Harmful Theology and Domestic Abuse
This recently released report is intended as guidelines for those with pastoral responsibilities. The report aims to equip clergy and others to deal with instances of abuse which they will encounter in ministry. It also focuses, rightly, on the failures of the Church and the fact that Christian teaching can easily be misused in order to justify abuse.
The main part of the report itself has much to commend it and highlights the sickening reality of domestic abuse. Sadly, where the report fails is in some of the appendices (and alluded to in the main body) where it effectively attacks Biblical teaching, rather than its abuse. The folly of this is driven home by the inevitable fact that the media have focussed on it, rather than on the good which the report might otherwise achieve.
In criticising certain aspects of the report we have no desire to detract from the good things in this report, or from the hideousness of domestic abuse.
Appendix 1 – Harmful Theology.
The argument of this appendix is that there are things in the Bible which cause people either to abuse or creates a mindset that encourages abuse.
They say: "Church teaching and preaching must correct this major imbalance"
At the end of the Appendix they talk about the Holy Spirit leading into all truth and clearly see themselves as setting forward new ideas which should help us to reject those parts of the Bible which are unpalatable to modern sentiments.
This is classic liberalism and it is astonishing that liberals never grasp just how absurd their logic is.
First, does abuse always mean that the thing abused is wrong? The writers assume that this is so in relation to Biblical teaching – so we must reject the bits that are abused. But by this logic since relationships are abused why do we not say that relationships are wrong. If the Bible is abused the answer is not to reject what it says.
Second, they want to create a barrier between nice Jesus and the nasty bits of the Old Testament:
Having spoken about the violence of God portrayed particularly in the Old Testament they say (continuing the quotation above):
"Church teaching and preaching must correct this major imbalance by holding fast to the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the decisive revelation of the divine character."
Again, classic liberalism, focussing not on Scripture as the Word of God, but on Christ. Only it is clearly a very selective view of Christ. What are we to make of those parables of judgement where Jesus does seem to speak of God in very violent terms? Why do they not mention the return of Christ – after all Jesus promised to come again to judge the world? What about when Jesus said that it would be worse for those who reject Him than for Sodom and Gomorrah.
This theological method relies on ripping up the Bible and throwing out everything we dislike. But what then is the authority of what is left – it is simply that we like these bits – so their only authority is the whims of the authors, which appear to be the fashions of the day.
A theology of abuse must begin with the reality of human sin, that we have all sinned against God, and that every aspect of our lives is marred by this. Yet the rise of liberalism saw the downplaying of sin and so few churches preach about the reality of sin today.
Appendix 8 – Marriage Preparation
The other part of the report to have gained particular attention is that on Marriage Preparation and the vows in the marriage service. In fact the report does not dwell on this much but it is clear that the authors think the language of the traditional vows contributes to abuse.
Some of the media compounded the problems by asserting that the promise to obey goes back to Henry VIII and the Book of Common Prayer whilst of course the instruction to obey is in Scripture.
What the report fails to ask is whether in the last two generations when so many couples have chosen not to use the ‘obey’ wording there is any evidence that their marriages have been less prone to abuse. If the authors really believe that the Biblical teaching produces abuse then they ought to back this up with evidence. Yet if abuse is so widespread today the change in the marriage vows do not appear to have helped.
The report does draw attention to the fact that ‘obey’ is not the be all and end all of marriage but they have lost the opportunity to remind men of the commitment they are expected to make in marriage. The Scriptural command is that husbands love their wives ‘as Christ loved the church’. This model means that a husband should be willing to give up all for his wife and be ready to serve. The husband, like Christ, has authority, and should exercise it, but as one who does not lord it over others, but as one who serves. The husband must be ready to suffer rejection, persecution, mocking, even death itself for his wife. Now if this is the duty laid on a husband, and if this model is taught (which is rare) then what man would conclude from this that he has some right to abuse his wife? Therefore, it is the failure to teach the fulness of Scripture that contributes to the problems of abuse and this report has fallen into the same trap.
The report can be downloaded from the Church of England Website
Articles relevent to this issue
Domestic Abuse. Cross†Way article by Darren Moore commenting on the Church of England report 'Responding to Domestic Abuse.' (Issue 103, Winter 2007).