The United Nations designates November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Several folks weighed in on the this horrendous act of evil. Below are some links and excerpts:

Justin Holcomb, “A Hard Look at Violence against Women.”

The Bible teaches us that because of sin, suffering and violence entered the world. One expression of sin which is seen throughout Scripture and human history is the pervasive male domination of and violence against women. Here are some of the numerous ways that women around the world continue to experience violence and oppression. . . .

Russell Moore, “The Church and Violence against Women.”

Male violence against women is a real problem in our culture, one the church must address. Our responsibility here is not simply at the level of social justice but at the level of ecclesical justice as well.

We must teach from our pulpits, our Sunday school classes, and our Vacation Bible Schools that women are to be cherished, honored, and protected by men. This means we teach men to reject American playboy consumerism in light of a Judgment Seat at which they will give account for their care for their families. It means we explicitly tell the women in our congregations, “A man who hits you has surrendered his headship, and that is the business both of the civil state in enacting public justice and of this church in enacting church discipline.”

Owen Strachan, “Why Abusive Men Repudiate True Manhood: Letter to an Abusive Husband.”

Your present pattern, Bob, looks like Satanic headship.  You are attacking and tearing down.  The biblical pattern is Christic headship, sacrificial, others-centered, offered in order that others might flourish and thrive.  If you do not cease your ways, the elders of your church will “deliver [you] to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:6).  If you are bent on destroying your loved ones, you will face the prospect of a life outside the church, which places the soul in danger of eternal destruction if gospel repentance does not happen. . . .

Repent of your sin.  It is a stench in God’s nostrils.  Were it not for your worth as an image-bearer, I would find it difficult not to threaten harm to you myself, and to bring many men with me.  As things stand, if you continue your pattern of abuse, I will indeed bring men with me, and we will rescue your wife and family, and we will not allow you to harm them.  We will bring the full force of the law crashing down upon you.  We are men of God; we are not weak; we are leaders and protectors of wives and children.  The Lord has saved us from our own wickedness and transformed us to be good to those he has given us.  As men of God, we are not scared of you.  We will surely stand up to you.  We urge you to stop your abuse, repent of your sin, and leave the pattern of destruction you have begun.

Mike Cosper, “Abuse and the (Complementarian) Christian Response“:

First—your membership in this church offers you no shelter or comfort. I might come visit you—whether in jail or at your home—but it won’t be to reassure you of anything but a call to repentance. I am encouraging your wife to distance herself from you until you demonstrate repentance. Apart from that, I see no reason to encourage her to get anywhere near you. It may be true that some wife-beaters have sought the shelter of pastors and churches, calling abuse a private matter, and avoiding legal consequences. I have no intentions of allowing such shelter. The authorities will be involved.

Second—as a member in this church, you’ve signed a covenant that invites church discipline in this situation. This means that your pastors are committed to helping protect your wife from you, and we will instigate a process that—apart from demonstrable repentance on your part—will end with you being removed from membership. One who lives in unrepentant sin (like spousal abuse) should take no comfort from the gospel, because their life bears no fruit of the gospel. We’ll invite the church to treat you as an unbeliever, and to call you to repentance when they see you. As a whole community,we are united in believing that your sins are devastatingly dangerous for your soul and for the witness of the church in the world. These concerns are why we would carry out this discipline.

Third—many abusers justify their abuse with a list of their spouses “sins”—nagging, refusal to submit, etc. Some Christian men even attempt to justify domineering and abusive behavior with the Bible. I want to disabuse you of any such justification, starting with a Bible passage that might (at first glance) appear as part of your defense. Ephesians 5:22-28. . . .

Matt Smethurst, “Don’t Mess with Her, Man.”

“[The LORD's] soul hates . . . the one who loves violence” (Ps. 11:5).

That last verse is particularly scary, isn’t it? You’d think it would simply say God hates violence. Instead, it says God hates the violent. He hates wife-beaters.

No matter how it’s spun, abusing women is unacceptable. Always. No asterisks.

God calls husbands to love their wives (Col. 3:19; Eph. 5:25, 33), to enjoy them (Eccl. 9:9), to understand them (1 Pet. 3:7), to honor them (1 Pet. 3:7), to nourish them (Eph. 5:29), to cherish them (Eph. 5:29), to provide for them (1 Tim. 5:8), to praise them (Prov. 31:28), and, well, you get the point.

Brothers, may the Lord deliver us from ever tolerating a pugnacious coward who would dare damage one of his beautiful image-bearers.

Jonathan Leeman, “Violence against Women and Church Discipline“:

How should a church respond to the case of a husband abusing his wife, or man his daughter? Decisively and quickly.

A church should start by helping to remove a woman from a place where she will be harmed. Elders may choose to assist a woman find different accomodations merely if there is a threat of violence. If a woman has actually been assaulted, they should involve the police. Crimes against the body fall within the jurisdiction of the state (Rom. 13:1-7), and Christians can thank God that we live in a time when the state actually takes interest in such matters.

As in other cases of clear and unrepentant sin, abuse can and often should be grounds for excommunication from the church. Rather than simply explain this, I thought it might be helpful to offer a sample of the kind of church discipline letter our church will send. (This particular letter does not refer to an actual situation.) No doubt, a letter like the following presumes that the elders have already been working with the individual, and for one reason or another they determine that the man’s profession of faith is no longer credible by virtue of his actions.

Mary Kassian, “Statement on Abuse“:

Would you take a moment right now to pray for the women in your church? Pray that any abusive relationships may come to light, and that abuse may not remain hidden. Pray for abused women to have the courage to seek help. Pray for the leaders and counselors to know how to wisely deal with each situation. Pray for the power of God to bring insight, clarity, deliverance and healing. Pray that the church may seek to reflect the loving, protective heart of God, and work for the elimination of violence against women.

Mark Driscoll, “Men, Don’t Give Women a Reason to Fear You“:

If he’s ever even threatened you with violence, there is something profoundly demonic influencing that man. There is something sincerely wrong in that man. If you start to leave, he will likely apologize, shed a few tears, and say it will never happen again. But then he will subtly shift the blame to you: “You know when you do that, it just makes me really angry. Don’t do that again.”

Don’t listen to him. It’s never your fault. It doesn’t matter what you say or do, if a man hits you or harms you, he’s in sin. No excuse.

Thabiti Anyabwile, “Dear Jack: A Letter to an Abusive Husband“:

I’m trying to bring to light what you must surely be feeling about yourself. How can you respect yourself as a man if you’re resorting to beating the woman that loves you? Surely you can’t. And it’s pretending that you do respect yourself or demanding that others should respect you that will keep you locked in the entangling sins of anger and abuse. The pretending is a heavy blanket of self-deception. So, as a fellow man, I’m offering you a way to admit your struggles to one who shares some of them and to be free from the pretending that keeps us trapped. There’s nothing worse than pretending to be a man that has it all together while feeling inside everything is coming apart. One man to another: here’s a way out. Take it.

For pastors looking for gospel-centered resources on counseling both the perpetrator and the victim, you can order the following articles from CCEF:

David Powlison and Paul David Tripp, “How Should You Counsel a Case of Domestic Violence? Helping the Perpetrator

Guidelines for helping the perpetrator of domestic violence. Define the common need for grace carefully. Penetrate the fog of confusion and evasion. Bring the word of grace in Jesus Christ that aims for fundamental restructuring of heart and lifestyle.

Ed Welch, “How Should You Counsel a Case of Domestic Violence? Helping the Victim

Brief guidelines for helping a person who has been violated. First, hear the cries of the oppressed. Second, teach the oppressed to put their hope in God. Third, teach the oppressed to “disarm” the abuser by bold godliness in the love of Christ, rather than fluctuating between timidity and revenge. [Letter to the editor about this article in 16:1]

At the end of the day, let’s remember two truths: (1) God hates wife-beaters, and (2) Christ died for wife-beaters. Both statements are biblical. It has been too easy in the past to ignore sin and advert our eyes from this cowardly violence, functionally downplaying the first truth and the reality of biblical justice. And it may be too easy today to functionally downplay the second truth and the reality of biblical grace by not offering gospel hope to the repentant who have godly sorrow.

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29 thoughts on “The Church, the Gospel, and Violence against Women”

  1. Julie Anne says:

    Thank you so much for addressing this very important topic. One very big concern I have: only 3 of the above articles mentions notifying civil authorities when violence occurs (I did not check the CCEF articles which cost $$). A member of TGC and his church and several pastors are currently being sued because of failure to report abuse cases, etc. This issue must be addressed from the highest level of leadership on down. Additionally, what is the responsibility of leaders when one of their peers has failed to protect wives/children by failing to report to civil authorities? This silence must also be broken.

    This criticism is given in love – love to protect the victims who not only are victims of spousal/child/sex abuse, but also become victims of spiritual abuse when their church leaders fail them by dealing appropriately with the abuse. The church must wake up to this very dangerous problem. Romans 13:1 is the correct biblical response to crime. Physical violence is a crime which must be reported. God uses civil authority to produce godly sorrow and restitution.

  2. Michael Mills says:

    As a volunteer Victim Advocate for my local police department, domestic violence is the number one call we get. And of those, the vast majority are men against women.

    In spite of all the organizational efforts to raise awareness and education on the issue, it continues to be a scourge on our society and culture. Sadly, this particular sin is “alive and well.”

  3. Joel says:

    “One very big concern I have: only 3 of the above articles mentions notifying civil authorities when violence occurs ”

    Not true. A cursory glance at those articles showed that most mentioned involving the civil authorities. Only Holcomb’s and Smethurst’s didn’t.

  4. Julie Anne says:

    Joel: When I first posted the comment, my statement was true. I notice now that there are additional articles referenced (notice that Jonathan Leeman’s article was only published today and my comment was posted yesterday). But you are missing the point by getting nit-picky on numbers. The issue isn’t how many included it, the issue is that ALL should have included the point that crimes should be reported to authorities. If churches fail to refer all crimes to law authorities, they are no better than Penn State, Boy Scouts, etc.

    Another issue that has not been mentioned: would any of the above church leaders allow a woman to get divorced under abusive circumstances? Or would she be forced to remain separated the rest of her life if her husband failed to repent and change his ways?

  5. Jon Trott says:

    I note that 9 men’s comments are included in the article, only one woman’s (unless I missed something) is.

    Beyond that, I appreciate complementarians/hierarchalists protesting violence against women but am convinced their belief system fosters such violence whether they personally engage in it or not. Violence begins with not hearing, not seeing, not knowing the world the victims of said violence live within. Women disempowered by the doctrines of hierarchy — doctrines many of us believe are NOT Scriptural — are women whose worlds are more vulnerable to violence perpetrated by those usurping said power.

  6. Jon Trott says:

    For women and men interested in another viewpoint, might I suggest Christians for Biblical Equality – http://www.cbeinternational.org ?

  7. Jenn says:

    I completely agree with Jon’s comment and I would like to add that there are issue that concerns me more as an MDiv/Chaplaincy student.

    1. There is a line between the education and skill that a pastor has and that which a trained Christian counsellor has and that is lost in this collection of links. Most pastors are not additionally certified and licensed within a counselling body which has ethical standards and rules for handling all events. Abuse and counselling in general are deep waters that are not be tread into without a understanding of how quickly you can further injure the victim and your congregation.

    2. While I appreciate and agree that shaming a perpetrator of domestic abuse is not appropriate but there should be a clear mandate set for a pastoral team on how to create a safe church, especially for the victim and their family. In not providing a more public stance or having a firm pastoral care direction, the victim can or will be weekly victimized by the presence of her abuser in church, which will inevitably lead her to removal from the church and further victimization by the Body.

  8. Grace says:

    Isn’t it a problem that, apart from Kassian’s statement, these comments are all from men, and none are written from the perspective of someone who has experienced domestic abuse? When do women who have survived domestic violence get to speak for themselves?

  9. Jon Trott says:

    What Grace said. And I wonder, as a man, just how women can be made to feel safe enough to speak out in environments where women are systematically disempowered? Women as elders, women as pastors, women as leaders in the Church working in empowered positions next to their male counterparts will help all of us to foster transparency, opennness, and safety for those who otherwise won’t feel safe and in fact are not safe. Nothing less can really overcome the Church’s tendency to become just one more place where women are (a) postulated as being not merely physically but spiritually and mentally weaker than men, (b) then treated that way, and (c) as “the weaker” then become the victims. Bad theology has bad consequences.

  10. Daryl Little says:

    A problem that men in the church are speaking forcefully against the abuse of women? Seriously?

    Complementarianism leads to abuse? Seriously?

    What better way to get your voice ignored than to make sure baseless and foolish statements.

  11. Leila says:

    Daryl, John Piper himself is on record as saying women should “endure being smacked around” for a night and then go to their pastor the next day. The proper thing to do when one is assaulted is to call the police. But not according to John Piper.

  12. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    Really simply, there needs to be a conversation on handling domestic violence / domestic abuse in the church.

    Pastors, is counseling in these situations left to your wisdom?

    Have you ever had specific training regarding counseling victims and abusers.

    Does your church have policies and procedures that govern how you should counsel in these situations and ensure that abuse of a minor is reported to the police and that adult victims are encouraged to involve the civil authorities?

  13. Jon Trott says:

    I know the Covenant Church, an egalitarian denomination, works hard to do that.

    http://www.covchurch.org/abuse/

    I’m sure others do as well. But again, I do not think any such process can really work without women both involved and holding leadership roles co-equal with men. Our shared communal narrative depends upon hearing the stories of all those within that narrative, and esp. “the least of these.” Women have for too long had little to no voice. That day is passing away in many congregations, but not all.

  14. JMH says:

    I’d just like to point out that JT posts a number of articles (by complementarians) condemning abuse of women, and several commenters can only find fault with complementarians. That’s typical, in my experience. And it’s conspiracy-theory-level stuff. Contrary evidence doesn’t matter; complementarians must hate women because they do. End of story.

    There’s a good discussion to be had about the interpretation of Scripture on this topic. When you say things like “your belief system fosters violence,” you demonstrate you don’t deserve to take part in that discussion.

  15. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    I’m glad that speaking out against abuse is occurring in a way that is obviously planned and purposeful. That matters a lot.

    I speak as an adult child of parents who were highly dysfunctional in their relationship due to physical abuse, alcohol abuse and emotional abuse.

    Having talked with numerous complementarian pastors – I’d say that every one in my experience hates abuse and believes that godly men should protect “their” women. But not all – maybe not even most – in my experience are well equipped to deal with abuse when it happens. Many deny that it happens around them and when they are confronted with it, their well meaning counsel can do more harm than good.

    So, to these complementarian pastors who blogged on Sunday: Thank you for speaking out. I’ve attended complementarian churches throughout my adult life. I’m aware of their strengths (and a few weaknesses).

    If you are interested in growing in this area – you can! Many pastors could be more effective shepherds to struggling families in their congregation if they would take this opportunity to educate themselves, read, talk with (and really listen to) abuse survivors, establish policies and procedures, and consider training lay advocates to walk alongside victims. Some of you may already be doing this well.

    I disagree with those who say that you have to change your complementarian views in order to effectively minister in this area. But you might need to examine yourselves (as this pastor did) and let go of some practices and attitudes that are pretty common in some complementarian subcultures. You may need to look for ways to show women more public respect and support. You may need to ensure that women who are trained and experienced in counseling are part of your ministry outreaches. Just having (not just well meaning but well trained) women can make a big difference in making your church a safe place for women in abusive situations. It is very difficult for these women to share some things with a man – and especially in some complementarian subcultures – women have less access and relational capital with their pastors than men do. That makes the prospect of speaking about personal problems highly intimidating to a woman – particularly one who believes that speaking up is disobeying her husband or being disloyal to her “head” and by extension to God. From my perspective, complementarian churches who have well equipped and supported female deacons – as well as pastors who have educated themselves about the patterns associated with abuse – are in a much stronger position to minister in this sensitive area.

  16. Grace says:

    Daryl, I’m not sure how pointing out that there are no survivors of abuse represented in any of these statements is the same thing as objecting to men speaking against abuse. It’s a good thing for men to speak out against abuse. It is an even better thing for all of us to listen to and elevate the voices of people who have actually experienced abuse – to learn how to do better in preventing abuse and supporting survivors.

    As for the complementarian aspect, perhaps I’ll be forgiven for seeing a connection between a church culture where women are discouraged from speaking in teaching/leadership roles to male or mixed audiences and teachings on spousal abuse that are dominated almost exclusively by men who have never experienced it themselves.

  17. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I also write about domestic violence for Christian women on my website and blog at http://www.carolineabbott.com. There are a few things that I think are important to note:
    1. Many people in the church believe a woman should leave if she is being physically abused, but many don’t hold the same belief if she is being verbally/emotionally/psychologically abused. What these people don’t realize is that this type of abuse often leads to physical abuse, but more importantly, women say (and I can testify) that verbal abuse is harder to heal from, and the scars run deeper. When I was married to a verbal abuser, I thought that my only hope was to die. I thought I had no way out other than that. My pastor never talked about abuse in his sermons, there was no literature about abuse posted anywhere in our church.
    2. I have been told that most seminary students have 3 hours or less of training about domestic violence in their years of schooling. This is not sufficient. Are you aware that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence by a husband or boyfriend in her lifetime? Are you also aware that this statistic holds true in the Christian church as well? And in evangelical churches, the numbers tend to be higher. Why is that? Because there is an emphasis on men being the leaders of their home, and women submitting to their husbands there. If this is not balanced by a call for men to love their wives as Christ loves the church, this type of teaching will be a breeding ground for abusive men.
    3. There is a new book that has just been published by an evangelical pastor (Jeff Crippen), that addresses these issues better than any I have ever seen. It is called, “A Cry for Justice – How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church”. I recommend that EVERY pastor read this book.

  18. Sue says:

    I am also a survivor of domestic violence. I absolutely agree that the psychological abuse is the worst part of abuse. I was seriously physically abused, and suffer serious medical issues as a result. Clearly I will never fully recover, but I can for now live a fairly normal life.

    However, I was also prevented from getting further education, in spite of invitations several times to apply for advanced academic programs, I was not allowed. Also prevented from working for many years. So now, I have to work into the years when many people retire. It is very difficult and I deeply regret that obeying a man has so seriously impacted on my entire life, as long as I live. So much regret.

    But the worst part of the abuse was the psychological. When I was hit, I was told that the minister said I had to obey, the Bible said I had to obey, I had vowed to obey, I would go to hell if I did not obey, and so on and so forth. Believe me, hell was starting to look very pretty in comparison to that life.

    What ministers need to know is that every mention of submission, of the greater authority of the man, is misused. It is always misused by somebody. And men who are addicted to control, who have a terrible, desperate need to control, are reinforced when the wife submits. If she submits, yeah, it works, he threatens and he demands and she submits. Of course, he will threaten and demand again. This is completely obvious.

    ALthough I was in a congregation with famous members of CBMW, there was never any discussion of abuse, or any help offered. Of course, they did not know of the abuse, but the word was never mentioned, and I felt that I was the only Christian woman in the world in this terrible situation.

    It took me a long time to figure out for myself that every time I submitted, the abuse got worse. By then it was a little late. I stayed long enough that the children were old enough there would be no chance of shared custody, no custody at all, no fighting over the children. But for my own health, I stayed far too long. No help from the church, no guidance, no teaching on this at all.

    Those who helped me were wonderful sisters, non-Christian neighbours, books and info from CBE. Now I live a single egalitarian life and wish this could be possible for other abuse survivors.

    1. Julie Anne says:

      Sue – My heart breaks for you after reading what you have gone through and what you currently face as a result of waiting so long to break free. You mentioned physical abuse and psychological abuse. As one who has dealt with spiritual abuse and even sued by my former pastor, you have most certainly dealt with spiritual abuse which has a whole other realm of issues connected with it. You referred to the word “submission”. That word represents an emotional trigger to many who have suffered spiritual abuse either by a husband or even a pastor who counsels you to submit to your abusive husband. Spiritual abuse at the core can affect our relationship with God. I deal with people who suffer from spiritual abuse on a daily basis.

      I’m not sure if you have healed from spiritual abuse part as well, but just wanted to acknowledge what I read in your comment. I didn’t want it to slip by as so many people don’t understand that aspect of abuse.

      The CBMW statement does not include spiritual abuse, but it should be changed to include it.

      Thanks again for sharing. I’m sure your comment will resonate with others who have gone through similar circumstances, sadly.

  19. Sue says:

    Thank you, Julie Anne,

    I have for many years wanted to tell my story. I still don’t know how to tell it to those who were involved.

    Sometimes I even get emails telling me that I need to put myself under my pastors authority and not say the things that I do on the internet. Why? Because we don’t want to know the truth.

    Sometimes I write emails to people in authority, to that pastor, to his bishop, and so on, and I get answers like “We have received your email. Duly noted.”

    Great. All I want is an apology for the sermons on the submission of wives. All I want is the acknowledgment that women were told to take on a reduced status, and that this caused a few women to suffer enormously.

    1. Julie Anne says:

      Sue: If you would like to tell your story, I would be happy to post it on my blog. Others might really benefit from reading your story. My e-mail address is on my blog (click my name).

      Sadly, there will be no apologies until there is first acknowledgment of a problem. But that is not a prerequisite to your happiness. You can move along in your healing and renewed relationship with God (with accurate view of submission and authority).

      I’m unclear if you are out of that bad church environment. If you are not, that is a concern to me.

  20. Jon Trott says:

    As a man, I am so thankful for Sue’s words. One of the things your comment does, Sue, is to underscore the way sexist language works. Thus, “Submission” is defined along gender lines. And — no surprise — to those who have been abused by such oppression, the terminology of that oppression is experienced as painful re-wounding. Egalitarians have tried to rescue a word many of us believe is a good word — submission — from the hierarchalists. Some of us even use a lengthened version of the word, “intersubmission,” to get our point across. No one holds the theological ace they can throw down just because they have male sexual equipment rather than female. Decisions are made on the basis of giftings and (most important of all) mutually listening for the voice of God, both directly in prayer and through one another. Regardless of gender. Again, I remind those resisting these meager thoughts that the larger biblical picture offers no connection between gender and spiritual gifts. None. We are not only binding the hands, feet, and mouths of half the church with anti-womanist teachings and practices… we are binding the other half of the church as well. All of us lose when the gifts God distributes among his people are not fully exercised in a mutually submitted manner, “submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ.” True submission is never a one-way street.

  21. Sue says:

    Jon,

    It means so much to me that you understand. For years, people have been routinely deleting my comments. I see no problem with mutual submission. Of course, people need to give in to each other.

    What has caused me the most pain is the comparison between the relationship between Christ and God, and the wife and husband. I always feel as if there is someone with a hammer putting nails in my hands and feet, and I am asked to demonstrate joyful submission. I really have not found a trauma counsellor who is not completely shocked and revolted by this.

    But of course, for complementarians, a divorced woman can never remarry, so now there are a lot of us older women, with no bank account, working into retirement, with health issues, and someone will email you and tell you that you still need to acknowledge male headship because complementarian men are “so protective”of all the women in their lives. Guess what – they aren’t. And no, I do have to earn a living, and that’s life. But for 30 years, I was taught something that was not helpful to my life.

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Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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