October 29, 2020

Why Doesn’t The Church Talk About Domestic Abuse?

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

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?

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.


  1. Too much of a “we must not encourage divorce” attitude obscures the need to reach out.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It has nothing to do with Homosexuality, Abortion, Evolution, or anything else on Our Official Sin List(like Beverage Alcohol), so It Does Not Exist.

  3. 5. Deal with this much, and someone in your church is either going to jail, or to a lawyer.

    This is a very realistic possibility. I’ve seen at least one situation where a pastor, whose church sponsored a school, forbid teachers to report a case of child abuse. When the teachers refused to comply, the pastor’s wife met CPS workers at the door of the school and found a way to convince them to go away. The bottom line: Everybody involved knew that the kid’s dad would end up in jail, and the pastor didn’t want to deal with the fallout.

    • I forgot to say that after the CPS workers left, several teachers were called into the office and interrogated concerning their potential involvement in contacting the authorities. Turns out that several of the teachers decided to stand together on the issue and there was nothing that the pastor could do about it.

  4. YAY Michael! Let me add, as a priest, that part of the reason for the tremendous scandals in some of our churches was not that the various hierarchies approved of what happened, but precisely what you said. There was a tendency to not want to make waves, to not want to upset the apple cart. Now, in a mild defense, do remember that 30 to 40 years ago none one knew what we know today about certain psychological malfunctions.

    On a more personal note, I had a sexual abuser in one of my congregations and was not even aware of it. Worse, he got involved with some of the kids in one of the ministries we ran. Once I found out, I made sure both the bishop and the authorities were called in. Our lawyers helped the authorities in any and every way we could and we filed our own charges, as, not surprisingly, it also turned out that he was involved in some embezzling.

    I was as angry as I have ever been. I had all sorts of inappropriate words going through my mind. I even fantasized a time or two about physically hurting him. But, most of all, I also felt terribly guilty. Why had I not spotted him earlier? I had had all the appropriate sexual abuse training (this was the late 1990’s). Why had I not caught any of the warning signs? And, kids that I had helped to bring into our ministry had been hurt! It was a terribly painful time during which I went to talk to a fellow priest and spilled my guts to him.

    So, in a small defense of pastors, we are not omniscient. We are not able to always tell what is happening. It is all too true that many pastors avoid subjects of this type. But, it is also true that sometimes we are merely blind and naive. You are right that too often we do not deal with those things with which we ought to. But, it is not always a closing of the eyes.

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

    • Thank you for sharing your story as a pastor who went through this with members of your congregation. Tho painful and difficult on many levels, it sounds like God was with you as a community who chose not to look the other way.
      You are right that pastors are not omniscient. No matter how attuned we may be to our congregation, we can still miss things. But I think this is the point of why we need to make this more of a communal responsibility. When it is brought out into the light through preaching, teaching, educating, counseling, etc. we empower victims to speak out, others in the community to listen and speak more freely (not as gossip or witch hunts), and for the community as a whole know this is not the way of Christ.

    • “I was as angry as I have ever been. I had all sorts of inappropriate words going through my mind. I even fantasized a time or two about physically hurting him. But, most of all, I also felt terribly guilty.”

      Because you’re a fallen man, not a perfect man. And your dealt with the person. A group of us has been dealing with a church full of pastors who refused to deal properly with the same situation. Cover it up, not tell the congregation the full story, keep the person on after explicit warnings, etc…

      I’ll take a pastor/priest who deals with the situation and gets mad about it any day of the week.

    • I want to commend you for your honesty about your situation. I cannot imagine how hard it was for all concerned.

      I see a chasm of difference between someone who doesn’t pick up on an abuser, and those who turn a blind eye when a man is accused of abuse.

      Many women have been fooled by abusers who showed no indications before marriage, so I can readily understand why someone who isn’t as involved would also be fooled.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Let me add, as a priest, that part of the reason for the tremendous scandals in some of our churches was not that the various hierarchies approved of what happened, but precisely what you said. There was a tendency to not want to make waves, to not want to upset the apple cart.

      And now the afternoon drive-time radio guys in my area always append “-Pedophile” to any church title — “Father-Pedophile”, “Monsignor-Pedophile”, “Bishop-Pedophile”, “Archbishop-Pedophile”, etc. They think this is very funny. And you’re One Of Them because you wear the collar.

      Why had I not spotted him earlier? I had had all the appropriate sexual abuse training (this was the late 1990’s). Why had I not caught any of the warning signs?

      1) From everything I know about pastors, they are usually completely swamped. When you’ve got all of Starfleet outside your door 24/7/365 screaming “SAVE ME WESLEY CRUSHER!”, you’re going to miss a LOT of stuff.

      2) A lot of sexual abusers and sociopaths in general are masters of camouflage, at hiding what they are. We only hear about the ones who got caught.

  5. Mike, I realize that there is a very real need for the church to deal with this issue. As a man, I have been personally touched by witnessing domestic violence and emotional abuse. it’s ugly business. And I am aware that the church is almost useless on the issue.

    At the same time, I sometimes sense a mindset that hints at a need to help women because men in the church are beyond hope. There is something wrong with not only the lack of help for women, but also the way families raise men, and a lack of male redemption. I know of several young men who have grown up abused and neglected and I fear for the future they have. It will either be passive and lacking of any real substance or it will be full of violence and substance abuse. At least these seem to be two major outcomes. Either way, they will inflict their passiveness and/or violence on women.

    Maybe redeeming the hearts of men is just as vital as helping women escape violent situations. Maybe.

    • I agree with you, in that I think the abusers need to be healed as much as the abused. But I think the first step of that needs to be removing the victims from within the purview of the abuser. For the sake of both.

    • “Violence against women and girls prevails simply because the infrastructure of our society supports it. The marginalization and devaluation of any people always makes them more vulnerable to harm…Cultural norms and social and institutional practices often promote and act out of those sexist beliefs, allowing men to “get away” with their assaults.”


      “Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women can end by providing treatment for individual men. Mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… are only excuses for men’s behavior. Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.”

      Quotes are from the ava resource (10 things men can do to end violence against women) from the website Brad B. referred us to above.

      At first glance, it seemed to me like feminist propaganda, but truly began to resonate as I considered this more objectively. It seemed to go right along w/ what you were saying above, about the assumption that “men in the church are beyond hope,” and , “the way families raise men.”

      We should definitely be about helping individual men seek redemption, but this whole question of social & institutional practices resulting in a cultural oppression of women is an issue I cannot begin to fathom how to deal with, other than how I raise my sons and daughters.

      It seems so very much like “culture war” but not from an unexpected perspective…

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

    hmmmm…..maybe part of the hold up is the embarrassing need to ask for help from (yikes) : women; not only that , this isn’t VBS or kid’s choir , but a need for counselors of the most skilled kind. I’d never thot of this angle before. If so, what ELSE could we use the gifted sisters to help with ??

    • While I agree with this position, our legal system in this area is evolving into a situation where if you don’t have the proper “certificates” you’ll likely get sued and loose your assets at some point. Either a pastor personally or the church corporately.

  7. This issue definitely needs to be addressed. There was a man who abused his wife in the church in which I grew up. Most people suspected it but turned a blind eye. He had been asked to leave a previous church for attacking another member. When he was finally imprisoned for a few days and released because his wife refused to press charges. The pastor went to individual Sunday school classrooms and warned us we were not permitted to talk about it or raise the issue in any way because we forgave him for what he did. Nothing was done for the wife and her children–it was as if it never happened.

    Meanwhile, my father was told he wasn’t permitted to have a leadership position because my family left that particular church for a few years and then returned, and he was deemed “untrustworthy” and “uncommitted” because of that.

  8. Statistics can be misleading. My county has one of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the state, but those working on the front lines attribute that to two reasons: 1) domestic abuse happens a lot everywhere and 2) the church, working in support of local agencies, is addressing the issue and providing resources to help women escape from abusive situations. Because of this, many more cases of abuse are identified and reported. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it doesn’t happen in your backyard – it happens everywhere. Get involved and at least support those helping the abused.

  9. My wife and I started a series of marriage counseling sessions with a pastor and his wife a couple years ago, at our request. At some point during the first meeting he asked something to the effect of “Is there anything else going on that I should know about? Physical abuse?, etc.” and he listed maybe one or two other possibilities of that kind of extreme nature. Fortunately the answer was no, but in light of this post, I really respect him for that question. I don’t think we had said anything to that point that would suggest that type of thing, so I assumed he just wanted to “break the ice” and make it easy to spill the beans, in case that type of thing had been going on.

  10. What a heroic post! We had a woman and her kids stay with us a few days because her husband hit her. It was at that point that I realized our stand on divorce is wrong. It’s not that Christ’s words are no longer applicable, but we have to realize that a beaten woman is not acceptable. NOT ACCEPTABLE! The church should be taking care of it’s own…ignoring these situations is not acceptable.

    The reasons you mentioned might be valid, given the situations in our churches, but not acceptable. I want to hear more stories about courageous people who dealt with these issues.

    • Thank you thank you thank you….. I was a victim for 12 years of an abusive alcoholic. He “played church” on Sundays when I would drag him out of bed. He had a public persona that made him seem like a “grat guy” . I hadno idea until after I was pregnant with our first child and accussed him of having an affair how violent he truly was. We moved often and never stayed in one place longer than two years. I was cut off from friends and family, I was unable to spend money unless he said it was okay, he picked out my clothes, he told me I was worthless, it was all there. Physical, emotional, and yes even sexual abuse. I was scared because he told me I needed him and i would never survive without him. Last year I took a very brave step because he turned his volence from me onto our then 4 year old daughter. That was whenI saw what he truly was, a very insecure man who had to put down and crush a woman who had self confidence.
      I turned to my local church and became very involved there. I tried t reach out to the pastor, he never returned my phone calls. I reached out to our youth pastor who was aso my Sunda School teacher, through him and my Sunday School class, I found support, love, and help. I did te unthinkable and filed for divorce, it was te best thing possible for me and my kids, I would never go back to that situation. I am so blessed that some one in the church leadership listened to me and heard my cries for help. More pastors need o stand up and not be afraid to help those in need. As a survivor, I am truly blessed to have “made it” through the toughest time of my life and i know God has better things ahead.

      • I know someone who has gone through an identical situation as you. Unfortunately she is running back to her abuser because “God has told her to do so.” She had also said that she would never put herself back in the same situation, so I hope you have the courage not to make that same mistake.

  11. Many years ago I volunteered in a women’s abuse shelter. The most appalling thing I witnessed were the pastors who came to counsel the women. They would act as mediator between the husband and wife. They would tell her he is sorry and to go home and submit more praying for him more. This, in effect, made his repentance her responsibility. Somehow she did not submit or pray enough. These women would almost always be back after a few months.

    I hate to say this but I never counsel women to tell their pastors. I have seen the fallout too many times because the pastor does not understand he is dealing with the basic bully. Does the guy beat up his boss when mad? Bruce Ware, prof at SBTS, said the wife’s lack of submission triggers the abuse. (He does not condone abuse but again laid the blame on the wife) He simply does not understand abuse.

    Women, go to a shelter. The secular world understands this ‘crime’. Pastors do not see it as a civil crime. That is first and foremost. Because it happens in a ‘marriage’ somehow it is different to them. But it is not.

    Just a quick story to illustrate this. Years ago, a woman who was horribly abused by her husband even to point of needing several operations to repair the damage, finally divorced him after a few years of these attacks.

    When she wanted to remarry she had to meet with an associate mega church pastor for counsel. This was many years ago. During this session he told her she had to take 50% of the blame for the abuse because of her lack of submission and for marrying someone like that in the first place. He insisted she take this blame before she remarries.

    As I listened to her story, I did not tell her that I knew the pastor quite well. I know that about 5 years after her counseling session with him….his car broke down coming out of a large city late at night and a group of guys pulled over to help him. Instead they beat him, robbed him and left him for dead on the side of the road. I also know this experience left him very bitter for a long time.
    Even to the point that the church leadership was concerned about allowing him to preach for quite a while. He never said anything about himself being 50% responsible for what happened to him.

    This is the cognative dissonance with pastors and spouse abuse. They do not understand it and need to stay out of it because they usually give very bad counsel. It is a crime, so start there.

  12. The Church may talk about it, but some of the victims sure do.
    The book “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang ” by Christa Brown is a heartbreaking example of what can happen to a young girl at the hands of a predator who was a trusted preacher in her Church. This book should be ‘must-reading’ for all parents, and for all victims who need to be affirmed as ‘not guilty’ for what happened to them. I think Christa Brown is a very brave woman for sharing her story in spite of all the criticism from ‘some’ in her denomination. In this way, she took her own personal tragedy and transformed it into a way to warn others of what can happen to a young person at the hands of a predator in the clergy. I commend her.

  13. Scott Miller says

    A great post, as always. Unfortunately, too many churches are people smiling on Sunday morning and no one, ever, will know of the dirty little secrets of the family. Mental illness, abuse, pornography. No one talks about those because, as I have heard some people say, “we’re Christians. We’re supposed to be different”.
    In some churches being born again means that sanctification should have taken place all at once. That is why moralists are so busy pointing fingers.

  14. Where does Scripture say that a person should stay in a physically, spiritually, or emotionally abusive marriage? I read 1 Cor 7 and see that Paul says we shouldn’t divorce. He then says that if we do, we should attempt reconciliation or remain single.

    As a pastor, I find it unconscionable that the church shelters abusers. I think about Ezekiel 34 and the woe on those shepherds who do not protect the flock. Not on my watch. Not in my flock. I would not be worth my salt were it otherwise.

    • The most thoroughly I ever heard this issue discussed was in a Sunday school class taught by our (single) pastor. He went off Jay Adams’s book “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Church.”

      Mr. Adams holds that the scripture (1 Cor 7:5) exhorting spouses to not “deprive” their spouses (except for times of fasting and prayer) precludes the endorsement of a woman removing herself from the house in an abusive relationship. While he does say she should call the authorities and press charges, and she may remove the children from the house, he claims there is no Biblical reason for her to leave.

      • Mr Adams also adds a step to the process he uses for church discipline from Matt 18. I heard him speak and ADD a step that is not in scripture. Now, it could be an interpretation issue but Mr. Adams CHOSE to use a very authoritarian interpretation that you HAVE to take it to the elders before taking the sinner to the whole church. It simply does not say that. I always get nervous when I see ‘additions’ that are not there. I know we can quibble about this but I always see a red flag when the most authoritarians interpretation is presented.

        For him to say that that verse in 1 Corin 7 means a woman should not remove herself is reading into it. Again, the most authoritarian interpretation. And who benefits from that?

  15. Here are some good resources if you want to start dealing with the issues — http://www.covchurch.org/women/ava

  16. My father was a preacher for 40 something years while he was alive, and I can recall only one time he brought a woman and her 4 kids to stay in our already full house for a couple of weeks. He counseled with her, took her to job interviews, did everything he could humanly do for her. She attended our church and her husband did not, so his loyalties were not divided by that reason. I can’t imagine that he would have been much different in that situation even if the man was a member. After all was said and done, she went back to him.
    I didn’t keep track after that, but it seems to me she had no respect for herself. The whole women be submissive to your man talk is so dangerous on so many levels. Women need to know their own self-worth absent any male counterpart. You have to love yourself to be loved fully. I agree with a comment from above regarding the church’s views on divorce, and I would add this to that list as well. Women should know who they are in God’s eyes first and let that be their guide. Respect is earned.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And Utter Submission can attract and encourage abuse. You can’t have any respect for a punching bag and doormat. You break her face and she crawls back to you going “What is Thy Will, Milord Husband? How may I better Submit?” and you’ll just want to break her face again — harder, this time. How can you have any respect for a THING like that?

      That’s why an Utterly Submissive Widdle Christian Wifey (TM) is both attractive and repulsive to me. Attractive in the sense I KNOW she won’t be much of a threat (after being burned BAD in the past), but repulsive in the sense I also KNOW I’d start throwing my weight around hard in the absence of any respect. I have also seen Widdle Christian Wifey in action (a BAD case of Mommy-track burnout) and it’s like watching Alzheimer’s in action as she literally regressed mentally and emotionally back to early childhood, utterly dependent on Big Strong (and force-of-personality domineering) Husband.

  17. As much as the church stands against the homosexual agenda (rightly so) and stands against abortion “rights” (again, we should) it is shameful that the church is silent on this issue.

  18. Sorry, I did not mean to imply that and I did overreact. I have read you enough to know you are not pro-divorce. Never thought you were, and did not express myself well. I simply don’t know what you meant. Do you mean evangelicals are inconsistent around this and other issues? There is no doubt you are correct. I don’t want to get sideways with the Imonk! We square?

    • From my evangelical seat. Divorce is totally utterly wrong. And 50% of us do it. But we talk about how we don’t do it. But we do it. ….

      • Divorce is not always wrong. Divorce can be wrong. But divorce is not always wrong.

        If the other party breaks the marriage covenant by adultery, abuse, etc, is the other spouse “wrong” for filing for divorce? All divorce is, in that situation, is the outward expression of an already existing spiritual reality. The covenant is already broken, and that choice was made by the abusive/adulterous spouse. That’s what was wrong.

    • Please accept my apology DSY. I was too quick to assume too much. I appreciate you and your contribution.

  19. A few days ago I was reading on this same blog that the creation story in Genesis is not to be taken literally. Strange, isn’t it, that some folks think that, but somehow also take a few verses, supposedly written by Paul, regarding women, extremely literally, insist that they apply to all women, and by extension that women and children ought to not only submit to men, but also obey them, even in the face of abuse?

    This is absolute nonsense and should be labeled for what it is – a religious cult. Any religious cult that teaches this foolishness, even if they do call themselves a “church” should realize that they attract men who abuse women and children. When we find such a group, we should run, not walk to the nearest exit.

    There are many, many reasons why much of our culture has abandoned the churches of the land and continues to do so at an accelerating pace. This is one of those reasons. Tolerating men who abuse women and children (often these men are in leadership positions in the church) has given the church a black eye in the opinion of the culture. Read “UnChristian”. Google “Reasons people left church” or “Reasons people left the ________ church”

    Any church that has anything other than zero tolerance for abuse of women and/or children and for those who abuse them should be called what it really is – a wacko religious cult. Then there are those of us who consider any group that interprets the Bible to mean that women are not fully equal with men and that there is some sense that submission between a husband and wife is not mutual and fully equal, a religious cult that should be avoided and not supported in any way.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Strange, isn’t it, that some folks think that, but somehow also take a few verses, supposedly written by Paul, regarding women, extremely literally, insist that they apply to all women, and by extension that women and children ought to not only submit to men, but also obey them, even in the face of abuse?

      Because they personally benefit from it when it’s taken literally, that’s why.

  20. Great post. I hope many will heed it and start to deal with these issues. I left a parachurch ministry because of ongoing sexual harrassment of some colleagues that the leadership not only condoned, but also participated in. Turns out there were also financial improprieties.

    I’ve also seen no small amount of domestic abuse in church settings. I’m not surprised when I hear about other sins in conjunction with it because it’s really about an abuse of power and authority and will often manifest itself in multiple ways. May God grant us all the wisdom and fortitude to speak the truth in love no matter the cost.

  21. There are times that reporting abuse to the proper authorities is still less than satisfying . In my church we are in a year long fight to save baby Jessica. She was 3 or 4 months old, and her abusive, addicted parents “forgot” to feed her. She was life-flighted to a neonatal unit and managed, with their expert help and the mercy of God to survive. We are scheduling benefits to raise money, as the children and youth workers say the county may give her back to the birth parents, who by the way, continue on in their path of destruction. The parents have been granted public defenders, baby Jessica was given no lawyer, so we are struggling to help.
    As far as spousal abuse, the Catholic church here in hard coal country, used to police it’s own. A man beating his wife could expect a crowd of the wife’s family and friends, lead by their priest, to bring a blanket party to the home. This would often be followed by a wheelbarrow ride down to the river. The police would see nothing. Not saying it was legal, but it was just.

  22. I also agree that in the worst cases in the church the spectre of divorce is used to generate shame and fear that keeps women in abusive situations, and that is wrong. If we are talking about the marraige covenant and the Christian husband’s duty is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, then in my view a husband who abuses and/or beats his wife has already broken that covenant.

    • I agree with you totally. I’ve read of some situations where an abused woman does indeed divorce her abuser and then later remarries. The reaction from some church leaders……she and the 2nd husband are living in a sinful state because in God’s eyes she is still married to her 1st husband. In other words the abuser is her legitimate spouse, while the one who treats her as Christ treated His church is an adulterer.

  23. Excellent post…

    I would add to the list that:
    …Because sometimes complementarian theology blurs the line between abuse and male headship, making it difficult to distinguish which is which.

    …Because sometimes complementarian theology blurs the line between a woman’s God-given intuition and her “rebellious instincts against male leadership” (see CBMW’s interpretation on Gen. 3:16), making it difficult for her to know whether or not she can trust her own thoughts and feelings about the way she is being treated by her “leader.”

    PS. Related to the above two points, anyone here catch that Focus on the Family ministry blog article awhile back for women who were struggling to understand how far wifely submission should go, explaining to them how the husband’s leadership includes his right to decide how many children the wife would have, whether or not she was allowed to homeschool or not, whether or not she can see the family finances or not, whether or not she could work outside the home or not, whether or not a child could recieve chemotherapy or not, whether or not they would move to another state or not…

    Awful hard for a wife to understand she’s being abused by a control freak if the minister she goes to for counsel sees the above advice as godly behavior for a husband… I know, because I’ve been that woman.

    • A friend of mine from years ago was being verbally abused by her younger husband. The church leader saw it as frustration on the man’s part, and told her she should have sex with him more often.

    • I must add to Molly’s list another problem in many of these comp focused churches The women’s ministry. Behind the ruffles and bows are most often shallow teaching focused on her ‘roles’ as wife and mother. As if there is a pink and blue Christianity.

      Rarely do we see women studying theology and the deep truths of the Word in these women’s ministries. That is for the menfolk. This only exaserbates what Molly listed above. Too often women are encouraged to be spiritual midgets in these comp focused churches.

      • I am no biblical scholar, just a preacher’s kid, but it seems I recall hearing about the many women disciples of Christ. That there were as many women as men, and they shared similar roles in terms of teaching. Why isn’t that taught more in churches? Why did the translators consider that to be less important information to include than others? I can answer the second part, but I am truly curious about my inquiry about the lack of teaching in churches. Any takers?

      • I agree with this very much. I have found among many women a reluctance to address the deeper issues of theology and holiness. It’s quite frustrating for me. They seem to think that 1) they’re not smart enough and 2) just because they’re up to their eyeballs in poopy diapers and tantrums, they shouldn’t take the time to feed their spirits and intellect. That might sound sarcastic, but it is absolutely not. Or 3) they’re really not interested. Maybe I’m unusual, but I do not get that.

        As to what Debra mentions, there are great stories in the traditions of the church of dynamic women who evangelized countries, stood up to kings and died martyrs’ deaths as bravely and gladly as any men (see St. Nina of Georgia, St. Theodora (the wife of Justinian), St. Thekla (Equal to the Apostles), St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (Grand Duchess of Russia), and St. Photine of Samaria (Equal to the Apostles and the woman Jesus met at the well) to start with). I think we need to be teaching women more about their sisters in the faith who have gone before them rather than judging (or identifying with) the “bad girls” of the Bible.

  24. Can anyone point to evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that shows that churches with women pastors do better at recognizing and addressing instances of domestic violence? Wouldn’t that seem to be the case?

    • I think you’re right. An abused wife would also probably feel much more comfortable talking to a woman pastor than a man.

      However, many Christian men – especially those that like to slap their submissive wives around – would find it impossible to be counseled and confronted about sin by a female pastor.

      On a somewhat related note, I read yesterday that domestic violence is a legal preexisting condition in many states. Getting beat up by her husband can lead to the wife’s health insurance being canceled, but hey, that’s America.

      • Joe, at least the insurance companies see what a risk it is to stay in such a situation. If you saw the amount of broken limbs and ribs I saw at the shelter, you would understand why they are going this route because many women go back to that treatment over and over.

    • Pilar,

      In light of one of the eariler threads here, about the book “Jesus Girls”, I suspect that some women pastors would buy into the same ideas that the men do. “Good women are submissive and don’t get hurt by their husbands.”

      Personal experiences. I’ve been told, by a woman in leadership, to submit to a man who had been a Christian much less time than I, but was in a higher position in Sunday school leadership.
      A woman pastor, showed severe insensitivity to a mother who had just lost her adult son. She was also clueless with me shortly after I lost my stepfather to death.

  25. Michael, this is an extremely timely post for me. In my first session (high-speed – 8 weeks) in a graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy. Mind if I cut this and add it to my scrapbook (MS One Note)?

    I’m one of those people who, if my marriage were struggling, would NOT be going to the last pastor I had. I’m still working on developing friendships with good people who will be available to me, and me to them.

    But I believe that more folks should be in marriage therapy – longer term stuff. I think that the marriage relationship affects more than just the couple. It affects the children, the family’s physical health, and even the economy. I had a divorcee working for me and she was going through a great deal of depression and on her last leg on the attendance policy. If she had gone to a doctor or therapist, I could have at least had THAT information to save her job.

    I’ve been involved as a witness in an abuse case. It’s no fun. And I wasn’t a pastor. I was a Resident Advisor during my undergrad. That stuff is just horrible.

  26. Domestic Violence is about power: maintaining and enforcing it, for the purpose of experiencing one’s own power over another.

    I think as long as Christian churches have a hard time dealing with the problematic nature of power and dominion (and of the human desire to have power or control over others), it will have a hard time finding a strong place to stand against domestic violence.

    (I’m not saying that Christian churches are in favor of dominion- but that, for so many, the lust for power is not addressed in the same manner or with the same, um, black and white conviction, as the lust for sexual gratification, or even the lust for material objects).

  27. Staying anonymous on this one, because I have been an abused wife. I was taught complementarian theology from the cradle. Where I live (not in America) the church virtually only comes in 2 flavours — strong complementarian or very liberal theology. There is no healthy middle ground. I grew up in what I now know was an emotionally abusive home, with no sense of self-worth. my parents even told me that no man would ever want me because i wasn’t pretty enough. So when somebody did, I thought it was a miracle. He was a professional in training, so at his insistence I dropped out of my studies and got a basic job to support him so we could get married. Once he finished his studies I gave that up (very thankfully) and have never had a paid job since. Even when we were engaged, he would slap me if I didn’t do what he wanted. That was a shock, but I thought I must just be a terribly provoking person, so I was the one doing the apologising. It took me years (17, actually) to realise that I was a victim of domestic violence. If he had severely beaten me up, or misused alcohol or something like that, I would have recognised it much sooner. But he would slap me, grab me by the neck, physically throw me out of bed if I didn’t jump up and do what he wanted .. always just enough to keep me intimidated and under control. the last time he ever did it (over 15 years ago, and the only time that caused real physical harm) I stood up to him, told him that what he had just done was criminal assault, and that if he ever did it again our marriage was over. Funny how he could stop when it wasn’t “working” any longer. That was when i discovered that the church was no help whatsoever. I insisted that he confess to the pastor (in retrospect I should have insisted on being present) the pastor’s 2 comments reported back to me were 1. why did she let you do it? (huh? look at the size of me and the size of him) and 2. since you’ve stopped, i see no reason why you need to give up the eldership!

    Another group in the church, (too complicated to explain the relationships here) to whom i initially went for support told mwe that I had to repent of my side of the marriage as well (I should have done exactly what he wanted in the first place) when I refused to take any blame for the abuse it was more or less decided that I was the problem in the marriage. It broke my heart. it broke my faith in the church, and for several years my faith in God’s love was very7 shaky. i was almost suicidal (one night, only the knowledge that my kids still needed me stopped me from driving my car into a brick wall)I was told that my first priority was to protect my husband’s good name in the community (true, he is in a profession where this would destroy his career). not one person offered me a safe place to stay if it ever happened. The minister never spoke to me or enquired about my welfare.

    I am still married. He has not hit me since, what grounds do i have for leaving? he muttered a vague kind of sorry, but will not allow me to discuss it at all, just told me that as a christian I have to forgive him. He is well-liked in our current church (I did insist on changing churches), everybody thinks the world of him except his wife and daughter (our son took his “side”, not that I ever made an issue of anything with the kids.We don’t argue, most people think we have a wonderful marriage, and every time someone says that i feel sick inside. There is so mu8ch more I could say, but this is enough ..

    • I think you are strong, and brave, for sharing this. Thank you.

    • Wow, the phrase “as a Christian I have to forgive him” sent shivers up my spine. I, too, have been told that, but not as a wife from her husband, but as a 14 year old girl from a stepfather who tried to have sex with me.

      He told me that as a Christian I have to honor my father and my mother, and that as my stepfather he was my father in the eyes of the Lord. He also brought up the line ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’, and that if I was “misbehaving” I must be punished. Granted my “misbehaving” meant telling him no when he tried to cop a feel, but that still counted. I stood up to him and told him no (repeatedly), and since he was looking for easy (something that I refused to be), he stopped trying so much. Of course there was still some hitting, but that was looked on in our Southern Baptist church as completely acceptable, because everyone there knew that I was a “difficult child”. When I tried to get help for the hitting, I, again, was recited the verse: ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’.

      When I was 15, he decided that what he had been trying to do was wrong, so he told me that he had asked for forgiveness from God, which of course had been granted, and so that I, as a Christian, needed to forgive him as well. And that was the first time I said, I am not a Christian.

      I left that house at 17 and haven’t talked to any member of that family since.

      I’ve gotten older (and hopefully a bit wiser), and so I realize that a Christian can actually be a good person. There’s been enough time lapsed (20 years) that I can have a more impartial eye for Christianity, so I think there’s actually some things in Christianity that are wonderful and some concepts I try to adapt to my own life. But to call myself a Christian? That door has been closed to me for a very long time now, and I’m not reopening it for anyone.

      PS Rereading this, I just want to say I did get a happy ending: I moved in with a friend and her parents who gave me guidance and structure but also loved me very much, and I was pretty much adopted into that family, so I do have someone to call on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and some place to go “home” for Christmas.

    • My heart breaks for you. If it’s at all possible, please seek professional counseling for the continued emotional abuse you are enduring. Take it from someone who knows, it will help if you intend to leave but especially if you intend to stay with your husband. I will pray that you are given the strength, wisdom, and courage to seek what is safe for you and your children.

      • And I as well will pray for you, and most likely all who read your story. Take comfort in that, and claim it. The power of prayer…where two or more agree….claim that! I will pray that God will give you strength, wisdom and clear answers to your questions. But above all, peace. I love you as a sister in Christ, and I wish I could hug you through this internet.

    • Why are you staying with this man? You say that you have no grounds for leaving, but I think you have plenty!! Get out of there! Find a paid job and get your own place and take your daughter with you! And please get some counseling.

  28. I really think one of the root problems of this situation, and others within the church, is that Evangelicals don’t realize the depths of the Fall (and the pervasive darkness within us all—and the need for mercy) and they overestimate “godliness.” So, if a man is a “decent Christian,” then it is hard for us to imagine him abusing his wife (emotionally or physically). I suspect that the secret abuse of pastors, on their families and their wives, is quite high (just a hunch). The solutions are also weak, again, due to the fact we don’t acknowledge of the depths of the problem.

    I shared not too long about my mother’s neighbor who is a deacon in her Baptist church, and who she saw punching his wife in the face so hard he knocked her to the ground. My mother reported it to the church deacon board. Their solution was to find a baby sitter so the two of them could go off to a “marriage enrichment” seminar held by the Southern Baptist at Ridgecrest. This is like putting a Snoopy Band-Aid on a melanoma lesion.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If “marriage enrichment” = “Wife, Submit to Thy Husband”, it looks like another Win-Win situation for the abuser.

  29. I think that often it is not that church leadership wants to protect the guilty or hide
    anyone’s sin.

    I think a common reason for not placing the spousal abuse issue front
    and center in the church is the feeling that in a large number of cases
    (particularly in cases where there is emotional but not physical abuse) no
    one will win. Society is so primed for divorce and it is so easy to believe
    that anything would be better than the marriage I am in. And trust me,
    there is a divorce lawyer in your town (maybe in your church) who
    is ready to convince you that divorce is the right path (see http://tinyurl.com/mbe27n ).
    Most people have heard that their state is a ‘no fault’ divorce state and moreover any
    marital argument can be viewed as ’emotional abuse’.

    Sometimes church leaders sit back and look and the last 30 or so years. They know that
    there are a number of couples in the church where there are arguments
    (but no physical abuse) and a divorce will seem like an easy way out.
    They have seen over the years, that in such cases the children are the big losers and
    the divorce lawyers are the big winners.

    • But, Neil, the damage of psychological abuse can be much worse than physical abuse. It’s proven that victims of continual emotional/verbal/psych abuse often end up with various anxiety disorders, depression, autoimmune diseases and worse. Living in a state of such strain wreaks havoc on the body.

      And that’s saying NOTHING about the children. What do children learn living in a home where Dad continually treats mom with disrespect and disdain? I grew up in a house where that was the case, and I truly believe it contributed to why it took me so long to realize my situation was freakily abusive. It was “the norm.” You look to your parent to see how you are supposed to be a spouse, and I watched…my mom’s never-ending submission to tyranny…and I learned.

      Kids have a right to a healthy parent, if that choice is in the parent’s power. A woman living under an abusive regime might be healthy for a while, but eventually, she will begin breaking down. Ten, twenty years later, she will be a shell of who she was. It’s just par for the course. So “staying for the kid’s sake” actually makes the kids lose, because the kids now have an abusive dad (which they already have) and a broken mom. All the while, the kids are watching and learning how marriage is supposed to look.

      I think that the church’s position should be that abusive marriages are broken covenants. If, and ONLY if the abused spouse feels God is calling them to stay married, then the spouse should stay. Otherwise, the church needs to completely back the abused spouse choosing to legalize the brokenness of the covenant (a covenant which the *abuser* already broke).

      This thought that “divorce” is worse than abuse stems from ignorance about the actual COST of abuse. An abusive marriage does NOT glorify God, and it does NOT set the next generation up for marriages that glorify God. Those who think divorce is bad better not use that as a pretext for saying abused wives should stay. Divorce may not always be the ideal, but it’s a guarantee that abuse NEVER is.

      (PS. I never noticed, until I left my abusive marriage, how many passages there are in Scripture that speak to abuse. Isaiah and Jeremiah alone are just BRIMMING full of verses that talk about how God feels towards those who abuse their power and oppress the weak. WOW. All this hoopla about a few “literal” verses in the conservative church and yet…don’t hear so much about the many many many verses that talk about God’s view towards those who abuse their power. Maybe I wouldn’t get so frustrated with teh teachings of CBMW if they’d spend as much time emphasizing those verses as they do their notion of wifely submission)…

      (PSS. My husband was a minister. He looked great on the outside. We all did, every Sunday. Nobody knew what was going on behind closed doors. Not even me, for a long time, because he would always use “God” to justify his actions, and I, believing CBMW and Co.’s take on the existance of innate female rebelliousness, constantly doubted my interpretation of the events)….

      Honestly, if I did not just have a love for God that I can’t get rid of, I would be so far from anything Christian right now. I did everything those &^% marriage books said, I humiliated myself doing everything that guy wanted…for what? Submission feeds abuse. That’s what those books don’t get. Submission works on abusers about like it does on toddler tantrums. You submit, they take more, you submit, they take more, ad infinitum.

      • Molly,

        Your first paragraph got my attention, because it explains a lot of what I’ve gone through in the last few years. It’s not just the wives who go through emotional and mental abuse.

        The last five years of my marriage were like trying to walk on eggshells. She had left once before, and when she returned, I wanted to do whatever I could to fix things. She didn’t. I tried my best to be the husband I thought God wanted me to be, but she was just waiting for her next chance to get out. Her emotional responses to me varied between indifference and raging anger.

        While this was going on, my health worsened. I developed psoriasis (an auto-immune disorder), and became highly anxious. I couldn’t sleep, which affected my job performance. I’ve had heart problems, and have developed Type 2 diabetes. Before the five years of hell, I was overweight, but otherwise healthy. And let’s not even talk about the depression that worsened even after she left for good.

        I talked about this with a Bible study class in church. No one seemed to know what to say. A couple of wonderful people immediately came to visit me after church to show support and offer to help in any way they could. Most people at church began to keep me at a distance. One even told me that if I had to have had some unconfessed sin in my life, or my marriage would still be intact. Domestic abuse was something that was simply not discussed in that church, and husbands being abused? That simply couldn’t exist, could it?

        • Don, sounds like your wife (ex-wife?) has borderline personality disorder. You should check out the book “Stop Walking on Eggshells.”

          And I’m sorry you had to go through all that. Hope you’re getting some counseling to deal with all that, maybe some cognitive behavioral therapy (worked for me!)

    • Neil,
      With respect, I think your premise here is flawed. Good counselors and mentors and pastors don’t enter into a situation like this to “win.” Mature counselors and pastors will realize that in a fallen world we are often faced with a lesser-of-evils kind of choice, particularly when facing deeply rooted sins such as emotiional and or physical domestic abuse. The result will often never be an absolute good, but a mitigation of evil and a protection for the abused and the image of God in that person, and yes, in the best cases, repentence and restoration for the abuser.
      Also, trained counselors actually can often discern the difference between the garden-variety marital argument and abuse; they are qualitatively different.
      Divorce may be marketed as quick and easy, but that’s hardly ever the reality, and I think most Christians realize this, and even if they don’t, part of speaking the truth is for leaders and laypeople to disabuse people of this notion.

  30. This may be a sideline to the main discussion, but I thought I’d throw it in here. I’ve seen the “submission” teachings for most of my adult life. My own experience with it is that too many of the loudest proponents of wifely submission are in practice abusive. And in searching the Scriptures, I do find that, yes, the wife is to submit to her husband; but I cannot find anywhere that Scripture appoints the husband to be the enforcer of this. I think that God knows the human heart too well to set things up that way. So if a woman is not being submissive who should deal with her? Not the husband; that could too easily turn into self-serving and abuse. The job belongs to the older women of the church.

    Anybody else have any thoughts on how to keep proper submission from turning into abuse?

    • As one of those doltish men doomed to be as literal as I may allow myself, I came to this same conclusion–it’s not my place to submit anyone. God doesn’t smack me around, and I keep that in mind. This is why I get squirmy when people say a tornado was sent to…er…smote upon…the ELCA convention.

      One serious question: How do you get us men to admit this to the older women?

      • BB, the older women will see it. If a wife is being unsubmissive to a godly husband, it is often obvious when they are in public. But you’re right, it is likely to be humiliating for the man for anyone to point out the obvious to him. However, the wise and godly older women may address it subtly w/o drawing undo attention to their involvement.

    • Phil,
      I slept on this to see if the desire to respond would go away; sometimes it does. This time it didn’t.

      I appreciate that you see that “too many of the loudest proponents of wifely submission are in practice abusive”.

      I have to ask, what do you mean by “deal with her”?
      And who decides what is “unsubmissive” and “proper submission”?

      And to Debbie below, there are many abusers who know how to hide the truth in public. What if a woman who seems to be “unsubmissive” is somehow trying to call attention to abuse? Such things have happened. Or maybe a woman is having a bad day. I ask the same question as above: Who makes the judgment call as to what is “submission”?

      I think in the sincere effort to be “scriptural” there has been massive departure from the thrust of scripture, in this matter particularly.

      The only “proper submission” is *mutual* submission, which cannot be coerced, as you note. Otherwise, a particular interpretation of scripture itself becomes a weapon.


      • Hi Dana,

        “The only “proper submission” is *mutual* submission, which cannot be coerced, as you note. Otherwise, a particular interpretation of scripture itself becomes a weapon.”

        You are so right.

        “And to Debbie below, there are many abusers who know how to hide the truth in public. What if a woman who seems to be “unsubmissive” is somehow trying to call attention to abuse? Such things have happened. Or maybe a woman is having a bad day. I ask the same question as above: Who makes the judgment call as to what is “submission”?”

        I was taking the question at face value, and answered w/in that context, but also with the assumption of spiritual health and maturity on the part of the older women I mentioned.

        After reading all the comments today, I’m at once ashamed and surprised that I didn’t know how pervasive an extreme complementarianism is in churches.

        I just picture us old ladies, who’ve been around the block a time or two, over time being able to recognize that something is wrong in the relationship in question, seeking to get to know the younger woman and being in her life to the level she’ll allow. Having been in an abusive relationship in the past, I think I would be able to tell the difference, personally.

        I suppose if all the old ladies in your church are bound by this unilateral submission bs, you’re kinda screwed, since they’ll just push that bs all the more.

        But really, isn’t the key getting in there, getting involved in other people’s lives and living along with them? Then we can make much more informed judgments (judgments to determine a course of action, not judging people to hell, mind you) and prayerfully proceed on an appropriate course.

        So in my comment above, a judgment is called for, but I’ll withhold it until I’m involved enough to be sure.

        Blessings, Dana, and thanks for keeping me on my toes.


        • Thanks Debbie. I wasn’t commenting “at” you personally, which you probably figured out… The problem with complementarianism is not only that it has an extreme version, but that its “soft” version is so pervasive and insidious. It’s the dressed-up-as-Christian version of the devaluing of women that’s all around us, in the popular expressions of our culture (TV, movies, advertising). It’s no different than “the world”.

          It would be wonderful as faithful Christians to be able to be so involved with one another’s lives that we could speak healing into all kinds of situations. Such people usually don’t get the spotlight. I’m sure you would be a blessing in appropriate involvement.


  31. I also sometimes wonder if the image of an out of control man hitting his spouse or children is just too altogether humiliating? We instinctively flinch away from watching shameful things- and that above image is shameful. It’s shameful, and it implies a whole lot about the weakness of men, and it seems to me that the church is kind of vested in men not being weak.

    One thing that is so screwy, to me, about domestic violence and how institutions like the Christian Church handle it is the weird reversal of power dynamics. Within a relationship where domestic violence plays a role, I think the abuser is the person who is in the position of power, and is doing whatever he (or she) can do to maintain that power and to *exercise* that power. However, outside of the relationship, so often the assumption is that the violent party is “out of control” and focus shifts to the victim and what he or she does or can to do avoid or incite that violence. So, in a way, the responsibility for power is given to the person in the relationship who systematically has their power eroded by the dynamics of the relationship.

    What a total and utter devestation that has to do to one’s perceptions.

  32. Institutionalized male dominance is a large part of Christianity, as it is a common thread throughout scripture. The Bible clearly and specifically condemns many things, but beating your wife is not one of them.

    But then it doesn’t contain wedding vows, either. Does it even say that a vow to God is necessary for a marriage?

    • Jjoe, with all respect, you are reading the Bible like a lawyer. The Bible absolutely commands men to love their wives, so it does, in fact, specifically condemn wife-beating.

      • People beat their kids because they love them, so they say. I imagine the same logic has been used with a wife or two.

        Let’s use the word “explicit” instead. The Bible explicitly condemns homosexuality, divorce, getting drunk, being rich, hypocrisy, theft, murder and a zillion other things, but beating your wife is not one of them. Paul didn’t exactly have a soft spot in his heart for women.

        • Jjoe, I’m sensing that you have some anger and maybe an axe to grind here. I’m a lit teacher, not a shrink. All I’m telling you is that any objective reading of the Bible absolutely and categoricalyy condemns wife-beating. You have to bring an agenda, an ideology, or a prejudice to the text to come away with any other interpretation.

        • It’s much more difficult to enumerate all the things one ought not to do (as with many OT laws) than to provide a general rule for positive behavior that by its nature and intent clearly places certain negative and sinful behaviors beyond the pale. A very basic example is two common classroom rules teachers use: Be responsible; Be respectful. That covers a lot. Similarly, the biblical mandate for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church covers a lot. As does Christ’s command to love God and our neighbor. And if that’s not enough, the specifics about what love is like in I Corinthians 13 ought to dispel any doubt.

      • Actually, it commands in both the NT and OT that a ‘man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife’.

        Ever wonder why it does not say a woman should leave her mother and father to cling to her husband?

  33. Not being a pastor, I have to ask. Are pastors really trained for this sort of thing? Some of the seminary-trained pastors I’ve had (not all have been seminary-trained) seem more the isolated bookish types who really aren’t trained for any type of legitimate counseling. One other reason I’m going for my MFT license.

  34. One ugly problem that I have witnessed in this issue is that forgiveness does not seem to work with men. It’s all wonderful to talk of forgiving men who want forgiveness, but most men tend to go back to their old ways, even after shedding a thousand tears on “the altar” (sigh).

    In frustration, I would almost say that men should not be granted forgiveness or grace until they have earned it. When they have been tested and have proven that they have genuinely repented of abuse and violence, then forgiveness and grace can be offered.

    I know this may not quite align with scripture’s concept of grace. I just think men only get their lives straight when not doing so will cost them everything. And even then, there are men who just will not repent. Well, it’s their own darned fault. And I’m a guy.

    • MW,

      The key is boundaries.

      You can forgive and be graceful, yet that does not mean that things just go back to the way they were. That’s where we get all discombobulated! A victim of domestic abuse may very well forgive, and still get divorced in order to protect herself and/or her children. Or she may forgive and require her husband go to counseling before she moves back in with him. Or she may forgive and trust in a miraculous healing of his mind that allows her to feel safe upon her return. The boundaries and the forgiveness aren’t related.

      Forgiveness isn’t a free pass.

  35. I’ve moved from a church with an all-male board of elders to a church where females serve and comprise approximately half the elder board. It makes a huge difference. It says that in Christ there is no male or female (Greek or Jew, slave or free). It says the Holy Spirit resides in female believers precisely the same way He resides in male believers. It says that women are equal in all respects and not merely “obedient sisters.” This seems to me an absolutely crucial first step if any church is going to tackle this critical, tragic, and mostly hidden sin we delicately call “domestic abuse.”

    Christian men must be willing to share power, and even more, to be powerless, like Jesus on the cross. This would not only help us tackle domestic abuse in the church; it would improve our witness in the world. (This has nothing to do with the “political” debate about “diversity” and multiculturalism.) Let me make it clear. I don’t mean to offend, I am only saying what is true — any church with an all-male elder board is loudly proclaiming to the world, “We are primarily about patriachy and power, and we are only secondarily about Christ and the cross.”

  36. Strange, isn’t it, that some folks think that, but somehow also take a few verses, supposedly written by Paul, regarding women, extremely literally, insist that they apply to all women, and by extension that women and children ought to not only submit to men, but also obey them, even in the face of abuse?

    How any reasonably educated human being could post something like this is beyond me. Just because there are fruitcakes out there that say submission means submit even in the face of abuse does not mean that is what most of those who hold to the correct biblical position of men being the servant leaders and that woman should submit to their own husbands believe. Oh, and submit does not mean check your brain or opinion at the door and gives no option for the husband to demand submission. I think what your position would be best described as would be a red herring.

  37. You are right, imonk. Even churches who are willing to step up to the plate on this issue are woefully unprepared to do so. The average minister has little to no training to handle such issues, lay leadership even less.

    Assuming you have the healthiest understanding of domestic abuse and you aren’t encumbered by superfluous submission arguments, and you’re even able to discern truth in the myriad “he said, she said” arguments, it is still not going to be an easy fix.

    Recognition is often difficult as Fr Ernesto stated above. Especially in modern western churches which are a lot less like a family who knows and loves you, and much more like a grocery store where you see the same cashier and produce mgr, but you really aren’t sharing much of your life with them.

    If you do recognize the abuse and you’re willing to step up to the plate, there’s a myriad of laws and mores that constrain the corporate body, not to mention the difficulty finding and training people willing to counsel the hurting.

    Key #1 is being ready before it happens. Ready to meet the immediate need (a safe place to spend the night, or a free car repair to offer more freedom), prepared with referrals for those who need more than you are able to provide, and most of all prepared to allow that hurting person into your life, to follow up, to listen, to nurture them, and to show them the face of Jesus on this earth while they are struggling to become whole again.

    Key #2, and truly the bottom line, imonk, is to walk along w/ someone through a journey like this takes time and effort. A lot of time and a lot of effort, and often for little or no return. Not many of us are willing to make that sacrifice.

  38. I think that God gives grace with regard to divorce. He’s in the redemption business, but some folks are so totally wounded from adultery and / or abuse that it’s one road He offers to begin healing.

  39. I am a child of a divorced man and his second wife. My father’s treatment as a divorced man was one of the most shameful and cruel episodes in my life. God have mercy on those who punish the broken.

    • My husband had been divorced twice before we married (20 years later we are still married). He has suffered greatly, some due to his inability to forgive himself, but mostly because of a church that treats the divorced like pariahs. Practically, it’s treated as the unforgivable sin. Shameful indeed!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In practice, “The Unpardonable Sin” usually translates to “Whatever YOU did that *I* didn’t!”

        There’s far too many One-Upmanship games going on in churches, and having a Bible-verse coat of paint doesn’t make them any less One-Upmanship.

    • Oh, I so agree! At a mega here in town they have a benevolence ministry and I know of working poor divorced single moms coming in for some help but first they are grilled on the reason for divorce. And it better be a good one if she wants help. It broke my heart. They have to sign papers stating the reasons for the divorce and then wait to be approved for help. But when you are broke with kids and a broken down car, your pride is gone.

      It is not good for her if ‘she’ initiated the divorce.

  40. once saw a seven minute sermon by an intentional interim Baptist preacher about how divorce was not the unforgivable sin. Very moving. The worship team looked shocked , sang a song and church let out early, with some red faces in the crowd.
    I had a man say he could not serve as a deacon due to 1 Timothy 3:12, I asked him, “Quick, tell me, how many wives do you have?”

  41. Once a week, I remind my 9-year-old son that a man must never hit a woman—ever. I’ve been telling him this since he was old enough to understand the differences between the sexes. I do this because our county has a high rate of domestic abuse. I tell him this because a society filled with men who hit women is a society being eaten from within by a cancer. I tell him this because a pornographic society such as ours has reduced all people to little more than items for our pleasure that can be abused whenever they no longer meet our needs.

    God help us all.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What happens if your 9-year-old then runs into an abusive girl (or woman) who attacks HIM? Especially if she knows the passive-aggressive trick of subtle focused abuse to provoke her actual victim into overreacting and becoming The Big Meanie?

      “Never hit a woman — ever” can act on the flip side to encourage abusive women into thinking they can abuse a man in Perfect Safety. This has been a side effect of Domestic Violence programs that focus on men abusing women to the point of ignoring women abusing men.

      Abuse — whether from a man or a woman — should have consequences on the abuser.

      Stupidity Should Hurt.

      • HUG,

        Girls can be bullies, ’tis true- in grade school, when children are growing and girls sometimes get bigger before boys do, this can happen. But the vast majority of time, school-age girls bully and abuse other *girls*, both physically and verbally. It’s all ugly.


      • That Other Jean says

        HUG, I’ll have to disagree here. Stupidity shouldn’t hurt. Malice should hurt.

      • HUG, You should hope the woman abuser only hits. Women tend to use other more clever and scary forms of retaliation when they are consistently abused by a man. Ever see The Burning Bed?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I know the Burning Bed reference. Also, Court TV is full of shows where widdle wifey slowly poisons hubby with a sweet smile.

          Over the weekend, I was watching one of the ER documentaries on Discovery Health. One was a guy who had a kitchen knife buried in his spinal column just below the base of the skull. Some sort of domestic fight, and when the guy turned to leave, she let him have it in an ambush from behind.

          Somebody told me it’s biological, from males fighting for social status in the group and (physically-weaker) women protecting their young. Men fight to defeat and submission, women fight to utter extermination. Men fight face-to-face, women ambush from behind with a backstab. Men use guns, women use poison. Men abuse physically, women abuse emotionally/psychologically.

          In a way, it gives male supremacists a LOT of street cred. Even the really brutal ones. How else can a man be safe when dealing with something so vicious and devious?

  42. Thank you for writing this. As a survivor of 9 years of domestic abuse, I can attest that it can happen to anyone. I was educated, upper-middle-class, Christian (and very actively so), and actually taught young women about the proper relationship between husband and wife, demonstrated by Christ and the Church. I thought I had it under control. I was the buffer between my husband and the big bad world that just didn’t understand him like I did. I had beefy former Marines and *his own mother* confess that they were scared of him when he was angry and how did I manage to deal with it? Strangely enough, the more I tried to be a good wife, the worse things got. When he finally tried to strangle me (suspending my 5’4″, 135lb body over his 6’5″ head via the neck), the lightbulb came on.

    Wow, were my eyes opened. I learned all too well just how inadequately pastors (including my own) were equipped to deal with this sort of situation. I don’t blame the church, I don’t blame Christianity, or “complementarianism”. I blame the lack of specialized training necessary to properly counsel a couple where domestic abuse is taking place.

    First, you need to be able to identify it. Abuse takes many forms. it’s not just smacking her around or beating the crap out of her. There’s no need to hit her if the mere threat of it works. And you’re not a feminist or making stuff up when you acknowledge that abuse goes beyond physical violence. It’s not a word that should be thrown around lightly – there’s a difference between a husband being a jerk or a boor and him being an abuser. That difference is fear.

    Also, it is ESSENTIAL to understand that normal marital counseling methods DO NOT WORK. A couple needs to be in counseling SEPARATELY until all abuse has stopped for at least 6-12 months. The abuser and the victim need to be in specialized programs to address their unique issues. Too many times, and I experienced this personally, the pastor becomes an unwitting ally of the abuser and counseling becomes another “tool” he is able to use in his arsenal. It is also dangerous for the victim and abuser to be in counseling together – if the victim shares something she’s “not supposed to tell”, there will be a price to pay, perhaps even in the car on the way home.

    I speak up about this whenever I can, most recently teaching at a small youth conference this past summer about how the popular “Twilight” series basically romanticizes abusive relationships and helps perpetuate that those aspects of a relationship are normal or good. One group was very grateful for the different perspective. Another was much more defensive, and actually got angry with me for taking things at face value. Quote of the conference, “Just because Edward wants to kill Bella all the time, it doesn’t mean he’s abusive.” Runner up: “She consented to that [being beaten up and knocked unconscious during her wedding night de-flowering] when she married him.” The former statement was from a young lady in her early 20’s. The latter was from a mother who attended with her daughter.

    When I have enough time and funds, I would love to pursue this further, researching the situation and providing possible solutions for churches and pastors.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      (Rant warning, Sandra)

      Ah, Twihards. They DESERVE their Sparkling Edwards. (And remember all the teenage boys and older men (in the case of Twimoms) who now have to compete with Utterly Perfect, Utterly HAWT Sparkling Edward. It’s a gender-flipped version of Perfect Porn Star Syndrome.)

      Though this DOES beg the question as to why Users & Abusers (with or without the Twilight “Vampire” Bishie-Sparkles) trigger the “OOOO! MY SOULMATE! HE’S SO (gasp) EXCITING!” response in women. I’ve Seen It. Over and over. Women will dump decent guys for Users & Abusers, whether they *sparkle* or not. This happened to me 25 years ago, and is one of the reasons I’m still single at 53 with a real hard time respecting women.

      It’s like “You want to be attractive to women? Then hate them until you could never enjoy their presence, until all you can think of is how to use and abuse them. Then you’ll be Irresistable; they’ll be throwing themselves on you — ‘OOOOOO! MY SOULMATE!!!!'”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says


      Quote of the conference, “Just because Edward wants to kill Bella all the time, it doesn’t mean he’s abusive.”


      Runner up: “She consented to that [being beaten up and knocked unconscious during her wedding night de-flowering] when she married him.”

      I assume she’s referring to Bella & Edward (sparkle sparkle sparkle)”s wedding night? Sure sounds more “action-packed” than any wedding night scene I could come up with. Now you just wait until Bella has His child on His private resort island in Volume 2 — where Edward (sparkle sparkle) gives her a C-section with his teeth after turning her into a Sparkle-Vampire (does this count as killing her?) after the Sparkle-Vampire (actually Sparkle-Dhampiru) fetus/kid snaps her spine from within with a kick… (I am NOT making this up. I wish I had never heard… I wish I had never seen…)

      The former statement was from a young lady in her early 20’s.

      Standard Twihard demographic. (Twihard = rabid Twilight fangirl; probably related to “fantard”, i.e. “fanboy retard”.)

      Would you believe that when Twilight first hit the best-seller list, some Christians recommended it (unlike Harry Potter) because “Bella & Edward Save Themselves for Marriage (TM)”? (Guess the 400 pages of fully-clothed dry-humping scenes in Volume 1 didn’t count.)

      The latter was from a mother who attended with her daughter.

      This is called a “Twimom” — a 40/50/60-something Twihard gushing over Edward (sparkle sparkle sparkle). They are even more pathetic than the Twihards. Every time I hear of one, I just stand there with my mouth open.

      When I have enough time and funds, I would love to pursue this further, researching the situation and providing possible solutions for churches and pastors.

      I’d like to see you do. Growing up, I took over a decade of near-constant emotional abuse from my younger brother, and he was a master at camouflaging himself and manipulating Mom & Dad into taking his side. It’s a major reason my head’s not wrapped all that tight. There IS a difference between being a jerk and being an abuser, and you need to be able to recognize the difference. Often because an abuser won’t act like a jerk — at least if there’s witnesses. They’re VERY concerned that strangers look up to them, never mind their abused intimates. (What Chesterton called “Hellish Respectability.”)

  43. I had a friend who worked in an abuse shelter. She was not (and is still not) a believer. She confronted me one day with the passages about submission and how she was tired of hearing battered women go back to their abusers because that’s what the Bible taught. Ugh. I whipped out a Bible and hopefully set her straight. But make no mistake, I’ve been attending evangelical churches since birth, and have rarely ever heard a word preached on men’s responsibilities toward their wives in marriage. IMHO, their duty is far heavier and harder – love your wife as Christ loved the church, even dying for her. Pastors, what say you?

  44. This like many other issues is all about the church keeping up the facade that Christians somehow have it all together. Someone has sold us the lie that if we seem perfect that the rest of the world will want to be like us? The truth is that they would much rather us admit that we are just as screwed up and broken as they are…The fact that we continue the charade in spite of the fact that everybody knows otherwise is kinda awkward… like a bad joke that nobody is laughing at..

    The church needs to be a safe place for people to open up about these types of issues so that they can be healed rather than condemned. However it is important that we always keep a healthy balance a few key principals

    while the church should be a safe place to come for healing, we have a responsibility to protect the victims in these circumstances. It is important to clearly communicate that to everyone involved; this builds a bridge of understanding, so that when you have to get the authorities involved you still have an opportunity for dialogue.

    It is also very important to communicate that Grace and Forgiveness do not absolve us from Consequences of our actions. Similarly a person that is suffering great consequences for their actions should not be abandoned to suffer alone. Consequences may be unavoidable, but they do not disqualify someone from receiving forgiveness, grace, and healing.

    It is high time to get our hands dirty with these issues…and to be proactive, I firmly believe that many of these issues could be solved through good discipleship, and healthy accountable relationships.

    Thanks for bringing this up monk!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This like many other issues is all about the church keeping up the facade that Christians somehow have it all together.


  45. What JasonBaldGuy said is true about the charade, but what choice do people have?

    “Ok, you seem real mortified–you’re in. Hold still real quick…Splash! You good and soaked? Good. Here’s a book; see what you can do with that. So: We’re here twice every Sunday and once on Wednesday–Oh! And there’s basketball on Thursday if you like. Don’t mind Brother Fred. Sometimes he gets to trash-talking, but don’t worry–it’s all meant In Love. If you have any questions, Call Pastor/Fr./Rev. Bob. He’s got 200 families to attend to, but I’m sure he’ll get back to you as soon as he can. ‘Course, phone calls probably aren’t the best idea–you can never hear him over the kids’ hollering. Plus, his wife’s got a bit of busybody in her; likes to pick up the phone quiet-like. She’s a Godly woman, though–only Shares in Love. Anyway, Pastor Bob don’t pay her no mind, on account of we keep him so busy. Maybe the quarterly Men’s Breakfast would be more ideal. We have a good time; there’s pancakes and such. Br. Fred does a real nice prayer; good and strong so you can hear him clear in the back like you was sitting right up front. He’s always going on about how he’s In The Spirit and we’re all real thankful for it.”

    I was told recently that in the early church, one would have to wait three years to become a member. Wow! That time was spent in under a mentor, there were investigations of the proposed-members daily life…things no modern American would submit to. Naturally, I thought it was great, and asked why we stopped. Shrugged shoulders and the same old feasibility argument. Smacks of real discipline. I mean, sorry, discipleship. Discipleship sounds ancient and peaceful, like those monks who make beer we’ll never drink. But discipline…that sounds like work, and we don’t believe in works. It’s grace for us, or nothing! No good, that discipline talk; never know where it will stop. Pretty soon everybody will be all earnest and thoughtful. Where’s the spontaneity? Where’s the fun? We don’t build sactunasiums for nothing, mind you.

    This topic suggests how painfully that thinking is missed–that you have to live the walk before you’re allowed to talk it, and that you don’t have to live it alone. Being a Brother or Sister in Christ really means something. We could have shelter, we could have someone to rely on.

    As far as the legal concerns…that seems tricky. In the Christian society described in the NT, you didn’t bring conflicts between Christians before the law. On the the other hand, that could really invite a lot of intra-church political abuse and oppression exactly as we’ve heard. The West Virginian Elders of the Bat and Shovel theory of conflict resolution–though charming–leaves a bit to be desired on the reconciliation aspect. What about a Christian chain-gang, whose profits fed and housed abused wives and children?

    Frankly, I’m highly suspicious of my own candidacy for Christ under such conditions as were relayed to me.

    • Before anyone lays into me for my comments on the Christians and the law concerning spousal abuse, I want to state for the record that if I knew of a woman who was being abused I would definitely direct her to civil legal authorities. I’m already doing a lot more wrong than that. What’s one more?

      But keep your pitchforks handy–I could turn monstrous any moment!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I was told recently that in the early church, one would have to wait three years to become a member. Wow!

      The early Church also spread through the early Roman Empire like fire across a lake of gasoline. From the bottom up, spreading first among the rejects and untermenschen of the Empire instead of among The Right People. No matter how badly they were stomped down by the legal authorities. (Including for “Atheism” — not only did they not acknowledge the Gods of Rome, they weren’t superstitious enough to be truly “religious”!)

      Why would anybody want to be a Christian nowadays if “Christian” means all the abuse and baggage and superstition and one-upmanship and behavior described in this thread?

  46. I am another woman who has survived living with violence and the threat of violence for 30 years. I was indoctrinated as a child into believing that if I did not assent to the plain teaching of the scripture then I would go to hell. However, my parents were a well balanced couple in the home.

    I soon found out to my shock that if I sneezed when I was not allowed to it was from lack of submission. Since total submission is physically impossible, I was unsubmissive. Being already unsubmissive I became resentful. When I was beaten it was for my unsubmissive and resentful spirit. I must have been the cause of the abuse. If I had been submissive I would not have been hit. Right?

    When a preacher stands in the pulpit and preaches the submission of the wife from the upheld Bible, he is brainwashing a woman into doing the very thing that will deepen the abuse. He is telling that wife how to be hurt more and more every day. Submission reinforces abuse. He teaches her how to be physically damaged.

    It was a long journey for me, beginning with reading Paolo Freire, understanding that an oppressed class is brainwashed into accepting their subordination. Only when I understood that, could I engage in planning to continue living. It was only when I denied submission and desired to live, that I started to think and plan an escape.

    It is not easy to get counselling. I was told I would be beaten, I was called a whore and every kind of filthy word, when I asked if I could go to counselling. I did not dare go without permission.

    Over the years, I pursued the skills I needed for a decent job, I got the job when my husband decided we needed it any way, and eventually I understood that I would be able to support myself and my children on my own.

    But it was only when my son left home for good and disappeared that I took the move. I had been so afraid that his father would come after him physically and force him to live with him. But my son found that there was an army on another continent where they replace your identity and give you a new name. He went there to get away for good. He went to where criminals go for a new identity.

    After I left and started a new life with my other child, my son eventually came back. He now sees his father sometimes, but returns home to me with relief to sleep in peace.

    And now there are those in this very same thread who tell a divorced woman that she cannot remarry. A wife should be submissive, and not work and be the follower and then as the hand flies through the air, she should in that split moment make the decision not to endure physical abuse, and leave and suddenly get a job and self-respect and never remarry.

    The teaching of the unilateral submission of women is the violation of a woman’s mind.

    • Tamar,

      Thank you for sharing. I know exactly what you are talking about – I was taught the same way. Unilateral submission to my father got me into an abusive marriage (I married who my father chose; to his credit he didn’t know my spouse was abusive before hand). And unilateral submission, along with persistent church pressure and condemnation, kept me there for 20 years and almost killed me.

      I have carefully NOT read the comments to this thread (yours was right above mine and you were obviously speaking from the perspective of a victim which is why I read it) because it upsets me so much to see people’s judgment and lack of understanding of the Word and heart of God directed toward victims of abuse. I get literally ill because I know what this blindness costs real people in their real lives. It is bigger than there are words to express.

      But, of course, in reading your comment I read about someone saying an abused/divorced woman cannot remarry. That is a classic example of how religious tradition has interpreted Scripture without understanding what is plainly written in it. Why would Paul have bothered to write that a Christian who ends up divorced from an unbeliever (which is the truth about an abuser according to the teaching of the WORD – not my opinion) is NO LONGER BOUND (I Cor. 7), if that person was still bound to that spouse in any way? That specific phraseology “no longer bound” (in the original language) was used in divorce documents. It was understood to mean what it says – the Christian spouse is no longer bound!

      It’s a big pot of stew but the root problem is that people do not study the Word or seek the heart of God for answers. The truth of the Word about this issue is actually very clear if you’re willing to see what is there. But people read the Word with preconceived notions of what it must mean, they take single verses out of the context of the whole of the Word, and created doctrines that are not in agreement with the whole — thereby putting people, not only in condemnation and bondage, but literally in danger for their lives and destroying the lives of the children being raised in that toxic, even life-threatening, environment. And all of this has the overt blessing of the church. In fact, this is exactly why my oldest son wanted nothing to do with God and didn’t get saved until he was 17. In his own words — “Who wants another Father like that?”

      Where is the godly fruit in the teaching of the church on this subject? It is utterly lacking. All we hear are fake miracle stories and applause for those who reconcile, as if this untried reconciliation were the end of the story. We don’t see what has happened 5 or 10 years later in that marriage and family. Often the abused spouse in one of these “rescued” marriages has successfully learned to keep his/her mouth shut — and just lives out the rest of their life in private misery because either they have believed the lie that God’s will is that they suffer, or because the cost (losing everything) is just too high.

      — Danni

  47. The second paragraph above describes the conditions of my marriage. I cannot really bring words to bear on what happened. May God forgive the Christian community that enables this evil.

  48. BB,

    Its not enough. I was only hit on the parts of my body that didn’t show in public. I fooled everyone for 30 years, out of a mixture of shame and fear. I went to my pastor’s wife and asked for books for a friend on spousal abuse. She told me that she didn’t have any because it wasn’t a problem in our church.

    Later, after I left the pastor was vociferous in my support, how he would do anything to help, he would call the police, anything at all. I could only tell him that he had done his best for the past 15 years to preach submission to my face. He had already chosen how to help me and I didn’t want any more of his help.

    No amount of anger and disdain for abusive men will replace the simply truth, that a woman endangers herself by her submision to any abuse at all of any kind. At the end of the day, all teaching of unilateral submission of the wife is nonsense.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Its not enough. I was only hit on the parts of my body that didn’t show in public.

      And those “godly” Little House on the Prairie dresses conveinently hide everything except the head and hands. Face and hands if you keep your head covered with scarf, bonnet, or long hair. Great for hiding bruises, especially in the locations (such as arms) most likely to get them through manhandling.

      (And they’re not even actual 19th Century Prairie dresses, but the 1950s Hollywood costume departments’ retailoring of them! The actual 19th Century Prairie dress was called “a sack dress” for a reason!)

  49. I have researched emotional abuse for some time now. Using “cause and effect” I have a much better understanding of the “why’s” abuse happens in a relationship. If you will spend some time looking into abuse or violence you will find that most of the time, the abuser was abused or grew in an abusive atmosphere and knows no other way to function in life. The abused becomes themselves the abuser.
    But there is one overpowering fact missing in this discussion. Domestic Violence, or abuse, is non-gender related. As many men are abused by their mate as women are abused by theirs. Strongly denied but very true, men are victims too.
    There have been several examples shared here where people were “hurt by the church” so to speak. That is another of my topics of research. I have no answers but I won’t give up my search either. Somewhere, somehow, God will give me my answers. 1 Cor13 is my guide, my inspiration. I am a survivor looking to help others survive.

  50. Thank your for addressing this. It is a HUGE problem. Been there, done that, have the entire wardrobe. And I work with women (and occasionally men) every single day who are still living it. They are being abused by their “Christian” spouses and being castigated, chastized, rebuked, scorned, and even excommunicated for daring to admit to the secret or daring to stand up for righteousness within their homes. They end up losing everything – friends, church, homes, identity, financial security, and sometimes their children to an abuser – because of the unrighteousness of a spouse whom the church refuses to confront or hold accountable. This is not a small problem — it is a monstrous problem. And it is driving people away from the church because the church is either throwing them out or the church becomes truly unsafe for them. That’s a very sad commentary indeed on today’s churches.

    And for those who think they are doing it right, many of the churches who believe they have this one down and don’t pretend it isn’t there, there is still a majority who are doing it wrong. The Bible does have a lot to say about abuse, marriage and even divorce that religious tradition just refuses to accept. It’s not a secret; the Bible has just been interpreted a certain way for so long that beliefs are encrusted around tradition rather than what the Word actually clearly says.

    Thanks for speaking out.

    — Danni