No, Bible may not offer an exit for women trapped in violent marriages. Pastors are of no help either. But there's a burgeoning attempt in the US to interpret the Bible in new radical ways and persuade helpless women leave their spouses with a clean conscience.
In June 2007, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Bruce Ware told a Texas church that women often bring abuse on themselves by refusing to submit.
AdvertisementDebi Pearl, half of a husband-and-wife fundamentalist child-training ministry as well as author of the bestselling submission manual, Created to Be His Help Meet, writes that submission is so essential to God's plan that it must be followed even to the point of allowing abuse. When God puts you in subjection to a man whom he knows is going to cause you to suffer, she writes, it is with the understanding that you are obeying God by enduring the wrongful suffering.
What is a good enough reason for divorce? Well, according to Rick Warren's Saddleback church, divorce is only permitted in cases of adultery or abandonment as these are the only cases permitted in the Bible and never for abuse.
And mind you the Saddleback church is derided by more conservative Southern Baptists for its purported cultural liberalism. And why such a reputation? For Tom Holladay of the church asserts, There's nowhere in the Bible that says it's an attitude of submission to let someone abuse you.
But he also hastens to add, I'd always rather choose a short-term pain and find God's solution for a long-term gain, than find a short-term solution that's going to involve a long-term pain in my life, Holladay says.
Clearly the Church is pushing a message of leave while the heat is on, but only with the intention of returning to the marriage when the violence has cooled. What if it doesn't, there are no chances it will?
Well, divorcees will not be turned away from Saddleback, but their divorces will be treated as either any old pre-conversion sin if it happened before they were saved, or forgiven as a repented sin if it happened post-salvation. It is a sin then to walk out on your husband even if he is a beast, the church seems to say.
Pastor Holladay insists that mature Christians must admit that their divorce was more for their own selfishness than any other reason.
To qualify for separation, your spouse must be in the habit of beating you regularly, and not be simply someone who grabbed you once.
How many beatings would have to take place in order to qualify as regularly? challenges Jocelyn Andersen, a Christian domestic violence survivor and advocate, author of the 2007 book Woman Submit! Christians and Domestic Violence, an indictment of church teachings of wifely submission and male headship.
By convincing women that leaving their relationships is not an option, these teachings have only laid the ground for a domestic violence epidemic within the church, Joycelyn Andersen points out.
A blogger, recounting her experiences in the Southern Baptist Church, says her counselors gave equal credence to each side, equating her husband's complaints about her willful failures in the kitchen with the physical violence that she and the family endured.
We were taught that women were the completers of men, and that therefore God created Danni for the sole purpose of completing Gary. Since my job was to complete him anywhere he was incomplete, I was supposed to already know what he wanted. These days, Moss doesn't attend church not because she's opted out or waned in her faith, but because she hasn't yet found a church where she feels safe to trust the male authority. After Moss finally divorced Gary, a pastor told her she should return to her father's house so that she could be under the proper protection of male authority.
Reconciling the seeming contradiction between this literalist biblical command and her championship of women's right to leave abusers, Moss, the blogger, invokes a third way out traditionally reserved for widows. Domestic violence survivors are widows of a sort as well, she says, and so likewise can consider themselves married to God and safe under his protection.
Research has found that Christian women often stay in abusive situations several years longer than secular abused women.
Barbara Roberts writes, A Bible-believing Christian woman needs a biblical argument for leaving a dangerous marriage because she loves God and wants to obey the Bible...Her scriptural dilemma can only be solved by applying and properly interpreting more scripture to counterbalance and correct her unbalanced emphases and misunderstandings.
From treating the story of the Fall as an injustice to women and pin the responsibility on Adam, Andersen and others are amassing a library of resources novels, personal testimonies, and exegetical material for women to whom secular reasons for leaving can't appeal.
That is all part of a nascent theological attempt to reach out to biblically literalist women, Kathryn Joyce writes on Alternet.
While the Taliban and their mullahs are widely reviled in the supposedly more civilized West, the mainstream media there fights shy of taking on the evangelical churches that seek to convince the women to accept male authority and all that it entails.
It is in such circumstances the new biblical readings could offer some solace, it is felt.