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Do churches condone domestic violence? Can Christian spouses continue to turn the other cheek?

“In conversations with a couple of Christian girlfriends about my situation, I discovered that their Christian husbands were also physically and emotionally abusive. And in October of this year, I met another young woman at a Christmas event who admitted that her Christian husband was also guilty of abuse but mostly of the emotional variety.

“[…] When she sought […] counsel, he said that she should submit to her husband, as the Bible commands women to do in Ephesians 5:22.”

Former journalist Akilah Holder claims that she suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband and pastor in a Wired868 guest column:

Photo: Do domestic violence victims find refuge in the church?
(Copyright Faith And Leadership)

I am a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a Christian husband. No, your eyes did not deceive you. Let me repeat it: I am a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a Christian husband.

Amazing, uh? That a professed man of God and a former youth pastor would be physically abusive. Well, it happened. He was.

My husband, a professed Christian, was also verbally abusive, addicted to pornography and an adulterer (who entered into several online affairs).

In conversations with a couple of Christian girlfriends about my situation, I discovered that their Christian husbands were also physically and emotionally abusive. And in October of this year, I met another young woman at a Christmas event who admitted that her Christian husband was also guilty of abuse but mostly of the emotional variety.

My church leaders—two of them anyway—handled my situation correctly but the pastor of the last woman mentioned dismissed her concerns. When she sought his counsel, he said that she should submit to her husband, as the Bible commands women to do in Ephesians 5:22.

I am familiar with that verse.  I spent years suspicious of God because of it and I have not the slightest doubt that it is the same verse that my husband—he never mouthed the words but his whole attitude screamed, “I am Lord over you!”—and the husbands of the women I have already mentioned rely on to justify their actions.

Photo: Victims of domestic abuse often live behind a wall of silence.

I am certain that it is how they justify—to themselves if not to the world—their abusive and inconsiderate actions (it would be completely unreasonable to expect them to admit that they have emotional issues).

What is worse is the failure of some Christian churches to properly deal with the issue of domestic violence, indeed, even to begin to address it.  Moreover, these same churches fail to explain correctly the notions of leadership and submission as put forward in the Bible.

As a result, men, born, one might argue, with fragile egos, grab hold of the foolish explanations of submission and leadership offered by some preachers; and women believe that they need only pray for things to turn around (my advice would be to offer up prayers for him—but from a safe distance).

Some women feel obligated to stay in a home with an admittedly abusive mate because their pastor told them to. It is worth asking this question: would these pastors take their own advice or give the same advice to their daughter?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that, if my husband had remained in my home, he would have killed me. No kidding. Had he stayed in our home, there is no question that he would have, in a fit of rage, killed me; he was that violent.

It’s not that I want to put my business out there. But it is necessary to confront this issue with a view to rescuing the women who need rescuing and enlightening the men who also need to be rescued though largely from themselves.

Photo: A woman cowers in the shadow of her would-be abuser. Some pastors warn the male members of their congregation to treat their women right but many do not. 

For, in the words of American feminist Carol Hansich, “the personal is political.” According to Hansich, the term ‘political’ can apply to other relationships of power in society, not just the one between the State and its citizens.

So yes, there is domestic violence in the Church and some so-called Christian pastors brush it under the rug and advise their female congregants to submit to these beasts.  Moreover, their incorrect teachings on submission and leadership as explained in the Bible have turned men into chauvinistic and insensitive tyrants.

Yes, Ephesians 5:22-24 states that women should submit to their husbands and that men are the leaders of their home. But those verses are immediately followed by the commandment to men to love their wives as their own selves, as the Lord loved the Church.

Does anybody honestly believe that Verse 25 was added by accident? In error? Does anyone think it is by chance that it comes immediately after Verses 22-24?

Any half-decent teacher of literature will tell you what every good student of literature understands: nothing is in a book by accident.  Every stroke of the pen is deliberate—content, book structure, sentence structure, chapter sequence; it is all deliberate.

So Verse 25 was not inserted in error; it does not follow Verse 24 by mistake. It should not be isolated from its context.

Photo: Worshippers pray during a church service.

Taken as a whole, the verses talk about women voluntarily submitting to their husbands. Verses 22-28 of the Message version of the Bible puts it beautifully:

“Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

“Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already ‘one’ in marriage.”

Revolutionary, huh?  A man is required to serve his wife so that she can submit and be her best self. Submission ought to be voluntary.  And a leader, as far as God is concerned, is really a servant to those under his care.

So women, no, do not submit to a tyrannical husband. Do not stand by and allow someone to hit you or verbally abuse you. Stand up for yourself, God wants you to.  His wisdom is infinite and he thinks a lot differently from what your (I bet) tyrannical and chauvinistic pastors would like you to believe. And that goes for non-Christian women as well.

Photo: A female victim of domestic abuse.

Priests and pastors who condone this type of behaviour, shame on you! Priests and pastors who pussyfoot around the issue, shame on you. Please stop doing so now. Today.

And you, abusive men, please, grow up!

Editor’s note:  In need of guidance and/or assistance with your domestic situation? Feel free to contact the author at akilahholder@yahoo.com. 

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32 comments

  1. Akilah Holder who entered into a sou sou with members of her staff at her old workplace collected her hands and left owing [EDITED]. We are trying to reach her

  2. Well is a good thing non-Christians and atheist don’t abuse their spouses.

  3. While I don’t like crimes that are discussed and colored by justification/absolution in light of religion, it was very courageous to share this story. I feel for the author. Women are so vulnerable and now more so because these stories are becoming more prevalent it’s easy to become disheartened. Let’s remember that there are great men out there. Let’s also hope that there are men willing to listen and make changes.

  4. Anybody who thinks a man “of God” is above abusing folks whether it be financially, sexually or physically… is a fool. All “men of God” were men before they chose their vocation. Remember that and stop being dumb

  5. “I am a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a Christian husband. No, your eyes did not deceive you.” Was I supposed to be surprised by this? smh

  6. Do people read the bible or bump their gums for bumping sake? If anyone reads the bible then a pastor or anyone doing that would be a shock to no one. Domestic abuse is wrong, dusgusting, atrocious but let us stop the nonsense…the church is filled with sinners, the bible is littered with men of God doing very wrong things. And then we act all shocked when stories like these that have been happening since the beginning of time are remotely shocking.

  7. Thanks for sharing. It shows how these men of God are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Women need to be strong and not tolerate abuse, whether verbally or physically. I am against any type of abuse. I would never allow my husband to abuse me. I am a strong woman and I stand for what is right. Stay strong my sisters. The church is the last place I would seek help. My heart goes out to these battered women who cannot fend for themselves.

  8. PLEASE … when writing on ‘christianity’, let us at least report what the bible says and not refer to some aberrant christians as it THAT is the teaching of the Church! “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. Eph5:22-33

  9. The church has rules in their doctrine that are primitive, anti-women, and abusive.

  10. I have been to several events as part of the 16 days of activism against violence against women, and truly the survival stories made me queasy. What is clear is that 1) most of the abusers felt that the woman was their property and could do what they wanted to them at any time. 2) our legal system is not set up to serve the victim, at all. 3) i seeing NGo’s partnering with churches to reduce violence against women, how are they going to convince men to go against their religons? what their books say to do?

  11. They condone everything…wants d money coming

  12. Sadly, for selfish convenience people extract and promote only certain parts of the scriptures. It is our responsibility to read and be armed with our biblical knowledge. It is the convenient use of structure that many times alienate persons because they feel that God is against them and does not understand them. I applaud you for listening to God’s word of what you are worth.

  13. More of this please. Thanks to the writer and thanks for sharing.

  14. I think extreme religiosity is the problem. Not one faith. All a dem.

  15. How can a ‘man of God’ be an adulterer, a wife beater and addicted to porn? Sounds to me…instead of being a ‘man of God’, he’s more of a recruiter for ‘the other side.’

  16. It is very naive to think that the church is oblivious to rampant sexual abuse which exists among the church members.
    Many churches have nothing external in place to deal with instances of domestic abuse. This is covered up in the church many times to preserve the “integrity” of the church, many pastors, priests, imams are also part of the problem, they themselves being the perpetrators.
    Women are indoctrinated to be submissive to their husbands or partners and are counselled by their pastors, without having any recourse to trained personnel with expertise in the area, which only seems to exacerbate the problem. Initiatives should be taken to stem this debilitating condition.

  17. Gonna share this post on my page

  18. I’m sorry you had to go through that, and I’m glad you got out of it. I was in the exact situation, and I’m happy to say I’m alive. When I went to my Imam, he told me that I have to leave him since that’s not what marriage in islam is about and I had his full support. He said the same thing you just did – “A man is required to serve his wife so that she can submit and be her best self.” I really think, no matter what religion you belong to, this type of counseling before marriage, should be mandatory.

  19. I’m guessing “counsel’ didn’t bother to quote Ephesians 5:28 & 29

  20. don’t forget they had blinders for even child abuse for the last 50 odd years- the church

  21. Really sad that there is such primitive behavior in households. But we are still clearly unenlightened.