The report led with: "Research shows that the men most likely to abuse their wives are evangelical Christians who attend church sporadically. Church leaders in Australia say they abhor abuse of any kind. But advocates say the church is not just failing to sufficiently address domestic violence, it is both enabling and concealing it."
Sunday last (30/7/2017) at an Evangelical Church on the Central Coast I listened to Senior Minister, Moore College graduate and recognised international speaker on the Christian gospel, Andrew Heard give a thought provoking address on the issue of domestic violence and the Bible. I thought I would share some of what he said to provide a more nuanced context around how the ABC report might be viewed, rather than the unfortunate way in which Andrew Bolt and others have simply dismissed the testimony of the women interviewed. Thereby cementing the hard-Christian right views which are not those which prevail across all churches or all clergy.
Firstly, let us be clear that Rev Heard along with many other clergy in no way condones domestic violence. As historian and churchgoer, Joanna Cruickshank puts it in her article How Churches Enable Domestic Violence: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/07/26/4707934.htm,
"If anyone doubted that such a culture exists, they need only look at the responses to the reports. I am glad that there has been an outpouring of support and concern from many Christian leaders, as well as evidence of education and equipping for clergy and congregations to better deal with this evil. A particularly excellent set of articles for church leaders and laypeople has been written by Erica Hamence, leader of the Domestic and Family Violence team at Common Grace. And I have been heartened to hear testimonies from women who have been robustly supported by Christian leaders to identify and leave violent relationships.”
So, what does the Bible say about marriage?
According to Rev. Heard the Bible calls marriage 'a loving union between two equals'; a somewhat counter cultural headline of its day given the lowly position women occupied in Middle Eastern society at the time. He went on to quote numerous passages in which husbands are exhorted to love, nourish and cherish their wives as the human manifestation of God's relationship with his people. He said the thought of violence or abuse in marriage is horrific as the Bible tells you to 'clothe yourselves in humility towards one another’. In other words, he said that the Bible is not the problem – this lies with people and their interpretation of the Bible.
However, he acknowledged that headship and submission remain the elephants in the room.
"Headship is in the Bible and the word does have a sense of leadership. But it is a different leadership - one which requires a husband to give himself up for his wife, to sacrifice his life for her, to give up his rights for her (as Christ did) … Jesus recalibrates it to be about service not about leadership for your own gain.”
So, if headship does not mean to rule what does it mean? Rev Heard talked to a better definition as being that of ‘broadly responsive leadership’ instead of limiting it to leadership over a single person. He outlined how Luke 17:1 contains a warning to husbands and the oft quoted passage to ‘turn the other cheek’ and that the Bible clearly says there is room in a marriage relationship to say "enough".
On the matter of submission, interestingly the New Testament never addresses the husband to bring the wife to submission. She has her own power and her own set of duties. More importantly it is not the role of husband to tell the wife how to submit. If a husband resorts to telling her to submit then he has failed. He was very clear that submission does not mean to endure abuse and in fact the Bible in numerous places tells us to avoid abuse – to run away from or leave it behind.
He also spoke about getting responses to domestic violence right and being careful not to misdiagnose the cause of the problem and thereby compromise the treatment. This particularly related to the issue that one of the assumed causes of DV is the theology of headship. There is no doubt that extreme forms of patriarchy lead to domestic violence, yet it is then assumed that any form / expression of headship will cause domestic violence. Which is clearly not the case as there is substantial evidence that men who attend church regularly abuse their wives less than men who attend church sporadically or do not attend at all.
It is important that in the case of domestic violence we get proper diagnosis and treatment. Rather than slate home any one cause, we need to view it as a symphony of many parts. A discordant symphony but one where we need not to pursue ‘equality by equivalence’ but one where we seek to understand how the sum of the parts constitutes the whole and how our respected institutions and organisations can appropriately respond.
We have a long way to go to address the epidemic of violence – towards both men and women – that exists in our society. Far better to work with all involved; to engage the crowds of young men who do not know what to do with their strength and power and the young women who seek to be a kick-butt Wonder Woman in the hope that will enable them a measure of equity in life. Remember, our super heroes – for both genders – were not based on true stories.
Enjoy a peaceful weekend doing good for all.