This morning, a Facebook memory alerted me to the fact that this time 5 years ago I had just attended my last meeting as an elder of my ex-church. After months of conflict and stress over leadership issues, I had been told that a fellow elder (and his wife) were now seen as the leaders of the church by the church’s board, and that if I felt “uncomfortable” with that, I should “consider stepping down” from leadership.
I was convinced that I would be given no peace until I either bowed down to this man, or I resigned. And having already had a taste of the board’s highly partisan approach, I knew that I would be treated as a problem – an undesirable – until I complied one way or the other.
Although I can now read the minutes of that meeting perfectly dispassionately, I haven’t forgotten how traumatised I was at the time. Time, and the effort I have put into healing, have combined to give me a quite different perspective on the events of that whole year but I do remember, both in the lead up to my resignation, and the devastating aftermath, how many times my thoughts bordered on the suicidal.
But quite apart from Facebook’s reminder of its timing, this week I have been thinking about that meeting for another reason. Because the second instalment of an investigation into domestic violence and religion by journalist Julia Baird aired recently. And the same man who sat and delivered the ‘submit or resign’ message to me at that meeting, responded with the following tweet – apparently absolving the church of any responsibility for the use, or misuse, of its teachings on submission.
And it appears that the man who once told me that I had “a problem submitting to authority” is now denying the lived experience of countless women who have suffered abuse at the hands of husbands claiming the church’s teaching on ‘wifely submission’ as their justification – women who have been told, as they were being beaten physically or emotionally, that God demands they submit to their husbands. I wonder if he believes they have a problem submitting to authority, too?
According to an article on the ABC News website, this man “said he was “perplexed” by the […] report which found some church ministers are encouraging victims of domestic violence to remain in violent relationships and “submit” to abuse.” He claims he’s “never met a leader who supports that proposition” yet he himself happily told me to “submit” to a man whose behaviour had already led to the resignation of one fellow elder, and which had left me struggling with both physical and emotional health problems. The inconsistency and contradiction between these two positions takes my breath away!
So I am writing to add my voice to the growing chorus of those choosing to expose the abuse inherent in a system which selectively calls for the submission of wives to husbands, while ignoring the preceding call for mutual submission between the two.
I am also questioning the credibility of anyone who, on the one hand apparently denies that any “christian leader” would encourage a woman to simply submit in an abusive marriage relationship, yet who seems to find nothing wrong with insisting that a woman (an elder of the church) should submit in another type of relationship where the “testimony of two witnesses” revealed that bullying and coercion had been at play.
And in doing so I am asking the question: if this dissenting voice is so lacking in credibility, how many other “church leaders” are dismissing or protesting the work of Julia Baird while at the same time enabling, concealing (or even engaging in!) abuse in the church, conveniently justifying and excusing it under the doctrine of “godly submission”?
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