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.

1 comment:

  1. As an exfundamentalist minister, who currently works with violent offenders, I have come to believe that fundamentalism stands in diametric opposition to individuation and the personal power needed to relate to others as indivduals.