domestic violence - DV

5 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Evil Of Domestic Violence

29 June 2021

7 MINS

Domestic Violence is a monstrous evil.

The abuse of one partner by another is one of the most destructive and wicked things a human being can do. And yet, it’s found among all demographics. According to the Federal Government’s report on Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia 2019:

Almost 1 in 4 (23%) women and 1 in 6 (16%) men have experienced emotional abuse from a current or previous partner since the age of 15. Almost 1 in 6 women (17%) and 1 in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous partner since the age of 15.’

Those are shocking statistics.

But a recent report released by the Anglican Church of Australia announced that ‘the prevalence of intimate partner violence among Anglicans was the same or higher than in the wider Australian community.’ While we’ll explore this further below, the point remains that DV also impacts people in our churches. [1]

So what might Christians make of all this?

While there’s much to process, here are at least five things I think we need to get a handle on:

1) DV is a Monstrous Evil. But the People Who Perpetrate DV Don’t Always Look Like Monsters

It’s tempting for Christians to see the evil of DV as perpetrated by people who look like monsters.

After all, we figure, if you’re doing something as awful as abusing a loved one, you must be a horrible person all round. But DV researchers tell us that perpetrators rarely present as monsters to the outside world. Instead, they can often come across as ordinary decent people. As Dr Rebecca Sng points out:

[A common myth about DV] is that all those who use violence are monsters.

Many of the men I have worked with, however, are very fragile, wounded souls. They’re terrified of being abandoned by their partner if they release their control, even a little. That does not, in any way, excuse their use of violence. But when we think of abusers as monsters, it’s too easy to believe they couldn’t be anyone we know.

When we think of abusers as monsters, it’s too easy to believe they couldn’t be anyone we know.

That’s chilling. Abusers — whether men or women — could be people we play sport with. People we work with. Or even sit next to at church. It’s important for us to realise this so that we can be alert to the signs of DV — signs which we can often miss if we just look at outward appearances. [2]

2) The Bible is Anti-DV. The Problem Comes When People Twist the Bible to Justify their DV

Recent media reports around the release of the Anglican Churches report on DV make the case that the Bible’s teaching on marriage (classically understood) is a factor in DV.

The ABC’s Julia Baird reports:

The new [Anglican Church] research [found that] “Christian teachings sometimes contribute to and potentially amplify situations of domestic violence”. Strict teachings on “marriage as a lifelong commitment, the submission of the wife to the husband, unconditional forgiveness, and suffering for Christ — whether they are taught by church leaders, internalised by victim survivors, or co-opted by abuser in this way — are harmful for those who experience abuse,” the report said.

Using Scripture to justify abuse? That’s horrifying.

And yet, as Baird reported in 2017:

“Unlike the Koran, there are no verses in the Bible that may be read as overtly condoning domestic abuse. To the contrary, it is made clear that God hates violence and relationships must be driven by selflessness, grace and love… But church counsellors and survivors of family violence report that many abusive men… rely on twisted… interpretation[s] of Bible verses to excuse their abuse.”

And therein lies the problem: the twisting of Scripture to make it say what it does not — even to the point of justifying abuse.

Sadly, the twisting of Scripture for selfish purposes is not new. Jesus Himself condemned the religious leaders of His day for doing precisely that (e.g. Mk 7:1-13). And other parts of the New Testament make the same point (e.g. Jude 4).

It’s part of our fallen human nature to take that which is good and twist it into something which is bad — even the good and life-affirming teachings of the Bible.

And so, as Charles Spurgeon pointed out many years ago, let’s preach the truth of the Gospel in such as way that people can’t misinterpret it even if they want to. Of course, people are responsible for their own (mis)interpretations, but let’s not give them any reasons to warp the Bible’s teaching.

3) The Bible’s Teaching on Marriage is Hierarchical. But It’s a Hierarchy of Service, Not of Domination

The Bible’s teaching on marriage is hierarchical: the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church (Eph 5:23). And as the church submits to Christ, wives should also submit in everything to their husbands (Eph 5:24). It’s arguably one of the most jarring teachings of Scripture in our modern age.

And yet, we misunderstand this hierarchy when we read it the way our society does: as a hierarchy of domination, where the husband rules the roost and gets to have his own way.

Instead, the Bible’s understanding of hierarchy is radically different to our world’s understanding of hierarchy, as so beautifully explained (and exemplified by) Jesus Christ in Mark 10:45:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If you want to lead, then you serve others. Just as Christ served us — even to the point of giving up his life for the good of others.

In other words, the Bible knows nothing of a Christian husband domineering and bullying his wife. Instead, it demands that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church — namely, sacrificially (Eph 5:25).

4) Are There More Perpetrators of DV Within The Church Than Outside the Church? The Data Doesn’t Say

While the recent report by the Anglican Church argued that victims of DV are over-represented in Anglican Churches, it stopped short of saying that there are more perpetrators of DV within Anglican churches.

As former Chair of the Sydney Anglican Diocesan DV taskforce, Sandy Grant, explains:

What is not clear yet is whether perpetrators are also over-represented in our churches. This is because the study asked about people’s experience of IPV — which, I presume, most respondents interpreted in terms of being a victim. Although I have inquired, it is not yet clear to me whether any questions were asked that would identify whether the abusive (ex-)spouses of victims at church were, or are also, church-goers — let alone whether they espoused views that might be called patriarchal or complementarian.’

Thus, we need to be cautious about any claims that this report shows DV being more prevalent among church-going people than non-churchgoing people.

What we can say from the report is that there are more victims of DV in our churches — which in one sense should be an excellent thing — if this means our churches are communities where hurt and broken people find healing and comfort — including victims of DV.

5) Is DV More of a Problem in Traditional Societies, As Opposed to Modern Egalitarian Societies? Again, the Data is Inconclusive

While we can say that the Bible’s teaching on marriage is anti-DV even as it has a hierarchical view of marriage, wouldn’t DV be more prevalent in more traditional ‘patriarchal’ societies? Doesn’t a patriarchal view of marriage open the door to DV in a way that more modern egalitarian societies do not?

That narrative seems to be increasingly deep-seated in our culture, and it has intuitive plausibility.

Again, however, the data is inconclusive.

In fact, some studies show the opposite: that countries with high rates of gender equality, such as the Nordic countries, have higher rates of DV. This is known as the ‘Nordic Paradox’. As one report explains:

Available research suggests that gender inequality is related to higher risk of IPV victimisation for women, in particular in low and middle-income countries, and that women victimisation is expected to decrease as gender equality increases, as it is the case in high-income countries.

So far, this fits the narrative. But then the report continues:

Data for Nordic countries appears to contradict this argument. As the Nordic paradox implies, it appears to be a link between gender equality and IPV prevalence but in the opposite direction than expected. When Nordic data is compared to other EU countries it emerges a positive relationship between country-level gender equality and prevalence of IPV against women. For example, countries like Portugal, Italy or Greece, with IPV prevalence rates of 19%, have all Gender Equality Indexes more than 30 points lower that Nordic countries, which in turn have substantially higher IPV rates (between 9 and 14 percentage points higher). [Emphasis added]

At the very least, the ‘Nordic paradox’ suggests that DV is a more complex phenomenon than ‘traditional views of marriage equals more DV’. Other factors need to be considered: factors that can all too easily be ignored whenever ideology rather than solid evidence drives the DV conversation.

The Best Defence Against DV

While it’s encouraging to see churches taking steps to equip their staff and members to better respond to DV (despite what some in the media have claimed), the best defence against DV was given 2000 years ago by Jesus Himself.

Namely, the Gospel.

The Gospel — the news — that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. The Gospel that brings hope, life and healing to the victim. The Gospel that brings repentance and change to the perpetrator. The Gospel that calls on husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.

That’s the ultimate defence against DV.

Let’s keep preaching this Gospel.

___

[1] Concerns have been raised about the veracity of this report (see here for one critique of it). However, what is not disputed is the fact that DV can and does happen in church communities.

[2] The Presbyterian Church of NSW has developed resources to help their churches respond well to DV, and one of the recommendations is to spend time in one another’s houses and lives:

‘Domestic and family violence thrives in the dark. It flourishes in places where women and children are isolated, and where secrets can remain hidden. It prospers where people aren’t well known and where what we say in public is not what happens at home. Building church communities where it’s difficult to isolate women and families can often play a preventative role. Thus, as a church we should live our lives not in isolation from one another, but with one another.’

___

Originally published at AkosBalogh.com
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels.

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