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God, violence & women’s subordination

"In effect the churches blame the wife for the beatings and violence her husband has inflicted on her"


TUMBY BAY - In the first of a series of recent articles on gender and Christianity on The Conversation website it is suggested that a literal translation of the bible may be contributing to domestic violence.

In a self-declared Christian nation like Papua New Guinea, with very high levels of violence against women and children, this discussion has particular relevance.

Many Christians believe that biblical scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore requires unquestioning submission. This belief is particularly strong among evangelical Christians.

Among those beliefs is the idea of male authority and the requirement of women to submit to that authority.

Male domination, both in the family and the church, is believed to be part of God’s plan.

A contributing factor to these beliefs is the questionable assumption that God is masculine in nature.

According to these beliefs, honouring a husband’s authority is supposed to be all encompassing. Obedience to a husband includes everything from finances, work, outside relationships and how children are brought up.

Inherent in this belief is the idea that husbands have a right to punish their non-conforming or rebellious wives.

It is worth noting that this is a view that had much currency in traditional Papua New Guinean societies and may be a factor making it possible to easily accept the Christian version.

And because the churches promote the idea of husbands’ God-given right to discipline their wives, they are extremely reluctant to report incidents of domestic violence.

What the churches do instead is counsel the wife to examine her behaviour and discover what she is doing wrong that upsets her husband.

In effect they blame the wife for the beatings and violence her husband has inflicted on her.

Because the churches also believe that God intended the marriage covenant to be permanent, battered wives can find themselves trapped in violent marriages.

There are no statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence in either Australian or Papua New Guinean Christian communities. International research, however, supports the view that it is widespread.

In a survey of churchgoers in Cumbria, England, one in four respondents had experienced at least one of the nominated abusive behaviours - such as being kicked, punched, threatened with a weapon, isolated or sexually coerced - in their current relationship, reported the Church Times.

And American studies suggest that the rates of domestic violence in Christian communities are even higher still.

By interpreting biblical scripture in terms of endorsing binding principles of gender inequality and knowing that inequality is a well-known driver of domestic violence the churches are effectively promoting not preventing this appalling situation.

When men use Christian beliefs to justify abuse, women not only face long-term physical and mental harm but are denied any hope of living in peace, developing friendships and realising their potential as human beings.

Rather than demanding that women obey their husbands, the churches should be preaching against domestic violence and offering the women safety and support.

This would stop Christian wife beaters using the bible as an excuse for their behaviour.


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Michael Dom

You're quite right to point out the literal interpretation for battered women Phil.

I don't think it's at all plausible for you to infer that Christ was talking about married and domestic situations in that particular speech.

He's covered that elsewhere.

The simplistic reasoning comes from the same argument posed by fundamentalist Christians.

It's a result of cherry picking of Bible verses which is an unfortunate outcome of the way people attempt to study the good book without a well rounded learning of the intent and meaning in the context of the writings.

A more reasonable explanation is that women are not supposed to be considered the property of men.

I think most people have that understanding.

Violence, political or domestic, is where the law takes over.

There's a much more fundamental idea posed by the creation story in Genesis which had already established the equality of both sexes, long before the self righteous leftists and SJW's started yammering on.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

So equality before God was laid down well before laws any man or woman wrote, sued for or fought over.

Moreover, after doing all the other creation stuff on his own, this particular job appears to have been done by committee, so there was agreement: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness..." and etc.

Beating women, and in particular a spouse, is not reflecting the image of God.

That's a big mistake if someone claims to be a Christian.

Philip Fitzpatrick

That's an old argument Michael.

When I did a post graduate major in politics in the 1980s I included the study of the 'politics of non-violence'.

Non-violence as a strategy was popularised by Ghandi. He called it satyagraha.

Satyagraha took the religious principle of ahimsa (doing no harm) common to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism and turned it into a non-violent tool for mass action. He used it to fight not only colonial rule but social evils such as racial discrimination and untouchability as well.

Gandhi was firm that satyagraha was not a weapon of the weak - "Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever; and it always insists upon truth."

That Jesus introduced this concept into Christianity through the example of 'turning the other cheek' was a major shift of attitude. Up until then the bible is unrelenting in its tales of revenge, despite God wanting to reserve that pleasure for herself.

Unfortunately non-violence is not a tactic useful to women experiencing domestic violence. By turning the other cheek they merely invite more violence.

Michael Dom

Here you go, Leah and Phil, here's an interpretation if "turn the other cheek" used by an SJW group (out of Toronto no less).

While the interpretation is valid, their particular style of implementation is atrocious, and probably most SJW's are atheist women who would reject Esther outright.

Paul Oates

To add my two pennethworth, most clear thinking people will accept that there once was a person called Jesu and that he was a traditional Jew, living in what is now Palestine/Israel depending on how you see the world through different politically coloured eye glasses.

That the original basic messages are mostly axiomatic and often occur in various other faiths as recognised by some. That PNG needs a cohesive national spirit to unite all her disparate cultures and tribes should go without saying. PM Marape seems to have the right idea on this aspect.

Those that take this concept to extremes however and use taxpayer monies to buy old bibles are perhaps well intentioned at best and at worst, misguided.

What helped Christianity take off in the Dark Ages was when women were actually recognised under that faith and that they could receive some deference in their views as opposed to some other cultures at the time.

Over the centuries, quoting and misquoting scripture has been used to justify horrendous crimes against humanity. What we now have is a written collection of wisdom, myth and often biased opinion that needs to be interpreted in today's norms and not taken as unequivocal or absolute law. We now need to move forward.

Edgar Wallace's novel's about a mythical District Commissioner may seem antiquated and out of place in today's society. Yet, as Phil points out, in the context of one hundred years ago, a person with unquestioned power that could be seen to act with humility, understanding, respect and fairness is not without merit in today's ever increasingly complex world.

Inequality is now legislated against in many countries. In practice however, equality is often far from what the law actually says and may depend on how good a lawyer you can employ.

In India there are now no longer a caste called the Untouchables. Those were previously people who performed the dirty work none of the higher castes would do. There are however in today's India a group called the 'Darlits'. Apparently the word Darlit translates into 'Unfortunates' in English. This unfortunate group also seems to be synonymous with the old untouchable caste for some reason.

Lindsay F Bond

Reading Michael Dom is, for me, a 'must do'.

Seeing his comments here is again, salutary.

Indeed, given brevity is his hallmark, today is at a high tide 'marque'.

I had counted as many as ten sentences and was about to suggest it of the order of 'decalogue', until a recount revealed eleven.

Yet, let no one be mistaken, that simple admission marks my attentiveness to each contribution from Michael.

Post deconstruction, post atomic subdivision, post social media disinformation, and arrayed disincentives for citizens attesting cohesion and inclusion, relatively we seem to have it all, as each seeks particularity, pertinence and popularity.

In the beginning was a relationship, which is still, and being examined and entertained.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think you are spot on about context Michael. One has to read the bible within a 21st century context.

That requires looking for the essence of the text rather than just a literal reading. Like a lot of old books the bible is not politically correct.

I like Edgar Wallace's 'Sanders of the River' novels about a British administrator in Nigeria in Africa. Sanders was probably based on the administrator of Northern Nigeria, Frederick Lugard.

He wrote a dozen of them, beginning in 1911 and they are terribly British and paternalistic. Within that context however there is some real wisdom. You just have to be smart in your reading.

That's where the fundamentalists and evangelists fall down badly in their reading of the bible.

Michael Dom

As I said Phil, I understand the basic premise of your argument: domestic violence, specifically wife bashing, is in some instances is supported within the framework of particular Christian groups.

Your argument suggests to me that if Christianity is a force for good then those evil doers should be outed by the words of the very gospel that binds the faithful.

In part what you are calling for is for there to be a less literal translation of commandments espoused by writers according to the specific reality of their lives: cultural, social, economic and political conditions all being relevant.

Understanding context is s a given in proper study of even the most modern texts. So that basic idea is not new.

What I consider an inappropriate and misapplied response, and bordering on the irrational, is to suggest that people of a certain faith rewrite a book considered by Christians to be holy, and which contains the distilled collective wisdom of millennia before us - a wisdom which survived longer than our modern lives and is the foundation for it and multiple other religions to exist in relative peace.

Today humanity has neither the wit, wisdom or worthiness to contemplate such a rewriting, in my opinion.

History portrays the visciousness with which Christianity gained its ascendency. All good.

But today there seems little gratitude that Christianity did win.

Does anyone else want to try Sharia against their will?

That was about three blinks.

Arthur Williams

I married into a matrilineal tribe and can never forget one memorable day when my mum-in-law noisily and verbally lambasted her brother about his giving approval, without her and her sisters permission, to another clan's family to cut and harvest a ripe sago palm.

Ol man! Big shame as he was publicly corrected.

When I married my wife, her dad and brothers got nothing from the bride price. It all went to her maternal, thus same clan and uncles.

Philip Fitzpatrick

One of us is going to have to blink first Michael.

How about "turning the other cheek".

You have to be pretty tough to be meek and mild I reckon.

Michael Dom

Taking what must have been a horsewhip to tax collectors in a place of worship can hardly be described as the actions of a "meek and mild" man, Phil.

Neither can the act of a young child and later a man to challenge learned men on the validity of their teachings be considered thus.

I think you've confused the Greek meek with weak.

I don't believe Christ came to sing kumba yah I think he came to light a fire under our arses.

It's clearly burning.

Its said somewhere that God does not accept the lukewarm.

Philip Kai Morre

Christianity is rooted in our cultural and spiritual aspects of our patrilineal society where the value of women as the producer and giver of children to increase the clan population is highly respected.

To appreciate what the woman has done to the clan, constant head pay is given to her brothers and relatives to renew and maintain their friendship and marriage bond.

Her family and especially brothers are important and they play important roles in the lives and formation of her children as they should grow up without any curse.

Women’s place in the traditional setting was highly appreciated and valued but in the neo contemporary culture and modernization women feel the threat of violence which took different forms and meanings.

Women feel that they are given so much problem from men and their dignity is undermined.

Findings and researches have shown that domestic violence or violence within marriage have the following reasons;

- There is Lack of trust and confidence in marriage.
- There is Communication breakdown in marriage.
- There is Control and power struggles in marriage.
- Feeling of isolation and depression.
- Physical violence and neglect.
- Intimacy problem (fear of closeness)
- Awareness of bodily images.
- Adultery and fortification is common.
- Polygamy and defacto – marriages.
- Economic frustration and others.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace and in order to be fully Christians we have to create peace and harmony within marriage.

Theologians mentioned that the union of marriage between a husband and wife and sexual function is fundamentally linked to natural law which serves a purpose of reproduction and other additional function including bodily feelings and emotional fulfilment of maintaining a bond between two married partners.

The act of sexual intercourse without the other person’s concert or by force is considered as rape by criminal law which is also against positive and the natural law.

It is also luck of knowledge to understand what the bible says, the bible has to be translated in view of modern changes in science and technology.

Literal translation of the bible does not conform with modern scientific knowledge and we are questioning the authentic and purpose of the bible.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It's an extremely convoluted argument Arthur and I think Kenny is making the same point.

That's one of the problems with the bible, it's full of conflicting concepts. Among other things it makes it easy to cherry pick to support any argument.

Biblical scholars have been doing this for hundreds of years. That poor woman who wrote the article seems to have really snookered herself.

In essence what she and Kenny are hinting at is that if your husband beats you up its okay because it's really Jesus beating you up.

Somewhere along the line they seem to have forgotten that Jesus was the epitome of meek and mild and wouldn't have beaten anyone up.

Part of the problem is that it had so many authors and the other part is that no one has done a decent edit of it.

Pretty sloppy all round. It's a wonder it was ever published.

Kenny Pawa Ambaisi

A man who does not submit to God does not need to expect his wife to submit to him. The chain is man has to submit to God and adhere his teachings, only then he expect his wife to submit to him. His children has to submit to his wife and him as the overall authority and someone ordained by God to spouse and parents.
Papua New Guinea has changed from its traditional ways through the preaching of the word of God. And Papua New Guinea need more Biblical principles than political and economic power. When people are rooted in the word of God, violence against woman is not a big problem because Jesus Christ who has healed the 48 years old blind man can heal this 44 years old nation.

Arthur Williams

Strange Phil I received this email this morning about our topic.

Dec 19 2019 'What If I‘m Not the ‘Submissive’ Type? By Rebecca McLaughlin at Like you she states: ‘I used to be repulsed by Ephesians 5…………………

It's an attempt by an apparent educated Christian writer to explain some our debate. A little convoluted for me but with some interesting suggestion. Phil was the article predestined?

I once read a report of the purple-triangle uniform marked Jehovah Witnesses in the death camps of WW2.
Apparently they were often contemptuous of being shot or brutally attacked when they went to the aid of fellow inmates of any persuasion. That's was not 'Arbeit Macht Frei' but 'Faith Will Make You Free'. Sorry too many of us no longer have it.

But heh it's 2019 years, which nearly everyone accepts as the correct current date, after the birth of a baby who changed a world forever. We have to like that intrusion into our secular life or lump it.

Happy Christmas.

Leila Parina

The book of Esther is a favourite when it comes to a husbands authority and dominion.

The "rebellious" Queen Vashti who stood her ground and said no to parading in front of her husband and his drunk friends is constantly ridiculed and used as an example of what a girl should never be.

Whilst Esther, who is humble, timid, shy, submissive is the perfect example of what a woman should be - according to most Christian teachings.

Violence and abuse is wrong. Jesus was an advocate against injustice and violence against women. E.g., the adulterous women (John 8:1 - 11) and the woman from Samaria (John 4:1-30).

Womanist Theology is changing the way the Bible used to be perceived. Re-reading the Bible and teaching according to the context we are in today is a step forward in combating injustice and violence against women.

Michael Dom

Australia needs Christianity to survive Morrison.

You've made the mistake of placing a fundamentalist in power

"You reap what you sow", man, that's older than Christ.

Fundamentalism is stupid.

In PNG those mofos are recognized, at least locally, for what they are; a bunch of charlatans.

They are much more easily swayed into worse atrocious sins than even secular society, and infact are much more enthusiastic in going about it.

Like tomato farming or elections.

For the one million who attend them, there's seven million watching the sideshows.

On the global scene, the Western world embraces the false doctrines related to your particular brand of lefty messaging despite your good intentions Phil.

Christianity is not inherently bad, we are, my fellow dick-wits.

I believe that the Western world is at a cliffs edge. Good luck.

Philip Fitzpatrick

On the contrary Michael, I think that Papua New Guinea really needs Christianity.

It fits in well culturally and is one of the few binding forces that unites the nation and that can't be a bad thing.

That I'm not a Christian and have a left-leaning bias is neither here nor there.

What bothers me, however, are some of the unintended consequences, as epitomised by what I've tried to explain about the bible and equality.

Like most good things there are always people who will abuse it, either for their own ends or because of ill-informed zealotry. I would put fundamentalist and evangelical Christians in this category.

Michael Dom

It's amusing to watch the far left or modern progressives (certainly not liberal) attempt to destroy the religion that is the foundation of the very 'freedoms' in which they thrive, writhe and swarm - the very maggots which consume the carcass of their dead Father - with arguments similar to this articulated exasperation.

Nevertheless, your basic premise is understood Phil.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I might also point out that the last part of the bible was probably written around 100 AD. This means that anyone taking it as a guide on how to live is accepting a very archaic model.

Society is constantly evolving, mostly for the better. Nowadays we decry the societal norms of the 1950s and dub them unacceptable. Why then should anyone accept the ancient norms as laid out in the bible. It is counter intuitive.

God really needs to get her act together and update her proscriptions. She's so yesterday it isn't funny.

Philip Fitzpatrick

"Colossians 3 v 17-18 Instructions for Christian Households

18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. [King James Version]"

I think the above quote speaks volumes Arthur. The Christian marriage vow, "love, honour and obey" has similarly appalling connotations.

They are the sort of instructions that might apply to a pet dog.

Arthur Williams

Thanks Phil for offering this take on domestic violence in Christians.

My first experience of domestic violence was in 1974 when a colleague who was a Christian and had been a Catholic teacher told me how he had disciplined his wife.

He spoke of applying a warm mumu stone behind her knee and tying the joint tightly for what must have been a painful few minutes.

While not diminishing the Church Times survey it must be noted that it was conducted with 400 persons who had volunteered to take part and so it is almost impossible to extrapolate this to the wider UK Christian community.

The report also labelled emotional abuse as being ‘violence’ but how do you qualify private domestic relationship as emotion abuse?

A Post Courier report date 120327 titled, ‘Most women in jail for murder’, gave us a shocking statistic that ‘90% of women in prisons in the country are serving time for murder.

This was according to the findings by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls. That surprised me and it may be the results of abuse of different sorts by men with whom they had relationship driving the ladies to seek the only way out of their terrible domestic situations.

Have read quite a few items about the women in and outside churches who suffer in silence for the sake of their children; the fear of shame in their communities; or fearful of PNG's general patriarchy ethos being entrenched even in the police who will fob off their complaints.

Sadly many of us will never know if any female in our congregations are suffering silently for whatever reason.

You have cherry picked to tell us about the negativity of Biblical doctrines for male supremacy; so i'll do the same. Phil there are many positive verses of instruction for how Christian men should treat our wives. Here is one omnibus instruction:

Colossians 3 v 17-18 Instructions for Christian Households

18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. [King James Version]

One of the overarching themes of Christianity is of course expressed at Matthew 7 v 12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" [English Standard Version].

The conversion to Islam in PNG is said to be quite fruitful in the Highlands where the warrior ethos still maintains in many places. Expats used to claim the hierarchy there was ‘men, pigs and women!’

I smiled at your blog-baited phrase: ‘….the questionable assumption that God is masculine!’ Now that’s a long haul debate if ever there is one.

I just say if Christ can pray “Abba father” then there is no questionable assumption for perhaps 99% of the world’s professing Christians.

As with many social ills often the recourse is for better education.

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