Second Class Citizens: How the Church Contributes to Domestic Violence

 “One reason that men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband's God-given authority.” Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY[1]

Whether a husband holds “God given authority” over his spouse is open to question, but the results of spousal abuse and domestic violence are not. Nearly one out of three American families experiences some degree of domestic violence with battery within American homes inflicting more damage on American women than rapes and muggings combined.[2] New figures show that domestic violence is the single major cause of injury to women with almost 4 in 10 ending seeking professional medical treatment.[3] Making matters even worse is that 4 of 10 female victims lived in households with children under age 12 and 70% of the men who batter their wives physically or sexually also abuse their children.[4]

A glance at any police blotter in the country reveals that domestic violence remains a staple for 911 calls and they often are the most dangerous. Police officers often find themselves caught in the middle of murderous violence. In domestic violence cases, women are more than 75% of the victims in more than 2,400 murders attributable to intimate partners. The percentage of female murder victims killed during domestic violence has remained steady at 30 percent since 1993, shows how little its importance.

Religion’s Role

Under the most liberal interpretation, treatment of women in the Bible is at best atrocious and if read word for word, the status of females crashes on the rocks of misogyny. Scattered throughout the Bible are references to treating one’s wife well, but the instances are so few they appear as nothing more than afterthoughts.

Over the years, the Christian Bible kept women from owning property, going to universities, voting and from ordained. Subjugation of women plays a key role in many evangelical excesses. Traditional gender role attitudes based on patriarchy helps explain the intervening variable linking Fundamentalism to spousal violence.[5] “The probability of wife abuse increases with the rigidity of a church's teachings, especially teachings pertaining to gender roles and hierarchy."[6] A large study of the Christian Reformed Church discovered the frequency of physical and sexual abuse in this evangelical denomination was about the same as in the general population.[7]

Mistreating women under religious doctrine caused former President, Jimmy Carter, to speak out against religion inspired mistreatment of women. In a statement denouncing the global mistreatment of women based on religious texts and doctrines, the former president said,

“This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted...ted from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. The male interpretation of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.”

Jocelyn Andersen, author of “Woman Submit! Christians and Domestic Violence,” suffered a severe beating by her assistant pastor husband. She argues that submission teachings do not create abusers, but allows violent men to justify their abuse as biblical. The real danger, though, is in how the teachings impact devout women, who may assume they cannot leave their marriages and remain committed Christians. Many churches “inadvertently become enlisted into the agenda of abusers” by promoting reconciliation between victims and unreformed abusers. The FBI estimates that husbands or boyfriends batter a woman in the United States every 15 seconds.

An issue of “Christianity Today” cites the book “Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home” by James and Phyllis Alsdurf, whose research suggests the level fundamentalism has a strong correlation with wife abuse." Fundamentalism often hampers the process of helping battered women,” according to Vicky Whipple in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.[8]

James Dobson argued in his marital therapy book, “Love Must Be Tough,” that abused women should not divorce but separate and try to change their husbands’ behavior. He also warned against women who bait men into abuse to gain the “prize” of bruises to display. In 2007, popular Pentecostal televangelist Juanita Bynum suffered a severe beating by her estranged pastor husband, Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, during an attempted reconciliation meeting at an Atlanta hotel. Bynum made domestic violence a priority of her ministry after the attack and received condemnation as “an angry, out-of-control woman” by conservative radio preacher Jesse Lee Peterson.

In the United States, women account for almost two-thirds of intimate partner violence victims and about half of that abuse occurs in the  victim's home. The majority (73%) of family violence victims were female. Females were 84% of spouse abuse victims and 86% of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend.[9] Husbands, boyfriends or other intimate partners physically harm more than 4 million women each year in the United States. Sadly, nearly 60% of battered women endured beatings while they were pregnant and many times hit in the stomach.

The U.S. Department of Justice found that women are far more likely victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners than men, especially involving a weapon. Women are much more likely to fall victim at home than in any other place.[10] More than 4 in every 10 incidents of intimate partner violence involve nonmarried people.[11] One in five or 20% of dating couples report some violence in their relationship. One of five college females will experience some form of dating violence. A survey of 500 young women, ages 15 to 24, found 60% involved in a continuing abusive relationship and all participants had experienced violence while dating.[12]

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, not only hurts the women abused but also affects their overall health, their ability to earn a living, as well as their children.[13] Each year, more than 2 million children are the target of beatings by a family member.[14]

It Gets Worse

In domestic violence cases, women are more than 75% of the victims in more than 2,400 murders attributable to intimate partners. Yet, the percentage of female murder victims killed during domestic violence stays steady at 30% since 1993.

 In 1995, 7% of all murder victims were young women killed by their boyfriends. In 2007, there were 1,865 females murdered by males in single victim or single offender incidents filed with the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Findings from the report, dispel many of the myths about the nature of lethal violence against women. For instance, with identification of the relation of victim to the offender, 91% of female victims (1,587 out of 1,743) died at the hands of someone they knew.

The murder rated showed that 10 times as many females killed by a male they knew (1,587 victims) than killed by male strangers (156 victims). Of those victims that knew their offenders, wives or intimate acquaintances made up 62% (990) of female homicide victims.[15] Young women ages 16 to 24 are at the greatest risk for injury and death at the hands of intimate partners compared with women in all other age groups.[16] The FBI estimates that husbands or boyfriends batter a woman in the United States every 15 seconds.

Younger and Younger

The recent attempt by the Republican Party to insert “forcible” into the exceptions for federally funded abortions reflects the deep-seated devaluing of women as people and considering the Evangelical Right’s connection with the GOP, even though the word is no longer a part of the bill, their influence is clear.

More than 4 in every 10 incidents of domestic violence involves nonmarried people according to a Bureau of Justice Special Report: “Intimate Partner Violence” in May of 2000. About one in three high school students report involvement in an abusive relationship. Forty percent of teenage girls aged 14 to 17 say they know someone their age whose boyfriend hit or beat them. In one study, from 30 to 50% of female high school students reported experiencing teen dating violence. Teen dating violence most often takes place in the home of one of the partners.

One in five or 20% of dating couples report some violence in their relationship. One of five college females will experience some form of dating violence. A survey of 500 young women, ages 15 to 24, found 60% currently involved in a continuing abusive relationship and all participants experienced violence in a dating relationship at some time.

Girls experience violence on the streets, in their schools, and at home. The statistics are staggering. More than half of all rapes of women occur before age 18.[17] One study found that 38% of date rape victims were young women from 14 to 17 years old. A survey of adolescent and college students revealed date rape accounted for 67% of sexual assaults. More than half of young women raped (68 percent) knew their rapist either as a boyfriend, friend or casual acquaintance. Six out of 10 rapes of young women occur in their own home or a friend or relative's home, not in a dark alley.

Domestic violence does not only happen to adults. Forty percent of girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend, and approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.—Dianne Feinstein



[1] Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives' Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands, Bob Allen, EthicsDaily.com, June 27, 2008, http://ethicsdaily.com/print_popup.cfm?AID=10675

[2] Battered Women's Shelter, Peace Begins at Home, Battered Women's Statistics for the United States, http://www.rfcram.com/bwsstatistics.htm

[3] Intimate Partner Violence, Callie Marie Rennison and Sarah Welchans, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of JusticeStatistics, July 14, 2000

[4] Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives' Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands, Bob Allen, EthicsDaily.com, June 27, 2008, http://ethicsdaily.com/print_popup.cfm?AID=10675

[5] Patriarchy and Punitiveness: Spouse abuse and Protestant Fundamentalism, Rhonda Marie Fisher, January 1, 1998, http://proquest.umi.com/pqdlink?did=733056861&Fmt=7&clientId =79356&RQT=309&VName=PQD

[6] Battered Women's Shelter, Peace Begins at Home, Battered Women's Statistics for the United States, http://www.rfcram.com/bwsstatistics.htm

[7] The Evangelical Scandal, Stan Guthrie, Christianity Today Magazine, 4/13/2005

[8] Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome: Christian Women and Domestic Violence, Kathryn Joyce, Religion Dispatches, February 2, 2009, http://www.alternet.org/story/124174/

[9] Matthew R. Durose et al, Family Violence Statistics, Including Statistics on Strangers and Acquaintances, Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2005

[10] Females Murdered by Males in Single Victim/Single Offender Incidents, 2007 Homicide Data, September 2009, Pg. 1

[11] Religion In The News, Church, Lies, and Polling Data, Andrew Walsh, Fall 1998, Vol. 1, No. 2, http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/RIN percent20Vol.1No.2/Church_lies_polling.htm

[12] Intimate Partner Violence, Callie Marie Rennison and Sarah Welchans, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 14, 2000

[13] Janet M. Torpy, Intimate Partner Violence, JAMA Patient Page, The Journal of the American Medical Association, August 13, 2008—Vol 300, No. 6, http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/300/6/754

[14] Battered Women's Shelter, Peace Begins at Home, Battered Women's Statistics for the United States, http://www.rfcram.com/bwsstatistics.htm

[15] Females Murdered by Males in Single Victim/Single Offender Incidents, 2007 Homicide Data, September 2009, Pg. 3

[16] Rennison, C., & Welchans, S. (2000). Intimate partner violence. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics

[17] Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice

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Comment by Joan Denoo on July 30, 2017 at 12:49am

Donald and Kathy, you recognize the patterns and consequences to countless women. Both of you articulate clearly so that anyone can see the manipulation, except the woman who may never recognize how the exploitation works, or the general public who wonders why the woman doesn't leave. 

When I left my battering husband it was because he broke some bones of one of the children. I knew I had no choice but to leave. I had no support from the police, the minister, the congregation, and the community in which we lived. He was a well respected dentist and no one took me seriously. When I had to leave, I had no education, no work history, no money except what the judge ordered for the children until they were 18. All three of my children were ten years old when I left him. As my old friends on A/N know, we adopted a son and our twins were born five-and-a-half months later. 

I bought an old condemned house for the price of the land, and had a very small mortgage payment. We lived in a tent for five months until our cats got rid of all the mice living in the house's walls. We dug up the back yard and planted cabbages and potatoes and that got us through the first winter. 

I went to a local Mom & Pop store and talked to them about what I was doing and why. I was able to feed the children the cabbages and potatoes, but I had no money for protein or dairy. They agreed to sell me a box a week for $1.00 if I was willing to scavange in their back room in the outdated merchandise. That went on for two years until I finally found me a job that paid enough for these food items. I shopped at that store for the following 40 years paying for everything. I am eternally grateful to them for their support and kindness. 

My story is no different than hundreds, if not thousands, of other battered women. I am not at all unusual. 

By the way, both of my grandmothers and my mother were battered women who never left. 

The cycle of family violence is broken; my daughter and two granddaghters have never been hit and their husband and partners tell me they will never physically or emotionally hurt them. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 30, 2017 at 12:13am
Joan-That is despicable no matter how it's painted. I'd completely forgotten how the women had been set up by the controlling spouse or boyfriend and it comes as a great surprise. Preachers of the James Fobson ill should be charged as an accessory. The church is probably the worst place a woman might go. She needs support, healing, trading and most of all a safe place.
Comment by kathy: ky on July 29, 2017 at 11:42pm
Donald, you wonder why women stay? There are multiple answers to that. I worked with battered women in a shelter while I was majoring in psychology/sociology. Probably the number one reason is women don't want to uproot their children and themselves. Fear of the unknown keeps a lot of people inert. Where would they go? How would they make a living? I've heard many people say that they would walk away the first time but it's a multi layered problem. It's not a sudden assualt. Men who abuse have groomed their victims. They usually start by overwhelming the woman with attention, gifts, flowers and flattery. She's the woman who completes them. The constant phone calls and need to know where she is every second is because he loves her and is concerned about her well being. He can't bear to go all day without telling her how much he loves her. When the first slap or shove comes she's stunned. He cries, begs for her forgiveness, sends more gifts. Swears on his mother's life it will never happen again. Unless she gets out right then it becomes a vicious pattern. And the violence escalates. It's a process. Many women will leave several times but you know it continues until she's dead or he's in jail. It's similar to being brain washed. Women don't know what's coming or they would run the first time it happened and never look back. A normal, well adjusted man doesn't understand the mind of the abuser or the abused. We've all heard people, usually men, say 'she must like it or she would leave'. That remark shows what the abused woman is facing. And the ignorance of society about abusive relationships.
I spent a week with my uncle and his family when I was about fourteen. They were an upper middle class family. Well educated, good paying jobs, four children, regular church attendees, regular fucking pillars of society. Ray would start beating on Lynn and as soon as she said she was leaving Ray would call the preacher in to talk to her. That fucking preach was always there within minutes. Telling Lynn she had to think of the children. Reminding her of her wedding vows. The prick never said a word to Ray about his responsibilities. I was only there seven days and it happened three times. They had been married twenty years by then. After almost forty years of marriage she finally did divorce him. I blame the preacher almost as much as Ray. That's what religion does. Turns women into nothing but the property of their husbands.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 29, 2017 at 11:17pm
Joan--I'm sure we would have friends in person although you might have found my eccentricied a bit off the track but they say that is way it is for artists such as writers, musicians, photographers and painters of which I do all. However, I am also a person that cherishes friendships in any form. There are several people I talk with offline on messenger. Nice easy.
Comment by Joan Denoo on July 29, 2017 at 10:55pm

I am very glad to have you as a friend and know there is a tract record of what I was trying to write but had too much emotion to do it rationally. All my "first draft" ended in the fire. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 29, 2017 at 10:41pm
Forty years ago I was a reporter. I also did my own photography. But, I had just started honing my researching skills. I was working on an advanced degree at the same time and just learning how to research.
Comment by Joan Denoo on July 29, 2017 at 10:37pm

Thank you, Donald, I posted it in two parts, the body of the essay and the reference page. 

You write very powerfully, clearly, with no holds barred. I wish I had known you 40 years ago when I started trying to write about my experience. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 29, 2017 at 9:59pm
I agree. The God of Christianity needs no help when it comes to being cruel.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on July 29, 2017 at 9:03pm
Joan--please feel free to repost it. It is a subject that really gets under my skin as it should every person. This is not normal behavior and such instigators should be held up to public castigation and ridicule. Use it. Please!
Comment by Compelledunbeliever on July 29, 2017 at 8:26pm

 Ooh I get it now, religion is great! The lesson here is your woman doesn't believe simply beat it into her. And she better like it cuz your showing her gods love. I can't see why everyone doesn't want religion.  This is what "God's Morality" looks like. It's one thing if stupid people hurt each other it's simply Devine when God endorses it.

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