Are Domestic Abuse Claims in the Church Usually False?

One excuse I’ve frequently heard offered by clergy as a reason to proceed with caution when someone claims their spouse is abusive – generally meaning proceed on the presumption that abuse allegations are false unless there is concrete proof otherwise – is because people “usually” use the abuse card as a “get out of marriage free” pass.

I can hardly deny that people do use the abuse card as a “get out of marriage free” pass. It is especially handy to try to use an abuse claim in a custody battle. And, yes, it happens frequently.

However, operating on a presumption that most claimants of abuse are lying puts all genuine abuse victims at serious risk, while proceeding with cautious acceptance pending further investigation of claims (following the Biblical Matthew 18 process) protects all parties involved.

Let me give an example of the danger of the assumption that most claimants of abuse are lying.

Being a breast cancer survivor I have to have frequent mammograms. My mammograms, obviously, undergo considerably scrutiny and I have surgical consult follow-ups for every little thing.

But what about the mammogram of a 35-year-old woman with no history of breast disease? Does the radiologist who evaluates her mammogram think, “Well, most mammograms of women at age 35 have no breast cancer so this one is probably clear. I can give it a quick glance and toss it in the ‘all clear’ pile.”

Most certainly not! S/he would miss someone’s cancer within a minimal period of time, be sued in short order, and it wouldn’t be long before that doctor was no longer practicing medicine – we all surely hope.

The same applies to pastors – and the numbers are in favor of the radiologist, not the pastor. The doctor is less likely to find cancer in a 35-year-old woman than the pastor is likely to find a false report of abuse. 35% of women report experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their intimate relationships. While 35% of Christian marriages do not experience abuse, it is still foolish to think that there is not a very real percentage of marriages in every church in which abuse is a reality.

Whatever this number is, it is way higher than the number of women at age 35 who are diagnosed with breast cancer. The domestic abuse statistics are lower for men, but domestic abuse is no respecter of gender.

So let me ask you – how reasonable is it for pastors to approach allegations of abuse with the assumptions that the accuser is probably lying if there is not concrete proof?

How likely is it the pastor will cause that accuser, who has perhaps reached out for help in genuine desperation, real harm if he goes to the accused to ask whether the allegation is true? This is the extreme height of foolishness!

In reality, using the excuse that accusers of domestic abuse are likely making a false allegation may be more about giving pastors a “get out of sticky responsibility free” pass than anything else. Or it could be a response made in ignorance because that’s what “everyone” is doing. It is far easier and faster to wash our hands of having to spend months in humble prayer seeking God for Holy Spirit wisdom and discernment, and to just assume this one is probably a false allegation, too, since “they usually are.”

I’m not saying that all pastors are deliberately attempting to avoid responsibility. However, that is the net result. And I suspect it may also be an significant underlying, and unsuspected, motive.

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3 Responses

  1. I believe that conservatism seems to breed these sort of assumptions about women. The comparison of all women to Eve’s deception brought about justification for the belief that women are more easily deceived than men. With deception and subjection being made integral to theology about women, believing that they are cunning and proficient liars is not to hard to accept and mentally apply to ones ‘theological bag of beliefs’ about females.

    A husband went to his pastor. He said that he was having some marital problems. The pastor and his wife call this mans wife aside and begin to ask her all kinds of questions. What the pastoral couple finally decided was that the wife was not responding to the husband enough sexually. The wife was incredulous. She kept insisting that (sex) was not the problem, but the counselors would not listen to her. The stereotypical response is always to blame the wife. All you have to do is go to a local bookstore and peruse the books written about marriage. They are all directed at women (the few that I have seen that speak to men in marriage has to do with thier leadership or headship not how to “make things right’ when they have gone terribly wrong.)

    I have said it many times on different blogs, men want all the authority in a marriage, but with no responsiblity when things go wrong.

    A good quote

    “Beyond Anger” On Being a Feminist in the Church. (Carolyn Osiek)

    pg. 69-67. “The persistant portrayal of women as demonstrating heroic but fitting sacrifice by submitting passively and silently to pain and abuse, whether the source is nature, parent, husband, society, or Church, leads directly to the image of the battered woman. She is the victim not only of the rage of her abuser but the blindness of a whole society that in the name of sanctity of the home and family will do nothing to rescue her. It creates what Mary Daly calls the scapegoat mentality, whereby women are to imitate the victim Christ while at the same time they are denied any possibility of fully identifying with him. Doomed to be like him in suffering and humiliation, they are equally doomed to be unlike him in power, authority, or exaltation, much less to be able to ‘image’ him in sacramental symbolism.”

    Whether you care for her claim to femisim or whether you like her quoting Mary Daly does not negate the truth in the quote made above. I consider myself to be a conservative and a egalitarian and believe that the Bible is consistant with both.

  2. One small addition to my last post. I consider myself to be a conservative, but on the issue of women I believe that many conservatives proof-text scriptures and disregard the ‘one another’s’ in the Bible so that a paradigm of patriarchy can be established between the sexes.

  3. There are alot of issues in life that I have some general education on, but in no way would I consider myself an expert at. HECK even experts make mistakes! If they aren’t arrogant they learn from them.

    I have been approached by abused parties and some are totally filled with rage over what they have had to endured, and yet others are totally crushed in spirit. I would guess those that are crushed are looked at as meek. That’s pretty sad.

    I hate the thought of how you must walk on eggshells with your approach to your church or pastor when you need help. They will not be able to see past the pain, because they are to busy telling you that your behavior is awful. Its like they need to prepare of list on how you should present yourself, what materials are needed to prove things so they will think of helping, etc.

    To me its like the never ending race. They place all these things you must accomplish in order to cross that finish line to get your prize. The abusive spouse will also have their list in mind. So you are off on your race, and you work, strive, and grow. What they never notice is the abuser isn’t happy about these things – they are mad. Becoming a FULL partner in the marriage is against their ‘power and control’ theory for it. Their partner gets better with the characteristics they were asked about, and the abuser still isn’t satisfied. You almost get to that finish line, and something will blow up…and the church and the abuser have a new list for you to work on. Its a never ending race.

    What is wrong with that? They will simplistically look at what is mentioned and say there is nothing wrong with ongoing growth, and we all do that in some ways. They will totally miss the point.

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