Domestic Violence Myth Acceptance and Evangelicalism

Domestic Violence Myth Acceptance and Evangelicalism October 18, 2018

Last week I wrote a blog post about a study that found a connection between Calvinist beliefs and “domestic violence myth acceptance,” or DVMA. As I wrote that post, I wondered what exactly “domestic violence myth acceptance” was. DVMA was, the study made clear, the endorsement of a collection of belief statements that indicate detrimental attitudes toward domestic violence—but how was this measured? What were the belief statements? Curious, I followed a trail of footnotes and citations to this article.

The Domestic Violence Myth Acceptance Scale (or DVMAS) consists of 18 statements. Individuals are asked to rank these statements from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” While the questions were asked in numerical order, the researcher in the article I found divided the statements into five categories: behavioral blame, character blame, exoneration, minimization of seriousness, and minimization of extent. I’ll group them this way, because I find the categorization helpful.

Behavioral blame:

4. Making a man jealous is asking for it.

6. A lot of domestic violence occurs because women keep on arguing about things with their partners.

12. Women who flirt are asking for it.

13. Women can avoid physical abuse if they give in occasionally.

17. Women instigate most family violence.

Character blame:

3. If a woman continues living with a man who beat her then its her own fault if she is beaten again.

5. Some women unconsciously want their partners to control them.

7. If a woman doesn’t like it, she can leave.

10. I hate to say it, but if a woman stays with the man who abused her, she basically deserves what she gets.

14. Many women have an unconscious wish to be dominated by their partners.

16. I don’t have much sympathy for a battered woman who keeps going back to the abuser.

18. If a woman goes back to the abuser, how much is that due to something in her character?

Exoneration:

2. When a man is violent it is because he lost control of his temper.

9. Abusive men lose control so much that they don’t know what they’re doing.

15. Domestic violence results from a momentary loss of temper.

Minimization of extent

1. Domestic violence does not affect many people.

11. Domestic violence rarely happens in my neighborhood

Minimization of seriousness

8. Most domestic violence involves mutual violence between the partners.

Because I first found this scale referenced in an article about Calvinism and complementarianism, I read these questions with a mind to connections with evangelical beliefs about gender. The biggest parallels I see are behavioral blame and exoneration. Character blame seems to assume that a woman should leave if she’s abused, something more conservative evangelicals may not believe.

The study of Calvinism and domestic violence where I encountered the domestic violence myth acceptance scale also referenced an “egalitarian/complementarian scale.” I found that scale in an article called “The Baby Blanket or the Briefcase.” As you read this scale, consider its relation to the scale above—particularly in the way they risk undergirding behavioral blame or exoneration by normalizing women’s submission to men.

Some of the numbers below are odd because I have removed the items that denoted “egalitarian-oriented” questions, including only those that denote complementarian beliefs.

2. My marriage will be a relationship of leader (husband) and follower (wife).

3. I will be a “helper” to my husband by using my gifts and abilities.

4. My husband will have the final authority in our home.

6. When my spouse and I disagree, I will yield to his leadership.

7. I expect to defer my goals and interests to support to my husband’s pursuits.

10. My husband will be the head of our home.

11. I will be primarily responsible for the domestic chores of the house.

13. My husband will ultimately have authority over our home.

14. I will express my wishes on when to have children, but my husband will make the final decision.

15. I will give my opinion concerning money matters, but my husband will have authority over our finances.

There are clearly many problems here, but one of them is that when dysfunction occurs in evangelical relationships, it is frequently blamed on the woman—for not obeying her husband, for not making her husband feel respected, for undermining his decisions. And when a man does not feel respected, well, there are going to be issues. An enormous amount of an evangelical man’s success or failure in life is put on his wife—is she building him up or tearing him down? Much less emphasis is put on the reverse.

I also found the final scale referenced in the original article—the Calvinist-Arminian Beliefs Scale, which was initially laid out in this paper. Once again, it’s worth thinking about the interconnections. The statements below are also numbered oddly, this time because they are included in a larger survey of religious beliefs. The ones I’m including here are the ten items in the scale that denote Calvinists beliefs.

6. Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only.

15. Christ’s death was substitutionary penalty of sin for certain specified sinners, for whom alone He secures salvation.

21. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Holy Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ.

24. God eternally perseveres in His faithfulness with those whom He has chosen.

27. Sinners, whose wills are in bondage to their evil nature, can neither will nor choose good over evil in the spiritual realm.

31. God’s choice of the sinner, not primarily the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

35. Those who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Holy Spirit, are saved forever.

36. God’s spirit irresistibly draws sinners, upon whom He is not dependent, to Christ.

37. Because of the fall, people are unable of themselves savingly to believe the gospel; people are dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God.

39. God’s spirit, as an internal call, causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, and to come willingly to Christ.

There is overlap between these Calvinist beliefs and exoneration—i.e., sinners are in bondage to their evil nature. They can’t help it. I am reminded of a post in which Lori Alexander, who runs a blog telling women to be homemakers, wrote this of victims of sexual abuse: “Those who violated them were walking in the flesh and being led by the prince of the power of the air, Satan.” Abusers are simply being led by Satan. 

And that’s another piece of the puzzle, isn’t it? Making abuse a spiritual problem. Here we come back to the difference between Christian therapy and secular therapy. What should counseling sessions work on, when an individual is abusive? A Christian marriage counselor might ask whether a man is being a good leader. These sorts of questions aren’t going to solve the problem. In fact, they might well make it worse, communicating to the man that his wife should be obeying him and respecting him, and that his anger is valid and reasonable.

By this point you can perhaps see why I become frustrated when people suggest that it is possible to both protect women from abuse and embrace complementarian beliefs. Complementarianism focuses on men’s need to lead and be assertive and women’s obligation to follow and stroke her husband’s ego. Trying to fight abuse and domestic violence within this belief system is like trying to put out a fire by throwing more fuel on it.

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