Domestic abuse, headship and divorce

Julia Baird has published a couple of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald over the last few weeks, that suggest a link between the biblical doctrine of a husband's headship in marriage and domestic violence. The first piece, struck me as a bit unfair, seemingly without context, and making allegations about links without any justification from a 'growing number of theologians'.:

Submission is a Fraught Mixed Message for the Church

She has recently published a more measure piece that spells out ways in which Christians have sought to prevent abusive misapplication of the headship doctrine, while also sharing some actual stories of cases where the doctrine has been horribly misapplied:

Doctine of Headship a Distortion of the Gospel Message of Mutual Love and Respect.

Pity about the article headline which utterly perverts the message of the piece itself.

Domestic abuse is a horrible business. To hear people hijiack scriptural teaching to justify controlling, bullying, abusive behaviour is heartbreaking and provokes outrage in me. And to hear of women who feel scriptural obedience requires surrender to such destructive behaviours is awful. And then to know that church leaders and Christian communities have not treated this with great seriousness, is very very troubling.

Why would they do that? Rarely out of a thoughtful application of the Bible's teaching on marriage, I would think, honestly. Maybe well-intentioned, or uninformed, or highly-educated pastors with low emotional intelligence just not knowing the right advice to give? Maybe overly busy or even burnt out pastors who are disinclined to properly investigate - knowing that there's often more than two sides to any story? Maybe cultural factors of 'not wanting to get involved' and 'wanting people to work things out'? Whatever the reason, it's awful to think the church did not defend those in need of protection. I hope and pray that more churches are doing the right thing here than not!

1. A Couple of Related Pieces

In various Facebook threads I came across links to these two articles which were published 3 years prior:

By Amelia Schwarze on the Bible Society Website

By Phillip Jensen on The Briefing Website

2. How should we respond?

A couple of random bullet point questions - but I'd love your feedback:

  • Is there more training required for ministers and churches on understanding domestic violence?

  • Do we need to be more explicit and blunt about how separation-for-safety is a completely legitimate behaviour for partners in a Christian marraige?

  • Is a high view of marriage and a low view of divorce another big contributing factor to a tendency for some Christians to advise victims of abuse to stay in abusive marriage? Is the minority view that the Bible does not permit divorce and remarriage even in the case of unfaithfulness and abandonment an ever bigger contributing factor?

  • Is domestic abuse actually higher in complementarian Christian homes? Someone mentioned a study that found that domestic abuse was higher than average in the homes of irregular churchgoers, and lower than average in the homes regular churchgoers - I wonder?

  • Should our attitude to domestic abuse be 'zero tolerance'? That is, leave the house after the first instance and launch a full investigation at that point? It seems that Julia Baird would say anything other than zero tolerance is asontishing. John Piper on the other hand seems to think zero tolerance is not right. Thinking out loud on a very sensitive topic, but I wonder if there are unintended negative effects of a zero tolerance policy?

3. Some comments on defensiveness, repentance and reactions to media pieces

  • The reactions to these articles among my Christian Facebook friends have been all over the map. Some reacting to the unfair approach of Baird's first piece. Others focussing on the need for us to do more about domestic abuse. Others saying we need to admit we have a problem and do something.

  • But what is to be done? In one sense, Baird's article comes out of nowhere and changes nothing. What should have been done needed to be done before, and continues to need to be done. Reacting to a newspaper article with another newspaper article is not really the issue.

  • But of course newspaper articles give a voice to real problems and real pain. And as Baird's second article suggests, many people felt relieved that she has spoken out for them. So in this case, making sure we speak out for victims of domestic violence, in the various channels of broadcasting is one form of advocacy, and even one for of training and producing cultural change, that we can tackle.

  • Some people were criticised for being 'defensive' in reacting to Baird's first piece. If this is a problem we should stop defending ourselves and deal with the problem, they were told. I don't think that is healthy. A healthy, long-term solution is to deal with a problem with the internal resources of the church - and sloppy accusations about biblical doctrine don't motivate or equip the church to reform from within. That's why Baird's second article was helpful. In its more irenic tone, it was far more productive in moving the church to align its resources to care for the abused.

Love to hear your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, reactions and resources.

What denominations and movements are doing good stuff in this area?

What resources and organisations are out there that can help us?

via Blog - Christian Reflections (NB: to comment go to