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Religion and violence

Impact of religion on spousal abuse

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Church of England Report:

The Church of England, which is the province of the Anglican Communion in England, issued a report titled "Responding to Domestic Abuse, Guidelines for Pastoral Responsibility." It was created in response to a motion at the 2004-JUL General Synod, which called for national guidelines on domestic abuse and for dioceses to consider how they could work with other agencies and "speak out against the evil of domestic violence."

The report was launched at a news conference in London by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt. Rev Graham James. He said he hoped the new guidelines would break down the silence and secrecy surrounding domestic abuse. It has been backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He accused the church of failing at "many points" to protect people who are vulnerable to domestic abuse.

The report concluded that the Church of England, and perhaps by extension at least some of the other Anglican Communion provinces, are in a state of sin:

"The Church has not only failed at many points to address the processes that lead to domestic abuse but has -- intentionally or unintentionally -- reinforced abuse, failed to challenge abusers and intensified the suffering of survivors."

The report contrasts "life-giving" theology which could help the Church reduce spousal abuse with "misguided" or distorted versions of Christian belief which has actually contributed to the problem.

Some of the problems in church teaching cited are:

bullet

The portrayal of God's power in "unhealthy and oppressive ways."

bullet

Attribution of violent actions and attitudes to God, mainly in the Old Testament. The report says that these require "careful interpretation."

bullet

A view of the historical relation of God with humanity in terms of domination and submission.

bullet

Uncritically referring to God as male.

bullet

A spirituality of "self denial" in which the abused person is urged to forgive the perpetrator and to not take remedial action against him or her. 1

Immoral passages in the Old Testament:

The Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) does contain many passages which involve actions that would be considered highly immoral when judged against today's religious and secular systems of morality. For example there are passages in which God ordered or committed various actions:

bullet God committed many acts of genocide, including the flood of Noah, the execution of each of the first-born of Egypt, and ordering the eradication of the residents of Canaan.

bulletGod executed persons for looking at/into the Ark of the Covenant, and looking back at Sodom out of curiosity.

bulletGod executed a person who prevented the Ark of the Covenant from falling and being damaged.

bulletGod killed 70,000 Hebrew males, and probably a similar number of females, because a census was taken which God ordered.

bulletGod killed thousands of Hebrews because they wanted to worship in a different manner.

bulletGod ordered the mass murder of men involved in inter-faith relationships.

bulletGod ordered the mass murder of Hebrews who wanted a more representative leadership.

bullet God executed Onan for practicing an elementary form of birth control.

bulletGod promised in the Ten Commandments to punish the children, grand-children, etc. of sinners.

bulletGod established many laws of Moses:

bulletA law requiring that some hookers be executed by being burned alive.

bulletLaws relating to permanent human slavery of females, and temporary slavery of males.

bullet Laws permitting the raping of female prisoners of war under controlled conditions.

In addition, there were many events recorded in the Old Testament which were done by humans:

bullet Elijah ordered the assassination of 450 priests.

bullet David committed genocide of the Geshurites, Gezirites, and Amalekites.

bullet Laws required some raped women to be either stoned to death or to be forced to marry their rapist.

Details of these events and more.

It would seem to be a very difficult task of "careful interpretation" to somehow remove the violence from the acts of oppression, injustice, abuse, mass murder, and genocide from these biblical passages as the Church of England report recommends. It would seem impossible to retain the image of a loving, caring deity unless these events are written off either:

bulletAs myths unrelated to real events, or

bullet Of real events contrary to the will of God that were misreported.

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Negative review of the report by a Roman Catholic source:

LifeSiteNews, a pro-life, Roman Catholic information source took a dim view of the report. They stated on 2006-OCT-04:

"The report, ... condemned the Christian spirituality of self-denial, calling it a factor in discouraging victims of spousal abuse from seeking help. ..."

"The report is meant for Anglican clergy as a guide for the use of 'gender-neutral' pronouns in Sunday services. It says that 'uncritical use of masculine imagery' encourages male violence against women, a precise replication of extreme anti-Christian feminist academic thought. The report suggested another of feminism's central doctrines that the nature of Christian marriage itself tended to enforce a sense among husbands that their wives are property."

"The Daily Mail quotes Graham James, the Anglican Bishop of Norwich, who said that abuse victims

'... can be locked into a belief that they deserve the punishment that they receive and they link that with the theology that they hear in church where Christ is victim ... Maybe even that they think their suffering has redemptive quality to it which justifies it in some way'."

"In a section called, 'God as Abuser?' the report claims, ''The divine'human relationship may be conceived in terms of domination and submission at the expense of grace, mercy and patient love'."

"Today's Daily Mail carried the outraged responses of Christian clergy who said the report is itself a grave distortion of the true Christian doctrine of self-denial and sacrifice."

"Simon Calvert of the evangelical Christian Institute think tank, said, 'They appear to suggest seriously that we should ditch many centuries of Judaeo-Christian teaching because of some half-baked feminist theory'." 2

Related essays on this web site:

bullet

The status of women in the Bible and early Christianity; female ordination; church change

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Viewing God as male 'contributes to domestic abuse' says Church," Daily Mail, 2006-OCT-02, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

  2. Hilary White, "Male Pronoun for God Encourages Wife Beating Say Anglicans," LifeSiteNews.com, at: http://www.lifesite.net/

Copyright © 2006 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-OCT-05 
Latest update: 2011-OCT-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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