Last week we considered domestic violence and the belief of some that domestic violence is sanctioned by passages concerning male headship in the Bible. In the ABC’s recent online article about domestic violence and the Christian church, Sydney Archbishop Glenn Davies speaks to the contrary:
“Submission is never coercive, it’s always voluntary, so the wife offers herself in that relationship. It becomes dangerous where in a marriage the husband over-reaches and manipulates the woman … it’s not submission that’s gone wrong, it’s the husband that’s gone wrong.” It is important to understand, he says, that “there is no way in which we countenance domestic violence in any form, be it spiritual, emotional or physical, in our church. We are absolutely opposed to that. It’s not the teaching, it’s the distortion of the teaching which is the problem – I don’t believe teaching the Bible produces violence in domestic situations.”
Sandy Grant continues:
Of course, domestic abuse can occur whether the theory you espouse is ‘traditional’, ‘egalitarian’ or ‘feminist’. But whatever you understand when the Bible talks of ‘submission’ or being the “head in a marriage”, it’s crystal clear that husbands are never told to make their wives submit.
The American pastor John Piper was wrong when he suggested a wife might “endure perhaps being smacked one night”, before seeking help “from the church”. Victims of domestic violence should be encouraged to seek help from the police and others too, and to get to a safe place. The church should support that. It is not disloyal to your spouse to raise concerns about such behaviour with a pastor or trusted friend.
(Editor’s note: Piper later clarified his views at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/clarifying-words-on-wife-abuse Recommended reading)
I’m with my former Moore College Principal and Archbishop, Peter Jensen, when he said that to use the terminology of the Bible or our prayer book marriage vows, “as an excuse to demand slave-like servility, or even to engage in physical and emotional bullying, is to misuse it utterly and no wife should feel spiritually obliged to accept such treatment.”
Hearing harrowing personal stories shows that not all pastors have made this clear. And even when we have, our pastoral practices have not always empowered victims to find their way to help and safety.
I want us to ensure that the good things scripture says about marriage are not easily twisted as a cover for abuse. Our standard is always Christ’s self-giving love for his church, never self-serving. I also want current education on the facts about domestic violence and best practice advice from clinical experts on what helps victims be safe and recover, and perpetrators address their problems. We need input on how to counsel, wisely and realistically.
Jesus said the leadership his followers exercise is about serving others. Never, ever lording it over others. So don’t be defensive. We can learn from others as we join in shining a light on domestic abuse.
Continued from Sydney Morning Herald 4.3.15. Canon Sandy Grant is senior minister at St Michael’s Cathedral, Wollongong.
For further reading: Bishop John Harrower’s article 29.4.04 entitled “A Christian Response to Domestic Violence”, found at http://www.anglicantas.org.au/resources-domesticviolence/
We will revisit the issue of domestic violence from the pulpit in the future.