This report was the second part of a series of ABC investigations, with the first one focusing on Islam and domestic abuse. The second part is looking deeper into the link between domestic violence and religion and trying to answer questions like “Do abused women in church communities face challenges women outside them do not; Do perpetrators ever claim church teachings on male control excuse their abuse, or tell victims they must stay?”
One of the most important question which is tried to be answered by dozens of interviews with survivors of domestic violence, priests, psychologists and researchers from a range of Christian denominations certainly is if the church is meant to be a place of refuge for the vulnerable, why is it that the victims are the ones who leave churches while the perpetrators remain? Isn’t that contradictory when churches give shelter to abusers and fail to protect victims? A culture of victim blaming or shaming usually leads women to exit the church entirely.
According to research from the past two decades, women in religious communities are less likely to leave violent marriages; more likely to believe that the abuser will change; less inclined to access community resources and more likely to believe it is their fault that they have failed as wives as they were not able to stop the abuse.
Queensland academic Dr Lynne Baker's 2010 book, Counseling Christian Women on How to Deal with Domestic Violence, cites a study of Anglican, Catholic and Uniting churches in Brisbane that found 22 per cent of perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse go to church regularly. But American research provides one important insight: men who attend church less often are most likely to abuse their wives. (Regular church attenders are less likely to commit acts of intimate partner violence.)
Some of the Bible quotes used to justify abuse are: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior." (Ephesians 5: 22-23) "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent." (1 Timothy 2: 11-12)
Some Early Church Fathers interpreted 2Cor.11:3 and 1Tim.2:13–14 that the Apostle Paul promoted the silence and submission of women due to Eve's deception by the serpent, her tempting Adam to eat the fatal fruit, and transgressing by eating of the fruit herself.
Tertullian told his female listeners, in the early 2nd century, that they "are the devil's gateway", and went on to explain that all women are responsible for the death of Christ: "On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die."
The bottom line is that, owing to its poor reputation that women had for centuries, it is no wonder that the church still favors men. Of course, that trend must be changed and churches should not advise women to endure domestic violence in the name of God.
Photo Credits: The Return of the Modern Philosopher