Monday, November 13, 2006

Women and Submission: Finding Middle Ground, pt. 1

Posted by Hannah at 9:39 AM

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A few years ago, Christian reporter Marcia Ford set out to uncover the reason so much spouse abuse occurs in evangelical and charismatic churches. She was aware of the statistics: An estimated four million women are assaulted each year by their current or former spouses. She also had reason to believe that many Christian women were victims in this national trend. But she was surprised to learn, after talking with the director of a prominent counseling clinic, that many of the calls that came into the Rapha Treatment Center's hot line in Dallas not only were from Christians--they were from pastors' wives who said their minister husbands were beating them.

One study Ford discovered while doing her research said that pastors typically did not know how to help women who were being abused by their Christian husbands. In a survey of battered women who successfully escaped their abusers, the women who sought help from pastors were usually told to (1) continue to submit to their husbands and (2) pray for the men that they would stop the abusive behavior. It's no wonder the women ranked clergy last in their ability to provide any helpful guidance.

The church has, unknowingly, created an environment that encourages abuse. We cite familiar Bible passages demanding that wives submit to their husbands without providing any explanation of what submission means in a practical sense, and without outlining what these same biblical passages demand of husbands. Our counseling has been illogical and irresponsible.

After all, if a man erupts in anger at home or is overly demanding, isn't he just demonstrating that he is in charge? Isn't it a godly virtue for Christian men to act strong and authoritarian? Isn't it true that if a man doesn't remain in absolute control, he is in danger of becoming spiritually weak, and thus he opens up a door for spiritual attack on his home? Many evangelical Christian men today might agree with this philosophy--but the logic is ridiculous. (We should also note that Paul told Timothy that a man "given to anger" is not qualified to serve in ministry. See 1 Tim. 3:3)

One of the most comprehensive studies on domestic violence in the church was conducted in the mid-1980s by clinical psychologist Jim M. Alsdurf, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. Based on a questionnaire sent to 5,700 Protestant pastors in the United States and Canada, the survey revealed that while most pastors regularly confront spouse abuse in their ministries, they often are not overly concerned because they view the situation from a patriarchal perspective. In essence, this attitude says, "According to the Bible, Christian men are supposed to be in charge of the home, so a little yelling and hitting is OK." Consider Alsdurf's findings:

* 26 percent of the pastors polled said they normally tell a woman who is being abused by her husband that she should continue to submit to him, "and to trust that God would honor her action by either stopping the abuse or giving her the strength to endure it."

* About 25 percent of the respondents said a lack of submissiveness in the wife is what triggered the violence in the first place. In other words, these pastors believe that the abuse is actually the woman's fault. The women are told that if they would "learn to submit," the violence will stop.

* A majority of the pastors said it is better for a woman to tolerate some level of violence in the home--even though it is "not God's perfect will"--than to seek separation that might end in divorce. (Is it "better" even if the woman is killed, maimed or raped?)

* 71 percent of the ministers said they would never advise a battered wife to leave her husband or separate because of abuse, and 92 percent said they would never counsel her to seek divorce.

Christian homes and churches are in a sad state indeed if there have not been significant changes in clergy attitudes since this survey was taken. The Bible is clear on the point that God opposes violence (see Proverbs 21:7, Ezekiel 45:9) and that Jesus Christ warned against those who take advantage of people who are physically weaker (Matthew 18:1-6), yet we are actually promoting a theology that encourages violence when we tell a woman she must learn to "endure" beatings.

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