I recently read an essay that outlined the reasons why women don’t report sexual harassment and rape. One of the main reasons given was the gender power differential. Another reason given for the reluctance of women to report was the fear that they would either not be believed or would be blamed for the assault. The author reflects on how perpetrators often wield power over their victims, making them vulnerable. Unfortunately, abused women often lack support from the very institutions that should protect them. An example of this is when churches and other religious organizations promote the idea that women should submit to their husbands, even in cases of abuse. Various passages in the Bible are often quoted to support this stance, ignoring the verses in the same Bible that call for mutual submission (Ephesians 5: 21-33). For more information on how the concept of male “headship” in Ephesians 5 has been misinterpreted, here is an excellent resource.
Over-spiritualizing can have dangerous consequences
The concept of male headship is frequently taken to an extreme, in which the enduring of abuse is treated as a sign of spiritual maturity. In this video commentary, Julie Roys, a Christian reporter, discusses the issue of Christian women enduring abuse with Philip Monroe, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Global Trauma Recovery Institute. Their discussion includes video clips in which the leader of a biblical counseling program at a major seminary is shown teaching students to tell women who are being abused by their husbands to report to the church and only go to the police as a last resort. He also tells his students that preservation of the physical body is not the goal when it comes to counseling women in abusive situations. He goes on to compare abuse to persecution, stating that enduring abuse is like enduring persecution for one’s faith. He further states that if preservation of the physical body was the main goal, then Christian missionaries who are in danger due to their faith should all be evacuated from the mission field. (This is an example of what I like to call over-spiritualizing – the idea that being spiritual means we should neglect physical realities).
There is no basis for comparing an abusive marriage to religious persecution. It’s also not true that missionaries are never taken away from danger zones. This happens routinely. In some cases, the missionaries may choose to stay, but mission organizations would normally offer to evacuate their missionaries if it is determined that the conditions are too dangerous.
The Bible teaches mutual submission
Even though the Bible clearly teaches mutual submission, the patriarchal approach focuses only on the passages that tell wives to submit to their husbands, elevating them above other portions of the Bible and plain common sense.
We are supposed to love our fellow humans – you don’t have to be Christian to know this. This is what most, if not all major religions teach. Christian men are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church and laid his life down for it. A man who claims to follow Christ should not be causing physical harm to his wife. (Actually no one should cause physical harm to another human being, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s focus on people who claim to be followers of Christ). This should be obvious, yet, over and over again, we hear stories of perpetrators being supported by their churches, while the victims are shamed and, in some cases, blamed for the abuse.
Protection of the perpetrator harms both parties
There is no justification for abuse in marriage. Protecting the perpetrator is not only harmful to the victim, but is also detrimental to the perpetrator, as well. People who routinely inflict physical and emotional abuse on others are usually dealing with deep- seated psychological issues of their own that need to be addressed. The solution is not for the wife to be more submissive. Mental health issues need to be acknowledged and addressed professionally and churches need to address mental health as I wrote in this essay. Churches should be safe havens for everyone – women, men and children – and they should offer abuse victims the support they need.
If you are a victim of abuse, ask for help! A few resources are listed below. Please take good care of yourself and be safe!