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.