Submission is a loaded word; it carries a lot of weight. When we teach gender roles and marital hierarchy without clearly and directly addressing power abuse, emotional abuse, and manipulation, it is very dangerous. The rigid thinking we often see in Christian culture around the theology of submission creates a breeding ground for power abuse and the oppression of women. Unfortunately, there are many Christian communities that systematically dismiss women’s voices as being hysterical or dramatic when they report abuse while allowing abusers to continue in their abusive patterns unconfronted.
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In this episode, we discuss how there are men among our congregations who hear teaching on marital hierarchy and internalize a message that empowers and enables them to behave abusively in their homes. We aim to call out false teaching that is often found in Christian culture: that women should blindly obey their husbands in all circumstances, that men should dismiss the voices of women, and that married women should not have agency over their own bodies but that their bodies belong to their husbands, and more. Most importantly, we assert that abuse of any kind is sin. The rejection of abusive behavior and people is not.
Assistant producer, Sarah Jordan, shares her personal story as a survivor of domestic abuse, and the response she received from her church when she disclosed the abuse. In relation to her story, we discuss victim blaming, gaslighting, feeling stuck, and powerless, how much courage it takes to disclose abuse, and the importance of responding well to disclosure.
Sarah shares how her church community pressured her to stay in an abusive marriage, to remain silent, and to be submissive. Unfortunately, this is far too common in churches. Too often, churches enable and even help abusive men to justify abusive behavior in the name of biblical headship and submission. Too often, women receive the message that they are overreacting when they disclose their abuse, which causes them not to trust themselves, and ultimately to silence their own voices.
We explore how it helps combat power abuse in Christian culture to have women represented in leadership in churches. When we don’t address the issue of power abuse on a large scale in Christian culture, from the pulpit, we are responsible for creating a culture that allows pockets of people to continue to directly silence and oppress women without accountability. In this environment, victims of abuse are too often shamed and judged and outcast for standing up to abuse.
We discuss how it is important to also consider the impact of domestic abuse on children. Often we are told that the best thing for children is to stay married no matter what. The truth is that the trauma of abuse typically has a long-lasting negative impact on children’s mental and emotional health. Sarah shares how beneficial it has been for her children to have the stability of a loving and healthy home free from abuse. She talks about how damaging it is for children to be in an environment where they learn that patterns of hurtful and harmful behaviors are to be expected in relationships. Outside of an abusive home, Sarah and her children are able to heal and thrive.
We hope that those in church leadership would consider having women represented in church leadership in any capacity because it can have a lasting and deep impact on combating the abuse and oppression of women. For pastors and others who want to know how to respond when someone discloses abuse, there are three important things you can say to help a victim feel safe and validated:
- I believe you
- It’s not your fault, and
- I’m so sorry that happened to you.
We hope that those who identify with Sarah’s story of domestic abuse will find some clarity and hope. We also hope that if you are in a domestic abuse situation, that you would reach out to law enforcement, advocacy groups, licensed professional counselors, lawyers, or a church to better understand your options.
If you have had a crime committed against you, reporting that crime can be a very important step to consider taking. Visit www.rainn.org for information related to reporting assault. There are financial resources that become available to victims of violent crimes once they report their crime to the police. Reporting does not have a statute of limitations or an expiration date, convictions do. No matter how long ago it happened, you can report it to the police.
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