Cultural attitudes towards women amongst some refugee groups in other countries have been in the news in recent weeks. But such negative cultural attitudes to women are to be found much closer to home. Last October Contemporary Christianity partnered with BMS for a day conference about domestic violence and it was in the news again last month because Christmas sees an annual rise in the reporting of acts of physical violence committed by men and boys against women and girls.
It was reported that police in England and Wales were on the verge of being “overwhelmed” by “staggering” increases in reports of domestic abuse. The same increases were being reported in N. Ireland. UK government figures suggest that something like one in four UK women will suffer abuse at some point during their lifetime at the hands of a man and it seems to be increasing.
Domestic cases now account for 14.1% of all court prosecutions where 84% of victims were female and 16% were male. It is estimated that some 750,000 children in UK witness domestic violence each year and as a child mental health professional I have too often seen the profound and lasting impact this can have on their mental well being.
Violence against women is a global epidemic. It is known in every culture and transcends class.
Sadly the Bible has been used by some to justify demeaning attitudes to women. God’s statement in Genesis 3:16 has been misinterpreted and misused as justification for making women subservient to men. It was a prediction of how the Fall was going to affect husband-wife relationships and was never meant to be what those relationships should become. It is a pattern to be resisted.
2 Tim 3:2-5 suggests that abusers will be among those who have “a form of godliness”. Such statistics as are available suggest that rates of abuse in UK churches may not differ significantly from the national average.
Christ has come to redeem people from sin – and Christians are called by God to seek to counteract the damage caused by the Fall here and now. In their interpersonal relationships both men and women need to imitate Christ’s intolerance of injustice and oppression but also his gentleness and self sacrifice.
We should expect by God’s grace to be able to reshape our relationships to escape the worst of the brokenness. We must all examine what narratives we bring from our own families/communities of origin that help shape how we relate with our own partners and spouses. These often establish a pattern for transmission to the next generation.
But transmission is not inevitable. Ezekiel 18 emphasizes that God will judge each according to his own choices – and anyone can repent and be forgiven. Change for those involved is difficult but not impossible.
Churches must learn to talk about domestic abuse and pastors and clergy must preach about the evil that it is. Church fellowships must be the kinds of places in which those suffering from domestic violence can find refuge. They should actively support Women’s Aid hostels and all professionals involved in work with both perpetrators and victims.
So let’s not judge those from other cultures too severely for their attitudes. They may need cultural education but we must also seek to put our own house in order.
Noel McCune is a retired Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and is Chairperson of Contemporary Christianity.