Abusing an Argument? Thinking Harder About the Current Discussions Concerning Domestic Violence and the Church

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In the last few weeks a bit of a debate has kicked off here in Sydney over the difficult question of domestic violence (“DV”) and our response as evangelicals, and particularly as Sydney Anglicans, to it. It all began with an article by journalist Julia Baird in the smh, “Submission is a fraught mixed message for the church“.

[lightbox link=”http://davidould.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/baird.jpg” thumb=”http://davidould.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/baird.jpg” width=”200″ align=”right” title=”Julia Baird” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”Julia Baird”]A short time ago the subject of domestic violence was barely discussed in this country: it was shameful, something buried or made light of. But the recent shift in understanding – much of which has been driven by women online – has been remarkable.

But there is one area that has been largely ignored: what is the role of the church in all of this? More specifically, if conservative churches preach the dominance of men, and submission of women, does this add weight to those who think men have a right – even a divine right – to control their partners?

A growing number of Australian theologians are expressing deep concern about the consequences of what is known as the doctrine of headship.

Baird’s article, as one might expect, prompted a lot of discussion and not a little push-back. In particular there was the complaint that she had relied heavily on anecdotal argument without giving us the hard stats. In any large organisation it stands to reason that there will be instances of abuse, but is it fair to tarnish the whole body based on what could be a small blemish? The plural of anecdote, after all, is not anecdata.

Underlying this was what some (myself included) thought was an unhelpful bias from Baird’s deep-seated opposition to the Biblical doctrine of male headship in marriage and the church. Baird was one of those arguing most strongly for the push towards the ordination of women to the presbyterate in Sydney diocese, and she wasn’t on the winning side. Perhaps this coloured her piece? I’ll return to this later on because I think it’s one component amongst the many that need to be considered here.

Prominent amongst the critical responses were those of Karl Faase and Claire Smith (for the sake of transparency the reader should be aware I know both Karl and Claire personally and have high regard for them). Karl wrote for Eternity newspaper, “Do the Bible’s teachings really cause domestic violence?

[lightbox link=”http://davidould.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/faase.jpg” thumb=”http://davidould.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/faase-181×195.jpg” width=”181″ align=”right” title=”Karl Faase” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”Karl Faase”]Baird decided that the group in our community that has the potential to create a dangerous family environment is in fact the church. Keep in mind that there is nothing in Rosie Batty’s story that has any relationship to organised religion in our community.
Baird then takes the reader through a series of Biblical passages related to women submitting to husbands and then seeks to insinuate that this is a latent and dangerous potential danger in our community. Every reader would be impressed with Baird’s motivation to point out potential dangers and attitudes that may cause violence to take hold in families. The question to ask is whether what she is suggesting is accurate.
To back up her assertions, the article refers to some anecdotes from counsellors who have seen violent behaviour occurring in church-going or religious families.
The key feature missing from the article is the facts. There are no statistics to demonstrate that the assertion Baird is making is accurate. In response to a social media post, Baird has responded to criticism by saying “I said the doctrine of headship can foster mistrust/[be] misinterpreted” which of course is true, but the key issue though is not whether it can, but whether it has.

I personally have worked in churches for more that 30 years. I have worked across the denominations in all states of Australia so I think I can say that I have a fair idea of what families in churches are like. In all that time I have seen very few – perhaps two or three at best – experiences where people have misused the Bible to support their practice of dominating their partners and I can truthfully say I don’t know one minister, pastor or church leader who has ever told a wife to stay with an abusive partner. Those church leaders quoted in Baird’s article suggest that they know of such examples, and I am not denying their experience, but I am just suggesting that they are very isolated.

Claire Smith’s reponse was posted at ThinkingofGod, “Abusing the Facts“,

[lightbox link=”http://davidould.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/claireSmith.jpg” thumb=”http://davidould.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/claireSmith-179×195.jpg” width=”179″ align=”right” title=”claireSmith” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”Claire Smith”]First, Julia’s argument hangs on the existence – even the widespread existence – of church leaders who promote and condone domestic violence. But if these leaders are so common and so outspoken why has she failed to produce one single pastor who can make her point for her in his own words?

Worse still for her case, the two evangelical leaders she does find, while upholding distinctive roles for men and women within marriage, both describe the husband’s role in terms of servant leadership – that is, in terms inimical to power, domination and abuse. Glenn Davies, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, which she stresses “is known for its emphasis on headship”, even says that “headship is not domination” and “if a woman’s life is in danger she should leave, even though that would mean ‘disobeying her husband’”. Hardly the evidence Julia needs for widespread endorsement of male dominance and domestic abuse by evangelical clergy.

It’s worth noting that both Karl and Claire were abundantly clear in their rejection of all forms of DV. The allegation here is that Baird did not properly evidence her claim, and she certainly has not been fair in her handling of all that the Bible has to say on the subject, nor in her presentation of those who seek to uphold that Biblical position.
The answer to these challenges is to provide further and more subtantive evidence of DV in the church and to demonstrate that the Bible is being handled fairly. With regard to the first, articles began to be written. Eternity published a response by a senior pastoral worker, “We really do have a problem of domestic violence, and here is how to help“. She notes that Baird’s original article was “really unhelpful” but goes on to point to evidence of DV in the church,

Knowing what we do about hidden child sexual abuse and the use of alcohol, prescribed pain medication and pornography within the church, it is simply not statistically possible that we do not also have a problem with domestic abuse.
True, we mightn’t see many women with broken noses and cheek bones, but we definitely have women whose husbands take their shoes or car keys with them when they go out so that their wife can’t leave the home, women who are denigrated because they do not live up to their husband’s pornographic ideals, women married to men in a continual state of rage, women who have no money to spend or no time that their husband does not control, or families who tip toe around a ‘difficult’ father that no-one dares to upset!
Sin is alive and well in many theologically conservative households and submission in the wrong hands does lead to abuse, usually in the form of control and emotional abuse. One way in which sin plays out, is that some men leverage the scriptural injunctions of submission by bending these verses towards meeting their own unmet needs, rather than seeking to love and serve their wife sacrificially.

There is also an Eternity piece from 2012 by Amelia Schwarze that is worth reading through.
Baird has responded to these various critiques by penning a second article. And it’s far better. “Doctrine of headship a distortion of the gospel message of mutual love and respect“. She begins with a criticism of John Piper’s now-infamous remarks in 2012 (transcript here):

If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.

Baird calls this response “astonishing”. I’m not sure I agree and I’m not sure that Jesus’ Apostle Peter does either. (Do also note some clarifying remarks from Piper here). Either way, Baird moves on from this opening to tell of the responses she has received from many women following her original article.
And this is most helpful for all of us, for here is far more of the evidence that we need to come to terms with this terrible behaviour from within our own community, and it is delivered with far less of the unfair rhetoric of Baird’s first column.

One woman wrote to tell me she stayed with a violent man for 15 years because her pastor told her that as her husband, he was her leader. Another was punched and dragged about by her hair by a husband who gave her a Bible with verses on submission highlighted in it. She told me of others she knew with similar experiences who became depressed and suicidal.

Another woman told me her minister advised her that her husband might stop hitting her if she had more sex with him. There were more. I will not reveal their names – their stories are theirs to tell, the trauma for many too recent.

I also heard from psychologists who decried the abuse of the headship doctrine. A Christian counsellor in private practice in Sydney — whose employer asked her not to supply her name — told me this was a “very significant problem” in church agencies: “I have worked with numbers of women and children who have been the victims of a twisted view of male headship which gives men permission to do whatever they want in the family. To exert control and power in a way that God never meant it to be.”

Baird points us to some solid stats and an acknowledgement of the good work that is happening amongst Sydney Anglicans. We are getting more and more excellent training in this area and

Likewise, the then Archbishop Peter Jensen said in his presidential address that to use headship, “as some have, as an excuse to demand slave-like servility, or even to engage in physical and emotional bullying is to misuse it utterly and no wife should feel spiritually obliged to accept such treatment.” He is absolutely right. And more need to say it.

What Baird didn’t acknowledge initially is that plenty of us do say it. We say it every time we come across DV. We’re appalled by DV in general and we’re outraged when the reality of Jesus’ loving caring headship of His bride the church is so foully distorted by men who abuse their wives. Again, more of this in a bit.
Alongside Baird’s article is a piece by the lady she mentions above writing under the pseudonym “Isabella”. It outlines a terrible story of abuse and closes in this manner:

I think we should all be glad that Julia wrote her original article, regardless of our theological position.  A defensive rebuttal of her article is of no use me or to any of the damaged women I know. They need help and validation. They need well-trained ministers who are equipped to help deal with the problem.

But if what I read online this week in the Christian community is representative, many people in the church still have “a see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” attitude. Nothing much will improve until every denomination in Australia has a strategy to deal with domestic abuse that is informed by experts and rigorously implemented in each local church.

Swallow your pride and get to it, people. If you care enough to bother.

Well there’s lots here to get to grips with. I’m going to try to draw some strands together.

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Getting Real About the Problem

I think in the long-run we’re going to be grateful to Julia Baird for raising this very difficult subject, even if we may remain critical of some of the way she’s gone about it. Like it or not DV is a reality for us.

I wonder if for many in the church coming to terms with this is going to be like coming to terms with the reality of child abuse. I know that my experience of discovering the reality of child abuse is one shared with many. I can distinctly recall sitting in a training session in my first year at Moore Theological College learning just what goes on behind closed doors, it’s prevalance, and how we ought to respond. For far too long the church had struggled to grasp the full reality of this terrible terrible blight amongst us. We simply could not believe that people would act this way. This of course is one of the many reasons that an abuser can continue – we simply don’t believe it is possible. It is the explanation (but obviously not an excuse) for some of the woeful responses in the past to allegations of abuse. It wasn’t always that people did not care – it was just that abuse of children was beyond our comprehension.

And so I guess we’re the same when it comes to DV. We often can’t contemplate that it occurs. As “Isabella” relates, offenders present as decent Christian men. They groom those around them just as those who abuse children do. We are kidding ourselves if we think this is not going on.

The answer then, must surely be the same as with the abuse of children; education. We need to educate our leaders (along with everyone else) to be aware of this issue, how to spot it, and how to deal with it. Thank you Julia for opening up this subject, but thank you also for acknowledging,

…there has been a push to educate clergy about how to deal with domestic violence in Sydney, led by conservatives. There are good men leading this, trying to persuade their fellow clergy to take it seriously.

There is really is much good work going on. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet (honestly!) but at Break the Cycle here in Macquarie Fields we’re not only working to support victims of DV but also address the underlying issues that cause men to behave in this way. By God’s grace we’re seeing some good results. The credit goes to an excellent director and chaplain who are committed to getting this right. We also have other staff and volunteers who do their part in addressing this scourge on our communities.

The problem is an abuse of headship

It’s in discussions of the topic of headship in the Bible that Baird’s argument begins to unravel and we see one of her major drivers that, sadly, serves only to undermine her presentation. In her first article she writes,

According to this doctrine, a man is the head of a woman, and wives are to submit to their husbands. The verses usually drawn on are from Ephesians 5: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.” (Too often skipped is the verse that precedes it: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”)

Yes, it is skipped but even more egregious is Baird’s skipping of any fair presentation from her own pen of the fullness of the Biblical doctrine, namely that headship is the exercise of sacrificially loving leadership. For Baird the problem is headship itself. That means that despite quoting both Simon Smart of the Institute for Public Christianity and Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies who accurately describe headship, she closes with this conclusion:

To most modern thinkers, the emphasis on obedience or headship is bizarre, retrograde and entirely unnecessary when the core message of the Bible is love, selflessness and service, not a drive for power…

This is an egregious misrepresentation of the Bible’s message. The irony is that headship in the Scriptures, embodied in the person of Jesus, is the epitome of love, selflessness and service.

Eph. 5:25    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

This is not an abusive “drive for power” but rather the other-person-centred correct use of power. The all-powerful Lord of the Universe demonstrated His headship in choosing to die for His bride, the Church.
Baird doesn’t like this Biblical doctrine, as her second piece demonstrates,

The problem is that in Sydney, the same doctrine has been used for decades to exclude women from positions of authority. If headship is employed as the reason women should not be priests, it will remain a herculean task to convince people that it has nothing to do with power – and able to be twisted by those seeking an excuse to control women.

The tragedy is that this underlying issue for Baird has led her to being unfair in two pieces which desperately needed some clear thinking and freedom from distracting rhetoric.
It also, in part, explains some of the “defensive” response by many of us. Certainly it is true that some of us are unwilling to acknowledge the reality of abuse in our circles, possibly even out of a mentality that we ought not to countenance such attacks on our structures. But there is far more going on. Baird tied her valid observations about DV tightly to her well-known and oft-aired opposition to this vital Biblical doctrine. For many of us it was not the honour of Sydney Anglicanism that is at stake but something far more important. Which brings me to my final point,

The solution to DV is the headship of Jesus, properly understood and applied

Let me be bold. Julia’s attack upon the doctrine of headship actually does an enormous disservice to the women she seeks to help. It’s a bit like rescuing them from a leaky lifeboat only to claim that boats themselves are the problem. When you do that people drown.

The solution to men in the Church behaving appallingly is to insist that they behave in a godly fashion and to tolerate nothing less. And that means pointing them to Jesus’ headship. As we’ve already seen, genuine headship in the Scriptures is all about love. Baird simply cannot concede this and nowhere in her own description of headship in the Bible will she acknowledge this basic truth. No wonder there has been protest! For in leaving out the foundational component of headship she has not only misrepresented the Church’s position but far more tragically has misrepresented Jesus Himself.

Jesus consistently presented Himself as a bridegroom and husband. In doing so He was entirely consistent with the same presentation in the Old Testament of God as an ever-loving always-forgiving husband (e.g. Hos. 3:1). Here is the husband who is prepared to die for the benefit of His bride. He does not beat her. Instead He Himself is prepared to take a beating so that she may be presented perfectly on that last day. This imagery of Christ as husband is therefore integral to the gospel. It is the hope for every woman and for every man. We, together, have a husband who has exercised headship, and done so powerfully.

It also means that men who call themselves Christian have no excuse. But more than that they have a wonderful model and encouragement towards correct behaviour in relation to their wives. Moreover we have a sure promise of forgiveness for when we fail to be the husbands that we ought to be.

Baird’s rejection of headship denies both women and men this awesome and wonderful truth. Like it or not Scriptural concepts of headship are intrinsically linked to the gospel. You can’t have one without the other.

Which means that I’m going to gently and respectfully disagree with “Isabella” when she writes,

A defensive rebuttal of her article is of no use me or to any of the damaged women I know. They need help and validation. They need well-trained ministers who are equipped to help deal with the problem.

I do not mean in any way to deny the thrust of her sentiment here. Yes, victims of DV do need help and validation. I trust I’m on the record for not just saying it but working hard to make it happen. And we certainly need to train our ministers well in this area. I hope what is written above leaves you in no doubt of my convictions in this area.

But I do think a defensive rebuttal of Baird’s article will eventually help damaged women, if we can rebutt in the right way.

I’m not ashamed to be “defensive”. I’m defensive about headship because it is the headship of Jesus that was ultimately (even if not deliberately) seriously undermined by Baird in a terrible act of collateral damage. To attack Jesus’ headship is to harm damaged women. It is to deny them the gospel and balm of Jesus’ sacrificial love for them. It is to deny the Church the correct model for husbands and, by extension, all male church leadership.

So Church, not least Sydney Anglicanism, let’s get this right. Let’s thank Julia and others who have spoken up for having the courage to raise this issue. Let’s get real about DV, it’s prevelance amongst us, and the things we must learn and do.

But let’s also not shy away from Jesus’ headship. It is life and grace and love for all of us. For the victim, for the perpetrator, for the minister of the gospel, for the entire church. Jesus’ bridal headship is our great hope and it would be tragic for us to lose sight of this wonderful reality as we grapple with terrible sin in our midst.

Eph. 5:25    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

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This Post Has 56 Comments

  1. Matt

    This is a classic example of Christians being moved by the need to be right, instead of by compassion. We are no different to the world when we grudgingly acknowledge issues with explanations, caveats and disclaimers.
    We should be the first to jump to defence of those in DV situations and examine ourselves and our churches on how we can improve. Education for all Church Leadership is a great start, especially in how to respond if they are told directly by any victims.
    Titling an article “Abusing the Facts” is hurtful to those who have experienced DV. I hope Claire Smith will understand that.
    May the Holy Spirit guide us into truth in this area so we can have a great outcome and positive change.
    Bless you for your article on this.

    1. David Ould

      thanks for your comment, Matt. Can I ask, who is it that you suggest is “moved by the need to be right, instead of by compassion”?

      I don’t see that motivation in any of those mentioned in this piece, no matter what particular approach they have taken in this public discussion. Rather, I think there’s a commonly-shared compassion for victims of DV, but a significant disagreement on causes, responses, and other related issues.

      1. Matt

        Please think about how you, in your influential position, can create a safer and more open environment so the church is a place where DV victims can run to.

        1. David Ould

          Matt, perhaps you could flesh out your comment a little more? It’s not really a response to the question I raised. I’m sure there’s more you have to say.

          1. Matt

            You are a thinker and I am a feeler. I have no more to say, I’m sorry. If what I have written is right may the Holy Spirit lay it on your heart. If I’m wrong then it’s still good to have at least gone this far. May God lead you in driving awareness and discussion of church issues. Matt

  2. Rachel White

    Hi David, I wanted to take some time today to read your article. I applaud you for acknowledging that this problem exists, that Ms Baird has played a role in bringing it to light , and the best response is to acknowledge it and deal with it. That's where real leadership lies.

  3. David Ould

    thank you for the kind words, Rachel

  4. Alice

    Hi David, thanks for writing this article.

    I read the comments by Matt above, and I agree with some of them.

    The title ‘Abusing an argument’ is making a play on words with domestic abuse (or else, it’s really unfortunate). I would avoid making any kind of word play with such a serious subject – to me it feels like it is trivialising it. I know you would not intend to do this delibrately.

    Early in the article you say:
    ‘Baird’s article, as one might expect, prompted a lot of discussion and not a little push-back. In particular there was the complaint that she had relied heavily on anecdotal argument without giving us the hard stats. In any large organisation it stands to reason that there will be instances of abuse, but is it fair to tarnish the whole body based on what could be a small blemish? The plural of anecdote, after all, is not anecdata.’
    It isn’t clear if this is your opinion or push-back from other people – but to me it seems to suggest that DV isn’t really a big problem and Baird is making a mountain out of a molehill. I don’t think it is your thoughts as you seem to contradict it later.

    I think it would be helpful to say at the _beginning_ of such an article how abhorrent DV is (as you do later on) so to start without any ambiguity. With such a subject, ambiguity is not your friend.


    1. David Ould

      Hi Alice,
      Thanks so much for stopping and commenting.
      Yes, I am making a “play on words” but in my defense (without wanting to be defensive about it!) I did add a question mark. My intention was not only to address the issue of DV directly but also make some comments about the arguments and assumptions being communicated in this discussion that’s happening. I had hoped by making the statement a question I was communicating an openness to exploring whether all parties were being fair in their dialogue, not simply making a bold assertion.

      As for the quote from Julia Baird; yes – I was simply trying to relate the conversations that were happening. You should not read this article as a total endorsement of everything reported but, rather, an attempt to bring those who weren’t aware up to speed on how the discussion has progressed over the last 2 weeks or so.

      Your final comment is fair, and actually a really helpful observation in general in this area. One thing I have noticed over the last 10 days is that several people who have raised one issue or another with some of the argument made by Baird (or others) have been unfairly accused of denying the seriousness of DV. It’s another good example that often we may assume that people understand our positions (e.g. that we are utterly opposed to DV) but what we write (and especially because it’s a difficult and emotive topic) gives some cause to think otherwise. It’s also, of course, a gentle reminder to us all not to assume things about others that we’re only inferring rather than clarly reading in their words.

      So much to get right here and so much to potentially get wrong! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and push us onwards in the right direction.

  5. Vic Tuson

    You wrote that 11 years ago and sadly this problem is bigger than ever. Are the clergy stuck in their ways?

  6. David Ould

    Vic Tuson is it "bigger than ever"? Or are we now simply more aware of it? Genuine question.

  7. Ralph Horner


    Jesus’ message about marriage is given in Matthew (19:4-6) reiterating what is said in the OT (Genesis 2:24). Quite obviously, if husband and wife are to become ‘one flesh’/one in heart and mind there can be no dominance – only a complementarity and cooperation. A genuine marriage can only be based and built on an exclusive love (not control) of the spouse. If there is dominance/abuse, the ideal, indeed the very concept of marriage, is missing. It can only be recovered though repentance and amendment and if the abused party is willing to forgive.

    I find some of Paul’s statements (such as Ephesians 5:22-34 & 1Corinthians 11:8-10) on marriage most unhelpful. Even though the literal meaning can be explained away, it creates an impression contrary to what Christ taught. It is hardly any wonder that men looking for an excuse to be domineering will latch onto it’s literal meaning to bolster and self-justify their desires.

    I Googled ‘headship in the Bible’ and looked at a number of sites but did not find one reference to the Gospels/Christ’s teachings suggesting that the husband is ‘the head’ of the wife. In some articles an analogy was made between Christ being the head of the church and a man being the head of his wife. I find this incorrect because husband and wife together (as a unit) represent the church.

    A man being the head of the household is a cultural concept but also a religious one in the sense that the male is predominately a receptor of truth from God and the woman more a receptor of love/nurture/compassion but where the male lacks wisdom (as he surely does if he abuses the wife he promised in the presence of God to love) women are not lacking in the reception of truth.

    When someone is acting from self-love (to the exclusion of others) their ‘truth’/guiding principle is not coming from God. Love/compassion can also go awry when it is not based in and guided by truth.

    1. David Ould

      Ralph, I’m afraid you’ll have to take up Paul’s words with Jesus who appointed him as Apostle and speaks through him.
      As for doing your theology by google, I’ll let you do that on your own.

      1. Ralph Horner

        I think that’s what I am doing David, by comparing what Paul says with what Jesus says. An apostle is a messenger/teacher, not an originator of (in this case) Scripture. Jesus is ‘truth itself’ (John 1:14; 14:6). That’s not something that can be passed on to another. Jesus is God; Paul is a finite man.

        Paul was a great preacher/teacher and ambassador for Christianity but he was not perfect. On some issues he was at odds with Peter (another apostle) so I don’t see how the teachings of the apostles can be given the same level of absolute authority as the ‘Word’ of Christ.

        It may have been important in the scheme of things i.e. for the sake of civil order, for Paul to endorse the culture of his day but that does not make it a universal principle. IMO, Jesus was/is not a revolutionary. He wants people to understand and act from the truth but to come to it in their own way and in their own time i.e. in freedom.

        I can’t help wondering if the apostles (now hopefully in heaven), whose objective was to lead people to Christ, don’t feel somewhat embarrassed at the pedestal that some have placed them on. The apostles could not simply point people to the Gospels because they were not written at that time. Nor were the Scriptures universally accessible to the general populace for many centuries because of the lack of universal education. But now they are.

        I don’t ‘do’ my theology by Google but I do use Google as an instant and easy source of knowledge, hopefully pointing to more reliable sources. Do you know a place where Jesus (directly) teaches ‘headship’ of husband over wife?

        1. David Ould

          well, you’re free to take a position contrary to the historical view of the church. But a few comments need to be made.

          Nobody claimed Paul was God. Nobody claimed he was infinite nor that he was perfect.

          Paul’s argument is not to uphold his contemporary structures but rather from Creation (so he quotes exactly the same foundational texts Gen 2:24 that Jesus does when making his case on this topic) but also specifcally contrary to culture (so e.g. Rom 12:1-2). And he writes with the authority granted to him as an Apostle (unless, of course, you charge him with lying about that – your call).

          In the issue at which he was at odds with Peter we have the Apostolic record in the New Testament that demonstrates he was correct. If anything this is an argument to his authority, not against it.

          The person that placed the Apostles “on a pedestal” was Jesus Himself, by appointing them. This, again, was the view of the early church who looked to their Apostolic appointment as the indication that they wrote with Jesus’ authority. Perhaps you might google that?

          The Scriptures were universally accessible. We know that they were intended to be read. We know that they were copied in enormous amounts – an act that would have been utterly pointless if they were not “accessible”. On the contrary it points towards their accessibility and the understanding by the early church that they ought to be widely disseminated and accessed.

          And as for your final question – He teaches it by affirming the Creation narrative (which has the man created first and committing himself in care and love to his bride, and then criticising him for not subsequently discharging his headship in the correct way) and directly through His apostles by the further instructions He had enscripturated through them. Again, if you wish to oppose the testimony of the New Testament and the early church in this matter then feel free to. But let’s all be really clear on who it is that is walking away from Jesus.

          1. Ralph Horner

            David, your claim that the pronouncements of Paul bear the same authority as those of Jesus (Jesus has that authority because he is God/divine) implies that Paul has the same authority as God. Paul only had the authority to preach/teach the teachings of Jesus not to add stuff of his own. I don’t believe he would do that, which is why he makes a distinction between his own thoughts and the thoughts that are inspired directly by Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 7:10 and 1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

            Paul did not write to be include in the Christian canon – that was the decision of later church leaders. IMO, Christian doctrine cannot be based on what Paul says but only on what Paul says that is traceable back to Christ – which is the same thing as saying ‘can only be based on what Christ says’.

            The reason I raised the issue of disagreement between Paul and Peter was to demonstrate that Peter like Paul was also an apostle with the same sort of authority as Paul. Regardless of who was right or who was wrong, if apostolic authority was on equal terms with Christ there would have been no disagreement between apostles.

            I don’t think Jesus placed/places anyone “on a pedestal”. He ‘raises people up’ to perform specific uses. All have their place in the scheme of things if they choose to take up the challenge.

            The accessibility of the Scriptures/the ability to personally read and study the words of Jesus depends on education which in the early centuries was pretty much confined to the wealthy upper class.

            I don’t understand how you can claim that I’m “walking away from Jesus” when I am constantly insisting that everything be referred back to Jesus as the true and final authority.

  8. Nigel Poore

    Irrespective of what scripture does or doesn’t say about wives submitting to husbands, l feel that this is a natural position for a man to have, Christian or not. I believe it is an inbuilt authority given by God, full stop, after all, you can only have one captain of a ship.

    I also feel that the position of a husband is an elevated position of absolute privelege not to be abused, hence the command also “husbands love your wives”, which, l might add, because of our differing male/ female headspace, makeup, emotions and testosterone/hormone levels can sometimes be hard if you also add in an over demanding wife or you’re getting earache.

    I also believe that because of our fallen nature there is often a natural pushback from the woman in not wanting to submit to her husband.

    So, in the same way God had to give us the Ten Commandments to counter our fallen nature with rules for harmonious living, God also had to speak through Paul to give us some rules in a marraige relationship, which, also in my experience, if fully complied with…. harmony prevails……what bliss!

    Conversely, when not complied with harmony jumps out of the window and in some circumstances DV results.

    As we can see from Julia’s article “wives submit to husbands” goes down like a lead balloon with a lot of females these days, but even more so with secular females…….try suggesting this to the women at your workplace tomorrow if you dare.

    As well, you can understand why it is not an oft preached sermon…….anything for a quiet life for preachers too !

    I might add that l don’t think that Paul’s instruction would ever be preached by women bishops (said tongue in cheek of course!).

    1. Nigel Poore

      On further reflection, and on the subject of DV, I might add from Collosians 3 v 18-19 which “l just happened to read” this morning.

      In addition to ……”Wives submit to your husbands and husbands love your wives”, here’s the crunch line…..”husbands do not be harsh with them” (key word being harsh).

      So, yep, in my view, if we have DV in the church, it is cause for self examination by both the wife and the husband.

      And yep, even though marraige would have to be one of the harder things to do, if we apply the formula set down by God…..what bliss!!

    2. Ralph Horner

      So Nigel, you’d be willing to ignore scripture and go by your feelings? Isn’t that a rather dangerous plan given that we humans have a “fallen nature”? Isn’t that the sort of plan one would expect from a fallen nature?
      The whole purpose of scripture, IMO, is so that by aspiring to and working towards it’s revealed truth we can rise above our “fallen nature” (by virtue of which our feelings are suspect and need evaluating).
      If you read Christ’s teachings on marriage you’ll see that the purpose of marriage is that two may become one. How is that possible if one is an overlord and the other a servant? Why is the male more worthy to be the “captain” when both are “fallen’ creatures? IMO, the “captain” of every marriage should be the Lord. The more both parties look to and try to serve the Lord the closer they come together (in heart and mind).
      If you take the stance that “a husband is an elevated position of absolute privilege” aren’t you immediately setting up a confronting situation rather than a cooperative one plus denying the wife the right to think for herself – looks very much to me like what a “fallen nature” would do. It’s the very fact of difference of approach (male and female) that makes the opinions of both parties equally valuable (provided both are looking to a source of truth and goodness higher than their fallen nature).
      Not every “demanding” wife is out of line. If she’s keeping her side of the bargain in trying to follow God’s teachings and the husband is goofing off and only wanting a rubber stamp for his selfish desires why shouldn’t she speak up. If the husband is a ‘loving husband’ he will be willing to listen and discuss the issues. A good, harmonious marriage is built through the effort of cooperation – it doesn’t just happen. I’m afraid your “harmony/bliss” looks very one-sided to me – a bit like the ‘pax Romana’ of the Roman Empire.

      1. Nigel Poore

        Hi Ralph,
        Yep it’s an emotive issue.

        All I can say is it works for me.

        And nope l am not a tyrant, and nope, l definitely know the trap of feelings, so would never go on feelings per se. I’m just an ordinary bloke in a fallen body who loves scripture and likes to apply the rules God has given us to get the best out of our fallen state, and as a matter of fact l love loving my wife in every sense of the word.

        I think we can get overly “thingy” and nuanced about scripture sometimes. Maybe it’s because our human logic intervenes, who knows. I quite like the “child view” as Jesus taught.

        There are many many many different references in scripture to a wife submitting to her husband, even a reference in 1 Peter 3 v 6 where it sings the praises of Sarah calling her husband Lord. Now wouldn’t that be good !! Ha !! Reference below.

        One thing that does concern me is “adding to or taking away from scripture”. A lot of people think this is coming up with another Bible translation, but it is also man who adds or takes away from scripture by his own interpretation, and not by resting on the exact words written.

        Just my thoughts……and said with warmth,


        1 Peter
        3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

        7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

        1. Ralph Horner

          Thanks Nigel, I enjoyed your response. I wasn’t implying that you were “a tyrant” and I think your love of scripture is quite obvious. Maybe I am a bit ‘thingy’ about scripture but I’m also believe reason and common sense are important. I’m rather sceptical about religious tradition unless it can be demonstrated to have a solid scriptural basis and to be still applicable in the present.

          I perfectly agree that when a husband is doing his bit and taking his cue from God there is no problem with his wife submitting to his judgment because in doing so she is submitting to God’s judgment as understood and expressed through her husband. If there is any misunderstanding or disagreement they will sort it out because each is primarily concerned about the other’s happiness. I think there is something pretty noble about a wife who is willing to do this even though she may be intellectually smarter and more in tune with what is best for the family than her spouse.

          A problem arises though if the husband is not tuned into or interested is God/the common good or is going through negative states in that regard. As David said in his new topic, in a situation that becomes abusive, the choice of how to deal with it is/should be up to the wife (only she knows her own heart and her limits).

          A blanket rule ‘to submit’ to her husband would mean that she could be placed in the position of acting against her conscience and possibly in maintaining a situation of danger to herself and any children that may be involved. A man who is willing to resort to abuse and violence is not likely to be “won over” by the “purity and reverence” of their wife. I believe ‘headship’ (as a universal principle) is Paul’s idea informed more by the culture of the day than it is by Christ.

          1. Erin

            Ralph, you present a solid argument that exposes the weaknesses of the current prevailing approach to DV in the church. It is obvious that current approaches do not work, as domestic violence is a problem in churches (and there is a lot of supporting research, I can’t believe people are asking for statistics because they are dubious about domestic violence being prevalent in churches with mainline evangelical teaching). Perhaps a major reason DV victims do not experience support in their churches is that our recourse to superficial mandates like husbands are to lead (lovingly, we add) and wives are to submit, is simply inadequate and really quite lame. And you have laid out exactly why that is the case.

            “I believe ‘headship’ (as a universal principle) is Paul’s idea informed more by the culture of the day than it is by Christ.”

            This has been argued (quite convincingly, in my mind) by quite a few Christian scholars and teachers. Until I see a solid rebuttal of their position, I am not buying into the idea that headship must be preserved because Paul “commands” it.

        2. Desley

          How incredibly dangerous is it to reference Sarah’s obedience to Abraham (the man who handed her over to a harem) when discussing DV. This is exactly how the church is playing into the hand of the abuser. I guess Christian women should be subservient to the point of even being sexually enslaved. But as long as we have faith and do not fear anything that is frightening, right? That is exactly why I let my “head” mistreat and abuse my son for 16 years and almost had my children apprehended by child services.

    3. Connie

      All of the DV I have seen in my church circles (and there are MANY) consisted of a wife who was trying her hardest to be as submissive as possible. It is not healthy for anyone to give their power over to another. God gave us freedom and to give that over is not in anyone’s best interest. Power over others is the biggest lust of the flesh there is……just look at world leaders, church leaders, etc. who have been in that position. Power corrupts. We are not created to handle it.

      In my current situation, only as I have become so secure in Christ that I have been putting my foot down and saying “No more or I’m gone” have we been starting to have a relationship that we are both happy with. Sure, he thought he was happy when he got his own way all the time, but now he sees that true joy is when we can both have input, come to agreement, and proceed together in respect and honour of each other. And that is the beauty of marriage, that there can be two captains of a ship, each serving the other. Oh, I know the old, “But what if there is a dead-lock? Someone has to make the final decision.” No, we pray until there is unity.

  9. MichaelA

    Having read through Julia Baird’s piece, I can’t agree that it has been a helpful contribution. Her real focus seems to be to attack headship doctrine, even though she can’t cite any actual example of those who believe in headship who do anything but strongly condemn domestic violence.

    Further, the implication that she has somehow brought this issue to church attention is just bizarre – Christian leaders have been talking about it for years, yet she only appears to be aware of very recent statements by Peter Jensen and Glenn Davies.

    What about the public comments by bishops in Sydney, Tasmania and elsewhere a decade ago – I can remember off the top of my head +Harrower’s comments in 2004, Sydney Synod debates in 2007, ++Jensen’s address in 2012 and others. The secular media rarely reports these, because domestic violence is not seen as a “trendy” issue.

    Julia Baird would have made better use of her time by publicising the work that the churches are already doing in respect of domestic violence and have been doing for years.

    1. Nigel Poore

      Yep, fully agree Michael ……..but we couldn’t have that in this day and age …….not sensationalist or controversial enough !!

  10. Nigel Poore

    Thanks Ralph, l concur with every word you have written.

    And you write in a good, straightforward and down to earth style.

    You are my friend for life !!


  11. Barbara Roberts

    David I am glad to hear that you are one of the Christians, and one of the male Christians, who is trying to do something about domestic abuse. Thank you! I would like to invite you to be open to learning how to do this more effectively. In other words, I’m going to try to correct some of your thinking and the way you’ve expressed yourself. I do hope you will listen to me.

    First, you’ll be wondering about me: I am a woman. I am a survivor of domestic abuse. I’m the author of “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion” which has been in the Moore College library for some years. Since 1999 I’ve been a volunteer victim-advocate and supporter of other Christian survivors of domestic abuse. I have organised a public forum, presented talks to secular DV Professional Networks, and interacted with other activists in the field for years. Since 2013 I have been co-leading the blog A Cry For Justice (ACFJ) which is seeking to awaken the evangelical church to domestic violence and abuse in its midst. My co-leader on ACFJ is Ps Jeff Crippen, a Reformed Baptist minister in Oregon USA. Jeff Crippen is the author of “A Cry For Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church”. I highly recommend Jeff’s book to anyone wanting to learn about this field. It would be one of the best places to start for anyone wanting to develop their understanding of domestic abuse and Christianity, the other best place IMO would be the ACFJ blog (you can find it by clicking on my name above).

    Okay; hope you are still with me after that intro. 🙂

    You said:

    “The solution to men in the Church behaving appallingly is to insist that they behave in a godly fashion and to tolerate nothing less. And that means pointing them to Jesus’ headship… Jesus consistently presented Himself as a bridegroom and husband. In doing so He was entirely consistent with the same presentation in the Old Testament of God as an ever-loving always-forgiving husband (e.g. Hos. 3:1). Here is the husband who is prepared to die for the benefit of His bride. He does not beat her. Instead He Himself is prepared to take a beating so that she may be presented perfectly on that last day. This imagery of Christ as husband is therefore integral to the gospel. It is the hope for every woman and for every man. We, together, have a husband who has exercised headship, and done so powerfully.”

    I agree that Jesus, as head of the church, shows immense love and forgiveness. He died for the benefit of his bride. He does not beat her. He took a beating on her behalf. However, I believe your citation of Hosea 3:1 is most unhelpful in this discussion of domestic abuse. Hosea, at God’s instructions took back a wife who had heinously sinned against him. This story does not map well at all onto domestic abuse scenarios.

    For one thing, in Hosea’s story, the heinous sinner was the wife. But in most situations of domestic abuse, the heinous sinner is the husband. (Yes, I know some men are victims of their wives, but in the debate as raised by Julia Baird and your article, we are discussing male on female abuse, where potentially the male has been twisting the doctrine of male headship as part of his justification for his sinful deeds and wrong attitudes.)

    For another thing, Hosea was a special case, which God brought to pass in that particular and unusual way, to be an object lesson for God’s love for his wife Israel who was sinfully and grievoulsly running into idolatry. Never once in the Bible are we told to take Hosea’s story as a paradigm for how we must always repond to a spouse who has heinously sin against us. Instead, the Bible has plenty of places where the sin of Hosea’s wife (adultery) is clearly stated to be grounds for divorce.

    And by citing the Hosea story, but NOT citing where God himself divorced Israel for her spiritual adulteries (Jer 3), and likewise failing to cite all the other places where divorce is clearly allowed for adultery, and for simple desertion, and, I strongly argue, for abuse as well (which is form of desertion) you have skewed your argument and made it most unhelpful.

    Not only is it unhelpful to cite the Hosea story, it is also potentially triggering to victim/surivors, when you cite Hosea taking his wife back. I know male victims and female victims of domestic abuse whose pastors or elders counseled them to take back their abusive spouse, because Hosea took back his wife. This stuff HURTS. David, I hope you are still listening to me. I believe you are open to learning and have good intentions. I could tell you many many things about how to use language so it does not trigger victim/survivors. But this comment is long enough!

    One more thing before I wind up. Re your idea that “The solution to men in the Church behaving appallingly is to insist that they behave in a godly fashion and to tolerate nothing less. And that means pointing them to Jesus’ headship. This idea, I have to tell you, is inadequate and will probably end up backfiring on the victims. Why? Because ‘pointing the abuser to Jesus and to Jesus’ headship, is not going to cut it. The abuser does not need mere education about what Jesus is like. He needs confrontation and discipline and he needs to be held accountable very strongly and firmly. Many survivors at our blog recount how their pastors and counselors ‘pointed their abuser to Jesus’ but this was not enough because (these are the main reasons, but there are more) —
    1. The pastors and counselors failed to recognise and resist the abuser’s efforts to recruit them as allies.
    2. The pastors and counselors failed to recognise how cunningly and craftily and pervasively the abuser lies and distorts the truth and tells lies by telling only part of the truth, and maligns the victim in such subtle ways that the pastor gets sucked in and stigmatizes the victim too.
    3. The pastors were sucked in by the abuser’s feigned repentance.
    4. The pastors and counselors did not put the abusers out of the church and hand them over to Satan, in disobedience to the instruction in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.

    I beg you to check out the blog A Cry For Justice and see what we are doing. We are wanting to educate the church, and so far very few are listening. But maybe you will come on board and become an even better ally of victims than you already are.

    Blessings to you.
    PS you might like to start with this post at our blog:

    It also means that men who call themselves Christian have no excuse. But more than that they have a wonderful model and encouragement towards correct behaviour in relation to their wives. Moreover we have a sure promise of forgiveness for when we fail to be the husbands that we ought to be.

    1. David Ould

      hi Barbara,

      Thank you so much for writing and particularly for taking the time to set out a detailed response.

      1. Barbara Roberts

        You are welcome David. 🙂
        Thank you very much for publishing my comment.

        I’ve re-read it now and I realise that the last paragraph in my comment ought not be there. It was a quote from your post which I meant to delete before hitting the submit button. Sorry.

  12. Anno Stanworth

    I read your article John. In it you started off with the issue of child sexual abuse and asked, "Can we learn from their mistakes? When we reinstate someone, we need to ask, 'Who are we asking to carry the risk, and pay the price if this doesn't work, if this goes wrong?' It is one thing to risk ourselves, but should we ask children to carry that risk?"

    I think you're absolutely spot on in pointing out the parallels of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Although the above question relates to child sex abuse offenders, the question must be asked about domestic violence and its perpetrators. I'm afraid that as far as I can see, the answer to the questions seem clear. No, the church has not learnt from previous mistakes. No, the church does not ask who is going to carry the risk and pay the price if "reinstating" the offender (i.e. reconciliation and restoration of marriage) doesn't work. No, they do not care if children carry that risk.

    1. Barbara Roberts

      Anno, I agree.
      I will also add that a lot of research has shown that there is substantial overlap between child abuse and domestic abuse. In other words, the domestic abuser often abuses not the spouse but the children.

      Of course, when children are exposed to domestic abuse in the home (by hearing, seeing or sensing the scary atmosphere and the actual big incidents of abuse) they are actually victims of domestic abuse, even if they are not actually touched in anger, sexually abused, or any of those *big things* which are crimes against children. In my State, Victoria, the law and the police recognise this, and if police are called out to a family voilence incident and they ascertain that chidren live in the home, they are required to report that to Child First, who then evaluated and maybe follow up with a report to other authorities.

      But there is also clear evidence that many spouse abusers also target their children directly. Often this begins or intensifies after the victim (usually the wife) has separated and is expected/required/compelled to make the children available for visitation with the abuser. The abuser hurts the kids in order to get retribution against the wife. Many kids suffer emotional, psychological sexual abuse this way, and some are killed, for example, Darcy Freeman who was thrown off the Westgate Bridge by her father. 🙁

      1. Desley

        My ex husband targeted my son instead of me. This led my son to act out, which in turn helped him to justify his abuse to the church leadership as dismiss the issue as either difference of parenting styles between us or an “imperfect” man’s reaction to my son’s “rebellion.” At one point my pastor actually referred to my son’s behavior as the equivalent to “witchcraft” in God’s eyes. Needless to say, this vindicated my abusive husband and his aggression towards my son intensified.

        I went to my church for help for 8 years when there were particularly frightening incidents. One included my husband grabbing my son (who was 12 at the time) by the neck and trying to strangle him. Another included him rubbing my son’s face in urine (my son had emotional problems from the abuse and often urinated in the corner of his room). I was told to stop bringing up the past. But it wasn’t even the extraordinarily cruel events that did the most damage, it was the overall negative and mean disposition he had towards my son that led him to feel fundamentally unloved and unwanted all of his childhood. Yet after pleading with my pastor to discipline my husband according to Matthew 18:15-17, their solution was to throw my then 15-year-old son out of the home because my other kids need their father.

        My ex husband duped my entire church leadership into thinking he was genuinely trying as a Christian man. And every time I pushed for accountability they minimized the behavior, blame-shifted, or made excuses for him (but he was abused as a child! *rolls eyes*). The christian counselor we went to even chastised me for not feeling sorry for him when he cried about his childhood abuse. This was after 10 years of him degrading and destroying my son and I was becoming frustrated and angry. Not to mention, I had been abused too and I never made it my life’s mission to destroy a child over it.

        The church is a dangerous place for women and children in these kinds of environments. After my experience I would never advise a victim of abuse (child or adult) to seek help from a church.

        1. Erin

          Desley, so sorry about what you went through. I don’t know who you are or where you live, but your story sounds all too familiar. I know of several others, just in my own church, who went through such experiences. You might say that it’s highlighting a minority, but there are too many lives being devastated by abusers hiding in the sanctuary, knowing they are not only safe there, they can easily get more ammunition for their war of terror on their family members.

  13. Barbara Roberts

    Claire Smith wrote:

    "Julia’s argument hangs on the existence – even the widespread existence – of church leaders who promote and condone domestic violence. But if these leaders are so common and so outspoken why has she failed to produce one single pastor who can make her point for her in his own words?"

    Such pastors are hardly likely to a) realise, and b) admit to the fact that they have promoted and condoned domestic abuse. These pastors believe they are teaching sound Christian doctrine, so they don't believe for a moment that they are enabling abuse and allowing it to continue. So how would Julia Baird have obtained evidence from them? They would deny the charge, and the insinuation.

    [Side note: some of those pastors are themselves abusing their wives. Would such men admit to it? —— How do I know this? I hear the stories from their wives.]

    The way to gather evidence is to listen to the victims.

    On A Cry For Justice cryingoutforjustice.com we hear EVERY DAY from Christian women (and a few men) who have suffered domestic abuse — and have also suffered secondary abuse from the leaders of their churches.

    Over and over again, survivors tell us how their pastors disbelieved them, discounted the seriousness of the problem, shifted some if not all of the blame to them (the victims), pressured them to reconcile with abusers whose *repentance* is only wafer thin, pressured them to participate in mediation and couple counseling with the pastor or with such organisations as Peacemakers (TM) or with Christian counselors who actually have no clue about how to identify and safely respond to domestic abuse.

    Note: Couple counseling is contra-indicated in domestic abuse. See http://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/06/29/why-couple-counseling-is-not-recommended-for-domestic-abuse/

    I could go on an on. The tragedy is horrific. The injustice is appalling. The oppression is relentless. Some leaders are not treating victims badly, but many are.

    And if the church wants statistics, it's up to the church to do the reseach, I suggest, rather than just decrying the fact that few if any statistics are available in Australia about domestic abuse in 'c'hrisitian homes and how Christian leaders are dealing with it.

    But personally, I don't want to see reseach on rates and prevalence nearly so much as I want to see a reveiw of the teaching and pastoral responses that pertain to domestic abuse, and an upskilling of all clergy and leaders in the church (and of people in the pews) so we can all handle this a lot better.

  14. Barbara Roberts

    Why aren't the research statistics there?

    Because so few people believe this is going on — so they don't do the research.

    Because the victims are intimidated, blamed, muzzled, silenced.

    Because the abusers recruit and enlist allies in the church and stigmatize the victims.

    And because the victims are so wounded and struggling with poverty and all the other sequelae of abuse including (if they leave) going through the family courts and being compelled to make their kids available to visitation with the abuser (the ex spouse) who is usually abusing the kids while they are on visitiation.
    Imagine trying dealing with all this, AND being an outspoken person in public at the same time! — It's well-nigh impossible.

    That's why Rosie Batty is so amazing, and such a gift to us survivors. And she can only be the spokesperson she is because HER ABUSER IS DEAD — so she has nothing more to fear from him.

  15. Barbara Roberts

    The whole question of the egalitarian vv complementarian interpretation of the 'gender roles' texts in the Bible is not the hub of the problem. The hub is that most Christians, of whatever stripe, are woefully uneducated and biased about domestic abuse. Far too many people, Christian and non-Christian, believe the myths about domestic abuse that abusers zealously promote in the community.

    Julia Baird is right, I believe, in pointing to the fact that the complementarian teaching in the church has been enabling male abusers and giving them extra justification for their distorted belief that they have the right to exert power and control over their wives.

    The abusive man's distorted beliefs don't come only from the interpretation of the Bible's verses on the 'husband being head of the wife'. They also come from the secular media; from the example and teaching of family, friends and networks; from all sorts of places in the culture. But the church's contribution to this must not be discounted or ignored.

    The churches' teaching on male-headship — as it is currently being purveyed — DOES seem to be enabling abusers and making some men more likely to abuse. See this post:

    I am not against complementarianism, I just believe that they way it has been taught and applied has far too much room for abusers to misuse it for their own ends, and has made women believe they have to submit to mistreatment from their husbands unless it is something really dire (like complying with the husband's wish to do group sex, see the notorious John Piper video), or grievous physical assault. And the complementarian teaching has not been giving women sufficient guidance what to do when their husbands abuse them in any covert-aggressive way that stops short of beatings and gross sexual perversions.

  16. Nigel Poore

    So …..l’m just wondering …….. do we all still agree on a husbands headship?

    1. Erin

      I think there are two points here. The first is the one touched on by Barbara Roberts, i.e., the headship issue seems to have less impact on the problem of domestic violence than the lack of education among ministers. Domestic violence may be exacerbated by headship teaching, especially if delivered by uneducated/unaware ministers who unwittingly give perpetrators church-sanctioned weapons to exercise their domestic abuse. But domestic violence can also be present in homes where egalitarianism (or “complementarianism without hierarchy”, as some would call it) is practiced. If headship was the sole factor in violence in Christian marriages, there would be no domestic violence in churches that promote egalitarian marriages. Anecdotal evidence itself indicates that domestic violence occurs in those congregations as well.

      The second point is that many Christians do not agree that husbands are mandated to be “heads of the household”, not because they don’t uphold Scriptures, and not because they are uncomfortable with headship, and not because they have been victims and resent that teaching, but simply because they don’t believe that proper Biblical exegesis leads to that conclusion. However, given the popularity of the headship teaching, it is probably futile to be side-tracked into that discussion if confronting domestic violence in the church is the primary goal. What needs to be discussed is the effect of current teaching and how we can better protect the vulnerable.

      1. David Ould

        thanks Erin. You write:

        If headship was the sole factor in violence in Christian marriages, there would be no domestic violence in churches that promote egalitarian marriages. Anecdotal evidence itself indicates that domestic violence occurs in those congregations as well.

        Absolutely. I was told the story this afternoon of someone who grew up witnessing relentless abuse within his parent’s marriage. They described it as a “Christian, egalitarian” marriage.
        The abuser was the wife.

        This is a far broader issue and honing in on one disputed doctrine does it a disservice, all your other points not withstanding.

  17. Nigel Poore

    Yep, was just getting back to basics. In no way do l want to water down the seriousness of DV, but as well l would not want to see a husbands headship watered down either which l suspect is quite possible by those who have been bitten.

    The basics as l see it are quite simple being that the husband does have headship, but with that comes the other proviso being to love your wife to which DV cannot mix.

    1. Erin

      Yes, Nigel, I agree – you would think so, wouldn’t you?

      Interestingly, I have yet to come across ANY minister who does not condemn domestic violence. That’s clearly not the problem. But I have seen the very same ones who admonish husbands to love their wives turn a blind eye when abusive husbands treat their wives cruelly, excusing them with “we are all fallen…he needs to grow…let’s give him time…don’t provoke him…I’ll have a chat with him…” Worse, I’ve witnessed perpetrators who are important members of their parishes profess to love their wives and even admonish others to do so. What have you left to say to a husband who claims to be a loving head? Perhaps they are sincere in their desire to love their wives, but perpetrators who are deficient in empathy cannot know what love really entails. Increasing the teaching of headship/love only increases their knowledge of the right jargon, which they will put to good use in front of counsellors and clergy. What they count on is the fact that they can pull the wool over the average Christian’s eyes, because he has the right words, and in the Christian church, confession holds more weight than behaviour. Besides, behaviour can be hidden behind closed doors and a frightened family will not tell all.

      1. Nigel Poore

        Yep, don’t you just hate “the right jargon”.

        I would wet myself if l was to use “the right jargon” as a lie to cover up my sin ….knowing that Jesus is listening to every word.

  18. Nigel Poore

    It would appear to me that the hurt, wounded and abused women on this blog have a lot of push back re “the man being the head of the woman”. In fact, as a man, a husband and a father my heart bleeds, hurts and grieves for every one these women who have not had the joy of a husband providing for, nurturing, supporting and loving them as God intended.

    In perspective, and in light of this pain and hurt it would be better said to say that “the man is the head of the woman ONLY if his headship is Godly”.

    If a man’s headship is NOT Godly and the woman suffers abuse then in my eyes the woman has every right and authority to push back against the actions of a man that are unGodly……..and as well be protected from them by men who are Godly.

    1. Erin

      Nigel, yes, for complementarians, that would be one way to tackle the headship issue – make a clear caveat about when it does not apply, and determine what church-wide policies can be put in place to protect victims when their husbands insist they submit to their headship.

      On your note about “most churches” having the right help, this is precisely the issue being brought to the table – it looks like they don’t! (I only have anecdotal evidence, but I can think of several churches locally where victims were given damaging advice, and one minister who got it right – this minister would even apologise on behalf of the church.) So we have to ask, why is that the case? What’s gone wrong, and what can we do to right it? The first step, you would think, is to listen to the stories of the victims.

      P.S. Thank you for sharing your sad story, and thank God for His helping hand.

      1. Nigel Poore

        Yes Erin ……..absolutely! …….on all 3 counts!

  19. Nigel Poore

    Hi Desley,
    I have just read your distressing testimony and l empathise SO much for your son and l so understand your advice to steer clear of the church for help should this happen to others.

    Whether steering clear of EVERY church is the right advice, l don’t know, and would like to think that most churches would have the “right” help.

    The reason that l find your testimony distressing is l have been there as a child myself and know the emotional agony and buckets of tears and the feeling of not being loved as a child/adolescent. It was the other way around where l was beaten with dogs leads and vacuum cleaner pipes until I had to crawl under beds to get some abatement to get away from my mother. I never felt loved, l longed always so much for a mothers hug, and as a result I was an emotional bruised unloved misfit at school, was kicked out of home at 16 and wet the bed until l was 19. Looking for love l married early and had two failed marriages.

    The reason for saying this is to give you hope for your son and yourself. I have 6 well adjusted grown up children, l have been married to a Christian girl for 36 years now, and all of my bad childhood is behind me.

    For one reason and one reason only ………..the helping Hand of God in my life …….keep Him as your hope always.

    I hope the darkness you described is all behind you now even though you cannot forget.

  20. Bob Edwards

    Same old rationalizations. Claiming that the authority of men is unquestionably "biblical." Claiming that male authority is "good," and that it is only "bad" when abused.

    Is male authority unquestionably biblical?



    In fact the oldest manuscript evidence of both Testaments demonstrates that patriarchal language has been added to the Bible by scribes and translators who were strongly influenced by the sexist norms of their times.

    Is authority on the basis of sex "good"? Well let me put the question another way. Is authority on the basis of "race" good? It's been done before: Apartheid, slavery in the Southern United States. Was that "good"?

    Many Christians defended slavery, stating that it was only "the abuse" of a biblical institution that was actually "bad." Testimonies I've read from the families of former slaves, however, said this, "Worse than any of the beatings, dismemberment, rapes etc. was the notion that because of the color of our skin, we were somehow second-class humans."

    Authority on the basis of sex is a social injustice. Men exercise authority; women are expected to "submit" and "obey." Providing this leadership is spuriously defined as an act of "service." It's as if women "need" men to exercise decision-making authority for them. Women need that "spiritual covering" right?


    In addition to being a form of injustice in and of itself, authority on the basis of sex lends itself to other abuses. Until very recently, the law advised men how to "discipline" unruly wives. This included "corporal punishment." The "rule of thumb" was a tradition that dictated the appropriate width of the instrument a man would use to punish a disobedient wife.

    How do men enforce their "authority" in the church today, now that violence ("corporal punishment") is illegal? It's really quite simple; they tell their wives that they are disobeying God when they disobey their husbands. Christian leaders like Bruce Ware have been quoted as saying a woman demonstrates that she is in fact a Christian when she submits to God's roles for her as a wife and a mother. Women who don't submit to men, are accused of rebellion against God. Some are told, "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft"; they are literally told that they are possessed. Mark Driscoll told women who refused to perform oral sex on their husbands that they needed to meet Jesus and repent.

    If none of these mechanisms of control work, the man can still always resort to violence. In one infamous interview, John Piper said wives should submit to this and talk to their pastors.

    I'm a Social Worker. I've been dealing with this appalling abuse of the Bible and women for decades now, and it has been happening for centuries. Defensive rationalizations like this blog article only serve to perpetuate a problem that is very real, much too prevalent, and grieves the heart of God.

    1. Erin

      Bob, I’ve always wondered why we are surprised at the mess we find ourselves in. Can any good come out of bad exegesis?

    2. Erin

      I just had a look at your website, Bob. I especially noted this statement: Throughout history, prominent theologians and church leaders have made sense of the Bible through the interpretive lenses of ancient Greek philosophy.

      It reminded me of a conference speaker I once listened to, who exhorted us to use “Kingdom thinking” instead of following the pervasive Greek philosophy that prevails in modern thinking. The irony is that this particular speaker didn’t realise that his own thinking was infiltrated by Greek philosophy because he viewed male authority through that very lens!

  21. Retha Faurie

    <i>Andy was a single man who owned a gym. He joined a cult who suggested he get a guide, to lead him. As it happened, his cult did not want him to just listen to the spiritual guidance of the guide, but to submit to his guide in everything.
    The guide, Louis, was a nice guy. He would sacrifice his time for Andy. He would share his possessions. But the guide simply did not know as much as Andy about some things. Andy knew more about healthy eating, but he compromised his eating habits to suit the kind leadership of Louis and his ideas about food. Louis is no expert in running a gym, but he was expected to lead Andy in how many treadmills to buy and what exercise programs to work out for personal training.
    Louis read up on gym-related subjects in order to make suggestions. He was pretty gentle in his suggestions, knowing that Andy is the expert in the gym business. Andy felt obliged to listen to Louis lead. Sometimes, when Louis was reasonably close to right, he did exactly as Louis said. When Louis is less right, he compromised.
    Andy's business suffered. Andy's healthy eating suffered. "Loving", "gentle" "servant" leadership, where he did not need any leader, was a liability, not an asset.</I>

    People tell me that male headship doctrine is all good, because they tell men to be gentle, loving, servant-leaders. To convince me, tell me:
    a) why married women need a leader, if men and single women does not
    b) in what aspects married women are better off with male leadership than without.

  22. Mike Skewes

    I have just come across this discussion and I feel I need to make comment. As a male, a Christian and as professional counsellor I have often found myself being ashamed of the role the Church and men in particular, have assumed in dealing with domestic violence. Too often I am left with a damaged woman, hurting children and a disillusioned faith. I would like to say that the ‘headship” issue isn’t an issue at all but it actually is. Not in itself as a theological construct but how it is interpreted and practised. Not just by men in the church but also by men who are leaders and then also women who follow the erring interpretation.Unfortunately this leads to a more disturbing issue for the Church, that of spiritual abuse. I am not a person who wants to bash the Church, for the Church is only made up of people from our society, but also these same people go out into society and influence how others think also. It works both ways. There is no quick fix to the issue of domestic violence. As a general public in the Church we do need educating about how the “headship” thinking can influence a couple into believing that controlling another is ok, when in fact it is not.The Church does need to address how it responds to domestic violence from in its ranks, instead of believing it is exempt from the “standards” of society maybe it needs to take a leaf out of the standard society sets and practice this as a minimum. Then there is the pre-marriage preparation…this needs to be improved so that young couples do not head down this erring path. But to correct that we need to educate those who may carry out such counsel, that is pastors, priests, ministers, counsellors and lay workers. It is a big change, huge task but immense benefits for all our society, not just the Church.

  23. K

    The above discussion was raised on 1st March 2015. Given that Moore College was aware since 2014 of major DV within its own student community, then how come there is no acknowledgment of it in the above discussion/comments ? Surely it is highly relevant, is it not ?

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