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September 26, 2010: “Does the Bible Condone Domestic Violence?”

‘Regarding Justice Scalia’s Refusal to Recuse Himself From Hearing Case Concerning the Vice President’

House of Representatives – February 25, 2004

‘Mr. Speaker, the President’s presidential prayer team is urging us to ‘pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles.’

With that in mind, I thought I would remind the body of the biblical principles they are talking about.

Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. That is from Genesis 29:17-28.

Secondly, marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. That is II Samuel 5:13 and II Chronicles 11:21. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. That is Deuteronomy 22:13. Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever shall be forbidden. That is Genesis 24:3. Finally, it says that since there is no law that can change things, divorce is not possible, and finally, if a married man dies, his brother has to marry his sister-in-law.’

        While I couldn't find out which congressperson said this, I found it a good example of the difficulty of quoting scripture to justify certain actions, and while I, who should know better, actually thought it was in Scripture, it was actually, Shakespeare who said, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." Strange, isn't it, how quotes by Shakespeare can become so well known that they become Biblical!

        So does the Bible condone domestic violence? Yes. But let me qualify that answer, because the opposite is also true. What I want to argue is that the culture of one interpretation of the Bible has condoned domestic violence to the point that since the war in Iraq started in 2003 more women have been killed at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends about 6000 than the number of US soldiers killed in battle about 4500!

        Evangelical Christian writer, Kimberly B. George, in an article, 'IT IS TIME TO BEGIN SPEAKING: The Church and Domestic Violence' writes, 'I have often wondered why I have been in the evangelical church pews for 14 years and yet have never heard a sermon preached to unpack the complex reality of domestic violence in our society. Why have I never even heard the very words domestic violence from a pulpit? Why is this traditionally such a silent and unnamed issue in our churches?

         Because domestic violence, in its very nature, feeds on our silence, like any kind of abuse. Women in these relationships are often controlled, isolated, and threatened to speak of what is happening to them. The psychological damage is so deep that many have felt stripped of a sense of self, not to mention any kind of financial resources.  Women and children fleeing domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness; in fact, some studies have claimed up to 50% of homeless women are fleeing violence in their homes.

        ... But what of the intervention of our churches? First, Christians need to acknowledge and grieve for our historical failure to intervene. John Calvin, a prominent voice in much of our Protestant theology, once exhorted an abused wife, 'to bear with patience the cross which God has seen fit to place on her to please her husband [and] be faithful whatever happens.' He explained that while he had sympathy for her, he could not advise her to leave her husband.  While I think most of our church leaders today would disagree with Calvin if directly asked about the issue, it is not entirely easy to tell. I don't hear anything from the pulpits on domestic violence. I don't know what the message is in the silence, for not speaking is itself a strong message. Is this issue just not relevant or important to the Christian church?'

        According to a report from 'The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church on Domestic Violence:

        The General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church names domestic violence as a priority issue of the church confessing that our denomination has been too silent about this "pandemic"; happening not only in the United States, but around the world. Gender-based violence statistics are startling and calls the church to action.

        One in three women will experience some level of violence in their lives - half of them from intimate partners. Three in ten women murdered in the U.S. are murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends.

        A survey of 6,000 American families found that half of the men who assault their wives, also abuse their children.

        Each year an estimated 3,300,000 children are exposed to violence against their mothers or female caretakers by family members. Studies show that child abuse occurs in 30 to 60 percent of family violence cases that involve families with children.

        According to the latest report from UNICEF, nearly 275,000,000 children worldwide are witnessing abuse in their everyday life, which has a negative impact on their psychology. The report finds children who witness domestic abuse are the most vulnerable ones: they are the easiest victim of child abuse and they are likely to repeat what they have seen as a child when they are older.

        Tragically, Christian women often feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships by Scripture telling them to "submit to their husbands" or "turn the other cheek." Abused women often feel abandoned by God. 

According to the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, rather than offering resources and alternatives to battered women, pastors, priests and rabbis have often advised women to return to violent homes and be “better wives.” Some women find themselves trapped in situations where they are economically dependent on their spouse and cannot leave an abusive situation.’

Domestic violence starts early as seen in these statistics among teens:

18-24 year-olds comprised only 11.7% of the population in 1998 and 2002, but were the majority of victims of violence committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend (42%).

  Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.

 In a study of eighth and ninth graders, 25 percent indicated that they had been victims of dating violence, including eight percent who disclosed being sexually abused.

  In a survey of 232 high school girls, 17.8% of the participants indicated that they had been forced to engage in sexual activity against their will by a dating partner.

Among female students between the ages of 15-20 who reported at least one violent act during a dating relationship, 24% reported experiencing extremely violent incidents such as rape or the use of weapons against them.

Girls who reported that they had been sexually or physically abused were more than twice as likely as non abused girls to report smoking (26% versus 10%), drinking (22% versus 12%), and using illegal drugs (30% versus 13%). In addition, 32 percent of girls who had been abused reported bingeing and purging, compared to 12 percent of girls who had not been abused.

In a study of 724 adolescent mothers between the ages of 12-18, one of every eight pregnant adolescents reported having been physically assaulted by the father of her baby during the preceding 12 months. Of these, 40 percent also reported experiencing violence at the hands of a family member or relative.

 Physical aggression occurs in 1 in 3 teen dating relationships.

Fifty to eighty percent of teens report knowing someone involved in a violent relationship.

        Domestic abuse usually happens in front of children and boys who watch their fathers abuse their mothers frequently grow up to abuse the women in their lives. And frequently, fathers who abuse their wives abuse their children, and violence perpetuates itself.

        Part of the problem I will argue stems from a culture as well where we use violence as discipline and believe that might makes right.  'Spare the rod and spoil the child,' is how we would describe it, and would swear we were quoting scripture but that statement that actually does not appear. It says 'He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.' (Prov. 13:24) Proverbs 23:14 'Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.'

        The Bible says. Does the Bible condone child abuse? Is beating a child with a rod something that God should be telling us to do? As Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, and he was a Bible believer, 'the trouble with an eye for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is pretty soon we would all be blind and toothless!? In other words, we must interpret scripture for today! Indeed, it was easier for the Southern preachers to find scriptural references to slavery being OK than it was for Northern preachers to find scripture condemning it.

        Yet a large percentage of our population say they believe in the Bible, that it is God's word, and many take it literally. What they really mean, of course, is they believe in some of it literally, especially in parts that their ministers tell them what it means!  Because they don't believe in the Jewish dietary laws, of course, or most of the ancient codes of Leviticus, except of course, the Ten Commandments.

        Domestic violence is served by male domination and by those systems and cultures which keep male domination as part of their pattern either consciously or unconsciously. I will argue that it is actually unnatural and only one interpretation of scripture at least in the Judeo Christian culture. Nature surely has its dominance and submissive behavior, but domestic abuse is unnatural because it is not instinctual behavior but learned, and then it is not beneficial and strengthening behavior, but just the opposite. Much of fundamentalism is based on male dominance which is based on scripture; that is, based on one interpretation of scripture.

        When my daughter, Christian, was planning her wedding, she and her husband to be deiced that Ryan's Baptist minister and I would co-officiate. I was in Boulder, CO at the time, so sent him my usual ceremony that I did and suggested some ways we could share and that he might do some prayers and scripture, etc. We met with him in person and he and I actually hit it off and managed to do a nice ceremony. I found out later that when he first met with the couple he had suggested his favorite scripture that he used for his wedding ceremonies that starts 'Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, or which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.'    Ephesians 5:22

        As you might imagine, my daughter, raised as a UU quickly said that no, that would NOT be read at her wedding! He was somewhat taken aback, but said OK, I'm not sure he really understood just how offensive she found it. It is evidently a common reading at Baptist weddings, and it was interesting to me when I googled 'Domestic Violence and Scripture' how that passage ALWAYS came up! But also how often the writers were quick to defend it and to go and show other passages that were very positive about how husbands were supposed to treat their wives kindly, lovingly, etc.  Many Christian writers, many obviously clergy writing about the importance of the sanctity of marriage, but also strongly against domestic abuse and the need for leaving if necessary. Many other Christian writers, however, more conservative ones, would use very biblical language and refer almost everything back to scripture, proof texting almost everything, leaving me to wonder if it wasn't confusing to those who were believers to wonder what to believe.

        I also use scripture in weddings I perform, or at least usually; it's not mandatory, I work with the couple and they choose from a wedding booklet I give them that includes this scripture. I often suggest it if the couple are nonmembers and are being married outside; we use it if their parents are very religious and are already upset that they're not being married in the church of their parents. If they decide not to choose the scripture I sneak it into the introduction in something I call The 10 Commandments of Love.  I start with this introduction-'The apostle Paul was one of the great organizers and institutionalizes of Christianity; indeed his writings were the very first of the Christian New Testament. I often argue with Paul and find him too authoritarian at times, but his most spiritual wisdom was his letter to that troublesome church in Corinth, who were always arguing about doctrine and beliefs. That passage which I use in so many weddings, because it talks about how people should behave, how they should love.

        It starts as I Corinthians 13:1-8, 13: "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing....'

Love is patient

love is kind,

love is not envious or boastful

love is not arrogant

love is not rude.

It does not insist on its own way;

It is not irritable

Love is not resentful;

Love rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

        But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; and as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end...And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.'

        I call this the antidote to domestic violence; it is also from scripture; indeed from the same pen supposedly which wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Does your marriage follow the The 10 Commandments of Love? Do all you your relationships? That, I believe, is living religion. Everything else is details.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ So I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con Su Dios,’ ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios