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But it would make sense. Something that happened not even 24 hrs later reinforced the truth behind her question. Sitting next to a young man on the plane going home to Brisbane we got talking about religion. The abuse continued.


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Albeit anecdotal, his was a story that I have heard hundreds of times, told either directly to me or through friends and peers. The conservative and complementarian doctrine of some wings of Christian denominations provide a shelter for abusive relationships to flourish. I understand that it might come as a shock to many of my well-meaning and compassionate complementarian friends, but we cannot deny that this is the case.

Recognize and Help Victims of Domestic Violence

The Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney acknowledged that domestic violence is a problem within their parishes. While some may see religion as outdated it can also be a litmus test for getting a sense of what is happening in society. Every parish contains a cross section from all social strata, education levels, and walks of life.


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If we can point to a social issue in the Church you can be certain it is out there in society. These stories will be framed around one key question: Is faith a force for ill in family life—from marriage in general to domestic violence in particular? In recent years, the question has focused especially on spousal abuse against women.

The series, which set off a firestorm between defenders and critics, exposed numerous cases of battered Christian wives who had been neglected or let down by their pastor or Christian counselor. Although it ran in a major outlet half a world away, the story is suggestive of the kind of coverage that is likely to become more common here in the United States.

This story and others like it, however, underscore common misperceptions about how religion impacts male behavior in marriage. The answer is complicated, since some research suggests that gender traditionalism fuels domestic violence. On average, then, evangelicals as well other religious believers in the United States who attend church regularly enjoy higher quality marriages compared to their less religious or secular peers. My research suggests that wives married to churchgoing evangelical men are comparatively safe.

Religion and domestic violence: the missing link

Research that looks solely at the impact of church attendance comes to similar conclusions. Sociologist Christopher Ellison and his colleagues found that women who were married or cohabiting were significantly less likely to report abuse if they regularly attended religious services.

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My research suggests that the most violent husbands in America are nominal evangelical Protestants who attend church infrequently or not at all. The reasons are not entirely clear. Or perhaps their class or culture—many of these men hail from parts of the South and Appalachia populated by working-class Scots-Irish descendants with a greater propensity for violent behavior —explains these results.

Religiously mixed couples may also have a greater risk for domestic violence, especially theologically conservative men married to women who do not share their religious views.

The Church and Violence Against Women | A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia)

In these cases, religion is not protective against abuse. Someone who practices extrinsic religion attends church or participates in other religious practices as a way to placate a spouse, impress community members, or alleviate a guilty conscience. One study found that men motivated by extrinsic religious concerns were more likely to be abusive towards their partners. Because this study was not based on a nationally representative sample of men, the findings are only suggestive. Nonetheless, it is certainly plausible that men motivated to engage in religious activities for largely or solely extrinsic reasons are worse husbands and fathers.

In general, setting aside nominal Christians, the research indicates that evangelical Protestantism does not pose the kind of risks that are often alleged.

Responding to Domestic Violence: A Call to Christian Leaders and Laity

Indeed, at least judging from studies here in the US, it looks like churchgoing may well help men steer clear of violence. In general, religion tends to impact married people quite positively. The family-friendly social networks, the higher propensity of religious couples to pray for their spouse, and the psychological comfort of faith all generally help to strengthen marriages. Two of these factors—the social support and personal comfort derived from faith—also appear to protect spouses from the debilitating stress associated with difficult children, unemployment, the death of a loved one, and other circumstances.

Domestic violence is still present in church-going homes, and Christian clergy, counselors, and lay leaders need to do a much better job of articulating clear, powerful messages about abuse and, more generally, married life. Although, as noted before, the church is not necessarily enabling abuse, some local churches, clergy, and counselors fail to address abuse head-on for fear of breaking up a marriage.

Others steer clear of addressing the topic from the pulpit or in adult education for fear of broaching an uncomfortable subject. This silence around domestic violence has to end. To unlock this article for your friends, use any of the social share buttons on our site, or simply copy the link below. To share this article with your friends, use any of the social share buttons on our site, or simply copy the link below.

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