not expose women to abuse or disrespect. In patriarchal cultures the very thought of a man striking a woman, or shouting at her, or insulting her, was horrifying. Or think of, for example, the Titanic disaster. As soon as it became clear that some people would not survive, the rallying cry was: ‘women and children first!’ Feeble and destitute women were allowed onto the lifeboats before the men, even the rich and affluent – the ones who presumably were in charge of the ‘patriarchy.’

      Was all this proper? Perhaps not. But even if the system encouraged men to see women as feeble and subservient, it still required that they die for them. Again, it goes both ways. Even now. The studies I cited generally relate that women physically abuse men more often than the reverse, yet such abuse is far less reported. Could it be that the very system that makes some men feel they have the right to beat their ‘non-submiting’ wives makes other men feel they should not defend themselves when their wives beat them – not even by reporting the incident? If so, doesn’t that just indicate that people make of whatever philosophy they are given what they wish to? And if that is so, why attack the philosophy? It is the brokenness of the people that is the problem. Change the philosophy from ‘patriarchy’ or whatever we have now to something new and ‘progressive,’ or ‘understanding,’ or ‘scientific,’ and people will just bend that however they feel as well.

      And so we come back to this age-old dilemma. How do we, as imperfect persons saved by a perfect savior, try to act in an imperfect world? I don’t have any general answers. The only answer I have is that ‘general’ answers, of any kind, are the wrong answer. Each case, and every person, and each circumstance they encounter, are unique. And if we are given the chance to do so, we have to figure out how this specific circumstance can be changed to be more in the image of God. And then we will fail spectacularly. But perhaps not entirely. Perhaps if we stop talking about issues, or conspiracies, or laws or policies or mental illnesses or philosophies or societal forces or any of that dreck, and start talking about real, individual people whom we know and try to love – perhaps then we can begin to understand real problems. Maybe we can even begin to fix them.

      What else did Christ die for, if not people?

      • I find it offensive to the point of sociopathy that the response to an actual victim of domestic abuse, who ascribes her abuse being enabled by the Patriarchal beliefs of her own church is: “Patriarchy doesn’t exsist, and if it did exsist (which is doesn’t?) it would be good for you. Think of the people on the Titanic!”

        Thank’s for obliterating her own experiences and feelings on the matter, I’m sure she didn’t get enough of that at the time.

        • This is quite the knee-jerk response. You seem to find it very offensive that I question the notion of a patriarchy. Note that I did not deny the existence of the patriarchy. My exact words were: “I do not believe that the patriarchy, as it is imagined by the general feminist movement, is something that exists.” (new emphasis, that should have perhaps been in the original.)

          Note also that I did not say that patriarchy was a good thing. In fact, I noted that even in my example of ‘patriarchy’ working in a sort-of noble way I found it to be rather questionable.

          No-where did I, except perhaps by innocent mistake, ‘obliterate her own experiences and feelings on the matter.’ I submit that some of the things I said may have reminded you superficially of someone who may have done something like that.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          However, Patriarchy (TM) has become a feminist snarl word, devoid of any meaning except whipping up the proles for the Two Minutes’ Hate.

          And when that gets slung around, male-female interactions get reduced to nothing more than raw Power Struggle. And when anything is reduced to Power Struggle, there are only two possible end states:
          1) Her boot stamping on his face. (“VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!”)
          2) His boot stamping on her face. (“AL’LAH’U AKBAR!”)

          I’m male. A male who’s been burned bad by females. If those are the only two choices you’ve left me, you know which way I’m gonna choose.

      • I’m sorry that you don’t believe in the patriarchy, but I think that you are misled on why you can’t see it- it’s because you ARE the patriarchy.

        This is how I would rephrase your statement: In patriarchal cultures the very thought of a man striking a woman, or shouting at her, or insulting her, IN PUBLIC was horrifying… because that was a sign that a man was not able to control his woman.

        Also, given the choice, which I thank God that I have, I would much rather take my own chances than make the trade of being weak and subservient in exchange for maybe having someone die for me because I can’t protect myself. It’s a false construct.

        In response to your article about male spousal abuse- why is it so shameful that men cannot report it? Is it because they are ashamed that they, as big strong men, have been brought low and made weak and inferior by women who should be reliant on them? For women, why is abuse so shameful? Isn’t it because it is a sign that they haven’t done their job correctly, known their place? At least, that is how both men and women are often socialized. And THAT is why patriarchy is a problem- because it limits men AND women, traps them in roles, and keeps them from expressing normal desires and emotions.

        Denying these very real problems, of which almost any women would be able to make a list of specific examples in her own life (and many men, as well), because you think that they are too “academic” or “systematized” is a denial of actual experiences that many of us have had. There is such a thing as institutional sin as well as individual sin.

        I know that the love of God, the reconciling work of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of the Church can overcome these problems, but only if we are willing to be honest about the levels of privilege in our society. And falling back to platitudes like “let’s preach Christ more” and “let’s deal with this on a case-by-case basis” just serve to deny that this is a systemic problem, and that the church has participated in it and deliberately upheld it in many cases, for centuries.

        • Jena, I cannot help but feel we are operating on some level of misunderstanding here. You set yourself up to disagree with me, and then end up expressing many of the ideas I was trying to convey.

          Let me first state one point that I disagree with. You say that a patriarchal culture is only horrified with abusing a woman in public. I heartily disagree. I know some patriarchal men, and they would sooner cut off their hand than strike a woman – in public or private. And if such a man found, in secret, that another man beat his wife, he would be infuriated at that man; he would have contempt for him.

          Men who grow up in patriarchal cultures were not automatically scumbags. Some treat women well, some only pretend to. Just like anyone else.

          Third paragraph: I agree. I implied so in my post, perhaps too briefly. I was just trying to point out that the impact of traditional gender roles is more complex that simply men abusing or dominating women.

          Fourth paragraph: a bit stronger than I would state it, but that is a pretty good assessment.

          Fifth paragraph: how did I deny these problems? I tried to elucidate them. But I tried to note that dealing with problems in the abstract is worth very little, in my opinion, when that serves instead of dealing with individual cases. It is the real, concrete problems afflicting individuals that we have to start with, not an abstract explanation for it.

          Last paragraph: I’m not sure how these things are platitudes if we actually do them. And that is what I am proposing. I admit they may look like platitudes if you are accustomed to people saying such things without following through. But I was attempting a call to action.

          I hope this clarifies things. You have stated that I am that patriarchy. If only that were the case! Then things would be easy. But I am just a man. I have to do the best I can with that.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I’m sorry that you don’t believe in the patriarchy, but I think that you are misled on why you can’t see it- it’s because you ARE the patriarchy.

          Note the passive-aggressive condescending attitude in that statement. On a par with the Christianese “Satan Has Hardened Your Heart; I’ll Pray For You” or the Randian-Objectivist “You lack a Functioning Mind; If you had a Functioning Mind, You Would Agree With Me.” One-upmanship with a velvet coating.

          See my comment elsewhere about reducing male-female interactions to power struggle.

      • Others have covered whether patriarchy exists, so I’ll comment on the Titanic thing.

        Not a great argument, Lukas. The “women and children first” neither proves nor disproves patriarchy. It may, however, comment on the British sense of “duty” and “stiff upper lip” and “doing the done thing” (at least toward the upper-class women and children).

        As for the immigrant passengers, their women and children were locked below deck to drown.

        • That avoids the question. Certainly the british were doing their what they perceived was their ‘duty’ and the ‘right thing.’ What is interesting is that they thought it their duty to allow women and children to survive in preference to themselves. And I wasn’t trying to disprove or prove the presence of the patriarchy; I was assuming its existence, and trying to show one way that it tended to work. And as you point out wrt the immigrants, it worked imperfectly. But that seems to be more an issue of race/economics than gender.

          • The references to the Titanic and to “patriarchy as it is imagined by the general feminist movement” are not what I’m talking about. And Lukas, dismissing the feminist movement as something that a bunch of women “imagined” in their heads is making me want to dismiss you. Sheesh.

            What I’m talking about is those Christians who use the Bible to justify patriarchy. In the first comment on this thread Eric mentioned a website called Quivering Daughters, and there is another great site called No Longer Quivering, both which share the journeys of women who leave the Quiverfull movement. You know, the Duggars and all that. The Quiverfull movement is an extreme example of Christian patriarchy, but there are a lot of churches that teach patriarchy but don’t call it that. In fact, they may even say they are offended by the term. But, in my opinion, any church that teaches headship/submission from the pulpit as the only model for a Christian marriage is patriarchal and doing untold damage to the people in the congregation. This model hurts both the man and the woman, as someone else pointed out.

            In my experience, “headship/submission” marriages that are content are actually living out an egalitarian marriage in the home.

          • The post you are replying too was directed specifically at objections Ted brought up. It wasn’t directed at anything you said.

            If you find one of my ideas untenable, I can understand that you might dismiss it. I’m not sure why you think that means you should dismiss me. I may be wrong about one thing without being wrong about other things. Why is it that even wondering about the validity of certain feminist thoughts makes one an intellectual pariah, beyond the pale? I’m not trying to be passive-aggressive. It just frustrates me that this topic can’t even be discussed by anyone who don’t already agree.

            I am not even suggesting that patriarchal societal structures don’t exist. I never said that feminists imagined the patriarchy. If I implied it, that was my communication error. I meant to say that I believe they have at times misrepresented or exaggerated it.

            You will not doubt disagree with me. That’s fine, I know many people do. But I think that this disagreement is cause for discussion, not dismissal.

  5. Lukas is right. The church needs to deal with this issue on both sides. Many American evangelical churches are essentially feminized, elevating women and their needs/wants at the expense of men, who seem to be often ridiculed from the pulpit if not the butt of jokes. It would go along with many churches’ tendency to create an emotional experience (that will be more appealing to women) rather than an intellectually-stimulating one (that will be more appealing to many men.) I for one am glad that the pastor unleashing angry screeds accusing all the men of being abusive is not terribly commonplace.

    I think that abuse absolutely should be dealt with, but it’s hard to tell what a good course for dealing with the issue might be. It’s also tough to judge how common it is; I think the assumption (true or not) is that men abusing their wives/children is just not nearly as commonplace in the evangelical church as other issues, such as pornography/sexual infidelity, hence why these subjects get addressed more. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to create an environment where women (and men, and children) subject to abuse can find counseling and help from within the church. I can barely believe there are really churches blaming women for being abused, but obviously that’s not helping anything.

    • Kyle, let’s not replace a patriarchy with a matriarchy. Some people once believed that men dominated society; as a result, some of them swung too far to the other side, and began to disparage men and elevate women. Pretty soon it seemed like there was a huge conspiracy, run by an abstract entity called the ‘patriarchy,’ that was systematically keeping women down.

      I wouldn’t want to make the pendulum swing the other way. I don’t believe the church is feminized any more than I believe that society is patriarchalized. (Our society? we hardly have any fathers. We don’t know what a patriarch is.)

      So the church laughs at men. Let’s laugh with them! A good laugh heals many wounds. And perhaps political correctness prevents them, currently, from laughing so much at women. Let us then pity the church, because they have lost a precious absurdity. Let us, above all, pity any woman who has forgotten she is as much of the dust as any man.

      Maybe some churches have become a pulpit for the dissemination of female offenses against men. The solution is not to start insulting women more, or praising men more. It is to start talking about Christ more. And in the same way, if you ever encounter someone who has been abused, your job is not to discover any gender biases that may have informed the abuse. Your job is to help that person the best you can.

      What, in your church, is not like Christ? And how can you fix that? That is the first question. For now, it may be the only question.

    • ” an emotional experience (that will be more appealing to women) rather than an intellectually-stimulating one (that will be more appealing to many men.)”

      Umm, seriously?

      • When I saw this post up I thought to myself, how long till some sexist dude comes along to muddy the waters about the nature of domestic abuse, and to change the conversation to be about, anything else, other than female victims of domestic violence. Exactly this long.

        In the United States about 85% of domestic violence crimes are committed by men, and around 75% of spousal murders are committed by men. Those are the departmetn of Justice’s numbers, so you can trust them, or some crank.
        Pro-tip: When someone says: “Some people once believed that men dominated society”, feel free to ignore everything else.

        • I don’t know Lukas db very well — I’ve only read his occasional comments here on iMonk. I don’t know that he’s a sexist, and I suspect that you don’t either, although he did flip a switch that you associate with sexism. But using a single statement to generalize the whole character of a person is the same kind of “-ism” as using skin color or gender to generalize the whole character of a person. I heard Lukas saying two things: one, he challenged a common understanding of cultural history — he may be wrong, but we can argue with him using evidence and being very careful to define our terms; two, he said that “It is the brokenness of the people that is the problem.” That’s indisputable. People can argue forever about whether the cultural philosophy creates the bad behavior or whether the bad behavior leads to the cultural philosophy, but it does all come down to what Lukas said: people are broken. We should work to change warped cultures — as all will be — but the individual people within those cultures will only be helped by individual love.

          • I’m not going to derail the conversation further.

            I think Churchs should take domestic abuse complaints seriously, and in the cases of continuing physical abuse, make the victims aware of, and encourage them to leave/report their abusers. And if/when the seperation happens make it clear that the abuser isn’t welcome at functions/services where his/her victim is going to be, unless the victim is ok with it. (and make it clear that it’s thier call, and be suportive of whichever one they make.)

  6. I’m going to make some very general statements. Please keep the stones to the size of large jelly beans. Caveat: There are a lot of parachurch organizations and churches who do take on this issue. I am not talking about them. I think that most churches literally have no idea how to deal with the this kind of issue that make life very messy for all involved and requires concrete solutions outside the church and has a lot of legal ramifications. For instance, domestic violence in the home is often considered child abuse where the children witness said violence and in many states pastors are mandated reporters. Everyone knows that domestic abuse is bad and should be decried publicly. What then? I think that some things churches could do is receive training in these areas, know their local resources, find ways to make the church a safe place to talk about stuff that goes on at home (as unlikely as this is). I suspect (I hope wrongly) that a lot of it boils down to churches not wanting to get involved as well as a lack of education and training.

  7. Eric Morst says

    Like runaways and hermaphrodites, domestic abuse is seldom spoken of in public worship settings because of the unclear parameters that are involved. What constitutes abuse? Which types of abuses are grounds for separation? How would you approach a sermon, bible study, sunday school lesson, or evangelical church program on domestic abuse? What scriptures would you use for the abuser, abused, children involved, or families of those involved? Could you tell a person that the bible supports staying or leaving? Is legal separation enough or should divorce be an option? More than the vilifying of a person or group I see instead a huge cave filled with of what I like to call the land mines of personal experience. The best part is that I truly have no definitive answer and feel no one does. I hope I am wrong but I see no undisputed answer that can always be given by all to all when it comes to this particular topic.

    • DreamingWings says

      I’ve never understood why this is a difficult moral or theological question. True, Jesus comments on divorce in two or three places. Each place gives contradictory rules. Some more severe, others less. Apparently God isn’t a big fan of divorce. A general statement . Not a rule. So you’re correct. Not much clarity from the theological strategy.

      Lets make the question personal. I find this highly effective tool for getting to the point. You’re told your words and reputation were used as a tool to convince/trick/browbeat/etc a victim of abuse to stay married and accept abuse. Or to silence the cries of an abused child. How would you react? With anger and disgust I imagine. You’d never willingly endorse the victimization of another.

      So how do you think Jesus would react. Keeping in mind that this is the man who told certain goats that simply ignoring the needs of others is like spitting in his face. And who declared that those who corrupt and abuse children would be better drown in the sea than facing him in judgement.

  8. When Christianity came to the former Soviet, nominally muslim countries of Central Asia, its impact on families was profound. Under Islam, a man’s wife was his property. But the Bible told him to love her. Under Soviet rule the woman was equal and often in greater demand for bureaucratic jobs. But after the collapse she had to put away her clipboard and go back into the kitchen. It was a complex boil of impulses. There was much more going on than “Paternalism.”

    And Bilalbek and Erkingul.seemed to manage it pretty well. More than just about any other Kyrgyz couple, they seemed to support and encourage and appreciate each other and truly care about what was best for their home and their children. Until one day when they didn’t.

    It just came out of nowhere, but from that day on they couldn’t stand each other and neither of them was a very nice person toward anyone. Yes, he pounded her, and I had to confront him with photos of her injuries before he would admit that he’d done it. But I also sat in their kitchen and saw her scream and whip crockery at him. A year or two earlier, I had gone from one end of the US to the other giving a presentation about the church in Central Asia which included a photo of these same two people bending over a shared task and captioned with something about Learning to Live in Marriage as God Intended. So I took a real interest in this collapse. But I failed to reconcile them — or even to convince either of them to act decently. I’m not one to ascribe much to demonic action. But the change was so sudden and profound that it can’t have been a normal spat. I think Satan decided to mount an attack on the nascent Christian community in that place and the point of the attack was their marriage.

    So, when you ponder domestic violence, don’t immediately point the finger of blame at Him or Her or some -Ism or other. Cruelty of any sort, but this one especially, is a thing to be dreaded, not a thing to score debate points off of.

    • hmm, so he “pounded” his wife, but in a way, she was asking for it because she wasn’t very nice and sometimes screamed at him? And this was after she was told by the church that she had to leave her job and go back to the kitchen of course.

      Example #234 of why the church is so bad at dealing with domestic violence.

      Just so we’re clear, while some wives quietly and sweetly bear the beatings of their husbands, others are sometimes horrible to their husbands, yet beatings are still, without question, domestic violence, sinful, and legally actionable. Doesn’t matter how unsubmissive or insuferable she is.

      • You’re not being fair, Marie. You paraphrase my words into tomething I didn’t and wouldn’t have said. Nowhere did I say “she was asking for it.”

        When the break-up began I urged them to get apart from each other and not to see each other except with a pastor or someone else they trusted to moderate. If I listened to his side, it was with the intend of letting him talk himself out. But I never gave him any approval or encouragement and I told him straight out and repeatedly that he must lead her alone.

        I was taking violence very seriously indeed in my post. I said there can be demons involved and that it can desolate both sides. Lastly, I said “it is a thing to be dreaded, not a thing to score debate points off of.” It seems to me that your reply aimed merely to score points.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        hmm, so he “pounded” his wife, but in a way, she was asking for it because she wasn’t very nice and sometimes screamed at him?

        Ever heard of two people who go synergistic on each other? Especially when both are abusive but abuse each other in different ways?

        Back in the days when Transactional Analysis was pop psychology, their type example of this was “Bitch and Nag married to Drunk and Proud of It.” Her bitching and nagging gives him an excuse/reason to drink, his drinking gives her an excuse/reason to bitch and nag, and both just reinforce each other in their little abusive mind games. (“Mind Game” actually being a term coined by TA psychs.) I suspect this was the dynamic between my grandparents (at least before my grandfather drank himself to death in the early Sixties).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          P.S. And if you have two abusive types (one directly violent, one indirectly) going synergistic on each other, the more directly violent one will be the more obvious.

          Usually men are more directly and physically abusive whereas women are more indirectly and verbally abusive. Men more often come from a position of physical strength and women from a one-down situation, and this results in considerably different fighting styles. (As someone put it, “A man is more likely to shoot you in the face; a woman, to poison you behind your back.”) Put two dissimilar abusers like this together in a marriage going synergistic and the man is much more likely to attract attention for his direct physical abuse; this could skew the male-vs-female figures — another reason male-on-female abuse is more visible and likely to be reported than female-on-male abuse.

          And if you add a sociopathic personality to the mix (with a sociopath’s talent for hiding what they really are to all but their target/victim), all bets are off — THAT can really throw your perception off.

  9. http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2011/01/21/proposed-bill-would-create-domestic-violence-registry/

    But a bill that has been proposed by [Texas] State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio seeks to create a domestic violence registry, similar to the current sex offender registry. “Once you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you have some trust issues,” Galaviz said. “You always have some doubts, and this would be one way to relieve some of those doubts.”

    If the bill (House Bill 100) is passed, any individual convicted of domestic violence at least three times would be required to register as a repeat offender. The registry would be free and open to the public, and would include names, birthdates and recent photographs of the offenders.

  10. I think in the past it was a matter of acceptance of this kind of behavior as a form of forcing subservience , but in today’s society, I think it’s more out of fear of criminal repercussion. In other words, if you preach about it, expect to hear about specific instances from victims, and then be expected to report it or face a potential legal mess. Imagine the public outcry if a pastor did not report abuse and the victim was then murdered.

    If someone says they have a drinking problem, aside from potential a DUI, they are involved in a legal activity. Same can be said in general for addictions to pornography. But, admit that you physically beat you spouse and you have admitted to a crime and made the one to whom you have confessed a potential accessory to that crime. Society has less and less tolerance in the confidentiality between counselors and those they treat.

    • Ed, it depends upon how you preach about it. A former pastor of mine, blamed Bathsheba for David’s sin. I wrote a letter to him, basically and politely pointing out his error. He called me at work, shortly after he got the letter, and spent a whole chunk of time telling me how wrong I was. He started off with the fact that I should have done it face to face. Fortunately, I was already moving out the door of this church. (and I researched the letter, and had another Christian review it before I put it in his mail box at the church office.)

      With what I read over at some Southern Baptist blogs, getting caught up in legal issues doesn’t seem to be the reason for not reporting/preaching.

  11. I notice that two types of sins tend to get overlooked a lot in evangelicalism: sins that are by their nature somewhat easy to hide, particularly sins within families or the home; and sins that have become socially accepted in the wider culture and that acceptability has moved into the church (the issue of violence recently discussed might be a good example of this).

    Domestic abuse is of course the former type of sin issue. Outside the church, the difficulty of prosecution and evidence, the enormous power differential between the abuser and the abused, the sense of family privacy and shame that makes both abuser and often abused hide the sin, and the cost of reporting it for the victim (loss of family, home, income) are powerful factors that make the situation complex. In short, it’s messy and ugly and incredibly damaging to people at the deepest level of their being.

    Which is exactly why the church has such difficulty addressing the issue, but also exactly why it should.

    I have church friends who have gone through both divorce and abuse situations. I’ve even talked with one person who was convinced a woman should stay with her abusive spouse. I don’t understand this mentality. In an abusive marriage, the wedding vows have already been shattered by the abuser, and in that situation the possibility of a relationship that reflects God’s image and glorifies God is slim to none. Repentance, forgiveness and healing can happen, but only if change occurs, and it’s often a long process.

    As for divorce, It’s never a good, but I think the church has stigmatized it in ways that do more harm than healing. I think that’s the wrong approach. When I taught people affected by divorce, I came to believe, and I taught, that God hates divorce primarily because of the damage it does to people. That is the evil. The question for all believers is whether we are somehow contributing to that evil or whether we countering it with the love of Jesus.


    • Yes, but… I do see the subtle aspects in the church. Strange acceptance for hostility towards women (and annoying and demanding – and yes this does work both ways!) and children as ‘the enemy that must be conquered”. For example two phrases that make me sick to my stomach regarding parenting are ‘We never spank in anger” and “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Ironically most people are completely ignorant of where those two phrases come from and with the later, they think it is Scripture.

      ‘Never spank in anger’ comes from the Spencer Spanking plan. Very, very specific guidelines for spanking one’s WIFE. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ is from a Victorian poem about sex called Hudibras by Samuel Butler and is definitey NOT from scripture.

      We don’t take nearly enough time to stop and think about what we say and how those words become like violent video games to small children – desensitizing us to the subtle ugliness that becomes subtle abuse and grows from there.

      • I have seen the things you talk about as well. No argument there. I pray for more discernment and wisdom among God’s people to help put an end to these types of things.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        ‘Never spank in anger’ comes from the Spencer Spanking plan. Very, very specific guidelines for spanking one’s WIFE.

        Is that the one “discipline manual” written by someone who had no idea their source documents were actually Victorian-era flagellation porn? And that the spankings therein were actually Victorian kink?

        Victorians were very indirect in anything sexual, including their porn and their kinks. A lot of Victorian porn and kink would not be recognizable as such in our more sexually-direct culture. Lots of opportunity there for crossed signals and misinterpretations, and I read somewhere that a lot of the Christian Spanking manuals for Training Up Godly Children (TM) actually originated in such crossed signals.

  12. David Cornwell says

    My wife was a professional mental health counselor, with a Masters in Counseling. When she was working she often came up on one obstacle more than once when attempting to bring healing to women who were involved in an abusive relationship. When progress seemed to be happening a fundamentalist pastor would intervene in the process, put a guilt trip on the person being abused, and she would return to her “submissive” status. And often this same pastor, always a male, would insist that she stop seeing that “secular” counselor.

    Shame on these men.

    • DreamingWings says

      This part of the problem is one that must, must, be dealt with more. My stepmother got stuck with one of these pastors. It took the forceful defiance from a couple church elders to make him back down. This pastor regularly spoke at our local church school and put himself up as potential advisor to the older students. I don’t know if he ever got on this topic with students. But its another important point to remember. Many of these men aren’t just ‘advising’ grownups. They’re in a prime position to set the tone for how our children view marriage.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      When progress seemed to be happening a fundamentalist pastor would intervene in the process, put a guilt trip on the person being abused, and she would return to her “submissive” status.

      For the record, my “dream woman” has always been what I call “the Cuddly Amazon” — gentle and nurturing, but with an inner strength, a gentle and “girly” exterior with a core of tungsten steel.

      I don’t think I could stomach the “Widdle Christian Wifey” type of woman. (Type example: post-Altar Call Chloe from Left Behind, AKA “What is thy will, My Lord Husband? How might I better Submit?”) Because someone who always submits submits submits isn’t a person but a thing, not a she but an it. There’s no way I could have any respect for a RL Christian Wifey doormat, and in the absence of respect I KNOW I’d try to throw my weight around on her. (Hmmm… “Widdle Christian Wifey” abbreviates as “WCW” as in the pro wrestling franchise — wonder if that means something?)

      At the very least, we’ve got some hard times coming and when everything hits the fan, the WCW archetype (with no strength or will or ability to function on her own) is not an asset or companion, she is a liability. I’ve got times when I’d need to lean on her strength, and if she has no strength to begin with, only submission…

  13. Any type of abuse within marriage is not right – whether the victim is a woman or man.

    I would even say, contrary to many evangelicals, that habitual unrelenting abuse (whether physical, sexual, or EVEN emotional) is a legitimate grounds for divorce (or at least separation).

  14. One more Mike says

    When are we going to have a discussion on clergy sexual abuse and child molestation in evangelicalism? Can’t wait for that one.

  15. I am not familiar with evangelical treatments – or lack thereof – to domestic abuse issues, but this is an issue that does get discussed, more or less, in most mainline Protestant churches. Evangelicals do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are many scriptural and pastoral approaches ALREADY available to such issues among the mainline denominations. Evangelical churches should start there, with the existing body of pastoral approaches to domestic abuse issues.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Evangelicals do not have to reinvent the wheel.

      But they usually do, in their ignorance of history, isolation from other traditions and denominations outside of their own non-denominational denomination, and the resulting unknowing arrogance of “We Alone are God’s True Church; Nothing Like Us Ever Was”.

  16. As a guy, I hate to admit it, but I was in an abusive relationship back in my early twenties — and, no, I was not the one doing the abusing. She was a couple of years older than me, and when she drank, she could get pretty volatile. I never knew when she was going to just punch me in the face for no reason (and treat it like a joke) or, even worse, pick a fight with some 300-pound biker, leaving me with the uncomfortable task of trying to defuse the situation to keep both of us from getting killed. God help me, I loved her, but I really was afraid of what she might do at any given moment. And, somehow, I managed not to hit her back, though, on more than one occassion, I had to physically hold her down for a while until she calmed down. I had fantasies about beating the crap out of her, and I frequently dreamed about killing her. But I didn’t. Hitting a woman was just too far a departure from the way I was raised, and I just couldn’t bring myself to harm someone I cared about. Unfortunately, she knew that, and she used that knowledge to manipulate and dominate me.
    I saw her from a distance (luckily she didn’t see me) a few years ago, and I found myself suddenly sick and almost paralized with fear. Until that moment, I had never really realized how deeply she had wounded me. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if she had actually been physically stronger than me. In that regard, I feel real sympathy for anyone (male or female) who is or has been the human punching bag for someone they care about. And my advice for anyone in that situation is to do whatever you have to do to get out of that situation. File a court order. Move away. Change your name. Just get out. I know the forces that hold you in place — love, loyalty, hope that the other person will change, fear of being alone — but if you don’t get out, you’ll just end up addicted to your own abuse and debasement.
    As far as how the church should deal with domestic abuse, I don’t claim to have the answers for that. Perhaps, it would help if church bodies really were more like loving families and a little less like civic clubs or Christian of the Month banquets. For all our failings as a home church fellowship, we do have more insight and direct access into each other’s family lives than one would typically find in a larger, institutional church body. I might be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good idea how my church brothers treat their wives and children. I’ve been around them and in their homes too much not to know. And if I ever see one of my brothers in Christ abusing his wife or children, he will certainly hear from me about it.

  17. More men are abused by woman then men abuse women. There is a BBC documentary on this.
    1. Most institutions dont take men seriously. 2. Men are lest likely to report the abuse.
    I know several men that have been abused including myself. I received two broken ribs, bruised liver, permanently deafened ear after being punched and a 14 inch cut across my chest. I called the police 9 times and also called 911. The police laughed at me. I then went to a judge and had her charged and it was thrown out of court.
    MY children also received lots of abuse from their mother and I was unable to gain custody of them. The courts ruled that I needed at least video taped evidence of the abuse. On the other hand I have friends (male) that were instantly thrown into jail because they had merely held their wives while screaming at them without any physical abuse. They now have permanent records and even served jail time.

    • Fred says:

      > More men are abused by woman then men abuse women. There is a BBC documentary on this. <

      If it is a BBC resport, then it is probably about English men and English women. England is a weird place. We mustn't assume what is true there is true anywhere else but there.

  18. Fatima Medeiros says

    Abuse happens to both men and women. The reason being that both men and women are fallen creatures. The bible is very clear on how a man and a woman should conduct themselves. Both men and women are disobedient. Both in Ephesians 5 and in Colossians 3 Paul goes into great detail on what a Christian marriage should look like. Most people who claim to be Christians are not in Christ and those who are operate in the realm of the flesh. I would not have any trouble submitting to a man who loved me as Christ loves the church in even giving up his life for me. This would be an honour for me. Good luck in finding a man, any man who loves his wife as Christ loves the church.
    The same pastors and husbands who live by the “a wife must submit scripture” are the same ones who misuse this scripture to abuse their power over their wives and their children. None will go on to the previous and/or following verses to read about the role of a husband and father. These men are frauds and cowards who hide behind a half quoted scripture. Please read FULL scripture below:
    Colossians 3
    Living as Those Made Alive in Christ
     1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
     5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
     12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
     15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
    Instructions for Christian Households
     18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
     19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
     20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
     21 Fathers,[c] do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
     22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

    Ephesians 5
     1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
     3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
     8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
       “Wake up, sleeper,
       rise from the dead,
       and Christ will shine on you.”
     15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Instructions for Christian Households
     21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
     22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
     25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And then there’s the interpretation I heard where the Greek word translated “Submit” is better translated as “Respect”. Plugging this in, you get “Wives, respect your husbands; Husbands, love your wives.”