In an article in The Conversation yesterday, Vicki Lowik (a PhD candidate at Central Queensland University) and Annabel Taylor (an associate professor CQU) made the fantastical claim that ‘conservative Christian churches both enable and conceal domestic violence’. In other words, the authors contend that the church is not just failing to sufficiently address domestic violence, it is both enabling and concealing it.
No details of surveys are given in order to substantiate such a claim. There are only inconclusive references to a couple of surveys that are based on poor research methodology, unrepresentative research, and limited sampling.
For instance, they make a big issue of isolated cases and then refer to an obscure survey of churchgoers in Cumbria, England, where apparently one in four female respondents may have experienced at least one instance of ‘abusive behaviour’ by their male partners. Such research is restricted to churchgoers in that specific non-metropolitan county in North West England.
What about the incidence of the same ‘abusive behaviour’ in the general community? No comparison to the general public is made.
Interestingly enough, these academics are the first to confess that ‘the effect of evangelical Christianity on women’s vulnerability to domestic violence is yet to be measured through a comprehensive survey in Australia’.
Here we encounter a militant anti-Christian bias by two feminist academics who claim that evangelical Christians’ views of sex roles leads to justification of men’s mistreatment of their female partners. They make such an outlandish charge entirely oblivious to the immense body of research that completely contradicts them.
Emeritus Professor Rodney Stark, a well-known sociologist of religion and the author of numerous academic books, informs:
Not only is there not support for claims that religious husbands, especially of the Evangelical Protestant variety, are more likely to abuse their wives, there is solid evidence that they are better, more living husbands. A very strong religious effect persists even after controls for alcohol and substance abuse. That is, religious men are not less like to abuse their wives only because they are far less likely to be under the influence of liquor and drugs, but because of religious influences per se.
The U.S. National Health and Social Life Survey conducted personal interviews with a national sample of 3,432 American couples. The survey is remarkable for the care that went on this and the finds were compelling. Conservative Christian women, according to the survey, report having sex more often than any other group, while those without religion were next to lowest in their frequency of sex.
These Christian women were far more likely to “always” have an orgasm during sex with their husbands, while those without a religious affiliation were by far the least likely to do so. They were also the group most likely to say they were “extremely” physically satisfied with their sex lives; the irreligious women were least likely to give that answer.
Subsequent to the publication of these findings, many other studies produced a comprehensive analysis of the emotional satisfaction of women with their Christian husbands.
Marriage is held to be a sacred ceremony in many churches. That being so, writes Professor Stark, Christian couples ‘come into marriage with a substantially stronger tendency toward monogamy’. In addition, ‘having a more traditional views that clearly define sex roles probably reduces the conflict and tension in a marriage’, he says.
Moreover, Stark reminds us that being active in a church surrounds couples with other couples who provide support and set a good example. Indeed, many churches provide free counselling for married couples.
Amidst these denunciations that the Christian religion is inherently patriarchal and sexist, feminist scholars conveniently ignore that the early Church was particularly attractive to women. The first Christian communities were predominately female, not male. Christian women enjoyed far greater equality with men than did their pagan and Jewish counterparts.
This works in line with the Apostle Paul’s commendation of ‘our sister Phoebe’ to the Roman congregation, stating that she was a ‘deaconess of the church of Cenchrea’ (Romans 16:1-2). In 1 Timothy 3:11, Paul refers to women in the role of deacons, and in Corinthians 11:11-12 he talks about the right of women to prophesy, and that they are as essential as men in Christian fellowship.
In elevating the social status of women the early Christians were simply emulating the example of Christ, who had numerous women as friends, followers, and supporters. As noted by U.S. theologian Gary Thomas, ‘Jesus challenged and confronted these attitudes about women, lifting women up and including them in his inner circle of confidantes and supporters’ (See Luke 8-1:3).
Feminist critics unreasonably dismiss these biblical statements. Frequently, feminist critics remain ignorant, or unwilling to recognise, what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning marriage and sex:
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to the husband. For […] the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
This means that Christian husbands are instructed to fulfil their wives’ sexual desires. Naturally, even this fact won’t pacify those who are convinced that Christianity must be an oppressive anti-women religion.
This is particularly so when a feminist mischaracterises the instruction found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything’ (Ephesians 5: 22-24).
Submitting to another person is an often misunderstood concept. For the Christian wife, this means obeying a husband who is behaving in a godly, Christlike manner. For the Christian husband, this means putting aside his selfish desires to care for his wife’s well-being. And so Paul adds this admonition: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her’ (Ephesians 5: 25).
The Apostle is here stating that husbands must sacrifice everything for their wives, and giving away even their own lives if necessary. A Christian husband is obliged to make his wife’s well-being his absolute priority, ‘so husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself’ (Ephesians 5: 28).
The essence of Christian leadership is not personal empowerment, but self-sacrificial love. This essence can be found in Philippians 2, where Paul urges believers to ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2: 3-4).
Paul then increases the demands of self-sacrificial leadership by requesting men to emulate the example of Christ himself, ‘who, being in the very nature God … made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2: 6-7).
That Christ himself often expressed this principle is found in these passages of Scripture:
‘Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’
‘The greatest among you will be your servant’.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
‘Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant’
According to US theologian Timothy Keller, ‘Jesus redefined all authority as servant-authority. Any exercise of power can only be done in service of the other, not to please oneself. Jesus is the one who did not come to be served, as the world’s authority figures expect to be, but to serve, to the point of giving his life’.
In the language of Christianity, a leader has to be the most self-effacing, the most sacrificial, and the most devoted to the good of others. It takes an equal degree of submission for a husband to submit himself to such a sacrificial role in the marriage.
By contrast, the illusion of empowerment by feminist ideology has led to woman’s ultimate unhappiness. The ultimate feminist goal is individual achievement at the expense of all other interpersonal achievements. The expectations of husbands, parents, and children become less important than a person’s “right” to absolute autonomy and self-determination.
What could be more departed from the Christian ideas of “love of the neighbour” and self-sacrifice?
It is therefore no wonder why Christianity is so hated by the feminists. We often encounter in the feminist literature a highly militant anti-Christian bias. As seen above, such feminist scholars even falsely claim that Christian views of sex roles have led to husbands’ mistreatment of their wives.
However, as Professor Stark points out, ‘not only is there no support for claims that Christian husbands, especially those of the Evangelical Protestant variety, are more likely to abuse their wives, there is solid evidence that they are better, more loving husbands’.11
There is no reason therefore to support unsubstantiated claims about evangelical Churches creating fertile ground for domestic violence, its justification and its concealment.
Christianity, to be sure, is certainly not a ‘feminist’ religion. Rather, Christianity offers a worldview that is profoundly departed from the worldview expressed by the authors of this notorious article in The Conversation; though one that is far more attractive to women and which actually works for them and makes them far happier and much more sexually and emotionally fulfilled individuals.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College, Perth. He is also adjunct law professor at The University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus) and President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA).
A fully footnoted version of this article is available by contacting Dr Zimmermann.
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