July 15, 2014

Is An Evangelical Culture Of Machismo Actually Aiding Domestic Violence?

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: …enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy… and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19–21)

I was talking to one of our trainees about the subject of domestic violence. She told me that in school, they were taught that no matter what a woman does, it is never right to hit her. Her assumption being that domestic violence was a female only issue. It was an interesting discussion, and we talked though different scenarios faced in our culture. We both agreed that we should have zero tolerance for domestic violence regardless of the perpetrator being male or female.

However, it is a complex issue. In our world, if a man beats his wife and she retaliated by punching him, then she would be hailed a hero by many. If the reverse occurred, and a woman beat her husband and he retaliated by punching her, then he would be seen as the villain. It’s sadly not uncommon in most congregations for there to be marriages where domestic violence is an issue. I am grateful that churches are starting to take seriously the issue of domestic violence. However, I wonder if, when we use the term ‘domestic violence’, our minds jump directly to the woman being the victim and the male the perpetrator? I wonder if, when you read the title of this article, your immediate assumption was that it would be about abused women? I wonder if, subconsciously, we view abused men as being ‘soft’ and treat them less seriously? Why, when it is such a common occurrence in our culture, do we see so little on the topic from the male perspective as victim? I wonder how much this new wave of evangelical male machismo is helping men suffering in cruel, tormented relationships? How can a man come to his pastor or leaders for help in this issue if the prevailing culture is beer drinking, fight club Christianity where real men grow beards and watch cage fighting? What hope for a man caught in the trap of long-term (and it usually is) abuse if he already feels less than a man as it is?

The following video was secretly filmed and shows two couples arguing in the street. When the aggressor is male, the public intervene. When female, the public stand by with some even laughing as a man is physically abused by his girlfriend.

Anger (and violence) is just as destructive when a woman dishes it out as it is when a man does. It’s false to believe that because a woman may be small in stature (or just because she’s a woman) that she can do less damage physically and psychologically. It’s not helpful when we perpetuate the myth that women don’t abuse their husbands, and that those that do are not as bad and, therefore, their abusive behaviour patterns are not as serious as their male counterparts. It’s an unfortunate truth that in some marriages, women use violence as a means to get what they want (some figures have domestic abuse as high as 38% for men).

More commonly, it reveals itself in an explosion of anger that has been boiling under the surface. David Powlinson describes it like this: “A person’s anger can be ‘pent up’… People can be ‘boiling mad,’ ‘filled’ with anger, waiting to ‘explode.’ They ‘blow off steam.’ Old, unresolved anger can be ‘stored up inside,’ ‘harboured’ for decades. If you ‘get it off your chest’ until your anger is ‘spent,’ you feel better.” These words ring true for far too many women who having never dealt properly with their emotions, expend these feelings onto their spouses as a form of release. The end result is always abuse in some form. But here is a truth that is as applicable to female abusers as it is to men.

How Can the Church Help?

When a spouse become the object of anger there can be many lies that the perpetrator tells themselves to justify the explosion of rage. We must reinforce the following truth.

He did not make you do it – no one makes you beat and/or abuse your spouse.

The Bible is clear that all forms of self-deception always spring from the heart (Mark 7:20–23). We have to ask, “What is at the root of your anger?” Could it be a power struggle within the marriage? Is it a lack of biblical submission? Is it past resentment? What about debt or other pressures? Maybe somebody witnessed abuse as a child? To be honest, there are a multiplicity of answers that could be fuelling anger. But these are not excuses for sinful behaviour. Therefore, ultimately, to understand violence and conflict we need to seek answers to the problems within. We must encourage people to search their hearts. What is it that they want that they’re not getting? What’s truly at the heart of the matter?

Titus 3:3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

James 3:13–4:12 gives a summary of the problem and looks at God’s solution.

  1. In our anger our demanding, self-serving heart will bear the fruit of violence, rage, and conflict.
  2. God is generous to the repentant!
  3. A wise, humble and receptive heart will bear fruit of a life of peace-making.

To get to the heart of your anger and violence we must encourage perpetrators to search their hearts, confess the truth, repent and seek God’s help. In Philippians 4:13, Paul tells the church that,“I can do all things through him who strengthens me”.That is a truth even for those who struggle with the anger and rage. Without a right understanding of ourselves, our own hearts, and the glorious gospel we will never put an end to the violence in the home.

It is a long, slow, painful walk as we counsel those who are being abused and those who are abusing. But let’s not demonise men as the only people who do domestic violence. The odds are you have somebody (or more than one) suffering silently in your congregation. Let’s not be guilty of keeping them trapped in fear and bondage for fear of being soft or not being taken seriously.

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