This post grew out of research I did because of some of the comments on my Manosphere post. I realise the men who do this are unlikely to be reading this blog, but the sad fact is wives (and children) in YOUR church are being abused. The more of us who accept this fact, the better our churches will be at dealing with this great evil. We have a responsibility to the women in our church, and being informed is the first step to living that out. Please share this with Christian leaders.
How common is abuse among churchgoers? Several studies, including those done by Christians, have found wife abuse is just as common among those who attend evangelical churches as the general public. This means abuse happens at least once in 1 in 4 Christian households.
For a better look, consider a study the Methodist church of Canada did in 2000 when it mailed surveys to 1,000 ministers and lay workers. It found more than 1 in 8 of the women had suffered domestic violence at the hands of their husband. Of those, 54% experienced it for up to five years, 21% for 10 or more years, and 9% said the abuse was still going on. Additionally, 19% of all respondents (male and female) said they witnessed domestic violence as children.
The best-case scenario I could find calculated 5% of protestant churchgoing men are currently abusing their wives physically. Keep in mind all of these numbers are based on those willing to admit abuse – in some cases anonymously, in some not. If we assume some who are being abused don’t admit it, the numbers are worse.
Several studies find Christian women less likely to report abuse and women with strong Christian beliefs stay in abusive relationships longer. The silver lining in all of this is the inverse relationship between a man’s church attending frequency and his likelihood of abusing his wife. Men who attend weekly have a much lower rate of wife abuse than those who attend sporadically.
For years, feminists have blamed patriarchy for wife beating. Early poorly done studies seemed to support the idea that being more patriarchal did mean more wife abuse, but recent, better-done studies show something different. Patriarchy is not the cause of wife beating, but it does give wife beaters cover. Men in strongly patriarchal groups are more likely to feel justified in using physical force against their wife, wives are less likely to report abuse, and if abuse is reported to the church the chances of anyone doing anything are lower.
One big problem is most pastors have no idea how common abuse is. Additionally, most pastors lack any training in how to deal with suspected or reported abuse. When 6,000 pastors were asked how they would counsel a woman who came to them about spousal abuse, they gave some shocking answers:
- 26% said they would tell her to submit to her husband no matter what.
- 25% would tell her it was her fault she was beaten – for failing to submit.
- 50% said submitting to some violence was better than getting a divorce.
I urge all of you to read John Shore’s Why Pastors Struggle With Confronting Domestic Violence. Shore shows why we think this can’t be happening in our church, and how abusers can sit next to us without our having a clue. It’ is an eye-opening read.
For pastors, I strongly recommend Pastor Jeff Crippen’s Letter to Fellow Pastors. He starts:
The evil of domestic and sexual abuse is in our midst. By “our,” I mean our conservative, Bible-believing churches. Churches just like the one I have pastored for nearly 20 years now. We are not doing well in confronting the perpetrators nor in effecting justice and kindness for their victims.
None of us learned about this evil in seminary. As a result, we are largely blind to it. Lest you think that you surely would see it if it were in your church, and that for the most part your church is free of it, let me assure you that those very thoughts reveal our blindness. The evil of domestic and sexual abuse either was – is – or is going to be in your church. And even more frightening is the confirmed fact that when it comes to your congregation, you (like me in the past) will not deal with it rightly, if you even see it at all. None of us would like to think that we would ever be an ally of evil against an oppressed victim. Yet this is what will indeed happen in your church and ministry unless you prepare yourself.
Pastor Crippen goes on to discuss the rules their church had, and how they believed these rules were biblical. As various abuses were revealed in their church, he started to study the issue. This resulted in some realisations and changes:
Over time, and by no means at my own doing, we came to realize that we had created an environment in our church that was abuser-friendly. Evil-friendly. We, as leaders, had encouraged our men to lord it over their wives and families rather than loving them. We had created an environment that was unbiblically oppressive to women. Myself and our elders, over some period of time, began to realize this – by the Lord’s mercy in showing us – and we began to make some changes.
Evil men took advantage of well-meaning rules, using them to justify and hide horrible abuse. Is the same happening in your church?
Most of the stats I gave here can be found in one or more of the following articles:
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