*TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of domestic violence*
Domestic violence is an issue that transcends cultural, religious, and socioeconomic borders. Unfortunately, domestic violence is commonly found in fundamental Christian communities because of what these communities believe about the family system and structure. In this post, we will explore the complex and sensitive topic of domestic violence within the context of fundamental Christian beliefs as a way to create awareness and pave a path towards change.
But before we dive in, it's important to understand what we mean when we say "fundamental Christianity." Fundamentalism is a conservative movement within Christianity characterized by a strict adherence to core biblical doctrines and a literal interpretation of the Bible. While not all fundamentalist Christians promote or tolerate domestic violence, some aspects of their beliefs and practices have been linked to situations where domestic abuse is perpetuated or goes unaddressed.
Rigid Gender Roles
One factor contributing to domestic violence within fundamental Christian communities are the strict and traditional gender roles and hierarchies that are taught. Some interpretations of biblical passages emphasize male authority and female submission, potentially creating an environment where power imbalances can be abused and exploited. A major believe in these communities is the hierarchy that Christ governs the man, the man protects, leads, and provides for his family, the woman comforts, teaches, and nurtures, their children, and their children love and obey their parents. A scriptural example often cited to justify this belief is Ephesians 5:22-24, which states: "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." Verses like these, when interpreted rigidly, can be misused to justify abusive behavior. This strict interpretation can lead to power imbalances, where one partner (usually the husband) asserts control over the other.
Because the role of the man is to lead, provide, and protect in these communities, women often don't push back against abusive behavior because they believe their husband is "leading" them, and they are to obey. Whatever the woman feels or thinks is encouraged to be swallowed, enforcing the idea that women are too emotional and the man knows what's best for his family.
In some cases, perpetrators of domestic violence may use religious justifications to rationalize their actions. They may claim to be disciplining their spouses and children in line with biblical principles, such as Proverbs 13:24: "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." There has been decades upon decades of research on the effects of physical discipline towards children, and we have research to prove that corporal punishment/physical discipline is highly damaging and traumatizing to children, who grow up to become traumatized adults, and that it is abusive behavior. This is a massive, detrimental misinterpretation of the scripture. The "rod" doesn't necessarily refer to physical punishment but rather symbolizes guidance, correction, or discipline in a broader sense. This verse is actually encouraging parents to provide appropriate guidance and discipline for their children. It is not mandating or endorsing physical punishment.
Barriers to Seeking Help
Fundamental Christian communities may inadvertently create barriers for survivors who are trying to seek help. Fear of judgment from the church community, concerns about divorce, believing that God chose them to marry their spouse to change their heart, or belief that prayer alone can solve their problems can prevent victims from reaching out for support. Church leaders, in their role as spiritual guides and mentors, can play a significant part in either helping or hindering the process of escaping abusive situations. Their responses to domestic violence cases can be crucial. Some may prioritize preserving the institution of marriage over the safety and well-being of victims. Their advice or inaction can enable the cycle of abuse.
Pressure to Preserve Marriage
Fundamental Christians often place a strong emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and the belief that divorce is generally unacceptable. This can pressure victims to remain in abusive relationships in the hope of saving their marriage or avoiding religious isolation from their community. Because the fundamentalist beliefs of forgiveness and redemption can sometimes be misapplied, perpetrators of domestic violence may believe that their abusive behaviors can be forgiven through prayer and repentance, enabling them to avoid legal consequences and accountability.
Addressing Domestic Violence in Fundamental Christianity
Education and Awareness - Religious leaders should be well-informed about the issue of domestic violence in order to provide the appropriate support. Promoting education and awareness with religious communities about the signs and impacts of domestic violence can help reduce the stigma in these communities.
Reinterpretation of Scripture - Encourage a more compassionate and egalitarian interpretation of biblical passages that has been used to justify abusive behavior. This can help challenge harmful notions of gender roles.
Safe Spaces - Create safe and confidential spaces within the church or community where survivors can seek help without fear of judgment.
Supportive Leadership - Encourage religious leaders to take a strong stance against domestic violence, emphasizing that it's not in line with Christian values. Support and believe victims.
Collaboration with Other Organizations - Talk to local organizations specializing in domestic violence support to ensure survivors receive the help they need, and explore the topic about expanding their services into local churches.
Addressing the issues of domestic violence within fundamental Christianity requires open dialogue, education, and a commitment to promoting healthy, safe, and respectful relationships within religious contexts. It also calls for religious leaders to take a strong stance against domestic violence and provide support and guidance to victims. Love, compassion, and support should always take precedence for any faith community.
At Root Counseling, we provide a safe space to process the role of religion in relationships. If you're interested in scheduling a session with one of our therapists, you can learn more about us here.