Thursday, 24 June 2021

Religion - Providing Excuses for People who Need Excuses

The vital element to consider is the gender norms and beliefs surrounding male dominance and male superiority, created by power hierarchies that accord men greater status.

Domestic abuse more prevalent among Anglican churchgoers, new report finds - ABC News

Australia has a significant problem of domestic violence perpetrated mostly by men against women with whom they are in an intimate relationship and especially common in Anglican communities. The problem was first highlighted by an ABC News investigation which reported:
Research shows that the men most likely to abuse their wives are evangelical Christians who attend church sporadically*. Church leaders in Australia say they abhor abuse of any kind. But advocates say the church is not just failing to sufficiently address domestic violence, it is both enabling and concealing it
The report had cited as a typical example, a couple named 'Sally' and 'Peter' and the exchange that took place the evening before Sally left the household with nothing except her young daughter and what cloths she could carry to escape from the nightly abuse.

This exchange was triggered by Sally coming down stairs to say 'Goodnight' which Peter interpreted as her unwillingness to have sex. He began screaming abuse at her and accused her of being a disobedient wife who was disobeying God's instruction to be obedient to her husband. He grabbed a Bible and quoted from it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour.

Ephesians 5: 22-23

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent.

1 Timothy 2: 11-12
It is widely accepted by abuse experts (and validated by numerous studies) that evangelical men who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives.

Steven Tracy,Theology Professor (2008)
For years, Sally had tried to be an obedient wife in accordance with the Bible's instruction, but this was the final straw.

The abuse had started on their honeymoon when he yelled at her for sleeping in. He then became more demanding and abusive, insisting on sex every other night, leaving Sally feeling as though she had been raped. He even insisted on sex just three weeks after the birth of their daughter.

When she went to their Pentecostal Church counsellor for advice, she was told she had to just forgive her husband.

Following this shocking report, which was first greeted with the usual accusation that ABC was "waging a war on Christianity", the Australian Anglican Church set up the National Anglican Family Violence Project (NAFVP) and commission a report by NCLS Research/Charles Sturt University to examine the problem. The report of that commission is, if anything, even more shocking than the original ABC report.

It found that the ABC report was accurate and that the problem was widespread and common in the Australian Anglican community. Unlike in the USA, where investigations have found that sporadic church-goers are more likely to be abusive to spouses than regular church-goers, the reverse is true in Australia. There, it is the devout Christian who is more likely to be abusive to a spouse.

The main findings are:
2. Executive Summary

This report provides a top line overview of results from three studies that make up the National Anglican Family Violence Project (NAFVP), undertaken between 2019 and early 2021. The aim of this research project is to investigate the nature and prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) among those with a connection to the Anglican Church of Australia.

2.1 NAFVP Prevalence Study

How prevalent is intimate partner violence among Australians who identify as Anglican?
The study was an online survey of over 2,000 males and females, aged 18+, conducted in December 2019. The Online Research Unit hosted the survey and provided the respondents. Results for a sample of the general public (n=1146) were compared with Australians who identified as Anglican (n=825). A large sample of Anglicans (n=1382) was used to compare those who attended church regularly with those who didn’t. These were non-probability samples from online panels so representativeness to the wider population cannot be claimed.
  1. The prevalence of intimate partner violence among Anglicans was the same or higher than in the wider Australian community.
  2. The prevalence of intimate partner violence among church-attending Anglicans was the same or higher than among other Anglicans.
  3. The prevalence of intimate partner violence was higher among women than men.
  4. Most Anglican victims of domestic violence did not seek help from Anglican churches.

2.2 NAFVP Clergy and Lay Leader Study

What are the attitudes and practices regarding IPV among Anglican clergy and local church leaders?

All Anglican parishes were sent invitations for their leaders to take part in the Clergy and Lay Leader Survey, and responses were received from approximately a quarter of Anglican parishes. The final number of survey respondents was 827, from 358 parishes, consisting of 383 clergy respondents and 444 lay respondents.

Attitudes and knowledge
  1. Clergy views on gender roles within marriage and the family varied strongly by church tradition.
  2. Clergy and lay leaders were well informed about the breadth of domestic violence.
  3. Clergy and lay leaders understood that it is more often men than women who commit domestic violence.
  4. Clergy and lay leaders were sensitive to the wide array of factors that may contribute to domestic violence.
  5. Clergy and lay leaders were aware of the widespread nature of the problem of domestic violence in Australia, but less aware of its prevalence in church communities.
  6. Most clergy believed that Scripture is misused by the abuser in Christian families.
Practices in local churches
  1. Churches have a role in education about domestic violence.
  2. Most clergy had been aware of victims of abuse in their churches and had dealt with specific domestic violence situations as part of their ministry.
  3. Dealing with domestic violence situations resulted in some negative impacts for most clergy.
  4. wo thirds of clergy had not collaborated with clergy/leaders from other churches in relation to domestic violence.
Equipped for response
  1. Clergy confidence in their personal capacity to respond to domestic violence was low to moderate.
  2. Although few leadership teams had been trained, there was moderate confidence in the churches’ readiness to respond.
  3. A minority of clergy felt very familiar with support services or very confident to refer people to them.
  4. Familiarity with diocesan resources was moderate and ratings of diocesan support were evenly spread from excellent to very poor.
  5. Views by clergy of the role of the bishop when a clergyperson was a victim or abuser were to be pastoral, to carry out disciplinary procedures and to seek involvement of services outside the church.
2.3 NAFVP Experience Study

What is the nature of experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) for those with a connection with Anglican churches? How has the Anglican Church featured in these experiences.

This study involved two phases. Some 305 respondents took part in a scoping survey and some 81% had IPV experience. The second phase involved face to face interviews. Of the 179 people who had direct experience, 86 were open to interview and 20 were selected. They spanned a diversity of experiences of and views about the Anglican Church in relation to IPV (e.g. positive, negative, mixed experiences) and diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
  1. Faith and church both assist and hinder those who are experiencing domestic violence.
  2. Although unintended, Christian teachings sometimes contribute to and potentially amplify situations of domestic violence.
  3. Perpetrators’ misuse Christian teachings and positional power.
  4. Christian teaching that addresses IPV can also empower victim-survivors to begin a process of change.
  5. When churches acknowledge that domestic violence happens it can help victim-survivors.
  6. Churches who have built awareness of domestic violence are more able to respond when victim-survivors are ready.
  7. Trusted relationships in churches reduce isolation for victim-survivors.
  8. Specialist domestic violence services and health professionals have a central role.
  9. At their best, churches play a role in fulfilling the following needs after separation as a contribution to rebuilding and recovering life: to be safe, to have material provision, to be in relationships of care, empathy and acceptance, to have an identity, to make a contribution, to have a spiritual life and relationship with God.
The report cites the role of Christian teaching as the facilitator of coercive control and violence within a marriage:
6.3.1 The role of the church: religious teachings and norms

Faith and church both assist and hinder those who are experiencing domestic violence. Christian faith and being part of a church community can both assist and hinder people living in situations of intimate partner violence. Social and religious norms shape how people think they ought to behave within a local church context and also how they actually behave. This impacts on expectations and interactions with clergy as well as among churchgoers.

He used to get triggered by small things… For example, if I didn’t cook dinner, he used to hit me. If I didn’t clean the house, he used to hit me. And I never understood why that happened. In my family, that never used to happen… Because those days, I had to call in sick all the time because I would be bruised all over… That was next level violence… Yes, it was tough. Those days were tough because I would end up with pain and aches in my body.

Physical was unusual. The verbal and threatening and other emotional abuse was standard. It was really the blanket of our marriage. The emotional stuff never stopped… That was just constant. I never knew what I was coming home to… There was never really an in between and that was probably the hardest thing… the walking on eggshells all the time and it changed in an instant.

I think what was hard was battling that inner Anglican that said marriage is forever and you don’t get divorced. And I’d been brought up to love and obey, submit, I was a perfect Anglican wife. I’d been brought up to believe that men were the head of the household and what they said went, not to question anything like that, just to pray hard and keep the kitchen clean and keep the children’s faces clean and tidy
Although unintended, Christian teachings sometimes contribute to and potentially amplify situations of domestic violence. Our interviews showed that, however unintended it may be, teachings related to marriage, gender and forgiveness can be a contributing factor in the extension of the cycle of IPV and can create a situation of harm for people in abusive relationships. Absolutist discourses related to marriage as a lifelong commitment, the submission of the wife to the husband, unconditional forgiveness, and suffering for Christ – whether they are taught by church leaders, internalised by victim-survivors, or co-opted by abusers in this way – are harmful for those who experience abuse. Participants recounted feelings of self-doubt, self-blame, entrapment and shame that they directly attributed to certain discourses about intimate relationships. Conversely, discourses such as marriage as a covenant, the equality of partners in a marriage, and God’s mercy and love can help to empower victim- survivors to extricate themselves from abusive relationships.

Perpetrators’ misuse Christian teachings and positional power. Participants shared examples of how perpetrators made claims about Christian teachings and used their power in relation to church structures to control and extend the cycle of abuse. In some cases, participants said that their abusive partners used obligations around the sanctity of marriage, the headship of the husband, and the imperative to forgive to control them.

Examples of what was experienced as harmful within the context of abusive relationships are:
  • Marriage is a lifelong commitment and a covenant that cannot be broken in any circumstances.
  • Being the "perfect wife".
  • A man has control in a marriage and a wife must submit to her husband.
  • Being faithful involves suffering and total self-giving.
  • Forgiveness must be unconditional.
Clearly, from reading this report and the accounts of the abused, basic Christian teaching is being used as an excuse for men to abuse and control women both physically and psychologically, and the women have been brought up to think this is part of being a good Christian wife. A submissive and servile role within the marriage is what God has ordained and the Bible is unequivocal on the matter. Women are in all ways the inferior of men and must be obedient to their husbands in all things. They have no validity as full human beings with full human rights and autonomy.

And, of course, there is solid theological support for that disgusting attitude, just as there is solid theological support for slavery and racism, in the Bible, written as it was by men for men.

What is not so clear though is where the theology for the claims made by the Anglican Church in the report, which states:
6.3.2 The role of the church: a culture of awareness and readiness to respond

I’d had a conversation with our minister at one point and he said, “no I don’t think that’s what the Bible says at all, I don’t think God would oblige you to remain in that situation. There’s clearly a power issue in this marriage and there’s no place for that in a Christian marriage. There is at least some abuse going on in your home and that’s done a lot of damage to you and you don’t have to stay with that, you shouldn’t be feeling scared in your own home. There’s no place for control, you should be equal”. I left with his support and I stayed separated from him with the senior minister’s support.
Christian teaching that addresses IPV can also empower victim-survivors to begin a process of change. At key moments - or crucial instants or occasions - in the cycle of abusive relationships - where people have an opportunity make choices and act on them, clergy and church leaders can offer alternate perspectives that empower victim-survivors to begin a process of change. Among participants were people whose church had helped them to realise that they were experiencing domestic violence and that it wasn’t acceptable. A sermon, or talking with their minister/pastor, helped provide a framework and language for their understanding. When clergy speak in ways that are fully sensitised by the reality of IPV in church communities – whether in teaching and preaching or privately in conversation – it can carry considerable weight with members of the congregation.

Discourses that participants described as liberating, whether heard from church leaders or sometimes by means of participants’ own reading or listening, included:
  • Marriage is a covenant between two parties and requires two parties to uphold it
  • The partners in a marriage are equal and there is no place for one partner controlling the other
  • God is merciful and loving and would support a partner leaving their abusive relationship.
  • God doesn’t want vulnerable people to suffer.
Participants commented that Christian teachings about marriage and gender need to be communicated in ways that actively addresses the potential for and the reality of abuse in intimate relationships.
Laudable though this is, it is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Ask a minister/pastor who preaches that where it says it in the Bible and he would be hard-pressed to quote chapter and verse, because it doesn't come from the Bible. In fact, it marks a departure from the primitive, Pauline, misogynistic morality of the Bible and the adoption by the Anglican Church of Humanist, egalitarian, ethics in which all humans are regarded as equals and deserving of full human rights and autonomy. The Church is having to abandon fundamental Christianity in order to conform to more advanced ethics, evolved as human culture progressed and adapted to new situations.

Note the abandonment of the Bible as the source of this morality and the acceptance by the Anglican Church that the Bible is not the perfect word of God and the arbiter of right and wrong. In the matter of the relationship between husband and wife, the Bible is fundamentally wrong! In fact, the modern Christian is expected to just know what God does and doesn't want, and what God wants is something other than what they believe God said in the Bible.

'Scripture' is wrong and so should be ignored!

Human morality trumps "God's perfect word" on the question of relationships between a man and a woman, as in so many other areas of human culture. Religion is retreating in face of the advance of Humanist ethics.

This is literally (if you believe in a god) a Godsend for the inadequate man to be able to blame God and the Bible and to use religion as the source of the excuses he needs. Indeed, this appears to be the main role of religion in society, hence the phrase I use often:

Religion provides excuse for people who need excuses

*The research referred to was conducted in the United States.

Thank you for sharing!

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