Sunday, July 7, 2013

On Domestic Violence: How Conservative Christianity has Chosen Patriarchal Gender Roles Over the Protection of Victims

“A woman, an ass, and a walnut tree, the more they’re beaten, the better still they be.” ~ European Proverb c. 1400 AD

“Take up a stick and beat her, not in rage, but out of charity and concern for her soul, so that the beating will rebound to your merit and her good.” ~ Friar Cherubino in Rules of Marriage on what a medieval husband should do if his wife does not obey his verbal correction

“Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.” ~ Noel Coward, from Private Lives

The men are placed in charge of the women, since God has endowed them with the necessary qualities and made them bread earners. The righteous women will accept this arrangement obediently, and will honor their husbands in their absence, in accordance with God’s commands. As for the women who show rebellion, you shall first enlighten them, then desert them in bed, and you may beat them as a last resort.
~ The Koran, Sura 4:34

"Yes, he pushed you around and hit you in the face and left bruises all over your kids, but he is still your husband.  Just go home, pray for him, turn the other cheek, have more sex with him, and look for better ways to keep your house cleaner and make your children obey immediately. A happy husband whose wife is loving him this way would never abuse her!" ~ The typical advice given in ultraconservative and Patriarchal Christianity to abused women (see below)

Since I was first admitted to the practice of law, I have represented victims of domestic violence, first as a staff attorney for the local Legal Aid organization, and both in my private practice and a volunteer on pro bono cases through the present time. Some of the cases involved violence against an aged parent, a few involved violence against men, and a few cases were same sex or sibling disputes. However, and unsurprisingly, most were violence by men against their intimate partners.

In that time, I have noticed a common thread among the victims. In the vast majority of the cases, the victims belonged to either a church or a culture that emphasized the submission of women to men - often both. The city and county in which I live and practice is home to many immigrants from all over the world, and most of them come from “traditional” cultures. Our county also tends to be conservative, and has a high rate of church attendance. We also have a relatively high rate of poverty, which is also associated with domestic violence. All of these contribute, of course.

Without a doubt, the biggest frustration for a lawyer in these cases is that, very often, the victim goes right back to the abuser and the cycle repeats itself.

The problem is, a lawyer, a judge, and a policeman can only do so much. We have a limited time in which to encourage a victim to protect herself and to continue to protect herself (and sometimes children as well) in the future. In my experience, the barrier to this is the culture, which usually works against the victim by telling her that she needs to submit more, obey more, express her opinion less, and then she won’t be beaten. Not only that, but she is expected to reconcile despite the abuse, and without proof of a genuine and long-term change by the abuser.

I wish I could say that the church is helping to change the culture, but that would be a lie.

The conservative church, in particular, has become focused on the idea of “feminism” as the enemy, and has thus decided that marital problems are caused because the woman isn’t submissive enough. I will detail more of this later, but first, a history of the laws related to the abuse of women will help to show the connection between power and abuse.

Pretty much as far back as any record of civilization can be found, men have been considered to be the superior sex, and women were expected to obey them. I could spend a lot of time and space putting citations for this fact, but it is readily apparent to anyone who has studied history.

In Hammurabi’s Code (c. 1772 BC - before the Old Testament was written) - best known for “an eye for an eye” - put women in the same class as children, slaves, and chattel. The husband (father, master, owner) was owed obedience, and could subject his wife to criminal prosecution if she failed to obey. (It was assumed he could use physical discipline as well, as long as he didn’t maim her. Although he could use deadly force for the worst offenses.)

Aristotle, who along with Plato provided much of the philosophical backbone of the Greek and Roman world of the New Testament, believed that females started out as males in the womb, but suffered a developmental defect that made them female. Thus, women, children, and slaves were all fair game to be punished and corrected with physical force, because they were congenitally inferior and in need of correction.

In ancient Rome, a man could strike, maim, or even kill in some circumstances, a wife who was not sufficiently submissive. Saint Augustine strongly advocated for women to be obedient in order to avoid beatings. It was just assumed to be the way of the world. (Again, I am not going to spend time finding the exact citations for these ideas, but they are not difficult to find. See the note at the end for a good starting place.)

Even as late as the late 1700s, William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England notes that “chastisement” was considered normal.

“The husband ... by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction. For, as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to intrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his apprentices or children...for whom the master or parent is also liable in some cases to answer.” (From Chapter 15.)

Note: there are multiple references in writings of this period of the “rule of thumb.” The rule was that a husband could beat his wife with a stick, so long as it was no wider than his thumb - or longer than his forearm. (For me - a fairly small man - the stick would be ⅞” in diameter, and 17 ½” long. Any volunteers?) By the time this saying became popular, the law had already changed, so it is not certain that this was a true statement of the fine points of the law, but it is not disputed that “chastisement” of a wife was not actually outlawed until at least the late 1600s.

Throughout the history of literature, the abuse of women is treated as a source of humor, or taken for granted. In my blog, I have already noted a couple of these instances. In the Miracle Plays of the Middle Ages. In modern impoverished communities such as those described in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s in the culture.

And now, I will say something nice about the Puritans, who I am not generally very fond of, for a variety of theological and ethical reasons. However, they did get this one right. The 1641 Massachusetts Bodie of Liberties, while it did not grant freedom of religion or speech, did grant this important, and somewhat unprecedented freedom to wives:

To be “free from bodilie correction or stripes by her husband."

Unfortunately, this right was all too often a right without a remedy, as it was poorly prosecuted, and inconsistently punished. In 1976, twelve battered wives filed suit against the New York City Police Department, alleging that battered wives were treated differently than victims of assault by strangers. They won. The court held that justice was indeed being denied to beaten wives. Bruno v. Codd, 407 N.Y.S. 2nd 165 (1978)

The sad thing about this is that this wasn’t the Middle Ages. This was the late 1970s: during my lifetime. While things have improved somewhat, there is still remaining inconsistency in prosecution.

Up until now, I have been discussing primarily the criminal justice available to beaten wives. But what about divorce? Couldn’t they leave? Actually, no. Not until the late 1800s in most parts of the United States. In England this happened in 1878. A woman could not divorce for violence, nor for her husband’s adultery. (A man could divorce for these reasons.) A woman would have to be “abandoned” in order to be granted a divorce. (There is a tedious, but informative story about this very thing in Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett, which I reviewed here.) So, as long as a man financially supported a woman, she was stuck. She could try to have him prosecuted, but she couldn’t leave.

The point of this history is in part to dispel the current fad in conservative Christian circles to believe that the past was a more moral, “godly” time. The second point is that an acceptance of violence against women has been the norm for most of history, in all times and places. It is only in the relatively recent past that this has changed. And obviously, it has changed only to a degree, and only in the attitudes of some. Thus, it is ludicrous to say that the cause of domestic violence is feminism. General acceptance of such violence predated even first-wave feminism by 3500 years. At least. Feminism was a reaction, in part, to this violence.

Furthermore, it follows that the key to changing the mindset that tolerates and encourages violence is not to attack “feminism” as the bogeyman, but to change the attitude that says that it is okay to force a woman to obey a man.

Caveat: Before I get going on this point, I do want to make some things clear. Domestic Violence is not just male to female, but the damage primarily occurs in this direction. Also, the power differential has historically been in favor of the man, as I have shown, so male to female violence reinforces this inequality in power.

Second caveat: I do want to be clear that a general belief in male rule is not the same thing as violence. Not all who believe the woman should obey the man are abusers. If I am reading the statistics correctly (see the links below for the source), 75% of those who believe in the “traditional” hierarchy will never abuse their wives. However, the point is that we need to stop the 25% from feeling encouraged by our culture and our religion.

I also want to make a distinction between “hard” Patriarchy and “soft” Patriarchy (whose proponents often prefer “Complementarianism”). Hard Patriarchy is represented by Douglas Phillips of Vision Forum (Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy), Bill Gothard (Institute in Basic Life Principles), Michael and Debbie Pearl, and a number of others. Hard Patriarchists advocate an absolute rule by men and fathers strikingly similar to Hammurabi’s code. (I have discussed the Patriarchists’ connection to Christian Reconstructionism and White Supremacy here. I have discussed the Patriarchists’ desire to return to the culture of the ancient world - such as Hammurabi - here.) The emphasis is on hierarchy and obedience.

In contrast, “soft” Patriarchists hold to a view of male rule within the home and church, but balance it with a corresponding duty by the man to love and serve his wife. This would describe most of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, who largely functioned in egalitarian manner, with mutual decision making, and an emphasis on love rather than hierarchy.

My concern is that over the last couple of decades, the focus in Complementarian circles has shifted away from the idea of mutual sacrifice and love toward the hard Patriarchal emphasis on womanly obedience and the supposed evils of “feminism.” (I use the quotes because the term is used as a bogeyman, and no distinction is made between the various waves of feminism or the different schools of feminist thought. Thus, Douglas Phillips can use the term to refer to everything from women’s suffrage to the present, while most probably are thinking of some sort of lesbian man-hater promoting abortion. That is a big difference. As I explained here, the Patriarchists are big fans of R. L. Dabney, the Confederate chaplain who claimed that women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery would destroy Christendom.) This is also why Doug Wilson can claim that those who disagree on “feminism” are heathens. Note the use of the code phrase “creation order of human sexuality,” which means male dominance. See below for more on this.

Why do I go to such lengths to explain this? Because the ancient lie that the cause of domestic violence is unsubmissive women and that the cure for violence is more submission is making a comeback in conservative Christian circles.

Let me start off with John Piper, who I once considered to be a reasonably mainstream preacher. (Before learning of statements like this, and others that are pretty far out there.)

I posted this link in my previous post on women in ancient cultures. Here, Piper clearly advises that a woman should stay and submit to abuse. Not leave and seek safety for her and her children. Not report a violent crime to the authorities. Stay and submit to abuse. 

Or how about this one, from a Saddleback Church pastor. (Not Rick Warren, the most famous of the bunch.) That’s right, just like it used to be legally, he says that morally, violence is not grounds for a divorce. Stay and submit to abuse. 

Or what about Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary? What does he say?

“I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.”  And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.”  And sure enough, he did.  She came to church one morning with both eyes black.  And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter.  And she said, “I hope you’re happy.”  And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.”  And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy."
"And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came.  And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front.  And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.”  And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?”  And he’s a great husband today.  And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis.  And remember, when nobody else can help, God can.
And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.  Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.”

Well, bully for him that he came to church, but I see nothing about follow up to be sure that the abuse stopped permanently. Based on my experience, it probably returned as soon as the cycle continued on to the next phase.

I hesitate to even dignify Michael or Debbie Pearl with a quote. They are best known for their book, To Train Up A Child, which advocates beating children with plumbing tubes. Several children have died as a result of their teachings. (See note below.)

In what surely must come as no surprise, the Pearls advocate women submitting to violence as well. 

“Has your husband reviled you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how you respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer.Just as we are to obey government in every ordinance, and servants are to obey their masters, even the ones who are abusive and surly, ‘likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands’…You can freely call your husband ‘lord’ when you know that you are addressing the one who put him in charge and asked you to suffer at your husband’s hands just as our Lord suffered at the hands of unjust authorities…When you endure evil and railing without returning it, you receive a blessing, not just as a martyr, but as one who worships God.”

That’s right. Better to be a martyr - that is dead - than to leave and protect yourself or go against the man in any way.

[Note: I do not personally know anyone who is a fan of the Pearls, but they are somewhat popular within the Christian Patriarchy movement, and the teachings are a slightly more extreme version of the beliefs regarding absolute obedience by children and women that are the hallmark of Patriarchy.]

One more example. This one is from Nancy DeMoss, in an interview (along with Mary Kassian, promoting their new series on “biblical” womanhood) on the once fairly mainstream Focus on the Family radio.

We need to be sensitive to the occasions where women have a background of abuse—but we can’t say that the solution for abuse is for women to “cling to their rights.” Christ laid down his rights . . . We are the most like Christ when we are serving, and when we’re not “the end thereof is the way of death.” Feminism is the “forbidden fruit,” and the world’s ways are attractive, but when we bit into it we get a mouthful of worms . . . When you lay down your “rights,” then you find God leads you to pleasant paths . . . We live in a broken world, no one has a perfect marriage . . . we have to wait for eternity to find happiness. 

That’s right! Once again, the “solution” to violence is for the woman to “lay down her rights.” You know, like the right to safety for her and her children.

I also can’t help but note the gratuitous reference to “feminism” as being the enemy. I’ll admit that the use of “feminism” to represent the idea of getting out of an abusive marriage makes me rather inclined to embrace that form of “feminism.” [I want to do a further post on this interview, because there are so many more poisonous things said that need to be addressed.]

I also wince at that line, “we have to wait for eternity to find happiness.” This is sometimes true - the world does not owe us happiness - but again, this is used in the context of explaining why women should endure abuse.

The great Victorian novelist, Wilkie Collins notes this attitude in No Name, when the passive Norah resigns herself to her fate. (See my more in-depth review of that book here.)

“The way to happiness is often very hard to find; harder, I almost think, for women than for men. But if we only try patiently, and try long enough, we reach it at last — in heaven, if not on earth.”

Or, as C-3PO puts it: “We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life.”

The basic worldview is that women’s happiness, women’s right to be free from violence, and indeed women’s right to life, are all secondary to the need to submit.

[Note: there is so much more awful stuff in that Kassian/DeMoss interview that I wish to address in a different post on the current obsession with gender roles in the conservative church. Stay tuned.]

Needless to say, I find this to be an appalling response to a serious problem. Furthermore, it demonstrates a tendency to side with the perpetrators against the victims - something totally contrary to the Christian ethic. In fact, I would say that one of the key themes of the Bible is to do justice to the oppressed. To oppose the oppressor, to defend the powerless, not those with power. (See Isaiah 58 for more.)

The problem is that for some reason, conservative Christianity has decided that the main if not sole cause of problems in marriages is that women are no longer “submissive.” That is, that “feminism” is the source of our problems, and that all we have to do to go back to whatever Utopian ideal of great “biblical” marriages is for women to reject feminism, give up their rights, and take whatever men give them.

This is a disgrace to our faith.

As a lawyer, I know there is a better way to address domestic violence. It isn’t a secret.

1. Call the police. Violence, even between spouses, is a crime in the civilized world. Treat it as such.
2. Zero tolerance. If you hit, the marriage is over. We do not risk the lives and safety of others, particularly children.
3. Since women - particularly poor women - are at financial risk in a split, be prepared to assist.
4. Before even considering putting the marriage back together, the abuser needs to demonstrate a change. Anger management, two years of a demonstrated change minimum. Preferably five years. (This is similar to drug or alcohol addiction - a long track record of sobriety is needed.)

Now, one of the things that is often raised in this case (and was raised by Patterson, above) is the idea that submission to abuse will result in the salvation of the perpetrator. I’m sure all of us who have spent time in conservative churches have heard that one. In fact, we probably heard a story similar to the one told by Patterson. Leaving aside the fact that I have deep suspicions of anecdotes told by pastors when they are a bit self serving, I have noticed that the stories circulating in churches have all the hallmarks of urban legends. It is always a friend of a friend. Somebody someone once knew. As I indicated above, I deeply doubt that Patterson’s case resulted in a complete transformation. If it did it would be rare. But all the rest are third hand stories. Urban legends.

Do you know what? Unlike those urban legends, I could easily demonstrate the more usual result when a woman goes back and submits. I dare you. Look through the archives of the newspaper of your city or town. Chances are, you will find a case involving a dead woman. Dead at the hands of a husband or partner. And, chances are, the story will mention that the police had previously been summoned to the residence due to violence. Perhaps she even filed for a restraining order. But she went back. And now she is a “martyr” as the Pearls would put it. Thirty percent of women who are are murder victims were killed by their intimate partner. (US Bureau of Justice statistics, 2000)  In fact, here is a recent case from my own hometown. I am happy to note that the wife survived her gunshot wounds. [Update 7-11-2013: She subsequently died from her wounds.] I am not happy to report that the shooter was an attorney. 

This is the usual result of returning and submitting. Not conversion of the violent man. Not some promised miracle. No. After the victim goes back and submits, the abuse continues, and probably escalates. In some cases, someone dies.

There is a solution to the cycle of violence, and it isn’t telling the victim to be nicer and more submissive. It is removing the violent person from the situation.

It is fitting that Eminem and Rihanna perform this song, as both have had their own experiences with domestic violence. Trigger warning. This song contains violence and language, and is highly disturbing. It also illustrates the cycle of violence far too well.

I have, in the course of my law practice, assisted in quite a few divorces involving Christians and also involving violence. I could write an extensive post on the problems in marriages, and may some day. I think that churches often take the wrong approach. However, it is particularly in the “women must submit” diagnosis that things go the most wrong. In the non-violent breakups, the woman generally believes she has been submissive. (I would note that in many of these cases, she has, but has been unloving - a totally different problem.) In all my cases, I have only had one in which the man complained of a lack of submission.

This particular case was also the most troubling divorce I have ever facilitated. (I represented the wife.)

The husband was (and is) a pastor. Also, one of the creepiest people I have ever met. He insisted upon having his way sexually with his wife in a way that she found degrading and painful. Things got so bad that she would lock herself in the guest room every night to avoid rape. It wasn’t until her adult children insisted she get counseling that things changed. The female counselor (provided by the denomination, actually, and a licensed professional) recognized the problem, and helped her end the marriage. It took some work by the counsellor and myself to break through the years of “submit” to get her to believe that she was not sinning by ending the marriage. (I am happy to report that she is doing well several years later. I am also happy to report that the denomination terminated him from his position - a very rare thing, in my experience. However, he quickly found another position in another state. Apparently real creeps never lack employment in ministry.)

Once again, not all or even most of those who espouse hierarchy in marriage are abusers. But the philosophy attracts abusers because it provides them with cover and justification. And, when we tell women that they must stay and take abuse, we become participants in that violence.

This is one of several areas that the American Church seems blissfully unaware of how non-Christians view it. I was told from my childhood that “unbelievers” rejected my religion because they wanted to sin. They viewed us as a bunch of prudes intent on ruining their fun. This isn’t completely untrue. We are viewed as prudes. Sometimes, we deserve it.

But what I have come to realize working in Family Court is that we are also viewed - for good reason - as immoral. Because we say things like this.

There is a great comment on John Piper’s video (linked above) by a person who goes by the handle of “butchkitties.”

“Richard Dawkins wishes he were as effective as this video at convincing people that Christianity is a morally bankrupt mess.”

When we decide that a belief in an ancient hierarchy of rule by men trumps the physical safety and lives of women, we are indeed morally bankrupt, and even an atheist can do better than that.

Note on SGM and child abuse:

Not only is this tendency to emphasise power structures over damage to people expressing itself in a failure to defend women from violence, it has also popped up in the recent lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries resulting from the cover-up of child molestation. (SGM is a church popular with The Gospel Coalition, one of the better known proponents of Complimentarianism, and also known for its authoritarian ways. John Piper is a prominent member of this group.)  (Since several of the perps have been convicted, it is safe to say that the abuse occurred. I think there is also good evidence that the church attempted to cover for the abusers.) Again, submission to the powerful (the church leaders) becomes more important than justice for the victims. Or even protection of the victims. In fact, the leadership apparently made the molested children formally “forgive” and “reconcile” with their molesters. For more on this, I recommend for their ongoing series on the abuse and coverup.

Again, the same prescription applies - as it should for the Catholic Church as well: Call the police. Prosecute the perpetrators. Support the victims in their recovery.

Note on the Pearls:

Here is a quote that gives an idea of the philosophy of child raising advocated by the Pearls:

Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.

Unsurprisingly, Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams died as a result of these teachings.

Note on Rape:

This is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but a related misconception, particularly in Patriarchal culture is that rape is caused by something the woman did or didn’t do.

I previously noted Douglas Wilson’s claim that rape is caused by women not submitting enough, and I reproduce it here:

A blogger and friend of Douglas Wilson re-posted the following excerpt from Wilson’s book, Fidelity: How to be a One Woman Man as a response to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel about kinky, violent sex. All excerpts can be viewed on using the search within the book feature.

Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.
When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.
But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.
True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours. (Page 88.)

It is beyond the scope of this post to explain why this is offensive, and I assume most of my readers will find that point to be completely obvious. It also fits neatly with the Christian Patriarchy view that women are in fact lesser beings, and therefore must always be under the protection (and control) of a man. In fact, Wilson makes this reasonably clear in the opening of the first chapter of the book:

This book was written for men and their sons. I suggest that wives read this only when their husbands give it to them, and not the other way around. The introduction mentioned the issue of “straight talk” – and this means, in part, a rejection of euphemism. Some of what is said here may be offensive to Christian women, but the point is certainly not to give offense. The point is to provide biblically specific and pointed help to Christian males. (On page 13.)

Although, again, this discussion is beyond the scope of this one post, I may have to explore the degree to which misogyny and the control of women are a core belief of the Christian Patriarchy movement.

Suffice it to say that, like many of Wilson’s ideas, this one is not only factually false, but obviously factually false. Those places in the world where women are most likely to be raped also happen to be those places which most adhere to the Patriarchal view of male-female relations. Even worse, many of those in these areas of the world that advocate patriarchy mutilate the genitals of their females, which ensures that the sex act is not an “egalitarian pleasure fest.” That, in fact, is the point.

If Wilson were really concerned about ending rape, he might note that women are the safest in those countries that have strong rape laws, a view of women as equals, and influential feminist movements.

[Subsequent note: in the same book, Wilson denies that the HIV virus causes AIDS, and advocates that women have unprotected sex with their HIV positive husbands. No, seriously. Search inside the book at Page 169]

I would add as well that in the aftermath of the recent Steubenville rape case, there has been a renewed assertion of the lie that rape is about sexual desire. (This ties in nicely with the claim that “she was raped because she was wearing that.” Again, just like with domestic violence, the response is to blame the victim. Not submissive enough. Wearing the wrong thing. I really wish that more people would make an open-minded study of rape culture and the actual facts regarding rape before making such offensive and obviously factually false claims.

Here are a few good rebuttals: Gang Rape is about violence, not sex. 

Note on the duty of the woman to obey:

It is beyond the scope of this post to argue over the particular theological interpretation given to certain passages of the Bible by patriarchists. I may eventually compile some links by those who have a better knowledge of Greek language and history than I have in a future post.

For now, I want to focus on the implications of the supposed duty of a woman to obey her husband. (Patriarchists interpret the Bible to require absolute, unquestioning obedience.) As lawyers, we refer to such things as rights. The husband (in this hypothetical) has a right to his wife’s obedience. The question then would be, what is the remedy? How can the husband enforce the right to absolute obedience? If he can’t, then it isn’t worth much as a right.

As I have demonstrated, the historical patriarchal answer has been that a husband may take physical action to compel obedience. In Hammurabi’s time, that might extend to capital punishment. Later, this would be limited to reasonable beatings, however one might define that.

So, what to do if one cannot outright advocate committing a crime, eliminating beatings as a method of enforcement?

The ever-resourceful Douglas Wilson has a solution for you. (I swear, finding crazy stuff written by DW is almost too easy.)

Yes, that’s right! You can subject her to church discipline (the Protestant equivalent of excommunication) if she doesn’t do what you want. After all, to fail to obey one’s husband is sin. To do it after being warned is persistent sin - and thus warrants discipline until she decides to stop sinning by obeying her husband absolutely. So I guess threatening one’s wife with damnation is sort of better than beating her. I still find it abusive.

[I note that, after this post made a big stir on the internet, Wilson retracted it. However, it is very much in harmony with his views of the absolute duty of obedience, so I’ll admit to doubting that the retraction represents a true change in Wilson’s actual opinion.]

For a good rebuttal and discussion, see this post. 

One of my favorite exercises is to reverse the roles in a situation to expose how sexist (or racist) the “solution” is. In this case, note that the woman is told to go pray about it, but the man is allowed to seek a remedy. Try it backwards. Tell the man to go home and pray. “God, please make my wife do the dishes.” Or, “God, please make my wife have more sex with me.” I would be embarrassed to make that request. But instead, it’s, “God, please keep my husband from beating me.” Yeah, that makes sense.

Or how about this. “A man shouldn’t cling to his rights to have sex and a clean house. Christ’s example proves we should lay down our rights.” Why don’t we hear this? It actually makes more sense than “don’t cling to your right not to be abused.” Didn’t Saint Paul actually use Christ’s sacrifice to describe the way a husband should act. But instead, the woman is told to submit to abuse, while the man is advised on how to get his way. The man is never told that he will need to wait for the afterlife to have clean dishes.

The conclusion is inescapable. A man’s “right” to be obeyed trumps the woman’s right to personal safety.

But, it does fit with the worldview that men are active. Women are passive. They “receive, surrender, accept.” A man takes action to get what he wants. A woman must passively hope that God rescues her.

I will also admit that if I were the pastor and a parishioner came to me asking me to discipline his wife for not doing the dishes, I would be sorely tempted to tell him to get off his lazy ass and go wash them himself.  

Note on the Martyr Complex:

During my childhood years, our family attended John MacArthur’s megachurch in Los Angeles. While he is not nearly as extreme as the partriarchists I quoted above, he is not only a complementarian, but also does not believe abuse is grounds for divorce. At least he grants that a woman has a right to protect herself from physical harm. However, I note that he does not consider verbal and emotional abuse to be grounds for a split.

I believe that this has some serious moral and practical problems. Let me explain.

First, there are plenty of abusive spouses who stop just short of a hit. However, they create an environment of fear and intimidation that is far from healthy. Also, it is damaging to the children, who are typically emotionally abused as well. I can speak from the experience of my practice, my observation of friends and acquaintances, and an abusive situation within my extended family.

Here is the problem: the spouse (nearly always the woman) is able to feel self righteous because she stays and submits. She becomes a martyr. She can tell her friends at church (and her relatives) about how hard her life is, and she gets lots of sympathy. She is able to be the “good person,” the “godly person,” even as she allows her children to be verbally and emotionally abused. And the Church backs her up.

This is yet another reason why domestic violence - and its little sibling verbal and emotional abuse - should be treated seriously. By insisting that there is nothing noble about staying in a bad situation, the following could be accomplished. First, bullies would lose their enabling. If victims leave, they would be left with their own unpleasant selves. Second, all this complaining and the martyr complex would be met with a demand for action. Protect the children, and stop enabling bad behavior. 

Further reading:

This article on the connection between Patriarchy and Domestic Violence is well balanced and has citations for the historical facts. 


  1. Thank you for this comprehensive, logical and well-presented post. Can I repost this on my blog?

  2. As someone who grew up in a southern, Independent Fundamental Baptist world (church and church school, 6 days a week), I can relate to this soooo much. Even more so because I had to leave my first marriage due to emotional/verbal abuse. I was no longer a Christian by then, but the teachings about submission, being a noble martyr, and giving my self up for my husband still impacted me and almost caused me to stay. How conservative Christians teach/treat women is appalling - thank you for writing such a thorough post on this subject.
    May I reblog this?

    1. Feel free to re-blog this. Thanks for the kind words.

  3. You have many very good points, and I don't know where to start.

    Thank you for reading this very important piece. I just pray people will now listen, and open their hearts.

  4. I was one of those women. Submit, submit, submit. It wasn't physical violence, but verbal and emotional. I am blessed to be set free. I pray that many women will read this and be set free.

  5. Thank you for writing and posting this.

  6. I appreciate ALL you share here. It’s an important topic. And because of my personal experience with my parents I’d like to share my own thoughts on this topic, so this is going to be a long comment. ☺

    I don’t understand how any Christian believes a wife should submit to abuse. Abuse=sin. Therefore, the wife should not enable the sin to continue in secret by hiding it. Abuse=against the law. Therefore, the wife should get proper governing authorities involved. No need to over-spiritualize here. I’m not saying these steps aren’t hard to do. They are. And take a lot of bravery and trust in God for an unknown future. The church needs to be willing to help with action and finances.

    I’m saying this as someone who considers herself a Complementarian. That said, my marriage does function in an egalitarian manner, and as far as my memory can serve me, there has yet to be a decision we’ve not been able to find a mutually agreeable conclusion to. My husband and I do not believe the Bible teaches that someone should be forced to submit. Nowhere in scripture does God tell the government, pastor, or husband to force anyone to submit to them (as far as I’m aware of). The word to all “leaders” is show love through example and service. Submission in scripture, as far as I can tell, is always voluntary and given when it doesn’t relate to an issue of sin.

    I couldn’t get the Piper video to play, unfortunately. I’m sad to see that he is advocating submission in face of abuse, as I’ve definitely benefitted from some of his writings in the past. He did offer some clarifying thoughts on the video which I read and I do think he gets this right: “For many women, the thought of a husband going to jail and losing his job and being publicly shamed is so undesirable that they often endure much sin before becoming desperate enough to turn to the authorities. What I want to stress is that long before they reach a point of desperation — or harm — the women of the church should know that there are spiritual men and women in the church that they can turn to for help.” (

    Unfortunately, it is not always the case that there ARE people in the church who can/will help, but I do think that women often endure much because they feel misplaced shame over abuse. I do believe this was the case with my own mother. My father became progressively abusive because it was kept a secret in our family.

    The DeMoss quote puzzles me. I’ve listened to her show off and on over the years and have heard opposite teaching about abuse given, for example: "But then there are two other human institutions God has provided to help deal with this kind of situation. One is civil authority. There are laws, and if a woman’s husband is breaking the law, then God has given to her the civil authority as a means of protection, and as a means of protection for that man from himself.” (
    I don’t agree with everything from that episode I reference above, but in fairness I just wanted to point out she has advocated for contacting civil authorities. That said, I can’t reconcile the conflict of your quote and this quote.

    And you are right, feminism is not to blame here. Feminism is a reaction to sin against women and unfair laws against women, particularly first wave feminism. While I don’t view myself as a feminist, because I don’t agree with a great deal of current feminist thought, I’m definitely FOR the rights of women and their protection. There is nothing unbiblical about this. Thanks for sharing this great post with us from a Christian and legal perspective! It needs to be heard! Thanks for reading such a LONG comment! :)

    1. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate thoughtful dialogue.

      Here is my perspective on how Piper and DeMoss and others ended up where they did.

      As you might have noticed, I spent time in Bill Gothard's organization, so I have heard the emphasis on obedience to authority that he and others espouse. This belief in unquestioning obedience and a system of hierarchy has spread throughout conservative Christianity in the last few years - as has the antagonism to "feminism." (I do urge you to read my post on the Patriarchy movement. R. L. Dabney in particular claimed that first wave feminism would destroy the nation. The arguments are the same ones in use now.)

      Piper and DeMoss have fallen into the viewpoint that the cause of modern ills is that gender roles are no longer rigid. (I will be writing a post about this in the future.) Thus, it is VITALLY important to insist that men bring home the bacon, and women stay home with the kids and the housework. Along with this goes the belief that women do not have the right to dreams and opinions of their own. (Please, read the link to the DeMoss interview. The entire worldview regarding men and women is on display.)

      Once you grant that there is the right to demand obedience, and that the man has some sort of innate right to make the decisions, the rest follows naturally. As you note, your own marriage is "functionally egalitarian." Those marriages are unlikely to be abusive, because the entire basis of the marriage is mutuality. But once you shift the emphasis from mutual love and sacrifice to that of hierarchy and obedience, you will attract the abusers.

      If you are interested in doing some additional research, I recommend you look through Vision Forum's site. Douglas Phillips is hugely influential in the home schooling community, and I believe that his belief in an inherent hierarchy has seeped into the church as a whole.

  7. Thanks for your dialog. I DID read the post on the Patriarchy movement and it was very helpful. I think the post I read had more to do with race though? Perhaps I need to read it to refresh my memory. It was helpful in understanding the root from where Phillips, Wilson, and the like are coming from.

    I knew Phillips personally through a 6 month internship at HSLDA with our mutual friend, Sara. And yes, I've looked through Vision Forum's site and read some of his blog posts and although we homeschool, I will not purchase items through Vision Forum. :)

    Thanks for dialoging with me! I will be reading more of your blog and looking through your archives.

    1. I mentioned in passing in my Patriarchy post some of R. L. Dabney's beliefs about women. In particular, he believed that women's suffrage would mean the destruction of America and of Christianity. His article to that effect can be found here:

      As you recall, Phillips practically worships Dabney - see his ode which I quoted in full. Note it condemns "feminists" and "suffragettes."

      A good place to start with Phillips' views of women and hierarchy would be his Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, found here:

      I would note with particular disgust the belief that men reflect the glory of God, while women reflect the glory of men.

  8. I have a relative whose husband used to be verbally and emotionally abusive. The final straw for her was when he lost his job due to a second failed drug test. After over 20 years of marriage, she told him to leave. In desperation, he said he would do anything she wanted. She asked him to meet with one of their pastors, who explained to him the gospel. He was saved right there. It was genuine. For the past several years, ever since his conversion, this man has made a complete 180, continues to become more loving, kind and devoted to the Lord, and treats his wife and children with love, kindness, patience and compassion. He refused to lie about why he was fired while seeking another job. He eventually was able to recover his reputation and win his old job back. My point is, it didn't happen after his wife decided to become more submissive. but after she told him she was fed up and the marriage was over. So, the patriocentric "submit to the abuse" camp aren't the only ones with anecdotes to back up their position. And in my case, I personally know the couple involved VERY well.

    1. I very much agree. In fact, the most powerful motivation to change is loss. Whether it is a drug addiction or violence, there is little incentive to make a positive change when everything is going "okay." I have known more friend, acquaintances, and clients who have changed after doing a little jail time than those who have changed through a wife's "submission." I too have seen people change when faced with the loss of their spouse or children. Facing those consequences can be a powerful incentive - which is why I recommend that abused spouses take the step of leaving and seeking protection from law enforcement. Safety for them first, and incentive to change for the abuser.

  9. This is so well done. Few men challenge patriarchy - it is as though it is a women's issue. And since patriarchs think women are inferior to them, small wonder they don't listen. If anything, women finding fault with their system seems to spur them on. Yet another thing they have in common with bullies.

    I think Jesus' message is one of radical equality of all people, cutting across racial, religious and gender lines. One thing that really frustrates me aout patriarchialists is that they act as though a woman who advocates for equal standing is doing something selfish. How in the world is me saying I think my gender should be seen as equal selfish, and a man saying his gender should be seen as superior is reasonable?

    1. It is amusing to see patriarchists tie themselves in knots trying to say that they don't believe women are inferior, just "different" in ways that display a clear believe in their inferiority.

      "Selfish," like its companion words "Godly," and "Biblical" really are used as conversation enders, a trump card in the conversation that protects them from having to actually address the merits of the arguments. Just my experience...

  10. " the same book, Wilson denies that the HIV virus causes AIDS, and advocates that women have unprotected sex with their HIV positive husbands."


    I didn't know this. The rapey stuff was bad enough and now this?!?!?!?!?!

    1. Doug Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving. Pretty much any poisonous, hateful, science-denying, deliberately provocative idea that is out there will be used by him in some way. (BTW, Amazon's "search within the book" feature is awesome.)

  11. Thanks for this concise summary, very well done.