Church doctrine & domestic violence. Stop blaming. Start fixing.

41646jpgVeLBefore I turned fourteen years old, I had defended myself with a knife against a forty-something year-old male who liked to use his fists in places it didn’t show.

I had watched a tea-tray thrown from the top of a three-storey house because his cup was not placed on it – and it wasn’t a leap of my imagination to suppose he would push my mother out too.

I always, always invited people over to stay on the weekend. Because then, possibly, the man of the house, this second husband who professed love for my mother, would keep his societal mask in place and keep his fists off her.

One night I crept downstairs to see her crying in a chair. She said to me: “What will I do if he hits me again?” Again? My brain could not compute that she did not have an answer. All that I saw, every school anti-violence message, every teen-pop magazine I had read told me one thing: there is always an again. No matter the tears, the apologies. So the answer was quite clear: “We leave,” I told her.

Yet still it took months – I suspect now he had her financially isolated – and in the time between my articulating it and the reality of our departure, I lived in a ratcheting high tension.

My grabbing that kitchen knife was a turning point. Perhaps my mother saw murder in my eyes and finally, finally, saw the motivation for change. A 6′ 6” (198 cm) bully turning tail, scampering up the stairs, locking himself away in the bathroom, with me, far shorter, far lighter, in pursuit. After rattling the door knob for good measure, I went back down the stairs, calmly put the knife back in the knife block and walked to school. Shortly after my Mum and I moved in with friends.

All this whilst attending an prestigious private school, where no-one had a clue. He was a fine, upstanding Rotary club member, after all. We were acting out the perfect blended family.

I can’t speak for my mother. I have no idea why she stayed, and why I, the child, had to encourage her to leave. Why it took teenage fingers wrapped around a carving knife hilt to prompt action. What I know is this: as soon as people knew, we were helped and supported. Which is why the recent finger pointing at church institutions for ‘condoning’ domestic violence, for encouraging wives to stay with abusive husbands through some warped reading of ‘biblical headship’ has pressed a few of my buttons.

If a pastor has ever intimated you should stay, he is wrong. For anyone who points to ‘wives, submit to your husbands’ as a biblical directive to stay in an abusive marriage, please respond: ‘love your wife as Christ loved the church.’

All the pastors and Christians I have met in the past year would be helping you pack your bags and more. God certainly does not wish for you to stick it out. As  articulated in 2012 (bold type is mine):

“While the Bible calls upon the wife to submit it never calls upon the husband to subjugate or subdue his wife. It is never his prerogative or responsibility….All forms of coercion—physical, economic, social, psychological, spiritual—are inappropriate and wrong for a husband to use on his wife. Some, such as physical abuse, are criminal and should be dealt with by the courts. The Christian husband’s duty and solemn vow is to follow the example of his Lord and lay down his life for his bride. This will always put her interests before his own at whatever cost it is to him. This will mean never using or even threatening force. To subjugate his wife is a complete denial of what he promised.”

There is no reason to believe that the rate of family violence within Australian churches is any lower than in the general population. It is the leading cause of death and injury in women under 45. The Easter period last year marked the deaths of six women and children in a single week. One in three women is affected by family violence, one in four children, and one woman a week dies.

Please re-read my bold type above. Coercion rarely starts in the physical. It’s the wearing down – “you stupid cow, can’t you even sort the laundry properly?” – the gradual, dangerous dismantling of a woman’s sense of self-esteem. My step-father would be apoplectic over a coloured shirt in the white wash.

Physical violence is the escalation. Your husband or partner may never have raised his hand against you, but if you spend many hours of the day thinking about how he might possibly react to everything you do, second guessing how some of life’s simplest choices might upset the balance at home? Get help. Plus – as I chillingly read in another article on family violence – if you are reading this, recognise these signs and share a computer with your husband or partner: please delete your browsing history.

Abusers abuse. To blame it on Christian doctrine narrows the lens too dangerously. As does saying it could never happen in a church.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.

8 thoughts on “Church doctrine & domestic violence. Stop blaming. Start fixing.

  • I find it amazing in this article, where you are saying to a victim of dv “Get help”. Wow! Do you think that hadn’t crossed the victim’s mind? Do you know how much help Rosie Batty sought? A lot.

    As a survivor of dv myself, how about not teaching women to submit to their husbands?

    How about teaching men how to be men?
    How about encouraging and helping a wife who needs help, to actually gain help through the church instead of insisting that marriage is til death do you part..

    How about Ministers and ministry teams taking their child protection reponsibilities seriously and reporting for any child that is in a dv is legally classed as abuse…and it is YOUR responsibility to report..legally. (You know how the current Royal Commission into systemic child abuse is making people account for their actions..that might be you in 20 years!)

    How about starting with those issues before saying to the victim..”Get help” !

    • Thanks for the comment Kath – I too am a survivor of familial DV, not sure if you read the other blogs? I agree with all you say, and in regards to headship and church write the line: if a pastor intimated you should stay, he is wrong. That I want to hold up the church as place where people can get excellent help, so shining the light must happen. I’m sorry if that was unclear in the blog that you read.

      • I agree, shining a light must happen. Will it..unlikely. I think every piece of information, doctrine whatever you wish to call it, intimates that women should stay and then the lack of support when you do, can be seen by others, so where is their incentive to leave? Sometimes its not what’s said but what isnt. Make sense? Until men in the church are catered for and given back their manhood, this problem won’t change.
        In a world where Christians are taught fundamentally to go against what the rest of society does and believes, the current push for dv to be acknowledged, addressed and frowned upon within society outside the church, holds little hope for light shining let alone addressing within the church. That’s the reality. Its not a problem the church wants to address.

  • Because Christianity is counter cultural, I’d hate to think it was viewed that simplistically. Ie: the rest of society is against DV so to be counter cultural Christians need to not address it? God forbid. I know plenty of pastors who challenge such limited headship thinking and DV.

  • Hey Kath – if I may…
    I’m a pastor and an ex-policeman. For the whole time I’ve been in pastoral ministry I’ve been addressing DV openly and with some vigour.
    The blokes I lead know exactly what God expects of them as husbands and men in general. So I teach young blokes to put themselves in between the women/girls they hang around with and harm – should they be in a situation where the girls are in danger. Their job is to protect and care for the women around them. Husbands in particular – but single blokes as well. I’m doing my best to raise a generation of men who will be chivalrous toward any woman around them. They know violence toward women is absolutely, positively, not on.

    I teach women – dating, married, single – that there’s nothing in Scripture that tells them that if they are in an abusive situation they have to stay. They are free to leave or kick the abusive, spineless bastard out. If they need help to do that – I am more than happy to lend a hand.

    The Bible teaches male headship really clearly, but it’s a self-sacrificial headship – the same that Jesus displayed as He gave His life for ours.

    I just wanted you to know that there are churches (and I’m not alone in the way I approach this issue) around where DV is spoken about and addressed carefully, respectfully – but vigorously.

    Steve Wakeford

      • Seems it’s not many people’s experience. But there’s a bunch of younger guys my age (44) in pastoral ministry who speak about it in pretty frank terms. I think it’s some of the older blokes who lack the courage to take these sort of issues on.
        Where are you at church, Kath?

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