Flat White

Faith, family, violence and the ABC’s smears

3 August 2017

7:27 AM

3 August 2017

7:27 AM

I grew up in a family that was, as they say, less than ideal. Not only was it a long way from what you might call a “happy home” but looking back on it now I would say that it was characterized by domestic abuse with, significantly, my mother being the chief perpetrator. How my dad remained in such a dysfunctional marriage and abusive situation remains something of a mystery to me, but I am profoundly grateful that he did. His example has been a powerful example to me over the years about what it means to persevere when things are difficult – in life, in work and especially in my own marriage (although thankfully my own wife is nothing like my mum).

Years later I am now the pastor of a conservative evangelical Protestant church. It’s exactly what Julia Baird says is part of a patriarchal system that “enables and conceals” domestic violence. Apparently, because the Bible instructs Christian wives to “submit” to their husbands, and prescribes male leadership in churches (the theological term is “complementarianism,” as opposed to “egalitarianism”), pastors like me then go and tell Christian women in their congregations to “endure domestic violence in the name of God.” It’s a new angle to a theological position Baird has been arguing against for decades. Personally, I find that idea repulsive, and the accusation that it is a frequent or logical outcome of my beliefs, utterly offensive. In a recent opinion piece, University of Virginia professor W. Bradford Wilcox (the sociologist on whose research Baird’s article was based) wrote that her entire article was “illogical, unfair, and quite possibly inaccurate.” I agree, and let me explain why…

I have devoted my entire life to caring for other people. My goal is to see men and women flourish in their relationship with God and in their relationships with each other. People like me are often on the front line of dealing with marital problems when they arise, and it’s a part of the job I find devastating and distressing. In almost 20 years of Christian ministry, I have counselled many couples and individuals, including women in physically abusive and dangerous situations, and I have never suggested they stay there. I have never heard of a colleague suggesting they remain. In fact, I have encouraged them to leave!

What’s more, especially when it comes to working with children, all Churches in Australia have now gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the protection of vulnerable people so that the tragedies of the past are not repeated. To suggest then that complementarian denominations such as my own, and complementarian pastors such as me, are complicit in fostering, facilitating, or covering up domestic violence is inaccurate and irresponsible.


Since Baird’s article and the subsequent piece on 7:30, I have followed up on all the academic sources that she references. It really wasn’t that hard since there was only one. However, in that sole reference, a footnote led me to a number of other works. Andrew Bolt and the ABC’s own Media Watch have already shown how they actually refute her claim rather than prove it. The most significant piece of sociological research on the issue though is Wilcox’s Soft Patriarchs, New Men. After analysing all of the data he concludes as follows:

These findings paint a striking picture…Contrary to the assertions of feminists, many family scholars, and public critics, these men cannot be fairly described as “abusive” and “authoritarian” family men wedded to “stereotypical forms of masculinity.” They outpace mainline Protestant [egalitarian] and unaffiliated family men in their emotional and practical dedication to their children and wives and in their commitment to familism [a family-centred spirituality], and they are the least likely to physically abuse their wives.

Initially, Baird’s article stated that regular churchgoing men who identified as being conservative Protestant evangelical were “slightly less likely” to beat their wives. I noticed that this was quickly edited to read simply “less likely.” The truth of the matter is, though, that they are the “least” likely of all men to commit domestic violence.

But Wilcox goes even further. He actually concludes that this exact same subgroup of complementarian men will spend more time with their children, initiate greater verbal and physical signs of affection towards them, initiate and engage in more social interaction with their wives, and that their wives indicate the highest levels of emotional satisfaction in their marriage than any other group. This destroys the feminist narrative that what Baird calls “patriarchy” is responsible for violence against women. In fact, research shows it to be the best for women.

In her recent and provocative documentary, The Red Pill, film-maker Cassie Jaye tells her viewers that, at the end of the day, we all have the same choice as Neo did in the Matrix: to swallow either the red pill or the blue. The red one opens our eyes to an uncomfortable and dangerous reality in which we realise that behind all the virtue signalling, not everything is at it really seems. The blue pill, which Baird holds out, affirms our prejudices, supports our agendas and leaves us dangerously fast asleep.

When one wakes up to the “matrix” that feminism has created you realise that rather than enabling and concealing domestic violence Christian churches have proven to provide the most effective places of safety and sanctuary in the whole of society.

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield. 

Cartoon: Ben R Davis.

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