Friday, October 31, 2008

Do We Need Churches to Tell us How to Vote?

I wrote this eight years ago, during the presidential campaign that brought "Dub-yah" to power. I've changed some over the past few years, and I certainly would write some parts of it very differently now (bearing in mind the original audience though, I'm not really sure what I would change), but I think the original premise still stands. I offer it today, since I fear "electioneering from the pulpit" will be rampant this weekend!

We Christians are in danger of being co-opted by worldly power, or let us say, an illusion of power. What we need is perspective that we might not confuse the Kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world. All the good that human political systems can create is only a distant echo of the platform of Jesus. In our rightful concern for the world, we are tempted to believe political agendas can somehow undo problems rooted in humanity’s self-centered, fallen nature. Christians must to be guided by faith when it comes to the ballot box while bearing in mind the limitations of all human institutions.

Let’s be clear, Christians do differ on things of great importance. At the same time, let us recognize that one of the greatest problems facing the Church is the idea that “values diversity” should be the guiding principle of Community of the Faithful. A “values diversity” theology is notably absent in the apostolic history of the Church. For the vast majority of her history, the Church has sensed that there is a “way which seems right to humans, but that way ends in death.” Relegating Christian ethics to the category of mere opinion is sure to lead us all somewhere we don’t want to go. If all the church has to offer is advice, what sets her apart from a good self-help book?

The Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was established to serve as a voice for God. If I understand the New Testament correctly, diversity in the Church is certain and acceptable. Yet, that hardly means that we are to construct an individual theology without reference to our sisters and brothers. The same apostle who defends diversity and freedom of thought also gives clear ethical and theological guidance for his day and our day as well. Say what we will, one would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that historic orthodox Christianity in any fashion held right and wrong to be an individual affair. The path of everyone doing and believing what is right “in his/her own eyes” is dangerous one we journey at our own peril.

In view of our diversity, the need of guidance from the church and our responsibilities as citizens, we would be well served by heeding the words of Jesus. The Master directs, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.” In the short phrase, Christ gives us three principles that can serve as a guide for us in this election year to help us steer a safe and balanced course in the wilderness of politics and the public square.

First, Jesus’ words imply that there is a sphere where Caesar rightly claims authority. That authority has been given to governments by God. Paul reminds us that in some unique way government carries out God’s will. In the context of his times, Paul was speaking of a cruel government that dealt harshly with its enemies, was intolerant of criticism, and persecuted Christians. Still, that very government served a divinely ordained function in that it kept order and provided structure to society.

As Christians living a society with a government “by the people and for the people,” we want to ensure that our government is as just and upright as possible. God claims special investment in the poor, the oppressed, and the dispossessed. What can we do but support such a platform? The question of “how” is where we find ourselves stuck. Peace is a goal articulated throughout the Bible. But how do we bring it to pass? You might hold to a view that peace is best ensured by military endeavors. Others may argue for a cooperative, cautious, diplomatic emphasis. On this we may well differ.

Secondly, there is something which belongs to God alone. That “something” is our absolute allegiance. Our allegiance to God calls into question all other allegiances. As Peter confronted the very government that the early Christians were directed to obey, respect, and pray for, he made a telling point. “We must obey God rather than people.” If that was true of a totalitarian regime; isn’t it even more so of a representative democracy? While we may give our vote to a certain candidate, our hearts must belong to God. The claim of God on people stands in judgment of all political systems. God alone is truly just.

Lastly, Jesus realizes we tend to get things “mixed-up.” We tend to put our hopes in human systems. We are tempted to “create” God’s reign by the power of politics and government. The line gets fuzzy. Let’s think about this in a realistic fashion. I cannot recall many politicians running on the platform of the “moral high ground” that haven’t been “found-out” in some respect. We affirm the limitations of humanity and the fallen nature of all human systems even as we lend our vote to those people and systems. Giving unqualified support is blurring the line of demarcation.

Like the government, the Church is founded on divine authority but occupies a different terrain. As God’s mouthpiece in the world, it always stands in prophetic judgment of all the politics of humans. The story of the Barmen Confession and the Confessing Church make this very clear. In Hitler’s Germany we see a church co-opted by the state. Hitler was a Bible thumper and Bible quoter when that role served to his advantage. The majority of the German church got on the bandwagon of national idolatry. In this, they were led by the clergy. Those refusing to blur the line of distinction paid dearly. The history of the German church and the story of those who refused to “go along” still speak of the lure of power and the danger of syncretism.

As an institution uniquely charged to speak on God’s behalf, the pulpit becomes Holy Ground. We must be careful not to profane that Holy Ground by mixing-up the two institutions and the mission to which each is called. The history of ancient Israel is one of mixing and God’s constant call to “come out” of the world and be holy. That call does not mean to forget about the world. The less we are “of the world” the more God’s love will call us to be “in the world;” engaging it, loving it in Christ’s name.

Our task before all others is to preach the Cross; to preach Christ and Christ crucified. When we preachers take off our shoes and stand on God’s Holy Ground, we must remember our mission. A big part of that mission is to proclaim the ethics of Christ. I will always unashamedly proclaim life. God is all about life. The “wages of sin is death.” “The gift of God is life.”

I am also certain about the dangers of mixing the two Kingdoms. I realize the “how” of standing for life in the political arena is an area where honest Christians differ. There is a urgent necessity to recall the distinction between the gospel and the plans of humans; to recognize the dangers of mixing salvation and voting. We are called to lift up Jesus that all people might be drawn to him. Redemption transcends all political and national distinctions.

What does this mean in practice? I think it means that we do not hand out voter’s guides. They may claim nonpartisan, helpful intent (A claim I don’t buy at all!). Still it is “mixing” the things of Caesar and God. It also means that we will “watch it” in Sunday school and Bible study. Over the years I have heard many political agendas supported in those arenas. These agendas have been both from “the left” and “the right.” Attempting to maintain a consistent, as opposed to narrowly defined, pro-life stance, I have often felt myself at odds with such speeches. I want to give a counterpoint. And then? A point to counter my point. In the end, we have a good old political argument. I either go away mad because we’ve been fighting it out or from holding my tongue and letting you have your say. Is this what our Sunday schools and Bible studies are meant to be?

We preachers must speak as God directs, giving moral guidance. Yet, we must avoid “adding to.” If we think ourselves prophetic in delivering a message that gives guidance for political decision making, but folks feel alienated, especially unbelieving folks, have we served the cause of Christ? We may pat ourselves on the back for our great courage and boldness. But remember we have captive audiences, and that implies responsibility. We, more than others, must make a strict account how we use that trust from God.

Mom always told me that the two topics that can most endanger friendships are religion and politics. In this election year we are swimming in the ocean of both more than ever before. Our nation is at a place of moral decline. We are members of a great political experiment, government by and for the people. We cannot and should not divorce our voting from our faith. We recognize the limitations of politics. When it comes to things political, folks are of many stripes and often deeply opinionated. We must not “add to” the gospel. In the name of the Lover of All Souls, let us give Caesar what is rightfully Caesar’s but render to God what belongs to God and God alone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Does "Creation Science" Deserve Equal Time?

Beginning in 1925, in a planned challenge to existing statutes, there have been numerous challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools. That famous court case, known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, held in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 challenged the state’s statute banning the teaching of evolution. John Scopes, a substitute teacher, at the request of the ACLU, taught biology from an evolutionary standpoint. The ACLU had been looking for a test case dealing with the matter and worked it out with Scopes and the school district. Scopes lost the case and was made to pay a fine, and the anti-evolution Butler Act was upheld.

Nevertheless, it is a well-accepted maxim that one may “win the battle and lose the war.” This seemed to be the final outcome of this famous case. The case was extensively covered by the media. Prosecuting on behalf of the state was well-known fundamentalist and thrice former presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. In defense of Scopes was well-known liberal defense attorney, Clarence Darrow. Though Darrow lost his case, in the view of most Americans the fundamentalists emerged looking rather foolish and fanatical. Time went on. Eventually science prevailed and evolution reigned in public school biology classes.
That didn’t stop the challengers. If once evolution was the challenger, now it became “creation science.” Seeing virtually all doors closed in their faces, creationists have tried a different tact. Now, they are demanding that creation “science” be taught along with evolution. There are many problems with this idea, the greatest being how science is defined.

In Michael Shermer’s insightful book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, the latest creationist scheme that has arisen is discussed. Intelligent design (ID) is a point of view that organisms display an “irreducible complexity” and that systems and organisms demonstrate the guiding hand of a designer. The identity of the designer is left unspecified, although, as Shermer points out, the leaders of the movement are by far representatives of the evangelical Christian community.

A liberal counterpart to the ACLU, the TMLC (Thomas More Law Center) had been searching (Remember the ACLU and the “Scopes Monkey Trial?) for a chance to try the idea of giving “equal time” to intelligent design in a court of law. Shermer reports that they found just such a case in Dover, Pennsylvania where the local school board had enacted a type of “equal time” policy. Concerned parents filed suit and a trial was held in 2005. Presiding was conservative Christian judge, John Jones, a 2002 Bush appointee. Things were looking up for the creationists, or so it seemed. Surprisingly, after much expert testimony from both sides, the judge ruled that science is a product of empirical investigation but religion cannot be investigated in the same manner. Facts uncovered in the case demonstrated that the school district in particular and the intelligent design movement in general were driven by religious motivations, not scientific evidence. As the judge pointed out, religion and science operated in different spheres and that evolution could not contradict a belief in God, since the epistemological basis of both differed so greatly. In short, the judge threw out the directive to give creation, or intelligent design equal time.

There are many, many problems with the “equal time” idea besides the well established fact that intelligent design is based on a idea that cannot be tested or observed and therefore is not truly science. As Zimmer in the Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins demonstrates, the entire notion of evolution somehow being disproved or flawed by the existence of “a missing link” coming from the na├»ve notion that evolution teaches that humans descended from “monkeys” is a flawed understanding. Other problems involve how such an “equal time” statute might be put in place.

Could science teachers teach creation—when most have been taught to view the origins of life from an evolutionary basis? Would they really give it a fair shot or equal time? Would the school bring in ministers to teach it? I am a minister, and I do not believe in ID. I do however accept evolution science. Many ministers I know accept the notion of natural selection. Would we find conservative Christian ministers to teach the concepts of ID? If so, wouldn’t that be mixing religion and government in the most brazen of ways? Would we have special schools to train teachers to teach ID and then have them travel and teach the “theory” of ID at public schools? Judge Jones, conservative Christian though he might be, has already stated that intelligent design is religiously motivated, agenda driven, and is not science.

It seems to me, both as an education professor and a minister that science class is about doing science. I do not want the public schools to take over the religious education of my children (well, now grandchildren, I guess). I want schools to teach science and parents and churches to teach religion. No, There should be no equal time for “creation science” in public school biology class.

Monday, October 27, 2008

But What About Obedience?

The is the third and final posting on the topic of covenants. JCA

Does obedience play a role here? Certainly. Jesus said “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Yet, he contrasts servants and friends (John 15:13-15). God isn’t looking for trembling servant obedience. God is searching for an obedience born of gratitude. There is no doubt that Jesus’ call for each of us to “take up our cross and follow” cannot be left out of this discussion. Crosses are for dying. Christ calls us to die to self. But in making this call, Christ is calling us to a death to self that leads to a whole new order of life in him. It is a call to relationship, a call to share his experience. Our lives mingled with his life.

Isn’t it interesting that the word “paradise” spoken to the thief on the cross (“Today you will be with me in paradise.”) comes from a Persian root that means a garden? In the beginning, God walked with our first parents in “the garden” in the cool of the day. Jesus is saying, “Look, my friend (For the thief had accepted Christ’s friendship.) we are going back to the garden, to walk in the cool of the day. I have made a covenant with all who will believe, like my friend Abraham. I freely give all who will receive the benefits of the covenant.”

Believing in a covenant of grace does not exclude acceptance of Christ. If a wealthy parent dies and leaves all of his/her wealth to his/her child, the child must accept the inheritance to obtain the benefit. It is not a work; the child does not have to work for the benefit. But, the wealth will do the heir little good if the heir never claims it.

And to claim the gift of God, implies friendship—for that is the true prize God offers. It’s not about fire insurance. It is all about friendship. And true friendship implies mutuality. You can be friendly on your own, but you can’t be friends with another without mutuality. Friendship changes people. Love transforms. Paul says we are saved by faith alone. James says works are involved. How can they both be right? It’s simple. It’s not faith and works. The truth is that faith works! We cannot truly believe and remain unchanged.

A dear friend of mine was reviewing this article and offered some insightful advice on how we are to view obedience within a covenant of grace:

"Obedience" is a strange term to use in the context of friendship. When you are my friend and you shout out a command "duck" or "watch out" or "watch your step," I do not stop to weigh your motives or to assess our relationship. I spontaneously respond out of my implicit, visceral trust relationship with you. I just know you would not be commanding me anything except out of a concern for my safety and well-being, for my own good.

What kind of covenant has God made with humanity? God has met people where they are again and again. I think my friend is right. The covenant calls for obedience, but it is an obedience of trust and love, not of grudging surrender. Whether money or obedience, “God loves a cheerful giver.” For me, however, the point is clear. God has offered us a royal grant, an unconditional covenant, a covenant of grace, in short, friendship. God holds out the hand of friendship. Will we take it? It is a bold step, living without law and under grace. It can only work for those who, like Abraham, are “friends of God.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Are There Two Covenants?

This posting continues the discussion of covenant. JCA

Most Christians would readily agree that we are under the covenant of grace. We are the true children of Abraham. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai failed because of human weakness. Some would say the covenant made with Adam failed as well. The problem here is that a covenant is not stated. Here we see God relating directly to our first parents. No promises are made for obedience, nor curses pronounced for disobedience. We see something more in the nature of a consequence—like a parent warning a child not to touch a hot stove. The parent does not inflict the burn on the child. The burn is self-inflicted for failure to heed the warning.

Many Christians believe that the covenant of law given to Moses was an interlude in God’s dealing with humanity. It was just an experiment to show that we can’t do it on our own. It shows our failure. It was, as Paul said “the schoolmaster” to bring us to accept God’s grace.

I think there is a serious problem with viewing God’s dealings with humanity in terms of law. Really, in a time when “everyone did what was right in his/her own eyes,” God’s law comes as a gift. God, it seems, has always had servants and friends. In the gospel, Jesus tells us that he doesn’t call us servants but friends. Abraham was called “the friend of God.” The Bible says that God talked to Moses “face to face as a man talks with his friend.” Adam and Eve were friends of God and regularly walked with God in the garden. I propose that God’s will, God’s desire, has always been friendship. This is true before the fall (Adam and Eve), after the fall and before the law (Abraham), after the law was given (Moses), and with the coming of Christ.

Sad to say, many of us still choose trembling servanthood instead of the obedience of friendship and love. We are stuck in a legalistic mode of thinking that sees God as “out to get us” if we don’t do our part, instead of as a kind Father warning us of consequences (“The wages of sin is death.”). We either see God as the suzerain, laying down the law, promising blessings or curses based on our response, or try to make parity “back scratching” deals with God.

But, the true nature of our covenant, as it was with Abraham, Noah, David, and through Abraham to all humankind, is that of the royal grant. Here we are talking about a covenant based totally on God’s free grace. It cannot be earned, and is freely given.

Jeremiah spoke of this as the new covenant, written not on tables of stone but on the human heart. The book of Hebrews affirms that this is the covenant that God wants to make with each of us. It is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham.

At the Last Supper, Jesus also spoke of new covenant. In Mark’s account of the Supper, Jesus gives his disciples the cup and tells them that it contains the blood of the “new covenant.” In the sacrificial system and Mosaic Law described in the Old Testament, we are reminded that the “life is in the blood.” What is Jesus saying? The basis of the new covenant, the royal grant, is the blood of God made man, the very life of God. “Greater love has no one than this,” says the Master, “Than he lay down his life for his friends.” The covenant God offers is God’s call to all offering friendship. Relationship, friendship, that is the basis of the covenant.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Kind of Covenant?

Some readers of my book and blog ask, "What are the fundamental aspects of your theology/" In response to this question, I offer the next three postings. JCA

The issue dealt with in this article is foundational to the whole Christian enterprise. Here I am talking about the notion of covenant. The Bible is filled with the language of covenant. Indeed, the word itself figures prominently in the biblical witness. The relationship of God and humanity is usually described in terms of covenant. In fact, the Hebrew word for covenant appears over 230 times in the Old Testament. The Greek term for covenant appears 33 times in the New Testament. Usually, the point of departure for many of us is the Abrahamic Covenant. Some see the Adamic Covenant predating the Abrahamic. In this view, the Adamic is often thought of as a covenant of works and the Abrahamic as a covenant of grace.

There is likewise the notion of an old covenant and a new covenant present in the biblical witness. Generally, the old covenant is seen as the covenant that God made with the Children of Israel through Moses. The new covenant is seen as that covenant written on the heart by Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Often, Christians have relied on the notion of covenant in the ancient near east to inform them on their thinking concerning the concept of covenant. As Mendenhall points out (along with most other commentators), the ancient world recognized two basic kinds of covenants. The first was a parity covenant made between two equals. It might be thought of as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It is similar to the modern notion of contract in many ways.

The other type of covenant is referred to as suzerainty covenant. Such a covenant was made between a king or ruler and an inferior or vassal. Usually, it has been thought of as being comprised of six elements commonly found in ancient Hittite treaty texts. These six elements may be summarized as follows:

  1. Preamble: The main point here is to identify the author (the king) of the covenant.

  2. A review of the history between the vassal and the king: The emphasis here is on the benevolence of the king and the kindness shown to the vassal. It is assumed that gratitude is owed to the king for kindnesses shown.

  3. Stipulations of the covenant: The emphasis here is on the obligations owed to the king. In short, what does the vassal have to do?

  4. Provisions for reading the covenant: Provisions are made for a periodic review of the contents of the covenant.

  5. List of witnesses: These were normally the gods of both the king and the vassal.

  6. Curses and blessings: The results of fulfilling or not fulfilling the covenant.

Many commentators have pointed to the similarity between this kind of covenant and the Mosaic Covenant. In this case, the greater, God, gives the law to Moses. Throughout the Pentateuch we see the notion of cursings and blessings. This has often been contrasted to the earlier covenant that God made with Abraham. J.J.M. Roberts has spoken of another type of ancient covenant referred to as the royal grant which seems to apply here.

In the royal grant, a king rewards a subject by granting him land, exemption from taxes, office, or the like. What is unique about this covenant is the greater binds himself to the lesser party. In a parity covenant, two equal parties come to an agreeable contract. In the suzerainty covenant, the lesser receives benefit, but the greater calls all of the shots. The sovereign does not have to agree to anything, and penalty is imposed for the breaking of the covenant. But in the royal grant, only the greater is bound. Therefore it is an unconditional (apart from the one condition of acceptance) covenant or a covenant of grace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Does Christian Fundamentalism Contribute to Domestic Violence? (Part 3)

Final Installment and References....

The Evidence

With this philosophical and logical support of my presuppositions, I turned to empirical studies, fully expecting to find scientific support for my conclusions. However, it was not as easy as I thought.
I began to conduct a thorough search for studies dealing with the relationship between religious beliefs and domestic violence. There wasn’t much there! It seems to be an area with much psychological, philosophical, and theological reflection, but very little in the way of a research base. I ended-up having to enlist the services of the research librarian at the college where I teach. Even then, only a few statistical studies could be found. These are reviewed here.

In a survey study by Ellison and Anderson (2001), domestic violence was found to be inversely related to church attendance across the board, without regard to theological persuasion. It seems that religious attendance enhances social integration and support and is associated with decreased substance abuse and psychological problems such as low self esteem.

In another study by Cunradi, et al. (2002), approximately 1400 married couples were surveyed to explore the relationship between religious homogany/heterogamy or denominational affiliation and domestic violence. It was discovered that religious affiliation did not have a significant relationship with intimate partner violence. In fact, liberal religious orientation was found to have a greater correlation with domestic violence than moderate or fundamentalist orientations. Fundamentalist views were associated with the lowest occurrence of domestic violence. Patriarchy as it accompanies fundamentalist views was not significantly related to the occurrence of domestic violence.

Brinkhoff and Grandin (1992) in a study of approximately 2000 men and women found denominational affiliation was not related to domestic violence. Those more religious were less likely to abuse. And, surprisingly, conservative women were more likely to engage in spousal abuse than their nonreligious or liberal counterparts, whereas men were not.

In an interesting study by Burris and Jackson (1999), ninety subjects were surveyed in regard to religiosity. Then, they were presented three scenarios that ended in an abusive act by the male intimate partner. In the first case, a woman turned down a lover’s proposal of marriage because of religious differences. In the second, the lover was turned down because the woman admitted being confused over her personal sexual orientation. In the third case, the lover was turned down because the woman was not sure that she was in love with him. It was found that the more religious respondents rated the victim more positively in the first scenario and the perpetrator more positively in the second case (involving lesbianism). It was concluded that strong religious beliefs might create a tolerance for domestic violence when the victim is viewed as a sinner.
Lastly, in a survey of the literature that seems pertinent here, McNeely and Robertson-Simpson (1987) challenge the commonly held belief that men are the main perpetrators of physical domestic violence. While noting that abuse by men tends to result in more serious injury, statistically, women engage in more acts of domestic violence.

Concluding Thoughts (Whew! Finally!)

As the reader might surmise, my investigation has left me a bit confused. I think that the philosophic base and psychological reasoning behind my presuppositions are sound. Yet, the meager research available does not lend much support to my views. I interviewed the director of the family resource center at one of the elementary schools in an area of town normally identified with economic disadvantage and crime. She regularly deals with women and children from the women’s shelter. She identified with the prevalent view of victims of intimate partner violence. These women were often the product of homes where similar abuse took place. They often were quite unwilling to leave the abuser, and when they did, they often entered a new relationship with a similar “type” of partner. Sometimes the children were abused, both sexually and/or physically; yet the women seemed unwilling to leave. The women seemed to be caught in a cycle of victimization. Yet, for some reason, they seemed to gravitate towards men who abuse. No doubt power issues were involved. At least, in her interactions with abusive women, the issue of religion rarely, if ever, came up (L. McCarty, personal communication, October 14, 2003). I am wondering if I am “barking-up the wrong tree” with this one. Maybe, for what ever reason, I want to find something here where there is nothing. What then can be said? The research studies may have been plagued with problems related to self-reporting by fundamentalist Christians, but that is an unknown. It is alarming that so many clergy refuse to intervene in cases of abuse, and some even blame the victim for the abuse due to a lack of submissiveness. I am concerned that religiosity seems to make one more tolerant of abuse in some situations. I still find fundamentalism and the patriarchical orientation it encourages to be psychologically unhealthy.

On the flip side, I am concerned that it is the more liberal religious orientation that is associated with domestic violence. In my mind, there is an enlightenment associated with liberalism that I would predict to be negatively related to intimate partner violence. I am puzzled that conservatism seems to be associated with abuse by women but not by men and with the finding that fundamentalism and the accompanying patriarchy seem to be inversely related to domestic violence. And I am certain that this topic needs much more study. One commentator does offer some sound advice: The problem of family violence must address the whole person. This must include religious beliefs and attitudes (Fortune, 2003).


Alsdurf, J., & Alsdruf, P. (1988). Abuse and religion: Where praying isn’t enough. Lexington, MA: Heath.

Brinkerholf, M.B., & Grandin, E. (1992). Religious involvement and spousal violence:The Canadian case. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 31, 15-32.B

Burris, C.T., & Jackson, L.M. (1999). Hate the sinner, or hate the hater? Intrinsic religion and responses to partner abuse. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 38, 160-175.

Ciarrocchi, J.W. (2000). Psychology and theology need each other. National Catholic Reporter, 36, 19-21.

Cunradi, C.B., Caetano, R., & Schafer, J. (2002). Religious affiliation, denominational homogamy and intimate couple violence among US couples. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 139-152.

Dobson, J. (1995). Straight talk to men: Recovering the biblical meaning of manhood. Nashville: Word.

Ellison, C.G., & Anderson, K.L. (2002). Religious involvement and domestic violence among US couples. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, 269-287.

Foutune, M. M. (2003). A commentary on religions issues in family violence. Retrieved October 5, 2003, from Faith and Trust Institute,

Groothius, R.M. (1999). Biblical submission within marriage: What we’ve been told the Bible teaches versus what the Bible really teaches. Retrieved October 5, 2003, from Christians for Biblical Equality,

Heider-Rottwilm, A. (1994). Violence against women. The Ecumenical Review, 46, 172-180.

Kroeger, C.C. & Beck, J.R. (1996). Women, abuse, and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker.

McNeely, R.L. & Robertson-Simpson (1987). The truth about domestic violence: A falsely framed issue. Social Work, 32, 483-490.

Repard, P. & Amer, M. (2002, January 11). Man arrested in death of wife. The San Diego Union Tribune, p. B.3.

Stotland, N.L. (2000). Tug of war: Domestic abuse and the misuse of religion. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 696-702.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Does Christian Fundamentalism Contribute to Domestic Violence? (Part 2)

Installment 2

My Presuppositions

I am inclined to see the church as contributing to the problem of domestic violence. When couples marry and embrace the notion of male dominance and strict gender roles, it is easy to end up with a system of domination that pervades the entire marriage (Heider-Rottwilm, 1994). This was the view that I was introduced to in seminary. It is a view in which I find myself in full agreement.

How pervasive is the notion of male dominance? And what are the implications? Alsdurf and Alsdruf (1988) report the results of a random poll of religious leaders. Of clergy surveyed, twenty-six percent said that they normally counseled a wife in an abusive relationship to stay with the husband, trust God, and continue to submit. One quarter of those surveyed viewed the lack of female submissiveness as the trigger for violence. Nearly three fourths of the respondents said that they would never directly recommend separation to the wife and ninety-two percent would never counsel divorce.

It would seem from the results of the survey that at least one in four clergy certainly accept the view that the husband is “in charge” and that the wife must submit to his wishes. Another observation is that almost all clergy interviewed seem to place the preservation of the marriage in a position above the welfare of the wife.

Yet, one wonders how that view can be tenable. A story in a California newspaper shows the danger of such a view (Repard & Ames, 2002). The story recounts the murder of an estranged wife—she was stabbed two-hundred and thirty times- by her husband. Her “crime?” Not being submissive. Where do such views come from? As Fortune (2003) points out, Judaeo-Christian values dominate thinking in the United States. Arguably, the US is the most violent society of all the wealthy, prosperous, modern nations. One has to ask, Is religion a contributor to the violence? And, since Christianity tends to support patriarchy, Does the church “set-up” marriages to fall prey to domestic violence?
One of the premier spokesmen for the conservative Christian point of view is Dr. James Dobson. As a traditionally trained clinical psychologist, Dobson seems to grant legitimacy to the fundamentalist point of view; although many find his insights quite at odds with contemporary psychological thought and practice. Dobson’s view is simple and influential in conservative Christian circles. He is adamant that the true Christian viewpoint is that God has divinely directed that the husband be the head of the household and that God ordains that the wife and children submit to his leadership. Dobson sees God’s plan as under attack by liberal media and philosophy (Dobson, 1995).

Of course, few would say that religious institutions purposely contribute to domestic violence. But, by upholding the sanctity of marriage to a disproportionate degree, churches and religious institutions may make it difficult for victims or perpetrators to seek help (Ellison & Anderson, 2001). As Fortune (2003) points out, victims of abuse may come to see their suffering as coming from God or even as being God’s will. Feminist theologians are quick to agree. The problem is one of patriarchy, propped-up by religion that ultimately leads to male physical aggressiveness in marriage and the associated psychological dimensions of abuse (Conradi, Caetano, & Schafer, 2002).

The Bible can be an abusive book and be used to support abusive religion. For example, the church images God as father. Yet what about the child who is terrorized by an abusive father? The child may develop a view of God as exacting and vindictive. Add to that the demands of religion, represented as coming from God, that a wife should always be submissive. This may be used to keep an abused wife in an abusive situation (Kroeger & Beck, 1996). Image of God may be all important. As Ciarroichi (2000) points out: Well adjusted women see God as emotionally stable and interpersonally adjusted. Men tend to see God in more aggressive terms. Male abusers tend to have a less masculine image of God. This, combined with a fundamentalist orientation toward patriarchy would seem to be a recipe for disaster. Brinkerhoff and Grandin (1992) have commented that some researchers have found that this fundamentalist orientation is associated with a greater prevalence of abuse.
This is well illustrated by a case study reported by Stotland (200). A woman in an abusive situation was faced with a husband that became increasingly religious. As his Bible quoting and reading escalated, so did his attitude of dominance over his family. When the wife confided in Stotland that she wanted a divorce, the husband increased the level of “Biblical coercion,” demanding that she stay in the marriage, thoroughly confusing the victim.

Groothuis (1994) offers a good summary of conservative/traditional Christian views regarding marriage and gender roles. The husband is the God ordained head of the home. He is to exercise authority over the wife; the wife’s response is compliance. The husband has the ultimate determination in deciding God’s will for family members. He is the spiritual director of the wife and children and the representative of God to the family. Someone must have the final word in family decisions; that task falls to the husband. The wife is expected to be supportive and obedient.

Looking this over, it is easy to see that my presuppositions in approaching this issue are supported. Fundamentalism results in patriarchy. Patriarchy is associated with abusive behavior. In this case religion becomes a tool of abuse, albeit likely an unwitting tool.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Does Christian Fundamentalism Contribute to Domestic Violence? (Part 1)

Some years ago, I started working on this project. Although I abandoned it and did not conduct any "in field research" (other than an interview or so), I offer this little contribution to the discussion of family violence. It is really more of a lit review than anything and comes to, what I thought, were some surprising conclusions.--- JCA.

That being said.... here it is (It follows in three installments)--

My interest in this topic began rather undramatically. I am a professor of Elementary Education at United Methodist College. In that capacity, I advise all Elementary Education majors. At least ninety percent of these are women. I pride myself on having good relationships with my students. My wife and I often have students in our home joining us for dinner. They know that I have a “call me whenever you need to call” policy. Over the course of four years, we become pretty good friends.

A few summers back was a “wedding extravaganza” summer. I attended four weddings. I also had total knee replacement surgery so it was quite a project to attend them all. But, I’m glad I did. I know it meant a lot to my students. I guess I feel a bit like “Uncle Jimmy” to them. I just can’t help it! I really do care.

I think it was this care that I have for them that made me “perk-up” and take notice. Three of the four young ladies are members of fundamentalist churches. Their weddings reflected this. One even included an evangelistic appeal. All included vows in which my students promised to be submissive to their new husband. One young lady had written her own vows. They went something like this: “Jon, I need you to guide me, teach me, and show me the way I should go in life. I need you to be my shepherd.” When I heard this, I had a bit of a flashback to my own wedding day some twenty-seven years ago.

I became a Christian in 1971. I was not raised in any church. As a teenager, I was fully involved in the hippie scene in Kansas City and pretty antagonistic toward religion. I was also desperately searching for “something.” Through a friend, I was introduced to the Jesus Movement and became a believer. My life really took a “one-eighty.” In thirty-seven years, many things have changed, but my basic connection to God has not changed.

Of course, the Jesus People were fundamentalist through and through. I had a questioning mind. I was told not to question. I attempted to comply. I met Irene at a church hay ride when I was in college. We became fast friends, lovers, and soul mates. In 1977 we were married.

We wrote our own vows too. I promised to guide, teach, and protect Irene. She promised to submit to my leadership. She never did. A few years ago, I asked her why she never submitted. She informed me that she always submitted when she got to do what she wanted to! I call that half-baked submission.

We left the Jesus People church (then just a fundamentalist Charismatic church) in 1980 because they were getting increasingly involved in the Moral Majority. I had always been a pacifist and had registered with the draft as a conscientious objector. Also, I had that thinking problem. Was the world really seven-thousand years old? Did the sun really stop in the sky? Was Jonah really in the belly of the fish for three days? I (not Irene so much) was labeled a troublemaker. I was heading for hell.

I didn’t go to hell, but I did go to seminary. Then I really began to question. Did God really ordain that the man was to be in charge of his wife? What were the implications of that? What were the dangers?

All people have theological/philosophical presuppositions when they approach difficult questions. I am a minister in a small Presbyterian denomination. I serve as a bi-vocational pastor of a small congregation in rural Kentucky. I think it is safe to say that I am in substantial agreement with the church's Confession of Faith. For the most part, we are “middle of the road” folks—at least on paper. I don’t see the church as fundamentalist is any regard (once again, I'm talking "on paper"). Yet, my denomination is certainly not a mainline liberal Protestant church like our big brother, the Presbyterian Church USA. Not that we have "problems" with PCUSA, necessarily. We have just chosen more of a "middle path." Still, I must hasten to add that this is true to varying degrees-- some being more liberal and others less so.

One thing is certain. My denomination is openly, unabashedly pro-women’s rights. We were the first Presbyterian body to ordain women, the first woman being ordained in the late 1800’s. We currently have many women clergy.

So, I wondered what the implications were for my students who were freely choosing, as far as I could tell, to “submit” to male authority. What would it mean for them? What would it mean for their children? What would it mean for their husbands?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Moral Education and Children

Many parents are concerned about laying a good foundation for their children that they might grow to become moral, responsible adults. In part, parents often rely on Sunday school or other types of religious education to help convey the message of morality. In raising moral children, there are a few points that bear remembering.

First, child rearing is a developmental endeavor. That implies that children progress through moral stages and understandings at a certain (variable) pace. There is little evidence that children can be hurried along the developmental journey. There is a developmental track for moral development, social development, and cognitive development. All areas of development come into play in our efforts to raise moral children. Jean Piaget, the famous developmentalist, reminds us that young children have not yet arrived at the stage of formal, symbolic thought.

Many parents will attempt to moralize with children in abstract, moral discussions-suitably "watered-down," or so they think, to meet their kids where they are. However, if research on cognitive development is at all correct, it is unlikely that children are being "converted" to a moral or religious stance. They may say "yes" and seem to get the point, but it is unlikely that they do.

A much better approach is to work on actions involving simple reciprocity, things like sharing of toys and friends. Young children are naturally egocentric. By involving them in such simple understandings as "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," children come to see simple morality as pragmatic, paving the way for the later stages when formal reasoning makes children receptive to more abstract appeals.

In terms of social development, Erik Erikson would no doubt point us to those natural conflicts that occur at each advancing stage of development. In the early stages when a child struggles between trust and mistrust, and shame and guilt vs. autonomy, children need reassurance. If they are subjected to constant moralizing and put-downs, they will likely adopt an outlook of inferiority. In addition, they will become increasing likely to look to an outside locus of control. The best way to raise autonomous, responsible adults is by acceptance as opposed to constant correction. Erikson's theory predicts that someone might "get stuck" at an early stage if that stage is not successfully navigated.

Furthermore, problems may appear during the adolescent identity crisis of even later in adulthood. Lawrence Kohlberg was a theorist of moral development. His theory reminds us that young children do not see the world in such philosophical categories as moral or immoral. Here the focus is on reward and punishment. What is good is what brings a reward. They also develop a sense of parity; one hand washes the other. "If you are nice to me, I'll be nice to you," is one of the earliest orientations. In late childhood, children reach a stage of wanting things to be fair and law-driven. Here they are concerned about following the rules. It is not until adolescence or later that kids begin to see right and wrong in truly moral terms. From this perspective, the best we can do is "play along" with development. We must never expect young children to have a truly moral view of things. This is something they are "nurtured into."

If caregivers follow the rule of gentle persuasion and fairness, children will naturally move into an understanding of morality. What about religious instruction? James Fowler has spoken to this at length. Combining theories of earlier theorists, he has noted that the earliest claim to faith is affiliative. Children make "professions of faith" to please their parents and feel a sense of unity with them. It is very doubtful that children really understand the notion of freely chosen conversion before early adolescence. How do we put all of this together to get some direction?

Follow the developmental curve. Meet children where they are. Do not moralize with them, and do not expect more than they are able to deliver. Keep discipline mild, and aim it towards learning such socialization skills as sharing in a polite and caring way. Do not expect little ones to be too selfless. Remember that childhood is not a race; the stages cannot be bypassed. Accept children where they are developmentally, and provide a warm nurturing environment. If we "teach from behind," letting the child's natural developmental stages take the lead, we will be doing the best we can to raise moral, responsible children who grow into moral, responsible adults.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

TS and Demons

In a recent "Dear Abby," Abby takes up the issue of Tourette Syndrome. It was a bit of a retake for me. I am 52 and have suffered from TS for most of my life (my earliest memories take me back to 5th grade). I think of the woman who came to Jesus for healing after "suffering many things at the hands of doctors." I didn't suffer from doctors. I did, however, suffer at the hands of my fellow fundamentalist. TS results in involuntary movements, jerks, vocalizations, etc. This sounded to church leaders just like a demons. They prayed with me for deliverance more times than I can count. Yet, it never worked. I started feeling a bit, let us say, "God forsaken." Jesus did all of this deliverance stuff in the gospels, why wouldn't it work for me? It wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I ran across an Ann Lander's article describing TS. I knew it described me. I discovered it was a neurological disorder-- not little guys in red suits. For all those suffering at the hands of bad religion, my advice is to let the guilt mongers rant on, while you get on with your life without them.

For information on Tourette Syndrome, visit the Tourette Syndrome Association and learn the facts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

So... Am I Right About All of this Stuff?

Reading though the postings on this site has led me to question if I am coming off as more "right" about it all than I really want to. I am concerned that the reader might get the wrong impression. So... let me qualify.

I am completely fallible. I screw-up on a regular basis. I am often opinionated. Still, I know my limitations. My conclusions are only as good as my observations and facts. Beyond that all is opinion. It works like this (for me anyway):

  1. I make observations of my world.
  2. From these observations, I try to distill facts.
  3. If my observations about phenomena or philosophical/religious understandings are flawed, well, so are my facts. Case closed. I am out of commission at that point.
  4. If my observations are correct, my facts might be correct. If so....
  5. Then I form a construct. A construct is based on inferences regarding the facts. If the inferences are wrong, so are the constructs. If my reason is on target my constructs might lead me to form...
  6. Some type of theory, or operational model.
  7. That will likely guide my thinking.
Now, please note, there is a lot of room for error in all of this. So what should you do? Follow the same process. See if we come out similar places. If not, by no means should you take my word for things! Just chalk it up to arrogance, or ignorance, and go "your own way."

Long and short of it? I don't claim to be right. Make up your own mind!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pat's at it Again!

I noticed in an article from the Virginia-Pilot that Pat Robertson is calling for urgent prayer to prevent any Middle Eastern War (which he view as highly likely) that would result in a nuclear attack on the US. He has even set a time frame for this urgent prayer-- before Election Day. Pat has publicly stated that he believes that Israel will bomb Iran between Nov. 4 and Inauguration Day-- thus triggering a war.

Robertson predicts that Russia will become involved in the ensuing war. The US will not. Still, he fears the US may not be spared nuclear strikes. Robertson predicts that the Middle East will "spin out of control" in 75-150 days. Israel's strikes will start it all off.

What about all of this? Maybe. Things are pretty crazy right now. The US presence in Iraq doesn't help things any. Should we be praying? You bet we should! We had better all pray for peace and justice in the entire region and that the US would quit fueling the "war machine."

But, there's more! According to Stephen Vegh, Pat predicts that God will end it all (at the time of this war, I take it) by "Rain[ing] fire on the islands of the sea and on the invading force coming against Israel." Yes, believe it or not, Pat is prophesying doomsday once again!

How many time have fundamentalists such as LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and scores of others "figured out" when "the end" is coming? So far there batting average isn't very good. I recall when I became a Christian under the "Hal Lindsey Prophecy Reign." It was "in the air" that Jesus was coming back before the end of 1988. All of the would-be prophets have missed the mark.

Is there a danger here? Yes! Some fundamentalist almost seem to want to help "hurry things along." Instead of asking how they might help bring peace, they look forward to war, destruction, and the rapture. It's the ultimate "cop-out!" Pray? Yes! And the sooner the better!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Baptists, Women,and Vice Presidents

In a recent AP article by Mike Baker, the issue of the place of women as viewed by the Southern Baptist Convention is addressed. It seems that, being good Biblical literalists, the SBC holds to the notion of women as occupying a "secondary role" to men when it comes to authority in the church and family.

Women of the SBC (the nation's largest Protestant denomination) are denied positions of leadership, such as that of ordained minister, in Baptist churches. It seems that God has designed it so that women are not gifted for such work. They are not to be in a position of authority over men. (Never mind that this displays a rather authoritarian position of church leadership in general.) In fact, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a graduate school of theology, has put in place an academic program in homemaking-- things like hosting, cooking, sewing, etc-- specifically for wives of seminary students (and others as well, I would suppose).

This brings up a second area of concern. Members of the SBC (or maybe leaders) see women's place in the home as being one of submission to male leadership. Women's roles are to be more of a domestic nature. Men are to be "in charge."

How has all of this played out for Sarah Palin, the darling of the Religious Right? According to Richard Land of the SBC Ethics and Religios Liberty Commission, having Sarah, as VP or even as president is alright, as long as it's okay with her husband.

This position appears rather hyprocritical to me. It is also problematic. What if McCain/Palin are elected and in a year or two, Sarah's husband decides he has had enough, and he wants Sarah back to baking cookies? Further, does it really make any sense to view the scripture passage that forbids a woman to "teach or exercise authority over a man" as allowing a woman to be the possible chief executive of our nation (or Alaska, for that matter)?

All in all, it seems that even fundamentalists are pretty selective in what they take as "gospel truth." Maybe, someday, fundamentalists will just agree that the strictures the Bible places on women are just plain silly, and there is no logical reason why they should stand. But, then again, maybe they won't.