The recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report by Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, “'Submit to your husbands': Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God,” has come under heavy fire in the last few days—and for good reason. It is illogical, unfair and quite possibly inaccurate.
It contends that Christians have a major problem with domestic violence and that the church is “enabling and concealing” abuse in marriages across Australia. It offers one harrowing story after another to spotlight failings on the part of Christian husbands, clergy, and church counselors. Baird and Gleeson leave us with no doubt that ordinary believers and clergy around the nation have acted in ways that contravene basic Christian teachings about marital love and public justice. They are to be commended for underlining horrid failures on the part of lay and clerical leaders, as well as churches when it comes to addressing domestic violence.
But in telling these stories, and in underlining their concerns with conservative Christian doctrines regarding male leadership in the home and church, the reporters paint a relentlessly negative picture of the influence that Christianity has on domestic violence. In so doing, they and the ABC fail to treat their subject fairly.
On the one hand, the church is charged with “both enabling and concealing (domestic violence).” Indeed, the article is replete with stories of clerics saying or doing stupid, malevolent or negligent things related to abuse. For instance, they report that an Anglican rector, David Ould, said in 2015 that “it might be ‘a godly wise choice’ for women to stay with abusive husbands” given biblical teachings about female submission (he has since recanted).
But it also states: “Research shows that the men most likely to abuse their wives are evangelical Christians who attend church sporadically.” Here, they are drawing on my research on religion and American marriages (they neither contacted me nor mentioned me in the story, even though they relied heavily on my empirical findings). They speculate that it’s the kind of men “who are often on the periphery (of church life), in other words, who sometimes float between parishes or sit in the back pews,” who are most likely to abuse. That’s not the full story if they are basing this claim on my research. In my study of the nominal evangelical husbands who were most abusive, I found that it was evangelical Protestant men who infrequently or never attended church who were most violent.
Keep reading at The Australian . . . .