Wife abuse: evangelical feminists' useful lie...

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If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:31,32

(Tim) It's no accident the move to legitimate sodomy experienced its greatest success precisely during the years when AIDS decimated the homosexualist community. From Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, to legislators in Washington D. C., to the National Institutes of Health, there has (quite properly) been a surge of compassion for the sick and dying, but this compassion has provided perfect cover for the entry of same-sex intimacy into the mainstream of public approval.

Why kick a man when he's down? Sensing the political advantage victims possess in our culture, the sodomy lobby's rhetoric has been successful, and wrongheaded compassion has trumped God's Moral Law.

Similarly, compassion for victims of domestic abuse has been a potent weapon in the hands of those opposing God's universal law of father-rule or male headship. Consider this from a 1998 release by Baker Books:

Patriarchal beliefs about marital relationships make women vulnerable to abuse and powerless to protect themselves once abuse occurs....

(P)atriarchal attitudes founded in religious beliefs contribute to the abuse and subjugation of women within marital relationships.... Religious teachings that support the primacy of males... have served not only to keep women silent but also to keep them vulnerable. (footnote 2)

The line of attack is clear: paint a graphic picture of wives suffering at the hands of their husbands, and when the reader's compassion has softened him up, go in for the kill, presenting the Biblical doctrine of father-rule as the real culprit.

But what of men abused by their wives?

The book's title, Healing the Hurting: Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women, makes it clear that women, not men, are the abused. Chapter titles serve to further indoctrinate: "Power, Patriarchy, and Abusive Marriages," "Battered Christian Women," "Christian Men Who Hate Women," "The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages," "The Evangelical Family Is Sacred, But Is It Safe," "Group Work with Evangelical Abused Wives," and "A Theological Analysis of Hierarchalism." So in the chapter titles we have a full outline of the propaganda Baker Book House is here promoting: namely, that women are the victims, men the oppressors, and patriarchy must die.

It's no accident this work is co-edited by Christians for Biblical Equality's (CBE), president emerita, Catherine Clark Kroeger, and James R. Beck, a CBE founding board member. Kroeger and Beck have added a potent weapon to their arsenal as they attack Scripture's teaching on father-rule--namely, the specter of the suffering and death of powerless wives, held submissive and mute by Church leaders clubbing them with Scripture's patriarchal mandates.

Thus, on the next to last page we read:

Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) was the sponsor for the 1994 consultation in which most of these chapters first appeared. CBE is an organization dedicated to pursuing equality in Christ between men and women in the home, the church, and society. We maintain that ridding ourselves of an unnecessary and unbiblical difference between men and women regarding authority will help us attack the abuse of authority that occurs in our churches and homes. We contend that the underpinnings of equality in Christ for both women and men will enable us to attack with effectiveness the problem of abuse against women. (footnote 2)

Some time back, on (what was then) CBMW's Internet Discussion List, (footnote 3) Bill Mouser (footnote 4) called the accusation that patriarchy causes abuse an egalitarian "slander." This slander is useful, though, at a time when the Church has become a community of experience and emotion, rather than faith. Cloying sentimentality masquerades as compassion, making it easy to initiate a jihad against wife abuse and its purportedly exclusively male perpetrators. Conferences, sermons filled with revisionist exegesis, full page ads in Christianity Today, articles in scholarly journals--whatever it takes to end the violence is justified.

It's hard to tell, though, whether the goal is to stop domestic abuse, or to lead a paradigm-shift from patriarchy to egalitarianism among the People of God. One hint may be this quote by well-connected feminist scholar, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, on the back cover of Healing the Hurting:

This is ...a vital resource at a time when biblical equality is under siege in certain quarters.

Consider, for a moment, the implications of Van Leeuwen's statement. If certain parts of the evangelical subculture are hesitant to join this holy war against patriarchy--say, for instance, Paige Patterson and his cohorts in the Southern Baptist Convention--then rally round and let us issue another volume in this smear campaign against those who believe that God's Word teaches father-rule. Keep lobbing this shell into their front lines, reminding the Church of the justice of our cause as we set about tearing down the exegetical framework of Proverbs 31, Ephesians 5, 1Timothy 2, and 1Peter 3 upon which all Christian homes have been built from the days of the Apostles on. Compassion is on our side and we shall not be denied. "Healing the hurting" requires "biblical equality;" and "at a time when biblical equality is under siege," another book on wife abuse will prove "a vital resource."

About this time, one is reminded of Emerson's rule, "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." We might paraphrase, "The louder he talked of his compassion..."

Feminists who use suffering wives as a tool to attack father-rule avoid the inconvenient fact that the violence and victims literature fails to corroborate their world view. Rather, it contradicts them and demonstrates that, once more, social revolutionaries have found a useful lie.

And as the prime example of such useful lies, consider Bernard Nathanson who was a prominent leader of the movement to legalize abortion in the nineteen sixties and early seventies. Years later, Nathanson repented of his role and published a first-person account of the tactics he and the rest of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) used:

How many deaths (due to back-alley abortions) were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always '5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.' I confess that I knew the figures were totally false... But in the 'morality' of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible (Nathanson's emphasis). (footnote 5)

Evangelical feminist dogma that patriarchy leads to spouse abuse is denied time after time in scholarly studies. After analyzing a number of studies of domestic violence, Canadian psychologist Donald G. Dutton of the University of British Columbia concluded, "no direct relationship exists between patriarchy and wife assault," and that feminists will have to find another explanation of wife abuse. (footnote 6) He wrote "...patriarchy does not elicit violence against women in any direct fashion. Rather, it may provide the values and attitudes that personality-disordered men can exploit to justify their abuse of women. This distinction is an important one...." (footnote 7)

While it is terribly wrong for a Christian husband to justify violence against his wife by appealing to the Biblical doctrine of father-rule, (footnote 8) such self-justification is a far cry from the feminists' claim that this doctrine is the cause of the abuse. Samuel Johnson warned against the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy when he wrote, "It is incident to physicians, I am afraid, beyond all other men, to mistake subsequence for consequence."

But the absence of a causative relationship between patriarchy and spouse abuse is just the tip of the iceberg of problems created for feminists by the growing body of evidence which demonstrates that domestic violence is not intrinsically male. The November 23, 1999 New York Times ran the following headline, "Crackdown on Abusive Spouses, Surprisingly, Nets Many Women." The article began:

Defenders of battered women long struggled to persuade authorities to crack down on brutal men who reigned by the fist at home. But those crackdowns have produced an unexpected consequence: in some places, one-quarter or more of arrests for domestic assault are not of men but of women.

Those who are serious about addressing domestic violence must turn away from focusing exclusively on fathers and husbands, and must also consider how best to teach mothers and wives that battering their children and husbands is no way to solve their emotional problems, and that it dishonors God.

Think about the implications of the above statement for the debate in the Church concerning father-rule. What would happen if every time the stalking-horse of wife abuse were raised in this debate, complementarians responded by condemning it, but also by pointing out that mothers kill more children than fathers, that there is no causative link between patriarchy and abuse, and that while the abuse of husbands against wives is decreasing, that of wives against husbands is rapidly increasing? This would lead to a radical change in the terms of the debate--a change long overdue.

With the stalking-horse dead, Church leaders would be free to discuss pastoral approaches to domestic violence without their discussions having to be carried out in a polemicised environment. To that end, here are a few observations.

It's my own practice to handle abuse in the board of elders; when it's physical abuse, I believe elders ought to direct the victim to file charges and have the civil authority act, since God gave the king the sword precisely for this purpose. (footnote 9) Where the abuse is emotional or psychological, deep involvement in the marriage and home on the part of pastors, elders, older women, and deacons is necessary. If significant progress is not made, church discipline ought to be implemented.

Care needs to be taken not to look to the victim for permission to proceed with the discipline, whether that discipline is ecclesiastical or judicial. Rather, this burden ought to be carried by the elders.

For instance, in one case in which I was pastorally involved, the elders required the victim (in this particular case, a woman) to file charges against her husband. When the case went to court, the elders and pastor were present demonstrating their support for the victim and her children. What a relief to all concerned this was, seeing these men standing there in solidarity with the wife.

Faced with this monolithic and deeply compassionate authority opposing his sin and protecting his wife, the husband was broken and, without mincing words, confessed his sin to the judge and told him he would submit to whatever sentence the court decreed. This made quite an impression on the court!

Over the course of twenty-four years of pastoral work, my experience with domestic violence leads me to a few anecdotal observations:

  • Women are more inclined than men to use violence to solve domestic quarrels.
  • Men do their best to conceal their wife's violence.
  • Men are ashamed to admit they are victims, whether of sodomite abuse when they are young, or of violence at the hands of their mothers, girlfriends, and wives.

For a few years early in our married life, my wife and I lived with our baby daughter in federally subsidized housing in Madison, Wisconsin. Guns, alcohol, drugs, and violence were constants there and several times I had to intervene in fights outside my apartment. Once a besotted man was being beaten to a pulp by another man entirely in control of his faculties. Another time a husband was being beaten by his wife. Both episodes had this in common, neither victim was putting up a fight--one, because of his drunken stupor; the other, because of his sense of honor.

The second man had blood pouring out of a deep head wound, but his wife carried on with her work, swinging her purse as a sledgehammer against her husband's head while he tried in vain to deflect the blows. The wife was heavy and muscular, livid with rage, and each blow seemed only to intensify her fury.

What harm can a purse do?

This purse contained a large, heavy, steel revolver.

Despite his real danger and public humiliation, the husband would not hit back; he didn't try to trip his wife, grab her, hit her, wrestle her to the ground, or even yank the purse out of her hand. Nor did he flee--real men don't run away.

A couple observations. First, I'm sure the husband didn't go to a safe house that night--who's ever heard of a battered men's shelter? Second, I doubt anyone took a picture of his head and kept that picture to remind Christians of the horror of husband abuse. Third, since the poor man took his licking in public, I'd guess the story was told all over the complex that night, to the great amusement of all.

Domestic violence is tragic enough, without it being used as a weapon in the arsenal of egalitarians. Men and boys suffering at the hands of women must be abandoned no longer--do they not, also, have a proper claim to the compassion and protection of the Household of Faith?

Finally, who is willing to speak up for God? It is He Who has decreed, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve."( footnote 10) To lay the blame for domestic abuse at the door of patriarchy, then, is to slander the Lord of Hosts.

* * *

Footnote 1: Beck and Kroeger, eds., Healing the Hurting: Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), pp. 16, 17, and passim.
Footnote 2: Ibid., pp. 236,237.
Footnote 3: To read or subscribe to what used to be CBMW's Discussion List, but now is titled the Complementarian Christian Coalition, sign up here.
Footnote 4: Mouser is Director of the International Council for Gender Studies: 308 North Monroe, Waxahachie, TX 75165; (972) 937-2566.
Footnote 5: B. Nathanson, Aborting America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1979, p.193.
Footnote 6: D. G. Dutton, "Patriarchy and Wife Assault: The Ecological Fallacy," Violence and Victims 9 (1994): 167-82.
Footnote 7: Ibid., p. 176.
Footnote 8: CBMW adopted a statement on abuse at its November 1994 meeting, which included the following: "We believe that abuse is sin. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is the hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purposes of God. Abuse ought not to be tolerated in the Christian community... In instances where abusers are unrepentant and/or unwilling to make significant steps toward change, we believe that the Christian community must respond with firm discipline of the abuser and advocacy, support and protection of the abused."
Footnote 9: Romans 13:1-6
Footnote 10: 1Timothy 2:12

(This piece was originally posted July 6, 2004.)