The Religious Right Vision of Marriage, Continued

In my last post on the religious right view of marriage, some commenters took me to task for painting with too broad a brush. In this post, I’ll consider how widely held such views are.

It’s a fair point that not all conservative Christians hold views as extreme as those I criticized. Nevertheless, the views treated in that post are just one end of a spectrum that encompasses nearly the entire religious right. Almost all of them argue that men should always wield the authority in a home and that women be obedient and subservient, and whether they intend it or not, this belief inevitably results in more women suffering unnecessarily from domestic violence and spousal abuse.

The preeminent example is the Southern Baptist Convention, which in 1998 revised their official statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message, to say that a wife is expected to “submit herself graciously” to the commands of her husband. (Two years later, they revised it again to clarify that women were not permitted to be pastors either.) Over a hundred prominent evangelicals, including Franklin Graham, Charles Colson, Bill Bright and Mike Huckabee, later signed a statement praising the SBC for its sexism.

A common corollary to this belief is that, even in cases of abuse, divorce is not biblically permitted. Saddleback Church pastor Tom Holladay, for instance, says that the Bible only condones divorce for two reasons, adultery and abandonment, but adds “I wish there were a third” for domestic abuse (thus demonstrating that he recognizes the immorality of the biblical teaching on divorce, and would probably be a better person if he didn’t feel bound by this cruel religion). Holladay added, “There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, ‘If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them’” (source).

The most common teaching in “mainstream” churches like Saddleback is that spousal abuse can be solved by separation, so long as the woman is willing to forgive her abuser and move back in with him if he apologizes and promises to seek Christian counseling. This may sound like a reasonable compromise, but in reality it’s anything but. Since it doesn’t permit women to unilaterally end the marriage – to decide that enough is enough – it’s an open invitation for endless cycles of abuse and violence. As any domestic-abuse expert knows, it’s very common for an abuser to plead remorse, to apologize and pledge to make things better, only for the abuse to start again as soon as the woman is back in his power.

This viewpoint has been preached by powerful evangelical leaders such as James Dobson and John MacArthur, according to author and domestic-abuse survivor Jocelyn Anderson:

“We do see some very big-name evangelical leaders blaming the battered woman for the abuse,” Andersen explained. “You know, talking about how she may provoke her husband into doing it; or that her poor, non-communicative husband can’t handle maybe what she’s trying to communicate to him and he lashes out and hits her — [that] shifts the blame right off him and to her.”

…In her book, Andersen cites an incident in which a battered wife wrote to Dobson telling him that “the violence within her marriage was escalating in both frequency and intensity and that she feared for her life.” Dobson “replied that her goal should be to change her husband’s behavior–not to get a divorce…”

…According to a tape titled Bible Questions and Answers Part 16, a member of Grace Community Church asked MacArthur how a Christian woman should react “and deal with being a battered wife.”

MacArthur’s answer contained “some very dangerous advice to battered wives. He said divorce is not an option to a battered wife, because the Bible doesn’t permit it… He warned wives to be very careful that they were not provoking the abusive situations. Because, he said, that was very often the problem.”

In another article, Andersen expands on this argument. Though a Christian herself, she blames “church teachings of wifely submission and male headship” for creating an epidemic of domestic violence within the church, by teaching women that leaving abusive relationships is not an option and that it is their wifely duty to obey their husbands.

Some authorities among the religious right go so far as to blame the victim, teaching that domestic abuse is the woman’s fault for not submitting enough. This was the exact viewpoint advocated by Bruce Ware, a theology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said in 2008 that women often provoke their husbands to violence by rebelling against their God-given role of obedience. Ware described this view as “what Southern Seminary as a whole represents”.

The twin views that women are expected to submit to men and that divorce is not an acceptable response to abuse are widespread in the religious right, advocated by major church denominations and influential evangelical leaders. Even when they don’t explicitly defend domestic violence and abuse, these views go a long way toward establishing the conditions that make it more likely to happen.

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About Adam Lee

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    “He warned wives to be very careful that they were not provoking the abusive situations. Because, he said, that was very often the problem”

    I don’t see how anyone can say that with a straight face. Unless the wife is physically attacking her husband and he’s acting in self-defence, “she was provoking me” is not an excuse.

  • Katherine

    “He warned wives to be very careful that they were not provoking the abusive situations. Because, he said, that was very often the problem.”

    So you tiptoe around your husband like he’s Ivan the Terrible, trying desperately to keep on his good side so he doesn’t beat the shit out of you. That sure sounds like a healthy modern marriage.

  • Larian LeQuella

    I was going to type something sexist here, but my wife won’t let me. :P

  • Alex, FCD

    “He warned wives to be very careful that they were not provoking the abusive situations. Because, he said, that was very often the problem”

    I don’t see how anyone can say that with a straight face.

    It helps to be a really horrible person.

  • Justin

    The preeminent example is the Southern Baptist Convention, which in 1998 revised their official statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message, to say that a wife is expected to “submit herself graciously” to the commands of her husband.

    In my view, by far the better marriage arrangement is that both spouses are to think of themselves as equals in a voluntary relationship. Bringing religion into this as the SBC has can make the wife feel that she is stuck between two difficult choices (stay with an abusive husband or disobey her religious teachings) with no way out.

  • Sarah Braasch

    The apologetics on this topic make me ill. I find the sects that teach women to be submissive to their husbands’ God given authority even more disgusting than the ones that outright advocate the physical and sexual abuse / slavery of women and girls by their families and communities. At least the blatant orgs are honest about their misogyny (and their adherence to the tenets of their religious dogmas, for that matter). The others are just as vile, they just hide behind a ruse of moderation.

    What do you think happens when you create a power differential? Abuse of power. Period. Do we still have to spell this out for people? Every religious community that advocates just a little misogyny is providing a safe haven for the most vile and disgusting abusers, rapists, misogynists, torturers, etc., etc. of women and children. Then, when they do face exposure — they can say — oh, that’s not our company line — those persons are aberrations. NO THEY ARE NOT! What do you think happens when you tell one group of persons that God wants them to submit to another group of persons? That their only hope for salvation is to submit? That their life’s purpose is to submit?

    I also find it telling that we speak about degrees of misogyny and gray areas and extremists versus moderates when it comes to the abuse and slavery and torture and subjugation of women and girls.

    When we discuss racism, do you ever hear anyone say that this group or that group is not that bad because they’re only a little racist?

    When we discuss anti-semitism, do you ever hear anyone say that this group or that group is not that bad because they only hate Jews a little?

    When we discuss homophobia, do you ever hear anyone say that this group or that group is not that bad, because they only think that fags are a little bit disgusting?

    It literally baffles the mind how we can, at the same time, be so dismissive of women’s rights and permissive towards gender genocide and abuse and slavery and torture while still vaunting women’s liberation in the 21st century.

    Wake up. Look at what is happening, in our own communities, in the US, under the cover of religious liberty.

    There are entire communities in the US in which women enjoy worse lives than they do in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

    If one more person tells me that this or that religious group is not that bad because they only subjugate women a little — I think I might scream. Shame on you, anyone who would say such a disgusting thing.

    Women are human beings. They possess inherent dignity as such. They have human rights. Women’s rights are universal human rights. If you support a little misogyny, then it shouldn’t bother you when the Mormons are a little racist. It shouldn’t bother you when the evangelicals are a little homophobic.

    The fact that not everyone is as outraged as I am over the apologetics on this issue is evidence of how far we still have to climb, as women, to claim our human rights.

  • D

    Hear, hear! The problem is not the order in which the propositions, “wives should submit to their husbands,” and “husbands should not abuse their wives,” are placed along the moral continuum, but rather the fact that the former proposition is given any credence whatsoever. While not all will take that idea and run with it, many do and those who assent to the proposition’s legitimacy in turn enable abusers.

    I got into a very long discussion with my roommate about the last post on this, specifically concerning just how widespread the idea of “wifely submission” is in the religious community. Coming from a partially-fundagelical upbringing as I do, I saw firsthand how seriously these ideas are taken – even the Promise Keepers were misogynistic when I was aware of them (I haven’t tracked them in over a decade, so I can’t speak to the state of the movement at present), hiding behind the idea of “making men ‘worthy’ of such submission” to take away some of the shit taste without acknowledging that the idea that anyone “should” submit to anyone else is dumb.

    @ Sarah Braasch: You seem to take criticism very seriously, which I think is generally a good thing, but please try to detach yourself a little bit and see what you think about the following propositions (in no particular order):
    1. Racist, misogynistic, and homophobic actions are criminalized.
    2. Racist, misogynistic, and homophobic words are not always criminalized.
    3. Racist, misogynistic, and homophobic thoughts cannot be criminalized.
    4. Bigoted thoughts lead to bigoted words and deeds.
    5. We, as a society, tolerate iniquity but not physical/financial/psychological harm.
    6. “A little racist” is less bad than “a lot racist.”
    7. Good and bad do not cancel each other out.
    8. “Less bad” does not necessarily mean “more good,” only “more towards good.”
    9. People can’t control what disgusts them.
    Here’s the thing: everyone’s at least a little racist, at least a little sexist, and so on and so forth. Nobody’s perfect and everyone has prejudice (even me!), though some are obviously more prejudicial than others. Hell, reality is sexist – the ten greatest power-lifters in the world are all men. That’s neither fairness nor equality between the sexes! Prejudice can be combated, but I don’t think that it can be eliminated until or unless everyone has experienced everyone and everything else, otherwise we will always be carrying old baggage into new situations. This old baggage is usually helpful, but it is prejudice and it gets really ugly sometimes.

    It is good to rail and rage against bigotry – I say that without reservation. However, I do not agree that anyone has inherent dignity or that human rights are universal; these are things that people create, and my opinion is that we must create them for all if we are to overcome (or at least thoroughly sideline) bigotry.

    Anyway, my $.02 on your $.02. Have a great one!

  • Sarah Braasch


    I am more than happy to engage in a discussion on just about anything, and I love criticism and open and public debate — bring it on — which is probably why I react so strongly to criticism (I like to argue), BUT

    And, I’m not trying to be facetious here — I honestly don’t understand the point you are trying to make. It seems to be coming from left field to me.

    Are you apologizing for bigotry? Or railing against it?

    Or do you just want to argue — which is ok by me too — but give me a topic I can work with.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Sarah, without arguing your point that the marriage policies advocated for by fundamentalists here are misogynist, don’t you think your rhetoric is overburdening your argument? I mean, “gender genocide”? Really? Where are women, specifically, being rounded up and murdered en masse? Or this:

    There are entire communities in the US in which women enjoy worse lives than they do in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

    Please name one community in America that tolerates so-called “honor killings.” Name one community here that forbids the education of females.

    I am fully sympathetic to your paraphrasing of Donne; I absolutely agree that when one is deprived, we all are. This, for instance, is why I don’t think we should abandon Afghanistan; not just for the political disaster that would ensue, but for the human rights disaster — specifically, the women’s rights disaster — that we would allow to recur by so doing. We do need to fight for the equality of all. But rage clouds clear thinking, don’t you think? And when you overstate your case so dramatically, you do it no favor at all.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I actually think we need a little more outrage in the US on this issue — not less. I think we have not been outraged by the mistreatment of women under cover of religious liberty in the US for far too long.

    This is not something that only happens over there — it happens right here.

    And, there is something that tastes and smells and feels a bit like sexism in that response — that a woman shouldn’t be outraged over human rights violations being perpetrated against women. And, again, with the it’s not that bad so don’t worry about it apologetics.

    I am a woman. I am outraged. And you should be too.

  • Siamang

    Take away the inflated term ‘gender genocide’ and I agree with Sarah.

    Name one community here that forbids the education of females.

    I think that would be illegal, up to a certain age. Of course, they could be under-educating the girls.

    Also, just personal experience here… I myself knew a very religious family who only put together college savings accounts for their two younger boys, and not their older girl. So they didn’t ‘forbid’ education of their female. But they didn’t exactly encourage it, either.

    Long story short, when the younger boy died, the young woman was allowed by her parents to attend university.

  • Entomologista

    If I had a nickle for every dude that told me I shouldn’t be so emotional, I’d be rich enough to fund many feminist organizations. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, women who have actually been raped and/or beaten cannot take part in any conversation regarding violence against women because they’re just too emotionally involved and can’t distance themselves from the topic enough to think rationally about it.

  • thoughtcounts Z

    As a high schooler I read an article in UU World (can’t believe I found it! lots of relevant stuff in that issue) about this topic. Definitely formative in my attitudes about Christianity, though I’ve been an atheist all my life. Here’s a snippet: “Believing that Jesus willingly submitted to crucifixion out of obedience and love, Christians have advocated an ethic of self-sacrificial love that can trap those most vulnerable to violence — women and children.”

  • Thumpalumpacus

    All I said, in essence, was that you were practicing hyperbole, and that it was likely that this would undermine your absolutely legitimate argument. This gets me called “sexist”. I didn’t say that sexism in America doesn’t exist, or that it is acceptable. Please quit implying that I did so.

    Since you didn’t appear to take my meaning the first time, allow me to clarify: you overstated your argument. Support your claims of “gender genocide” and that “There are entire communities in the US in which women enjoy worse lives than they do in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan” with specific examples if you wish me to accept them. In the absence of that, abandon the claims themselves.

    Lacking either of these responses, your credibility is undermined.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Entomologista, my apologies if you drew that inference from my post; I certainly meant no offense. Rage, and other strongly-felt emotions, afflict men as well as women — me on occasion. I am not counseling: “Don’t be so emotional.” I am counseling: “Take care not to let strong emotions undermine a strong argument.”

  • Sarah Braasch

    Entomologista, I think I might have to steal that quote.


    I take you at your word — that you did not intend a sexist remark. But, regardless, here is my proof:

    I need only refer to my own experience growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness and go no further. My childhood as a girl growing up in a religious cult of demonology (that espouses the subjugation and abuse and psychological torture and sexual slavery of women and girls) was absolutely hellish.

    No — they do not keep their girl children home from public school, but they would if it weren’t against the law.

    You may think my use of the word gender genocide inflated — but I don’t.

    The doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses teaches girl children from birth that they are sub human — that they are worthless — it strips them of their humanity.

    It teaches them that they must subject themselves to the men in their lives as property without question.

    It threatens them with demonic attack and possession if they should fail to do so. Or, to be shunned by their families and communities, if demons aren’t enough to scare them.

    It provides cover for pedophiles and child abusers and abusive husbands, especially within families. It tells its congregations not to go to authorities, not to air the dirty laundry of the Witnesses in public, because that will make them and Jehovah God look bad. It demands Witness witnesses to crimes, including sexual, domestic, and child abuse, or it will simply overlook an act of abuse if the alleged perpetrator denies it or repents.

    It tells its followers not to have relationships outside of the congregation, thereby isolating members within the familial structure of the cult.

    It strongly discourages higher education. It promotes the complete and total devotion of one’s life to the cult and its propagation and perpetuation.

    It tells women not to divorce their husbands, even if they are being abused or the children are being abused.

    It tells women that they should submit to the sexual desires of their husbands.

    Men are the heads of households. Women and children must obey their husbands and fathers.

    Need I go on?

    There are millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the US. There are even more around the world.

    This is not a phenomenon confined to the Witnesses. Mormons, FLDS, Amish, the Southern Baptists (as mentioned above), Quiverfull, and many Evangelical groups espouse similar doctrine.

    This doesn’t even go into what is happening in Muslim and Hindu communities in the US, especially within immigrant communities.

    This doesn’t even touch upon the anti abortion, anti contraception, anti sex ed movement that is absolutely rampant in the US. This is a misogynistic, religious right movement about controlling women’s bodies and sexuality.

    The fact that this is news to so many people is evidence of the problem and the utter neglect of the problem within the US.

  • Sarah Braasch


    I find it interesting that you choose to apologize to Entomologista for drawing an inference from your post that you made a sexist remark when your post and the alleged sexist remark was actually directed at me. I believe that she actually makes a stronger argument that you were making a sexist remark than I ever did.

  • prase

    And, I’m not trying to be facetious here — I honestly don’t understand the point you are trying to make. It seems to be coming from left field to me.

    Are you apologizing for bigotry? Or railing against it?

    Well, I can’t speak for D, but as I understand her argument, she is trying to point out that less racist (or misogynist) is indeed better than more racist. While you seem to argue that even the slightest grade of prejudice is the same evil as aggressive intolerant bigotry.

    I tend to agree with D. Prejudices and biases are part of human nature. There is nobody absolutely free of prejudice. If we aren’t a bit happier when things improve a bit, saying that complete eradication of evil is the only thing which is worth, then we are in a position about which Churchill said: “The maxim ‘nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘paralysis’.”

  • Sarah Braasch


    I want to apologize to you. I feel like I inadvertently usurped this thread. Such was not my intent. But, I think I’ve said my peace. Sorry.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Again, Sarah, I was not arguing your premise; I was referring to your rhetoric. And it may be news to me, but I was sure that genocide involved some level of murder. Princeton’s Wordnet agrees:

    S: (n) genocide, race murder, racial extermination (systematic killing of a racial or cultural group)


    Absent that condition, the word seems overburdened.

    As one who had a Southern Baptist upbringing, and who has open eyes, I am quite aware of the deleterious effects of religion. Again, I am not arguning your premise but rather your presentation. I agree that we have a long way to go.

    Not that it much matters, but I wouldn’t have as my woman any woman who would willingly submit to my every word. Unequal relationships are not only unfair, but unstable.

  • Thumpalumpacus


    I made no sexist remark.

    My caution about not undermining rationality has nothing to do with your gender. It has everything to do with your bandying about of words without regard for their meaning, and bandying about claims without providing support. Why that’s so hard for you to see is unclear to me.

    Please, simply because I urged you to be less heated in your rhetoric does not make me sexist.

    And the reason why I apologized to her and not you: oversight. I intended no offense to you, either, and I apologize if I did so inadvertently.

  • D

    Hurf-durf! That’s what I get for having a private thought process and not explaining it before going off on a tangent. My bad!

    I skimmed your comment before reading it thoroughly, and what stuck in my mind throughout the whole process was this statement of yours: “When we discuss racism, do you ever hear anyone say that this group or that group is not that bad because they’re only a little racist?” Why, yes – I do. I think that, compared to the KKK, the Church of Mormon is “not that bad because they’re only a little racist [comparatively].” If forced to choose between the two, I’d pick the Church of Mormon; which is not to say that they’re “good” in any absolute sense, but compared to the KKK, they’re a step in the right direction (I would applaud a person leaving the KKK even if that person then became a Mormon, in other words).

    My point was that all people have prejudices, and nobody is perfect or even capable of perfection; so rather than strive after some unattainable standard of perfection (“absolute good”), we should instead dedicate ourselves to continuous improvement (acting and/or thinking just a little less racist each day, for example).

    You also said, “When we discuss homophobia, do you ever hear anyone say that this group or that group is not that bad, because they only think that fags are a little bit disgusting?” Please correct me if I’m wrong, but this leads me to believe that you would regard as equivalent two organizations, one of which says homosexuality is intolerably disgusting (which entails that it should not be tolerated), the other of which says homosexuality is just a little disgusting and so ought to be tolerated because we tolerate other differences in taste. I would say that the latter organization is “not that bad, because they only think that fags are a little bit disgusting,” even though both organizations explicitly state the matter as one of taste and behave in equivalently principled fashion.

    Brass Tacks: For my own part, I am personally disgusted by man-on-man sex, even when both men are “dump in my Cheerios and I wouldn’t care” hot when taken alone. I don’t know why this disgusts me, it just does. But I recognize that this disgust is not a reasoned opinion but rather a mere knee-jerk reaction on my part, and I fight it actively, but it’s still there. I personally would defend to the death the right of adult men everywhere to have sex with other consenting adult men – but I am still disgusted by the act. I’m now honestly asking you to judge me accordingly: what do you think of this self-effacing disgust, and what if I can’t ever stamp it out? Am I “not that bad” for being only a little disgusted, or am I “just as bad” as when I first began combatting the disgust? (The only thing that changed was that the disgust was reduced.) This is especially important to me, because I used to think that homosexuality was intolerably disgusting when I was a Christian, and it was only by exposure to actual homosexuals that I was able to discover that I actually enjoy playing for both teams, and I think that I have made progress and become “not that bad” by reducing my disgust to “only a little” from “intolerable.” If I am that bad even today for being “just a little disgusted,” then this tells me that I have made no progress in your eyes, and I find that very confusing.

  • Sarah Braasch


    Oh, thank you. I get it now. I guess my only response is that I reject the premise.

    Number One: I think there are a lot of religious groups in the US that are misogynistic with a capital M. (Hence my overinflated use of the word gender genocide.)

    Number Two: I think the religious groups in the US that CLAIM to be misogynistic with a little m are: liars providing cover for misogynists with the big M.

    And, finally, I guess I would refer back to my racism comment. When do we have this same conversation about racism?

    We seem to be, as a society, prepared to excuse and apologize for misogyny, but we are not prepared to make the same excuses for other forms of bigotry.

    I guess I could open up the Pandora’s box of pragmatism, which I don’t discount, but I’m just not going to. That’s another discussion entirely.

    There’s a time and place for fiery rhetoric, and there’s a time and place for pragmatic action. I understand this. But such was not my point.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ebonmuse, don’t hate me.

    Although, I have to admit, I find this discussion fascinating.


    Apology accepted. Let’s move on.

    Regarding genocide: As we commonly used it in my human rights classes in law school — it can refer to the actual murder of a group of people OR the murder of a way of life (i.e. a culture or an ethnicity), not necessarily entailing murder. This is why rape is a tool of genocide — you’re not killing the person, you are trying to dehumanize the woman, ostracize her from her society, and impregnate her with your own kind.

    That is why I added the word gender in front of genocide. I mean the dehumanization of the female species, but not, necessarily, although this also occurs at alarming rates, the murder of all women.

    And, also, genocide doesn’t have to be the destruction or even the aim of destroying the entire society. It can just be the aim of destroying part of the society.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Understood. Genocide need not require murder, in a broader sense, but it strikes me that not too many people make that distinction, at least without a law degree or a lot of reading. Both types seem to be in short supply here in America, anyway. That was the reason I posted as I did.

  • javaman

    All of these “sexually submission ” issueares profiled in the Elizabeth Smart hearing, in Utah. The religious nut job who kidnapped her and raped her daily is the embodiment of these biblical teaching put into practice. Also if a wife divorces her husband,and then died ,does she then face another abuser in godly form?

  • prase

    And, finally, I guess I would refer back to my racism comment. When do we have this same conversation about racism?

    Which conversation, exactly?

    I don’t know much about the society in the U.S., but here in Europe excuses for racism are tolerated about as much as excuses for misogyny. (Well, also depends on particular country.)

    When I was younger, there was some overheated propaganda against racism in our media, following the murder of a black foreign student motivated by racism. The result of the propaganda was that I started to feel some sympathies for racists. That’s why I don’t like exaggerated rhetoric, even if I agree with the objective: I start feeling that the opposing party is treated unjustly and must sympathise with them, even if there is no real reason for sympathies.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Now I’m really going to get myself in trouble.

    Prase, I think you are correct. Having lived in Europe for an extended period of time and more than once (I am currently living in Europe.), I concur with your point.

    That’s all I’m prepared to say on the matter, because I don’t wish to be evicted from this lovely continent.

  • Sarah Braasch


    I get where you’re coming from, and I don’t disagree with you when it comes right down to it. I think there are different roles to be played within the activist community by different people at different times in different places. I like to think of myself as an idealistic pragmatist or a pragmatic idealist.

    I will say that I am far less concerned with the beliefs, speech, and most actions of private citizens. I am very very very concerned with the actions of government, i.e. if the government were to turn a blind eye to or even condone or encourage human rights violations being perpetrated against women and girls within religious communities.

    I see this as happening right now in the US on a daily basis, and it infuriates me.

    I see this as an egregious violation of the separation of church and state, and an outrageous violation of the constitutional rights of these women and girls.

  • D

    Whoah! I started writing my last comment at 2:30 (I have some free time at work, but I am frequently interrupted), so I missed out on a bunch. For the record: tangential discussions are awesome when everyone’s participating. They only suck when you’re changing the subject and nobody wants you to. And we’re talking about misogyny anyway (that’s half the problem with the Fanatical Wrong’s view of marriage), so your comments are entirely pertinent.

    Aristotle said something like, “Anyone can be happy, that much is easy; but to be happy for the right reason, at the right time, to the right degree, and toward the right ends, that is much more difficult.” Of course we should be outraged at all forms of bigotry – some other famous person said that if you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention (what’s more, I agree!). You are not being criticized for your emotions, or your vagina, but only for some of the places your arguments go – we are criticizing your reasoning processes as reasoning processes (as opposed to “criticizing your reasoning processes for being emotional”). And to everyone: Reason is not inherently masculine, emotion is not inherently feminine, and gendering discourse in this way is not conducive to conversation.

    So, Sarah, please consult yourself: when you used the phrase “gender genocide,” were you imagining genocide as practiced by the Nazis and as written in the Bible? That’s what you made me think of. Do you think that women in Saudi Arabia have it exactly as bad as Jews did in concentration camps? I don’t. Does modern misogyny make you exactly as upset as those other things do? It doesn’t to me, (but it’s OK if it does to you – these are emotional reactions beyond our control). Do you want other people to be as upset at modern misogyny as they are at those other evils? I do (even though I can’t quite work up the anger by myself most of the time).

    If you answered “yes” to the first question, then your imagination has simply misled you, because nobody seeks to exterminate women, and genocide categorically has extermination as its goal or as a consequence (that’s what makes it “genocide”). Misusing the word in this way cheapens it, the same way that “Islamophobia” cheapens “homophobia” (because fear of militant global Islamization is rational, and fear of teh gheyz is not). If you answered “no” to the first question, then I can only imagine that you intended to draw the two as equivalent, and they are not.

    The suffering of modern Saudi women cannot be meaningfully compared to the suffering of Jews in concentration camps, which cannot be meaningfully compared to the suffering of black slaves in colonial America, which cannot be meaningfully compared to the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and so on and so forth, because degrees of human suffering vary wildly, both within and between groups. I would agree that no form of bigotry is more or less savory than any other, but I disagree with statements of the form “group x suffered ‘just as bad’ as group y, despite experiencing different events and living in different times, places, and cultures.” The times, places, cultures, and events (i.e. the full relevant context) need to significantly overlap for meaningful comparison to be possible, which is why we can talk about the suffering of those groups as groups and not merely the suffering of isolated individuals disconnected from one another. While the JW’s misogyny is awful, as you explained, I fail to see how any of that – awful as it is – compares to a clitorectomy, an honor killing, or the institutionalization of the burka. I just don’t see how you can do “math” between those two types of suffering, they’re so damned different. I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other, I’m saying that they’re apples & oranges.

    Your emotions are absolutely leading you in the right direction when they lead you to decry bigotry of all stripes. But calling misogyny “gender genocide” is disingenuous, no matter whether it’s an emotionally-driven exaggeration or a calculated and rational attempt to conflate misogyny and genocide in the minds of your audience. When your phrase, “gender genocide,” caused me to mentally place misogyny next to actual genocide in my mind, I got upset because I thought you were trying to hack my brain, kind of like the way a car salesman once tried to hack my brain when he lowballed me (different situations, I know – they taste the same to me, though). Does that make more sense of the situation?

  • D

    Double-dammit! OK, now that I see your explanation of “gender genocide,” I see where you’re coming from and I don’t have the same problem with your statement any more. Hooray for private languages and talking past each other! And this is what I get for imposing my own argumentative baggage upon you. You have my apologies.

    (Note to self: reload page before hitting “Submit Comment.”)

  • Sarah Braasch


    I was trying to hack your brain. But just a little.

  • Staceyjw

    “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement” by Kathryn Joyce

    Anyone that cares about women, the separation of church and state, or stopping insane fundies NEEDS to read this book, and this blog (unrelated). You will be horrified, and surprised by how many people are regressing into medevilism (they strive for it!)The book is important, it shows the way the far right is moving, and how a smaller portion of fundies negatively influence more moderate churches. Men from the hardcore Quiverfull movement actively worked to move the Southern Baptist Convention (and other groups) towards stricter teachings of submission/women roles- this is why they updated their statement of faith. The blog is a personal look at what its like to be a woman in the patriarchy movement. The best part is that she escaped (with the help of an ATHEIST! Score one for us!)

    The subjection of women through patriarchy is a central part of abrahamic religions, and many xtians and jews are right inline with the muslims the condem, even though they pretend that they’re different:

    “…The Bible never gives the man license to command his wife. That is a Muslim practice, not Christian. God does command the wife to submit to and follow her husband, but it does not command the man to demand submission” (Michael Pearl)

    Of course this is from the same man that tells women they can never get divorced, and if your husband molests your kids, you have to send him to jail- BUT visit him all the time, happily, and welcome him back when he gets out. Grrrrr…..

    “Wifely submission” is an evil that we have been evolving away from as a whole, so its very disturbing to see people in the US participating in this behavior. They would make the US like Saudi Arabia if they could (they are trying, hard), many of these churches/groups even forbid women from driving, and give any male, even a child, authority over a grown woman (even his mother!).

    These religions see controlling women critical to the functioning of society, and see feminism as a great evil. Control the womans, all else follows. What people often miss is that as awful as this is for women, its not great for men either. Healthy modern equality is disdained- so sad…..

    Sarah- I am outraged, and I think more people would be if they realized how this group is purposely trying to bring our society back to the dark ages. Thank you for your posts, its nice to see people speak out against this ugly practice.

    Ebon- Thanks for writing about this, I meant to say this last post on the topic, but my post was accidentally erased before I could load it. I knew you would do justice to the topic.


  • Alex Weaver

    olladay added, “There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, ‘If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them’”

    I think the common term for that something is “vestiges of humanity.”

  • Staceyjw

    When I read this post and saw so many comments, I was excited to read them. But I was surprised how many were devoted solely to pointing out that the the way Sarah described the mistreatment of women was over the top. Did her post upset you so much more than Ebon’s???? Just seemed like a weird thing to be so upset about. (overstatements vs subjection of women, hmm….)

    Talk about emotions leading you- you just wrote a huge post about Sarah’s overstatements! Pot? kettle?

    Also, she was not saying that a little bit of racism is not an improvement over a lot of it, just that we wouldn’t find any amount of racism acceptable, but its not the same with sexism- and that we shouldn’t accept ANY. We tolerate it, but don’t accept it.


  • Alex Weaver

    In my view, by far the better marriage arrangement is that both spouses are to think of themselves as equals in a voluntary relationship.

    The “in my view” part is superfluous; this way of approaching a relationship objectively produces better outcomes in terms of subjective happiness and most objective measures of personal and relationship health and well-being.

  • jemand

    oooh, this exploded fast!

    I want to throw a term in here “soul murder” which refers to psychologically stripping someone down to robotic or subhuman level, so as to not compete with those not so stripped down, and to be easily malleable and accessible to fulfill the desires of those others. I do think that’s what cultural and religious misogyny results in. An introduction of circumstance-driven mental illness, as it were, which cripples women and keeps them in a pliant state. I’m sure the FLDS and groups of Jehovahs witnesses and Quiverful does this. HOWEVER, it happens too in Saudi Arabia and I think it’s disingenuous to say we have here “worse” than there. We don’t. If you ONLY saw here, you’d think, damn, I don’t think humans could possibly get worse. But then you take a quick peak at the clitoridectomies in the horn of Africa, and you say, oh. I guess we can. And I’m not sure I *want* to plumb the depths of human depravity.

    But anyway, on to the tangential mention of Afghanistan, we really aren’t helping the women there, just taking sides between warlords, ones that do what “we” want, and ones that don’t, but the recent passage of the law allowing husbands to starve their wives to death if they don’t fulfill his sexual fantasies– yeah, that passed our US-backed Afghan legislature. We should get out, we’re not helping, just creating war wounds which already disproportionately affect the most socially helpless and weak members of society, which as it’s constructed there, are women.

  • other scott

    Would any of you say that religion is the ‘sole’ cause of the misogyny in question? I mean, Sarah has some very personal and very compelling arguments from her own life and it would seem that most of the other examples people brought up to highlight the inequality of men and woman in society seem to be regarding religious institutions also.

    I personally find it hard to comment because I’ve never really noticed the inequality, whether through flaws in myself or perhaps my rose-tinted glasses need to come off. I was raised by two atheists who seem to be very equal in the relationship (Quite often it was my mum who go burdened with smacking my ass for being a little horror) During all of my schooling I’ve had girls in my classes, many of who completely outshone me and any of the other boys in the room. It was only once I started my tertiary education and came across many many many feminist interpretations/readings/people that I even realized that men and women were treated differently.

    I guess what my long and winding ramble comes down to, is whether or not sexism is alive in societies/situations/groups where religion doesn’t flourish? Is it even possible to think of woman as unequal to men if ‘sky daddy’ doesn’t command it?

  • Alex Weaver

    I guess what my long and winding ramble comes down to, is whether or not sexism is alive in societies/situations/groups where religion doesn’t flourish? Is it even possible to think of woman as unequal to men if ‘sky daddy’ doesn’t command it?

    A confounding factor: the sexism may have been left “washed up” on the society by religion prior to its retreat, and have not yet been dragged out to sea, so to speak.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Other Scott,

    That’s such an interesting remark. I’m sure someone can find some statistics, but my immediate feeling is that you are correct.

    Cuba instantly sprung to mind. I can’t wait to visit. So did Scandinavia. France, of course, outside of the minority religious communities. I’ve often been told that women in Cuba enjoy greater gender equality (with respect to their day to day lives) than do American women. I don’t know if this is true or not, but this is what I have heard. I have heard that women in Cuba have much greater control over their sexual and reproductive well being — especially with access to abortion, contraception, sexual education. There seems to be far less stigmatization of sexual activity and pregnancy outside of marriage.

    My initial reaction to your comment is to say that there does appear to be evidence that in societies that are able to free themselves from the yoke of religion — gender equality increases.

    I’m sure someone can come up with some statistics. I know Phil Zuckerman’s book, Society Without God, includes a lot of statistics about the increase in societal well being in the absence of religion.

    I’ve often said and felt that the subjugation of women and girls requires religion (or some similar tribalism). Religion is the sexual slavery of women.

    At one point — I’m sure that this was useful, as it insured the perpetuation and propagation of the religious group — to control the means of production (reproduction and sex). But, now, especially with the threat of overpopulation — if we can’t find a way to shake it off or outgrow it — it may just destroy us.

    In the US — because I do fear that our democracy is devolving into a form of religious federalism — in which the religious groups jockey for political power (and isn’t this the whole doctrine of the Quiverfull movement?), it remains important for these religious groups to propagate themselves and maintain a totalitarian control over women’s bodies and sexuality.

    I think it’s probably much easier to convince a woman to turn herself into a sex slave if you brainwash her from birth into believing that her eternal salvation rests upon her doing so.

  • AuBricker

    Many Christians are quite misogynist. Have grown up in the deep south, I became quite familiar with how conservative Christians view woman. And their views on race sometimes leave something to be desired. I’ve heard many Christian ministers teach that the “Curse of Ham” refers to African-Americans.

  • Paul

    “As we commonly used it in my human rights classes in law school — it can refer to the actual murder of a group of people OR the murder of a way of life (i.e. a culture or an ethnicity), not necessarily entailing murder.”

    Words must mean something. When you inflate the word “genocide” to mean something that doesn’t include the actual, physical death of people, you lose clarity in communication, not to mention respect towards those who actually suffered genocide or who live with its effects.

    Make up a new word, explain *beforehand* how you’re using a word in a new sense, but don’t be loose with what words mean. How we communicate is important.

  • Thumpalumpacus


    The reason I reacted more to Sarah’s commentary than the OP is simple: I pretty much agree with the OP, but I heartily disagree to the use of overheated rhetoric. It undermines what is, here, a perfectly valid case. This, however, did not upset me. That only came later, with the “sexist” taunt. Oddly enough, my overly emotional reaction would seem in itself to belie the charge, but never mind. As D pointed out, we were clearly talking past each other.

  • D

    Paul, yeah, stipulative definitions are important!

    Staceyjw, heh, you caught me! But then, as before, the problem is not simply the fact of emotions being what leads a person, but where those feelings go.

    And of course, Sarah, there’s nothing all that bad with hacking brains “just a little,” now that I think about it. What is an argument, but hacking a brain to try to find agreement?

  • Paul

    I retract some of the severity of the tone of my post #42, but the substance is still proper, I think.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I wish everyone felt as much passion about the subjugation of women as you seem to do regarding my language choices.

  • Paul

    The two are not opposed to each other. In fact, the importance of language can have an affect on getting people to understand the importance of the issue of the subjugation of women (as in not getting in the way of it).

  • Sarah Braasch

    That’s exactly why I chose my words so carefully.

  • Paul

    Sarah, I’m not sure if we see eye-to-eye about my comment about definitions. I”m not sure what your comments #48 and #46 really mean.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I simply mean that I stand behind my word choices. I do not find my post hyperbolic. Not at all. I think my word choices will help people realize the extreme severity and gravity of the situation. The fact that people are so outraged by my allegedly hyperbolic assessment of the condition of women in religious communities in the US instead of being outraged by the condition of women in religious communities in the US is indicative of the extreme ignorance or denial of an extreme situation.

    I find the systematic dehumanization and abuse and torture (psychological and physical) and sexual slavery of women and girls on a massive scale in religious communities in the US to be genocidal.

    Why do we allow this to happen? Because they claim that it is their religious liberty to do so.

    Women and girls are being brainwashed and inculcated on a massive scale to believe that they are ciphers with wombs and vaginas, that they are the means of reproduction only, that this is their life’s purpose, that this is what God demands of them, that they must submit themselves to the men in their families and communities, that they have no identities outside of this purpose to submit and breed, that their only hope of eternal salvation is to submit to being baby incubators, that if they do not do so they face eternal damnation in the form of hellfire or ostracization from their families and communities and from God or demonic torture and possession and rape and attack. Or actual torture and possession and rape and attack by the men in their families and communities without recourse.

    You might find my choice of the expression gender genocide hyperbolic. I do not. And women do face violence and rape and murder and the constant threat of violence and rape and murder in these communities. I did. And, it is systematic. The reality of the situation is not so far from what I assess as your traditional definition of genocide, which I have modified with the use of the word gender.

    If after reading this, you still feel the same way — I accept the fact that we disagree, that you have every right to disagree with me, that you have every right to express your disagreement with me.

    But, I still hold my views. We can agree to disagree. But, thanks for hearing me out.

    Oh, and one last point / comparison — the outrage over the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church by priests.

    Still happening. Everyday. All over the US. To women and girls.

    Why the outrage over the Catholic Church and not for the women and girls within the JW community, or the Mormon community, or the FLDS community, or the Southern Baptist community or the Quiverfull community?

    I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that much of the abuse in the Catholic Church was man on boy sexual abuse.

  • jemand

    while in fundamentalist religion, and while reading the books on sexuality, I distinctly got the impression that to make out with a guy, and then decide I didn’t want to have sex, was worse than rape. That if that happened, rape was inevitable and justified. Anyway, that idea is at least supported by abstinence only and purity materials and programs, if not actively placed by them.

  • Entomologista

    I wish everyone felt as much passion about the subjugation of women as you seem to do regarding my language choices.

    Sarah FTW.

    I also like the concept of “soul murder”. This is an excellent description of what patriarchal religions do to women.

  • Ebonmuse

    Hiya folks,

    I generally don’t take sides in a healthy debate between nontheist commenters, and I’m not going to do so here – but there is some information not all of you may know about Sarah’s background, and I think it might be helpful to get more perspective on where she’s coming from. Check out this article she wrote for Freethought Today last summer.

    It bears remembering that there are some of us who’ve escaped from truly horrendous, repressive cults and found freedom and happiness as atheists. “Genocide” is a serious word, and while it’s obviously not a literal description, one could argue that using it metaphorically is a way to shock people out of their complacency and wake them up to the magnitude of what’s being done to innocent members of these cults. Of course, one could also argue that it’s too harsh, that the parallels aren’t strong enough to justify its use.

    As I said, this isn’t an issue where I plan to take sides. But as this thread shows, it’s not necessary that we all agree on this. I think we do agree that religion’s mistreatment of women is a major and serious problem. That’s something that should be our common cause; we can let individual atheists choose whatever terms they see fit to talk about it.

  • Danikajaye

    The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.


    MAN – Relate to family/Give family orders (“in the way God does to his people”- Old Testament God?), love/impregnate wife, work for an income, make all important and life altering decisions, protect family (from what I’m not sure).

    WOMAN- Have babies, obey husband.

    So, as a woman, out of all the things I’m capable of the only ones of value are my ability to breed and how well I can follow orders? Well don’t I feel special! HOORAH! There’s nothing I enjoy more than scrubbing a floor while 8 and a half months pregnant. Why marriage sounds like DISNEYLAND! Its so immature but I have the compulsion to run up and roundhouse kick a Christian man around the back of his knees (maybe Bruce Ware!?) and run away screaming “God can’t stop me!”.

    What happens to a woman without a husband? Should she feel worthless and a little bit robbed not getting to act on her “God-given” right to be subservient to a man?
    God, you give shithouse presents. Don’t bother turning up to my birthday party.

    OH and —> LOOK —-> I’m fucking outraged

    – religious freedom my arse

  • Paul

    Sarah, I guess we will agree to disagree about word choices, but we certainly agree about the problem with the situation that you have outlined.

  • Steve Bowen

    In relatively secular weston europe we are probably half a generation away from true gender equality. In my parent’s generation it was still the norm for men to work and women to home make. In my generation it is much more common for both partners to work and pursue equivalent careers(peversely this has created a situation where due to the DINKY generation house prices have inflated to a point where you can’t buy one unless both of you are working). My own daughters are in no doubt of their abilities, potential and worth. The U.S however has the disadvantage of still being a morally “Victorian” society and Sarah has every right to be worried. In my opinion the scales could tip easily either way in the U.S right now. The patriachal assumptions of the the religious majority could easily overwhelm recent advances in gender (and for that matter, race) equality if left unchallenged.

  • Sarah Braasch

    In light of our discussion here, I went back to the official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to see if anything had changed recently with respect to their doctrine on families.

    This is just so ridiculous and comical that I had to share. Or, rather, it would be ridiculous and comical if it wasn’t justifying horrific abuse and torture, even as we speak:

    Happy in Their Roles

    Fulfilling their God-given roles brings happiness to both men and women. Happy marriages result when husbands and wives imitate the example of Christ and his congregation. “Husbands,” wrote Paul, “continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it . . . Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself.” (Ephesians 5:25-33) Hence, husbands are required to exercise their headship, not in a selfish way, but in a loving way. Christ’s congregation is not made up of perfect humans. Yet, Jesus loves and cares for it. Similarly, a Christian husband should love and care for his wife.

    A Christian wife “should have deep respect for her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) In this regard, she can look to the congregation as an example. Ephesians 5:21-24 states: “Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ. Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” Although a wife may at times find it challenging or difficult to be in subjection to her husband, this is “becoming [fitting, proper] in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18) Being in subjection to her husband will be easier if she remembers that this is pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ.

    How They Feel About Their God-Given Role

    “My husband exercises his headship in a loving and kind way,” says Susan. “We usually discuss decisions, and when he decides what will or will not be done, I know it is for our benefit. Jehovah’s arrangement for Christian wives really makes me happy and our marriage strong. We are close and work together to achieve spiritual goals.”

    A woman named Mindy comments: “The role that Jehovah has assigned to his female servants is an assurance of his love for us. I feel that giving my husband honor and respect as well as supporting him in his congregation duties is my way of showing appreciation to Jehovah for this arrangement.”

    Even if her husband is not a fellow believer, a Christian wife is to submit to his headship. The apostle Peter says: “You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:1, 2) Sarah, who respected her husband, Abraham, was privileged to bear Isaac and become an ancestress of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 11:11, 12; 1 Peter 3:5, 6) Wives who conduct themselves as Sarah did are sure to be rewarded by God.

    Peace and harmony prevail when men and women fulfill their God-given roles. This results in their satisfaction and happiness. Moreover, complying with Scriptural requirements clothes each one with the dignity associated with a privileged place in God’s arrangement.

    These and other pearls of wisdom from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society may be found here:

  • D

    Message received: “This is how it should be done. God made you thus-and-such a way, so you must live your life in thus-and-such a way or you will pay.” I just puked a little.