I didn’t know the pastor who phoned me from Alabama. But my alarm bells went off the moment he identified himself as a “Bible-believing Christian.” That’s code for the kind of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-women, anti-thinking Christian who ruins Christianity.
I certainly felt the man’s pain, though. He was profoundly concerned about his daughter, whose increasingly abusive husband had finally cut her off from all contact with her family and friends.
“Her husband now controls every aspect of her life,” the pastor told me. “First he made her quit her job. Now he won’t let her out of the house. She can’t even use the phone anymore. And I know he’s hitting her. Can you help me figure out how to help my daughter, when he won’t let me anywhere near her?”
We discussed the particulars of his daughter’s situation, and arrived at what seemed to be the best way for him to proceed.
Then he said, “I don’t understand how this could have happened to her. It’s keeping me up at nights. I want to rescue my daughter from the situation she’s in—and I also want to do whatever I can to stop what’s happened to her from ever happening to any woman. Do you have any ideas on how I might go about doing that?”
“I know one thing you can do right away,” I said. “Since you call yourself a ‘Bible-believing Christian,’ am I correct in assuming that you believe, and teach, that God has ordained that wives must be subservient to their husbands?”
“Yes, I preach a Biblical view of marriage.”
“So, your daughter grew up believing that a wife should be subservient to her husband. All of her life, she believed that the role of the Christian wife is to practice ‘sacrificial obedience’ towards her husband.”
After a pause, the pastor said, “But I also taught her to have high self-esteem.”
I waited for the screaming in my head to pass.
“But surely you can see,” I said, “that, actually, you didn’t. You cannot teach a girl that she is, by virtue of the simple fact that she was born female, naturally and by the will of God subordinate to men, and at the same teach her to have high self-esteem. One half of the message ‘You were born inferior—but you’re great!’ is destined to cancel out the other half. You can’t have broken legs and win a foot race.”
“I’m not sure what you’re saying.”
“I’m saying that a woman who grew up believing that a wife must be subservient to her husband is essentially primed—is psychologically conditioned—to become emotionally and spiritually trapped in an abusive marriage. You can understand that, yes?”
“I’m not sure that I can.”
“Well, then, frankly, you owe it to yourself, your daughter, and any woman whom you ever pastor to think about it until you do understand. You can’t remain in the dark about this. You’re costing women their lives. And you can understand why, right? First you make a girl believe that in order to please God, her father, her family, her pastor, and her whole church community—in order to avoid spending eternal damnation in hell—she absolutely must, once she’s married, live her life being sacrificially obedient to her husband. That’s her mindset; that’s who she thinks she is. And then you kiss her on the cheek, and give her away (and I beg you to consider what a perniciously dehumanizing phrase that is) to a man who, love her though he may, is also perfectly aware that she will willingly endure any treatment that she gets from him. He is free to beat her if he wants to, confident in the knowledge that, because of the way you trained her, pastor, because of what you made her believe about herself, she’ll take it. She’ll take it or (she believes) she’ll go to hell. I know this is hard to hear, but what’s happened to your daughter is largely on you. It’s the horrible, inevitable legacy of the Christianity that you preach. You have to take responsibility for that.”
A long, long pause happened. Finally, the pastor said, “John, you just given me a lot to process. I’d like to hang up the phone now, think about all you’ve said, and then call you back. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “Of course. I’ll be here, any time.”
That was almost three months ago. I haven’t heard from the pastor since.
(The pastor phoned me because of my brief book on why women stay in abusive relationships.)