Pastors, have you ever preached a sermon against domestic violence? Odds are you haven’t. I’ve listened to approximately 4,000 sermons and have yet to hear a pastor condemn domestic violence from the pulpit.
Southern preachers prefer to pontificate on matters like abortion and homosexuality. Sometimes they rail against feminism. On occasion they preach against pornography, using the occasion to slam churchwomen over immodest attire. In every denomination, pastors preach often enough on tithing, and never fail to pass the plate. Yet they fail at addressing an issue faced by approximately one fourth of their congregation.
Recently a wildly popular pastor shoved the problem of Christian violence into the spotlight when he choked, kicked and stomped his wife in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel. In the South, beating your wife may or may not be a crime. Records show that the most common law enforcement response to domestic violence is “separating the parties.” Victims rarely press charges because they fear reprisal. Law enforcement rarely presses their own charges (though they could and should), essentially treating wife-beating as a “victimless crime.”
Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III crossed the line that even Georgia will not tolerate: He was wearing shoes when he kicked his wife. That’s a felony. Besides that, he committed the acts publicly and on video surveillance tape. He also threatened to kill her, which is another Georgia felony.
The abused wife, Prophetess Juanita Bynum, is an internationally acclaimed televangelist and best-selling author who empowers Christian women with her preaching. Church members say that couple of weeks before the attack, Weeks announced that Bynum would no longer be preaching at the church they founded.
Bynum is pressing charges against Weeks and seeking to end the marriage. Attorneys for Weeks say he will contest the divorce on the grounds that she was cruel. The strangest part of this story is not that the man who kicked and stomped his wife is contesting the divorce or fighting the charges; that happens all the time. What is so bizarre is where this man was just a few days after the beating: He was behind his pulpit telling his congregation that the devil made him do it.
Finally, a preacher is talking about domestic violence! If only his congregation had responded with a resounding movement down the aisle–and right out the church door. No one should sit under the teaching of a wife-beater. The elders should have stripped this man of his title and never let him behind the pulpit again.
T. D. Jakes, the famous televangelist who helped bring Bynum to power, condemned violence against women in a written statement two weeks after the attack. He pointed out that every day four American men murder their wives or girlfriends, resulting in 1,400 deaths per year. That’s an FBI statistic. He also mentioned that over half a million cases of intimate assault are reported each year. Most cases go unreported. According to the most conservative estimates, between 2 million and 4 million women are battered each year. In 1990, the U.S. had 3,800 shelters for animals, and only 1,500 shelters for battered women.
Other Christian leaders even try to blame the victims. Christian author Gillis Triplett claims that there are 13 traits common to abused wives, including “THEY LOVE THE DRAMA!” (Emphasis his.) Evangelical leaders John MacArthur and James Dobson have both gone on record stating that women must be careful not to “provoke” abuse. In the 1996 printing of Love Must Be Tough, Dobson told a story about a woman who was physically beaten by her husband. Dobson concluded that the woman “baited” her husband to hit her so that she could show off her black eye, which he calls her “prize.”
Following the advice and example of such leaders, thousands of pastors regularly dismiss domestic violence and send women back into dangerous situations. With “saving the marriage” as the highest aim, these pastors seek to prevent divorce at all costs. Women receive the subtle message that their pain–or even their lives–are not as important as keeping the marriage intact.
One woman told a victims’ support group how she took her children and fled the state in fear of her life. Her church responded by sending her a letter of ex-communication.
In the introduction to her new book Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence, Jocelyn Andersen states that: “The practice of hiding, ignoring, and even perpetuating the emotional and physical abuse of women is … rampant within evangelical Christian fellowships and as slow as our legal systems have been in dealing with violence against women by their husbands, the church has been even slower.” The Christian wife abuse cover-up is every bit as evil as the Catholic sex abuse cover-up.
Christian leaders set the stage for domestic violence by perpetuating pop-culture stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. T. D. Jakes claims in his book Woman, Thou Art Loosed that all women were created to fulfill the vision of some man. Jakes bases his gender theology solely on the physical characteristics of male and female genitalia, insisting that all women are “receivers” and all men are “givers.” This false dichotomy breaks down quickly when one considers that female sexuality includes giving birth and giving milk. More importantly, Jakes deviates from Scripture in claiming that women and men must operate like their genitalia in every facet of life.John MacArthur also does his part to set the stage for female subjugation. He calls the women’s movement “Satanic.” In a sermon called “God’s Design for a Successful Marriage: The Role of the Wife” MacArthur blames working women for everything from smog to prison overcrowding. As an antidote, he offers this quote from Charles Haddon Spurgeon on the disposition of a godly wife toward her husband: “He is her little world, her paradise, her choice treasure. She is glad to sink her individuality in him.”
Finally, consider Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson recently dismissed Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda, simply because she was female. He claims the Bible does not allow women to instruct men. Patterson then launched a new major at the seminary: Homemaking. Only women are allowed to take these courses, which focus on childcare, cooking and sewing–as well as a woman’s role in marriage. The courses are taught by Patterson’s wife, who is the only surviving female in the school’s 42-person theology faculty.
Considering Patterson’s view of women, we should not be surprised at his response to domestic violence. Participating in a panel on “How Submission Works in Practice,” Patterson tells abused wives to do three things: Pray for their husbands, submit to them, and “elevate” them. He admits that this advice sometimes leads to beatings, but also claims that the men eventually get saved. Apparently, it’s only the men that matter.
Pastors who truly want to help people and save marriages should stop attacking feminism. Instead, teach couples never to hit, choke, kick, threaten or verbally batter their spouse. Preach against domestic violence from your pulpit. Help abuse victims to escape their batterers–permanently. Encourage them to press charges so that justice can be served.
Pastors, if you want to defend marriage, set an example of a loving relationship. Instruct couples to live in a way that makes their spouse want to stay with them. It really does not take a six-tape series to teach the number one tool of a successful marriage: the Golden Rule.
Jeannie Babb Taylor is a wife, a mother, entrepreneur and writer in Ringgold, Ga. This column appeared previously in newspapers and her blog, “On the Other Hand.” It is used here with permission.