During a meeting of pastors from a variety of denominational backgrounds, I was disturbed to hear a significant percentage of those present offer a point of view which said that there are circumstances where violence against a spouse could be justified.
It was clear to me that these people had not really spent a great amount of time reflecting on what might be called a “dark side” to marriage relationships in the community, including the christian community.
Whether this was due to lack of experience in the issue as a pastoral issue, or some sort of naivety that it doesn't happen in churches is hard to say. Certainly, the pastors involved seemed to portray the very patriarchal attitude that many social workers outside the church think contribute to this endemic problem in Australian society.
When I looked for resources to help pastors deal with the issue of domestic violence in our society, I found there was very little available from an evangelical perspective that can help pastors come to grips with the theological, scriptural and pastoral implications of fractured relationships.
This reflection starts by looking at the reality of domestic violence in Australia- the definitions of DV, the prevalence and causes. Then we go on to look at what God's word says about how marriage and family relationships should be structured in a healthy home. We will go into some detail into the “difficult” passages from Paul's letters and how these should rightly be interpreted.
Domestic violence has been found to cover all segments of society. Age, social-economic class, racial background, education and even religious belief do not offer protection.
In the vast majority of cases violence is conducted against women by men.
A study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found the following facts:
23% (that is nearly ¼) of women who have ever been in a relationship have experienced violence by a partner.
12% of those who have reported violence say they are currently living in fear.
For 20% of the women who have experienced violence, experienced it for the first time when pregnant.
Younger women are at high risk- some 19% (that is nearly 1 in 5) of 18-24 year-olds have experienced at least one
incident of violence.
About 40% of women experiencing violence (remember this is about 1 in 10 of all women) say that their children have witnessed violent episodes.
Whilst christians are prone to believing that problems like this are only the realm of unbelievers, there is no evidence that church attenders are any less likely to experience domestic violence than non-church attenders.
There are a variety of reasons for this:
Churches attract people who are looking for help beyond themselves. These people know they are in situations which are impossible to work out in their own ability.
Not everyone who comes to church is truly born again and living every day in the grace of God... many of our people are actually continuing to live a life marked by sinful addiction.
Many truly spiritual women have husbands who are either unsaved or somewhat less committed to faith. Most churches have significantly more women than men, with many “church widows” in their midst.
The power of shame is usually stronger in christian communities than in the wider society. Some churches make it very difficult for people to admit that they are experiencing marital problems of any sort, because to do so makes it appear that they are not “overcomers”, but are rather failing at the Christian life.
We also need to recognise that people with only a very loose connection with a church may become more connected in a time of difficulty. Women may seek help within a church community, either from the pastor or from respected women within the church.
Generally domestic violence (or family violence) can cover all forms of violence that occur within a family unit. Whilst the phenomenon of senior abuse is becoming more prevalent as more elderly people are living with their adult children, the term domestic violence is usually restricted to violence within a marriage or de facto relationship.
In the vast majority of cases, violence is perpetrated by men against women.
The term “violence” suggests a form of physical assault such as hitting, strangling, forcefulness.
But DV can also include other forms of abuse such as:
Emotional abuse- playing “power games”, intimidation, put-downs etc. Women are made to feel useless and powerless to change their situation.
Sexual abuse- rape and other forms of sexual assault
Financial abuse- where the husband controls the finances in such a way as to deny normal resources to the woman.
Social abuse- isolation from friends or family members.
Domestic violence is ultimately about power and control.
Women often stay in violent relationships because they genuinely love their partner, or because they hope that things will improve. The emotional effect of the abuse often results in women feeling that they cannot make it on their own, that they would be unable to get a job to support themselves.