And then there was Donald Trump’s audio recording, and his feeble attempt to explain it away. Calling sexual assault “locker room talk” was deplorable. Trump’s words, in any setting, were not okay. They perpetuate the abuse of women.
Physical, sexual and verbal abuse is an epidemic, and nowhere is it worse than in the American home. According to the Bureau of Justice, 38 million American women (one in four) will experience physical intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Over 4.7 million are abused each year, 20 victims a minute.
The last couple of weeks have seen an increasing number of Evangelicals speak out against Donald Trump. I find their comments ironic, because the truth is when it comes to the American family, the Evangelical church has been condoning the abuse of women for generations.
Denise George, in her book, What Women Wish Pastors Knew, quotes a study of 6,000 pastors surveyed about how they handle domestic violence. The study found 26 percent told the wives who came to them for help with domestic abuse that they should submit to their husbands. An astonishing 25 percent suggested it was their own fault the abuse was taking place, because they had not submitted to their spouses! Fifty percent said women should be willing to tolerate some level of violence!
Those numbers were appalling. Surely they could not be correct. I began searching for other studies and found that among Fundamentalist pastors, those numbers are all too accurate. Over 80 percent of Evangelical pastors admit they have never preached a single sermon on domestic violence. Many have no idea just how bad the problem is, or how unknowingly the Evangelical church contributes to the problem.
Instead of providing solutions, many conservative churches exacerbate domestic abuse, assuming marriage should be preserved at all costs, that all divorce is sin, and that forgiveness and reunion are one and the same. They also misapply the scriptural passages on headship and submission, empowering abusers by sanctioning their behavior.
The complementarian view of submission and headship, held by many of these churches, feeds the dilemma. It encourages men to see themselves as superior to women. But that is only half the problem. The power structure in these institutions is 100 percent male, and men just do not get it. I know I didn’t. I could not fathom a man who would abuse his wife, and women were not telling me about it, so I was not speaking out. Only now have I become aware just how pervasive domestic abuse is in Evangelical homes.
The church can continue to keep its head in the sand or it can attack this scourge. First, the church must reexamine its position on what the Bible does and does not say about submission and headship. Second, the church must allow women into formal leadership. That will bring the subject to the forefront in short order. Unfortunately, when it comes to Evangelical churches, neither one of those things is likely to happen anytime soon.
As so many are courageously doing with Donald Trump, Christian women must challenge the silence of the church on this plague. Lives are at stake. Between 2001 and 2012, 6,488 Americans were killed in Afghanistan. During that same period 11,776 women were murdered by their current or former partners! It is time for the church to admit its complicity on the subject of domestic abuse and make up for lost time. The violence must be stopped.