It is useless to deny that women can be victims. Increasingly, the secular press documents it. The Christian press has long acknowledged it in society at large and is now beginning to acknowledge it even within the sacred walls of the church of Jesus Christ. People are also beginning to acknowledge that sexual harassment and violence exist on the job, even in strongly Christian organizations.
THIS IS NOT A NICE SUBJECT. Abuse is a curse in our land.
One definition of abuse is, “Repeated and targeted abuse (from both attitudes and actions) designed to instill fear and used as a means of control.” The abuser may or may not be aware of his/her motives behind the attitudes and actions.
Although the circles of young people where I minister rarely have a problem with women’s ministry, many young men and women are looking for more models of what it means to be a “real” man. Although some hold traditional and others hold egalitarian ideals of marriage, many of the young women who would like to someday marry lament the fact that there are not enough respectful Christian young men to go around in society as a whole.
“If wives were submissive like God intended them to be, there wouldn’t be any domestic violence” is a statement that I have heard over and over again during my years as a counselor. These comments have not all come from the lips of battering husbands, but from many Christian workers and members of the clergy as well. Is domestic violence a modern phenomena associated with the feminist movement? Is it the result of non-submissive wives? Is it a phenomena associated with the inner cities, slums or urban blight? Or, is domestic violence just a sign of the times that we live in?
Unwelcome, sexually suggestive comments are not a new phenomenon, beginning with the alleged activities of either Bob Packwood or Bill Clinton (depending on your political preference). Sexual humor that degrades an entire gender (or sometimes both genders) into mere objects for sexual gratification has a long history.
Domestic violence is the number one health threat faced by women in the United States today. It accounts for more deaths than automobile accidents, muggings and rapes combined. During America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the number of women murdered by their intimate partners was equal to the number of U.S. military personnel killed in battle. In 1981 researchers Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz estimated that at least one third of all wives in the United States are beaten during the course of their marriage. By 1987 researchers upped the figure to a “conservative estimate” of half of all marriages experiencing episodes of violence at some time. At least ninety-five percent of domestic violence is male against female and it is rare for violence in a marriage to be an isolated episode. Violence is usually a pattern in the relationship.
In recent years, Christians have acknowledged that domestic abuse exists within the evangelical community. Some churches have faced this reality and sought resources for healing and reconciliation. But while some have found blessing and growth when they have addressed this concern openly others remain uncomfortable when any significant attention is given to this subject.
Twelve million women in the United States—a staggering 25 percent of all American women—will be abused by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, according to a recent article in the Hawaii Medical Journal. An estimated two million women in this country are assaulted by an intimate partner every year. The actual numbers are probably much higher because the victims (whom I also refer to as “survivors”) often remain silent, fearing both the stigma associated with abuse and the threat of further violence from the perpetrators. In addition, because verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse don’t leave physical marks, they may be overlooked or dismissed as “not that bad” by caregivers and even by victims themselves. But the pain caused by harsh, sexist language meant to break the spirit is just as real as the pain caused by fists.
The Christian egalitarian woman is in a difficult position. If she truly believes God calls women to engage in the same types of ministries and offices of the church in which men engage, and if she is also committed to living a life that reflects God’s character, she is faced with a quandary.
Before the nineteenth century, a Chinese woman’s life was wrapped around three men: father, husband, and son. The famous “Three Submissions” taught that a woman should follow and obey her father while still young, her husband after marriage, and her eldest son when widowed. “A woman married is like a horse bought; you can ride it or flog it as you like,” says a Chinese proverb. Widows with no sons could not inherit property; sons alone could continue the family lineage and fulfill the duties of ancestral worship. Sons stayed within the family and worked for the honor and prosperity of the family. In contrast, daughters were money-losing goods. In desperate times they were the ones to be sold, abandoned, or even drowned—but never the sons.