Domestic Violence and the Church

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Domestic Violence and the Church

1 May 2024 Hits:910

Warning: Some of the content in this blog may be triggering.

Last weekend, thousands of people rallied to protest the increasing levels of violence and other abuse against women by intimate partners. There comes a time when people say enough. That time has come. Among G20 nations, Australia ranks eighth for rates of domestic violence against women. There’s been an almost 30% spike in the rate of Australian women killed by intimate partners last year.

In the Church

A church community should be a safe place where abuse is named, victims are not blamed or shamed, and unequal gender roles are challenged. Sadly, this is not always the case. Domestic violence and other kinds of abuse occur in Christian families to the same degree as outside of the Christian community. Churches can do better. An excellent place to start is the Safer Faith website, which has abundant information, guidelines, resources, and Bible studies to help Christians and our communities be safer.

So, let’s explore some reasons why churches are not always safe and free from domestic violence.

Church Structure

Some church structures can be a critical factor in causing domestic violence. It concerns me that we still have patriarchal churches that are run by men and invariably support men at the expense of women. You can pick these churches a mile away. Check out their websites and observe the leadership structure. I’m not talking just about the staff. Who’s on the Board, the senior leadership, and are women permitted to teach and preach? If they’re all men, run away.

 

These churches invariably espouse Complementarianism, the belief that men and women are “equal but different.” I’m not suggesting that all complementarian churches have an abuse problem, and I don’t deny that there are clear differences between these two genders. Still, complementarianism usually places men in the superior role of leading and women as their “helper,” supporting the man of God. It’s all very Orwellian: All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others!

As Matthew Henry once wrote, “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”

Church Teaching

It’s easy (and lazy) to quote isolated verses out of context. I heard of one guy who beat his wife while quoting scriptures on submission: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord,” clearly ignoring the previous verse: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul affirms that husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t beat up his church (or anyone else, for that matter). Jesus stood up for the victims and showed compassion and grace. We are to follow his example.

Submission has been used for centuries to suppress women. I have heard of multiple occasions where a pastor has instructed a woman to stay with an abusive partner, to submit to him and to be the best wife she can be. The inference is that the violence is somehow her fault, and if she were a better wife, he wouldn’t hit her. If you’re in a situation like that, THIS PASTOR encourages you to get away to safety as quickly as possible and reach out for help.

Church Emphasis

Another woman told of her minister advising her that her husband might stop hitting her if she had more sex with him. This stereotype is emphasised by some of today’s megachurches that stress the manly man versus the feminine submissive woman who looks after the home and keeps her husband happy. Consider the recent Stronger Men’s Conference, complete with monster trucks, a sword swallower, a wrestling match, motorcycles, and pyrotechnics. In contrast, the upcoming women’s conference is all pretty and pink and looks like a promo for Barbie. Aussie megachurches are much the same.

Pastor Josh Howerton recently got himself into trouble for propagating this same trope at his church in Dallas, where he gave a “gold nugget of advice” that his mentor had given him for couples intending to marry. He encouraged men to do whatever their fiancés wanted in the lead-up to the wedding and then told the women they needed to do the same thing for their husbands on the wedding night: “Stand where he tells you to stand, wear what he tells you to wear, and do what he tells you to do.” With this level of objectivation and misogyny, this guy needs to get a new mentor.

These churches encourage men to be Wild at Heart and to recover their masculinity, strength, and roughness. Women are to delight in their men’s strength, look up adoringly at them, and think how lucky they are. Teaching like this leads to all kinds of abuse that, sadly, we see regularly reported by news outlets.

Other Causes

In the same way that some churches and Bible teachings characterise women as subordinate to men, pornography does the same thing. In porn, “females are characterised as subordinate to males, and their primary role is the provision of sex to men.” Much porn is gonzo, a genre that depicts hard-core, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debased. It won’t be long until the man who consumes this rubbish wants to try it.

Domestic violence can be caused by alcohol abuse or drug use, which can lead to higher levels of aggression by perpetrators. Pregnancy may also intensify the risk of domestic violence, as can financial hardship and unemployment.

Solutions

What I’ve written about here is complex; we all have a role. If we know someone who is violent or abusive to their wife or girlfriend, we need to act. Dads can talk to their sons about respect for women and healthy models of masculinity. All men can behave considerately towards others. Appropriately, the focus for International Men’s Day for 2024 is Positive Male Role Models.

We guys can also teach others to resist the sexist rhetoric of public figures, be they politicians, pastors, or influencers like Andrew Tate. We can warn of porn addiction that can lead to sexualised violence and be educated on the dangers of social media and the sheer vitriol and hatred of the online space, and the algorithms that continually dish up more of the same.

We can advocate for women’s rights and believe that women deserve equal rights to men in every sphere of life. We can nurture our children, nieces, and nephews by having honest, frank, and healthy conversations about these challenging issues.

And that’s where the church can shine by modelling respectful relationships in which everyone is equally worthy of respect, dignity, and love, regardless of who they are. We can healthily teach the scriptures focusing on the Royal Law and the Golden Rule: love your neighbour as yourself and treat others as you would like to be treated.

 

For Further Help:

National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line.

Phone: 1800 737 732 Web: www.1800respect.org.au

First point of call for access to all services across Australia (24 hours a day).

Bayside Church Pastoral Care Phone: 0401 721 912

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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