Domestic Abuse in the Church


Abuse Bible the Church Unchristian

Domestic Abuse in the Church

25 July 2017 Hits:3946

Last week I watched a segment on ABC’s 7.30 Report about domestic abuse in the church. [1]

While the reporting of some statistics by the ABC was not entirely accurate,[2] it seems there is still a level of domestic abuse in churches – including traditional, evangelical and Pentecostal ones  – and any abuse is inexcusable.

It was a sobering report and one that left me feeling sad and frustrated that abuse continues in some churches (and at the hands of some “Christians”) – often supported by an understanding of Scripture that contradicts the whole tenor of the Bible.  After all, “If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” [3]  Real love doesn’t abuse others, including one’s wife (or husband or partner or anyone else for that matter) in any way.

Using isolated Bible verses to justify verbal, physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse is unchristian.

One of the Bible verses used to rationalise domestic abuse is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”  If you read these verses on their own, it seems pretty clear that wives are to submit to their husbands IN EVERYTHING.  It’s also clear how an abusive man could use this part of the Bible to justify his ill treatment.  However, if you read the verse before (Ephesians 5:21) it instructs husbands and wives to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, mutual submission is appropriate in Christian relationships.  The Apostle makes this general statement about submission and then proceeds to show how wives and husbands are to work this out by submitting to one another in their marriage.  Husbands are to love their wives deeply, give their lives for them and care for them.  Ephesians 5 does not authorise violence of any kind.

The other chapter of the Bible that is used as an excuse for abuse is 1 Corinthians 11.  The Apostle Paul begins this chapter by once again speaking about headship, but a few verses in he makes a statement that would have been considered very controversial in the patriarchal society of the first century: “woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” [4]  Some people accuse Paul of being patriarchal and considering women as inferior to men, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Thomas Cahill writes, “Equality … is Paul’s subject: what he is doing here is taking the Genesis account of the Creation, which was the aboriginal Jewish locus classicus on the inequality of women, and turning it on its head by subtly reminding his readers that even the Messiah needed a mother.” [5]  1 Corinthians 11:11-12 is one of the first Biblical references affirming sexual equality, as well as one of the first in any literature up to Jesus’ time.

The bottom line is this: if you ever encounter someone who uses the Bible to justify abuse of any sort against another human being, rest assured that person is not understanding or using the Bible correctly.

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, or counsellors recommending that women in particular are to stay with husbands or partners who physically, verbally or emotionally abuse them.  As we’ve already seen, the Bible teaches that submission is to be mutual.  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in any relationship, in any church or justified by any Scripture.

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship separation is advisable (at least a temporary one).  Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counselling) but divorce may be unavoidable. [6] Whatever you do, don’t stay in a relationship where you are being abused in any way, and don’t allow others to suggest that you do!




[3] James 2:8; Cf. Romans 13:10

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

[5] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Anchor Books, New York, 1999, p. 141


Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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One reply on “Domestic Abuse in the Church”

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