Some argue that the complementarian view does not promote domestic violence, that it is the individual who misuses the doctrine who is choosing domestic violence. They point out that egalitarians can be just as abusive as complementarians. On the surface, this is true. A man can claim to be egalitarian and still abuse his wife. However, because he is not using God and scripture to justify and enforce his authority, the abuse he uses is more likely to lack a wall of support that is as thick and imprisoning as the Great Wall of China. Without the “God says wife submit” argument, it is much easier for women to recognize the behavior as abuse, rather than as God-given authority to husbands and as a non-negotiable commandment to wives to submit to their husbands.
Having said that, I want to point out that wives who do not have Ephesians 5 rammed down their throats, still have a difficult time recognizing domestic abuse and dealing with it. In other words, domestic abuse is difficult enough for women to get a handle on, without adding teaching that demands the absolute subjection of wives to their husbands.
Christian doctrine, itself, makes recognizing abuse and dealing with it wisely very difficult to achieve. Even without the husband authority and wife submit no matter what doctrines, the love unconditionally and forgive and forget and turn the other cheek doctrines all work to prevent a Christian woman from confronting the domestic abuse early enough to both save her marriage and make it a loving one that symbolizes Christ and the Church. (The no-matter-what part is denied, of course. But who gets blamed for abuse? The wife, who they claim failed to submit. So even though they SAY the doctrine is NOT no-matter-what, in reality, it is exactly that.)
Those who teach marriage, for example, tell wives to be loyal to their husbands and not talk to others about their husband’s failures. This rule aids husbands in their quest to control their wives and does nothing to help a woman figure out how to deal with her marriage difficulties. Wives who stay silent, are more likely to try to perfect their own behavior, are less likely to recognize their husband’s behavior as abuse, and are more likely to stay in their abusive marriage longer, harming themselves and their children. This rule also harms husbands by allowing the abusive behavior and beliefs to become more and more entrenched in the minds of the husbands as well as in the minds of everyone in the family.
Christian wives whose husbands are abusive, constantly turn the other cheek and forgive and forget, but it does not make their marriages better. Instead, it makes them progressively worse. Abusive men see Christian behaviors as weaknesses, and tend to “go for the kill” or to “kick a person when she is down.” Thus, the Christian behavior of the abused wife tends to make her husband MORE abusive.
On top of that, Christians add the authority/submission doctrine. It is so pervasive, that some women who read my novel, “Behind the Hedge,” had a difficult time comprehending that the husband’s behavior in the beginning was abusive. The doctrine is so entrenched, that abuse is often seen as the husband’s right because he is the “authority.”
When a husband demands that his wife submit because God commanded it, no matter how idiotic and hurtful his demands, it is so difficult for wives to think through the mass of confusing messages, to be able to differentiate whether his demand is contrary to scripture, to know who to believe, that many wives have to literally throw out the submission doctrine in order to make sense of what is happening in their marriages. Even then, a church-house full of finger-pointing people makes it very difficult for a woman to deal wisely with the reality of her own broken marriage.
For those who do acknowledge the abuse and act redemptively to deal with it, they frequently face rejection from their whole church, while their abuser is accepted with open and welcoming arms. This drives many of them away from their churches and away from their primary support. This fact, makes wives think long and hard before taking steps to hold the abuser accountable.
So although egalitarian husbands can also abuse, they lack a huge arsenal of weaponry that complementarian husbands have at their disposal: their own beliefs, church doctrine, church pressure, church discipline of the wives, their twisting of scripture, the wife’s own belief that she is required to submit, along with her guilt if she fails to submit, or even the self-blame if she submits but her husband is still not happy.
It is my contention that the church would have much less domestic abuse and domestic violence among her people if she taught egalitarian, submit to one another and husbands love your wives as a living sacrifice, doctrine.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit www.wanetadawn.com
Chronically Self-Centered Spouse Series - Nope, I'm not doing this series. Nope, Visionary Womanhood is not doing this series. But I do thank Natalie for linking to it over there a couple years back...
6 months ago