by Bob Davidson,
Director USA Family Life Chaplain Training Program
Why Does It
Happen? And How Can It Be Stopped?
Sally reported that she grew up in a well-ordered,
strict Christian home. Her father was very disappointed that she,
his oldest child, was not a boy. He required her to do heavy chores
on the farm.
When Sally was 19 she was raped by a Christian
young man who also came from a very strict home. She became pregnant.
Furious, her father kicked and abused her, and encouraged her siblings
to do likewise. Once he pinched her earlobes with a pair of pliers
because she did not hear him calling her. Her mother tried to shield
her from the abuse, but to no avail.
Sally is now a grown woman with children. She
does not understand how her father, an active Christian and a leader
in the church, could have abused her. Although she attends church,
the memories of her father overshadow any concept of a loving God.
Pam worked in a Christian institution for almost
30 years. During most of those years she was battered by her Christian
husband. She sought help from the church members, but they would
not believe her "stories." She eventually confided in
He encouraged her to stay in the relationship
for "the Lords sake." When she told the story, her
arm was in a cast. Her husband was still abusing her.
Why didnt she leave? She did not want to
bring shame upon her church or be shunned by church members. Having
a very meager retirement income of her own, she does not think that
she could live on her own.
In 1991 the report "Violence Against Women:
A Week in the Life of America" was presented by the majority
staff of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Data collected from
across the nation showed, for the first time ever, the terrifying
extent of violence in homes every single week of the year.
According to police reports, at least 21,000
domestic crimes against women took place every week. Nearly 20 percent
of all aggravated assaults occured in the home. Overall a total
of 1.1 million assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, and rapes
against women were reported to the police in 1991. Unreported crimes
may be more than three times that number.
While male battering exists, approximately 95
to 99 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women. Because
men are stronger than most women, they can inflict a great deal
more harm. And until quite recently, the law has always been on
their side. Old English law permitted husbands as head of the household
to "discipline" their wives with sticks no broader than
their thumbs (the Rule of Thumb). While laws and religious beliefs
have changed, old attitudes and myths remain. Over half the women
killed in Canada are murdered by their husbands, or boyfriends.
Children often suffer in the cross fire of violence
between their parents. A major study of more than 900 children at
battered womens shelters found that close to 70 percent of
the children were victims of physical abuse or neglect. The male
batter most often abused the children. In about one quarter of the
cases both parents abused the children. Only in a few instances
did the mother alone abuse the children.
One study asserts that "wife beating results
in more injuries than require medical treatment than rape, auto
accidents, and muggings combined. Each year more than 1,000 women
(or about four women per day) are killed by their husbands or partners.
Wife abuse can take many forms. Physical abuse
(assault, including sexual assault) is obvious. Many women also
suffer emotional and psychological abuse that is just as devastating
and terrifying. Abuse can be found in any home, any income or eduational
level, any culture or age group.
We Are Not Exempt:
Unfortunately, Christian and spirit filled homes
are not exempt. Many abusers do not think it wrong to "coerce
them into submission." But Christian homes must address abuse
for what it is: a crime, a sin. No Christian principle and no correct
exegesis of Scripture condones abuse.
Many well-meaning people tell abused women to
turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), for "as the church is subject
unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in everything"
(Eph. 5:24). They urge these women to "do good to them that
hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you" (Matt.
An abuse women reasons, "If the abuse continues,
does this mean God is not hearing my prayers? Is something wrong
with me because I cant endure? Am I a good Christian? Jew?
Of God: Some Christians stay in abusive
relationships fearing that they will incure the wrath of God "break
the marriage covenant" by leaving. They don't want to be "lost".
Although they may be in danger of losing their lives, they feel
they must be prepared to die at the hands of their husbands, and
hope this "sacrifice" will be accepted by God.
Other victims see God as a stern judge who seeks
retribution for their sins and as a controlling Father who expects
total obedience. Unconsciously they place responsibility for their
abuse on God, not the abuser. This allows them to forgive perpetrators
"seventy times seven".
Of themselves: Some victims blame themselves
for the abuse. They feel they must be doing something wrong for
which they deserve punishment. When we offer counsel to abused women
(or men) and children, it is imperative that positive, correct views
of marriage be clarified. A truly Christian marriage means a mutual
respect and mutual giving that recognize the full equality of husband
Why Do Men Batter?
Physical dominance. One reason men batter
is because they can. By battering they maintain power and control
in a relationship. They also batter because their abuse is not confronted
clearly as "violence against women".
Status: Historically a man has been viewed as "the breadwinner,"
"the king of the castle," and "the head of the home."
Some men derive prestige, power, and status from ordering their
homes according to their will.
Negative views of women. "Through history man, through pride,
ignorance, or moral perversion, has treated woman as being greatly
inferior. " Women have been required to "learn in silence
with all subjection" (1 Tim. 2:11), not only in society but
also in church (1 Cor. 14:34). They have been told to "reverence"
their husbands (Eph. 5:33). When these texts are used by a man who
seeks dominance over a woman or his children, abuse is likely to
Cultural influences. Traditional gender
roles and stereotypes contribute to domestic violence.
Lack of accountability. Men batter because they are rarely held
accountable for abuse. When questions do arise, batterers excuse
their actions by shifting the blame with comments like "I needed
to teach her a lesson." When people sympathize with him, the
door is open for justifying the abuse.
Additional reasons. Battering also occurs
because laws to protect victims are not well enforced, resources
to help victims are scanty, and many service providers do not understand
the dynamics of domestic violence. Also in most cultures there is
a subtle dehumanization of women: men tend to see females as objects
created for their pleasures. Many Churches and other institutions
tend not to view physical violence toward women a criminal act.
Not all abusers necessarily come from abusive families. In one batterer's
program, for example, it was found that 30 percent of participants
came from non-violent homes. But witnessing domestic violence as
a child has been identified as one of the most common risk factors
for becoming a batter in adulthood.
Tensions build as the man attacks his partner
verbally, she tries to placate him. When the tension becomes unbearable,
physical violence erupts. After the beating, the tension eases as
every partner tries to please the other. The man often appears very
loving and attentive, buying her gifts, promising it will never
happen again. At the time he means it.
For the women it feels good to be loved and needed
so intensely. Now she feels responsible for making him feel better,
for making the relationship work. So she denies or minimizes the
incident: "It could be worse." She blames herself for
provoking it: "If only I were a better wife." She finds
excuses for him: "Hes unhappy at work. Hes not
himself when he drinks. The kids get on his nerves."
But its NOT her fault and there is not
excuse for spouse assault. What is particularly disturbing is the
fact that the longer the abuse goes on, the worse it gets. The honeymoon
period gets shorter. The beatings become more frequent, more severe.
There comes a point when a battered women is in danger of her life.
Lenore Walker in "The Battered Woman,"
1979 gives the following diagram:
Why Don't Women Leave?
The question is asked again and again: "Why
don't battered women leave? A better question to ask is "Why
do women stay?"
To avoid more violence. A battered woman
is afraid to leave because this often triggers more violence.
Research indicates that a woman who leaves the abuser is at 75 percent
greater risk of being killed by her barterer that a woman who stays.
The barterer may threaten to kill the children and/or other family
members. He may vow to follow her wherever she goes and kill her.
Shame. An abused woman is ashamed to leave.
She is pressured by society, and often by her church, to keep the
family together "at all costs."
Lack of support. Victims frequently do
not feel supported or understood because nobody believes them: "You
must be exaggerating." "You were asking for it."
"Anyway, it cant be all that bad". It can be very
bad. And it can happen to anyone. An abused woman is often isolated.
Her husband may have kept her away from family and friends. She
is often financially dependent on her abuser.
Love. Though battered, a woman may genuinely
love her husband. She says, hoping that a magic moment will arrive
when he will change.
Fear of sinning. Victims who are Christians
fear that by leaving they do "something wrong."
How To Get Help
Families caught in domestic violence need to
seek help from professionals who are knowledgeable about the dynamics
of domestic violence.
Steps for victims. Even if a domestic
violence incident occurs only once, do not minimize the action.
The likelihood of violence occurring again is extremely high.
First, an abused woman should find safety
for herself and her children. Phone 911 when an incident occurs,
or contact the Crisis Line at 503-469-8620 for counseling and referral.
Second, she and the children need counseling.
She should be open to grow in self-esteem, self-development, and
Third, she needs to understand that she
is not responsible for the abuser's actions. No matter how she changes
her actions or tries to please him, he will not change until he
wants to change.
Fourth, she must recognize that she does
not deserve to be abused. She is made in God's image and is worthy
of respect and honor.
Steps for abusers. The abuser must also
be open to counseling. He or she must be willing to explore the
issues that trigger an abusive response. Abusers must admit that
they are solely responsible for their actions and are the only ones
who can change this behavior. They must be willing to learn new
ways to deal with feelings of anger and resentment.
Abusers must recognize that abusive behavior
is criminal and subject to discipline. Abusive behavior is learned
and can be unlearned.
Our Responsibility to Stop Abuse
We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand
and hope that domestic violence will go away. Abuse is stopped only
All abusers, no matter how prominent or powerful,
no matter how wealthy or highly educated, must be held accountable.
We must work together to help victims and perpetrators find safety
and healing from these abusive relationships. In so doing we will
be fulfilling our mission: "to make ready a people prepared
for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).
Does domestic violence exist in Christian homes?
Yes. But with God's help and skilled intervention, abuse can be
stopped. We can live abundant lives.