Recently, a woman, a Catholic woman, received a phone call from her daughter, a 23 year old woman, married to a 25 year old “God fearing” Christian man. She had called to tell her mother that he had been physically abusing her since the first week of their year old marriage. Since the Lord had opened their minds to some of the misconceptions and preachings present in evangelical churches on the topic, the mother had the presence of mind to tell the daughter to pack her bags and be ready as her parents were coming to pick her up as fast as their legs could carry them! This woman, Kathy, is a social worker, counseling battered wives on a daily basis, mostly Christian women, dealt the hand of abuse, by their vicious husbands. Most remain in the marriage/relationship largely because they are advised by their parish priests or pastors to do so. Many fellow church goers strongly advise such women to “forgive” their husbands, “save” their marriages and pray. Their families do the same, beseeching them to preserve their marriages, and leaving their husbands would mean going against the advice of the people they loved and respected. So these women stay, and bear the cross, much like their Messiah did, believing in the Saviour and salvation. I believe that salvation comes to those who are their own saviours…
Much of the research in the field of wife abuse has been done by feminists, some of whom themselves have been victims of abuse. They rightly speak with a bitterness toward a society so insensitive that it only publicly acknowledged the plight of battered women long after having formulated laws to prohibit the abuse of animals. Many have given up on the hope that change will come through social institutions such as the church. Rather than seeing the church as part of the solution to the abuse of women, they almost unanimously perceive the church as a big part of the problem. Author Terry Davidson feels the animosity toward the church, saying it is rooted in memories of deep personal pain. In her book Conjugal Crime, Davidson tells how her father, a pastor and pillar of local society, beat her mother for almost 20 years.
“A hypocritical environment prevailed in our household. In his job, my father played the role of the man of God, and we dared not to do anything to spoil that image. Yet he also believed that he was right to torture my mother, and that if I were a good daughter, I would agree with him. I never saw any evidence of compassion from him, or sorrow, or guilt, or a sense of responsibility for the horror he was inflicting on his family…” she writes. With very few exceptions, the silence of the church, the most authoritative and powerful institution in Christianity throughout history, on this issue (abuse) is profound, to say the least.
Throughout history, the status of women has been exclusively dependent upon their relationships with men. A woman’s singular importance, has been gained from her role in the family. The only roles truly allowed women in the real or imaginary (in stories or films) world have been those of wife, mother, daughter, lover, whore, and saint…. the status of women has been one-dimensional and subordinate in nature. Such subordination is abundantly clear in church history.
To quote St. Augustine on marriage (“Woman ought to serve her husband as unto God, affirming that in no thing hath woman equal power with man…affirming that woman ought to be repressed”), the early Christians promoted a patriarchy which was founded upon beliefs in marital hierarchy and inequality. From the adoption of a “moral order” that established the husband as authority, came a state structure which in turn led to a radical inequality between the sexes and inevitably women were made victims. Interpreting God’s curse on Eve as “the earliest example in our culture of the sexually restrictive ethic, the placing of the ‘blame’ for sex on women, and the resulting negative definition of women,” sociologists Steinmetz and Straus conclude that women have become “culturally legitimate objects of antagonism,” thanks, at least partly, to Christian practices.
Hence, researchers in the area of wife abuse are extremely critical of the Christian church for its emphasis upon the subjugation of women and the elevation of men. They document that this so-called “biblical principle” has been often applied in a manner which has been destructive, to battered wives since it actually promotes helplessness in women.
However we must note that suppression of women is of pre-Christian origin. For example, Aristotle defined the female as “a mutilated male” devoid of a soul.
“For just as the young of mutilated parents are sometimes born mutilated and sometimes not, so also the young born of a female are sometimes female and sometimes male instead. For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male,…for there is only one thing they have not in them, the principle of soul.”
Contradictory to the idea of many pagans that women were ”sub-human,” and in contrast to the narrow role-related view of women of the Jewish world, Jesus Christ clearly elevated women to a position of equality with men that shocked His followers and disciples alike. Jesus defied Jewish custom and spoke to women directly and in public openly (Luke. 7:12-13; 8:45; 13:10-16). Women were present in the crowds that followed Jesus, and it was to a woman that He first revealed His Messiahship (John 4:26). He disclosed deep truths about His role in humanity and His divine mission to that Samaritan woman in John 4, and it was to women that He first appeared after being resurrected (John. 20:11-18; Mt. 28: 8-10). This gives hope.
Recently, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church had to acknowledge a history of male domination and sexual abuse of women and children and repair its reputation among young people or risk becoming “a museum”. But this is another story for another day….
By Scherezade Mansukhani
Scherezade is a Clinical Child Psychologist, Part-time mother, blogger, French teacher and IATA teacher. She has worked with the differently abled, and now works on and off as a teacher.