Over the years, while writing on abuse and women’s issues I began to notice a disturbing trend. A good number of abuse victims I spoke with were Christians who could not see the link between their abuse and religion. The majority of these women had left their abusive husbands, but for many, their rehabilitation ended with the *leaving. Further, a good many of these women were against equality and many women’s rights issues. It astounded me that so many women were unable to see that discrimination formed the foundation for not only the abuse they had suffered but also their bigotry towards others, specifically those in the LGBTQ+ community.
I have always been a skeptic, even during my time as a Christian. I never could wrap my head around certain beliefs and teachings, and hatred toward the LGBTQ+ community was something I never understood. I had always firmly believed in a separation of church and state and though I tried, I could never see an actual war being waged on Christianity. It wasn’t difficult for me to see the link religion had played in my abuse, but that’s not to say I didn’t have my own issues to sort out when I left my abuser. I was quite misogynistic and patriarchal when I left my marriage but didn’t realize it at the time. Education followed and as I evolved, these harmful belief systems were eradicated from my life.
I intended to make this post first, rather than When God Triggers, but as I began researching this subject, I realized there was simply too much to unpack for one post. I’m not entirely certain I can even do this topic justice, but as I’ve posted so much on abuse, I feel not including this post would be a mistake. My attention to this subject will be brief as it’s so vast. No doubt there are others better suited to tackle this subject matter, and do feel free to share links to such posts in the comments below, providing they’re in keeping with this site’s views on women’s issues and equality. (Obviously, MRA content is not appropriate).
Links between religion and abuse can be found in three different areas associated with faith: patriarchy, biblical narrative, and religious tradition. There may be additional ways religion can be linked to abuse, but for this post, we’ll touch briefly on these three. Now, while patriarchy coupled with religion or on its own may not necessarily be abusive, it does provide an environment in which abuse is able to flourish. Patriarchy puts the woman in a subjugative role while placing the man in a role of dominance, entitlement, and power. Biblical narrative enforces this view with its teachings on women and in its likening of women to possessions. In her essay, “Two Ways Women Can Get Hurt” Jean Kilbourne writes: ”
“Turning a human being into a thing, an object, is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be violent to someone we think of as an equal, someone we have empathy with, but it is very easy to abuse a thing. We see this with racism, with homophobia. The person becomes an object and violence is inevitable. This step is already taken with women. The violence, the abuse, is partly the chilling but logical result of the objectification.”
Religious traditions, formed on the foundation of biblical narrative and patriarchal views, can make life hell for abuse victims or can be the cause of their abuse. In many cases, misogyny is linked to these traditions and belief systems. In the story of Adam and Eve, Christians have generally interpreted Eve’s role as a helper for Adam. This is an erroneous interpretation of scripture as the Hebrew words used for Eve were ezer kenegdo, which makes Eve an ally, not a servant. That error in interpretation notwithstanding, the biblical narrative referencing Adam and Eve’s sin and subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden only reinforced the idea that woman was an evil temptress in need of control and discipline though some cultures celebrate(d) Eve for bringing enlightenment.
Many of you have seen posts floating around the internet instructing women on appropriate behavior. Pastor, Stephen Kim’s, 10 Women Christian Men Shouldn’t Marry is one such post to which Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist responds in this video:
Pastor Stephen Kim’s post is but a drop in the bucket in a plethora of posts designed to help men subjugate women. Here’s a sample of a few more:
- biblicalgenderroles.com (they’re also on Facebook) Posts include how to confront your wife’s sexual refusal (which advocates abusive practices such as denying the woman’s access to money, a red flag of abuse); how to discipline your wife (also advocates to deny access to finances in addition to various forms of emotional abuse); the frustrated feminist wife (which displays a gross and frankly frightening misunderstanding of marital sex and rape); how to help women learn their place; how fathers can end feminism; and how women who pursue careers are destroying the Christian race.
- Matt Forney’s Hurt Your Wife To Show You Love Her, How To Save Women From Themselves, and How To Beat Your Girlfriend or Wife and Get Away With It.
These are only a few, but in my research, I found too many such posts and sites to list them all. I also received the following screenshots from a friend, again, more rules on how women are to behave. I searched for guidelines on how men were to behave and found few if any at all, and when I did find behavioral guidelines for men they were frequently listed only after references to women’s submission.
As if these behavioral guidelines for women weren’t enough there’s something known as CDD or Christian Domestic Discipline. It’s a practice that involves one partner having authority over the other and the ability to enforce that authority through corporal punishment (spanking). The disciplinarian is usually the husband, in fact, on several websites, it was said that women were not to have disciplinary authority (or authority of any kind) over the husband. This is a controversial practice in the Christian community, but probably only because of its erotic nature and resemblance to BDSM. However, in BDSM women can be the dominant partner. What goes on between a consensual couple in the bedroom is none of my business, nor should it be anyone’s, but the practice of CDD could lead to abuse or be used to excuse abusive behavior. And women are eating it up. Of course, CDD is backed by biblical scripture in the Christian bible: Hebrews 12:11, Ephesians 5: 22-24, Titus 2:5, Acts 5:29, and Proverbs 20:5. The following is an excerpt from Matt Forney’s Hurt Your Wife to Show Her You Love Her (linked above):
“I hate getting spanked. When my husband calls me into our bedroom and tells me to pull my skirt down, I feel dread. I hate having a sore butt and I hate being driven into a crying fit. My husband has told me over and over again that he hates spanking me too, because seeing me crying and in pain breaks his heart. But despite the suffering and tears, I’m grateful that my husband corrects my misbehavior. When he gets finished paddling me and holds me afterwards, I feel a deep satisfaction in knowing that he loves me enough to protect me from myself.”
Yeah, I threw up in my mouth too. Supporters of these rules for women always make sure to point out that women are to submit because that’s what God commanded of them and will then offer a variety of biblical scriptures to back up their abusive guidelines for women (like those scriptures listed in the reference to CDD above).
But the bible commands women to submit to their husbands.
Yes, and the bible makes a variety of other commands that are also abusive to women and children in addition to condoning and/ordering genocide, slavery, and rape and a number of other practices most people find revolting. Remember when God commanded Abraham to kill his son? Or when God said the Israelites could rape their enemy’s virgins as spoils of war? Understand that I’m not trying to convince anyone to abandon their faith. I simply am urging people to understand the harm of patriarchy and certain religious traditions. This biblically backed dominion over women and their bodies has endured since the beginning of recorded history and isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Make no mistake, religion is a tool for oppression and the bible denigrates women.
Church leaders are reluctant to part with tradition even while knowing that doing so would better reflect the modern needs of their flock.
Some religious traditions are inhumane, for example, honor killings and genital mutilation. Others are outdated given scientific and medical advancements such as the Talmudic practice metzitzah b’peh where a rabbi sucks the blood from a freshly circumcised infant boy (which has resulted in numerous cases of herpes in NY. I find the practice to be repulsive and abusive). Still other practices are nothing more than legalized rape, practices like child brides and Dancing Boys. These are appalling practices. According to Christian biblical text, God endorsed slavery but most people can now agree that this practice is horrific, inhumane, and dehumanizing. Religion must reform to reflect the times in which it finds itself or it will continue to be abandoned by those skeptical of its claims and practices. Oftentimes, when Christian victims leave abuse they cleave to the beliefs and/or practices of their patriarchal based faith without realizing the harm this causes or how it can leave them susceptible to future abusive.
Religious Tradition and Victim Response to Abuse
My abuser believed that beating me was his right as a Christian. He felt entitled to rape me or beat me because of his patriarchal religious beliefs which were largely shared by the society in which he was raised. He had dominion over me and our children because that was his gender role as outlined by the bible (and society), and this role was instilled in him from the time of his birth. My abuser did not believe he was violating God’s commands but upholding them, and that mentality is shared by those people engaging in the practice of honor killings and other violent religious traditions.
Public knowledge of my abuser’s arrest and my hospitalization prompted our then preacher to deliver a sermon reminding Christian husbands that physical abuse was not Christ-like and that Ephesians 5: 22-24 was not a green light to beat women. However, when I left my husband, the church made their disapproval of my divorce clear even though they were aware of the abuse I endured and its severity. Further, this church continued to deter women in abusive marriages from leaving their spouses.
I remember receiving a phone call from a fellow church member after I left my abusive husband wherein she urged me to return to my marriage. She said my husband’s bad temper was no reason to leave him. I received many similar phone calls from other church members who believed I was being unreasonable and that I was allowing Satan to destroy our home. You’ll notice that responsibility for the violence in my marriage and blame for my marriage’s resulting dissolution was placed squarely on my shoulders. This is victim blaming. I was urged to forgive my abuser and do everything in my power to reconcile the marriage.
To those victims who have been counseled by someone like the aforementioned deeply misguided individuals, I urge you to ignore any advice you receive that suggests IPV is nothing more than a bad temper and any advice that encourages you to pray or submit. IPV is about power and control. Prayer and submission simply DO NOT protect the victim, and relying on one or both could end up costing a victim their life. When in doubt, ask yourself if the behavior your partner exhibits toward you is loving or does it seek to dominate and control. I know many Christian men who are not abusive and a woman’s submissiveness in the marriage is never an issue nor is it routinely referenced (repeated references of submissiveness by the woman to the man would be a red flag of abuse, FYI).
Religion, Human Rights Violations, and Politics
Religion has been the cause of many violations of human rights throughout history and harmful religious ideology continues to deny equal rights to minority groups. Religious practices that deny human rights, promote human suffering, and allow for the abuse, mutilation, rape, or murder of others must be eradicated. Violent and regressive religious traditions should be illegal. They have no place in a progressive society.
Churches need to reevaluate their response to abuse and allow for divorce in cases of domestic violence rather than encouraging victims to remain in violent homes and to be fair some religions do, however, many religions still blame victims for the abuse they suffer citing a woman’s failure to submit. It’s my belief that the vast majority of church leaders find themselves unprepared to handle IPV and other types of abuse. It’s not unheard of for church leaders to gather to determine worship and scripture guidelines so why, in all these years, has their not been a reformation of religious tradition to suit modern times? The short answer is because religion, like abuse, is based on power and control.
Women’s rights and equal rights are under attack by conservative groups and many women support politicians who do not have their best interests at heart. This need to have power and control over women (and minority groups) is harmful to a progressive society. Most women who have been raised in Christian religions (and other Abrahamic religions) accept patriarchy and misogyny as gospel and are all too happy to submit to abusive treatment from their partners in addition to supporting religious based legislation that strips them of equality. Far-right conservatives are bitterly clinging to harmful ideology and pushing regressive religious legislation, determined to restore America to its former oppressed and enslaved glory.
Red Flags of Abuse
- Moves too fast in the relationship
- Seems too good to be true
- Seems overly concerned with your whereabouts and personal life
- Is jealous of loved ones or friends and insists that you spend all your time with them
- Demands that you end friendships, hobbies jobs, or educational pursuits
- Is easily angered
- Stalks, constantly calls or texts, does not respect personal boundaries
- Is jealous and/or accuses you of being unfaithful
- Takes your money, maxes out your credit cards, withholds money, makes financial decisions without consulting you
- Has a past history of abuse
- Blames others for bad behavior
- Insists that you be submissive as commanded
- Insists that sex is a right or that you have a godly duty to have or perform sexual acts
This topic, as I stated before is simply too vast to condense in one or two posts. I’ve only touched briefly on the links between abuse and religion. I realize by targeting religion and patriarchy, I’m stepping on toes, but women must understand that abusers will use any means to manipulate and control their victim, including religion and the latter lends itself perfectly to discrimination, which forms the foundation of most women’s issues (rape, IPV, pay wage gap, equality, rape and rape culture, and reproductive rights).
For further reading:
- My Abusive “Christian Marriage published by Today’s Christian Woman.
- “Two Ways A Woman Can Get Hurt” by Jean Kilbourne
- Patriarchy and Abusive Churches by Rachel Held Evans
- The Political Pornography of Republican Politics by Mike Spindell
*Leaving your abuser is only the first step, albeit the hardest. Anyone leaving an abusive relationship should be educated about abuse so that they can recognize red flags and avoid future abusive relationships. Abuse victims routinely have been denied access to finances, an education, healthcare, and more. These areas of neglect must be addressed along with any physical and/or emotional injury resulting from abuse. While physical needs are often met, emotional wounds are often ignored. Counseling or therapy of some type is a must.