Hands Tied By The Bible

Domestic abuse is obviously an issue in any community, but one would hope that a church would take steps to protect or at least support any of its members who are going through such an ordeal. And indeed, that does seem to be the case – it’s not uncommon to see posters or leaflets for domestic abuse helplines or support groups that are backed by a local church, at least where I live. But things get a bit more complicated if that church supports the idea tha women should be subservient to men, or at least see their husband as the ‘head of the household’.

The Saddleback church, home of the ever-controversial Rick Warren, recently drew attention to itself when one of its pastors argued that domestic abuse is grounds for separation and counseling, but not for divorce. Unsusprisingly, this rather dubious advice comes from the Bible, which apparently does not give permission to end a marriage because one partner has grown violent towards the other. One would think that even this rather weak condemnation of spoual abuse would include one-off incidents, but no – according to pastor Tom Holladay, it doesn’t really ‘count’ unless someone is being beaten regularly or semi-regularly.

Keep in mind that Holladay does not seem to be insane or misogynistic (although that might be debatable). He also doesn’t seem to be particularly happy with what the Bible has to say about domestic violence:

“I wish there were a third in Scripture, having been involved as a pastor with situations of abuse,” Warren said. “There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, ‘If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.'”

Warren said his church’s counseling ministry advises separation and counseling instead of divorce in abusive marriages, because it’s the only path toward healing. “There’s an abusive cycle that’s been set up,” he said. “Separation combined with counseling has been proven to provide healing in people’s lives.” (Source)

(Note: I can’t seem to access the original article, and the version quoted here erroneously identifies the source as Rick Warren rather than Holladay.)

What’s striking about this is that Holladay is almost amitting that he sees a problem with how the Bible treats domestic violence – his reason, his compassion, something in him is saying that there’s a problem here. I’ve seen this before, when a depressingly small minority of Christians admit that they don’t see why homosexuality should be considered a sin, or when someone attempts to justify the Biblical idea of slavery. (And before I get a snide comment, I’m aware that the slavery described in the Bible isn’t like what most people think of as slavery.) But, almost without fail, Christians will supress or ignore the nagging voice at the back of their head and assume that the problem is with them rather than the Bible.

I shouldn’t have to point out how wrong-headed this seems to someone who isn’t religious. If the ‘word of God’ seems unfair or suspect, so much the worse for the word of God. Atheists are often accused of condemning theists for acting like sheep or for lacking the capacity to think critically, but those criticising this practice very often don’t realize where that opinion comes from. For many of us, it isn’t that believing in God is necessarily ‘stupid’ or something that only the ignorant do. We simply can’t stand to see people prostrating themselves in front of a book, particularly if doing so requires that they forfeit their intelligence.

The urge to just accept what the Bible says regardless of any problems with its message can be seen with particular prevalence in Creationists, who must literally delude themselves in order to continue believing that the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God. Why is it such a taboo to suggest that this particular book might be mistaken on some subjects? Surely a person’s faith is not so weak that it will collapse if they admit that that the scientific evidence for evolution is strong, or that the Biblical prohibition against homosexuality could actually just be the product of an ignorant age?

Christians, don’t use the excuse that your hands are tied by the Bible. If you believe that God gave you your intelligence and ability to reason, then honour him by using it. Ask yourself seriously whether divorcing your spouse if he or she physically assaults you might not be justified, or whether homosexuality is actually something we need to be warning our children against. I’m not asking that you become atheists, but at least try really, truly looking at your religion in a critical way for a change.


7 Responses to “Hands Tied By The Bible”

  1. 1 Hannah January 25, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Personally, I think those churches that don’t see abuse as justification under very SCAREY circumstances aren’t reading the bible correctly. Its in there. I think they are to afraid about their divorce stats to follow the word they claim to.


  2. 2 Aro January 25, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Having come from an abusisive home myself, I can relate to the situation pretty well. My mom left my dad and took us kids with her, thus seperating us from what can only be described as a vicious predator with some serious mental issues.

    I think what the Bible describes is an ideal: the way God intends it to be. But there’s a lot of things that God intends to be a certain way and they just aren’t.

    Jesus sums up the entire law thusly: 1) Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,and 2) Similar to the first one, love your neighbor as yourself.

    How can it be said to be a kindness to allow an abuser the mandate to continue abusing, while doing nothing to help them break the cycle? How can it said to be a kindness to the children of an abusive relationship who watch and learn that this is the way of things and continue the cycle themselves?

    Christians are to forgive, but not to be stupid. We forgive in order to relieve ourselves of the burden of a grudge, and to ensure that we ourselves are not judged by God for our wrongdoings.

    If counseling works, great. More often than not, the abuser will not be able to see the problem and will refuse counseling in the first place. I’d say give it a shot with serious counseling and see if the abuser can turn things around, but if the activity continues, just call it a divorce and be done with it. I mean, everyone deserves a chance, don’t they? The fact is that most people who are abusive learned it growing up and frankly don’t really know any better until someone teaches them.

    But to the main point of your post, this is the difference between Christianity and what I see from other religions. There are parts of the Bible that I disagree with. SO WHAT. Just because I disagree with objections the Bible raises to homosexuality doesn’t mean I get to change things to my liking. People accross the world and throughout history have been doing just that, but the Absolute Truth is still the Absolute Truth regardless of what I or you or anyone else thinks of it.

    If someone dislikes what they see in scripture about God disliking the practice of homosexuality, don’t take it up with me. Take it up with God. Who knows, maybe you can get Him to change His mind.

  3. 3 augustine January 26, 2009 at 10:36 am


    I really would, but, as I’ve said already, I have no way of communicating with him. At all. I’ve tried praying (really, I have), but to no effect whatsoever.

    How would you suggest I ‘take it up with God’?

  4. 4 Aro January 26, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You aren’t really after eternal life, though.

    I dunno, man. Maybe it comes down to a question of faith. It seems from your commentary that your issue is with Christians and not some fictitious God. If God were fictitious, then the blame would indeed fall on us, or at least on the people responsible for fooling us. By the way, the instigators of this farce chose to be sawed in two, stoned to death and crucified upside-down rather than renounce their testimony.

    So I suppose the question is which way you think it is. Why pray to something that isn’t there? Is God there or not?

  5. 5 augustine January 26, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You aren’t really after eternal life, though.

    …are you? I mean, are you truly, honestly expecting to live eternally?

    And the rest of your comment doesn’t really answer my question. How do I communicate with God?

  6. 6 Aro January 26, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Yes, I truly, honestly am.

    The answer to how you communicate with God does rather bear on whether you believe He exists or not. There is a question of faith. I saw plenty of instances in scripture where what Jesus could do in certain places seemed to be limited based on the faith of those present.

    But don’t worry about it, because my earlier statement about taking it up with God wasn’t to be taken literally. You have just as much chance as I do to change God’s mind about anything: that is to say, none.

  7. 7 UNRR January 28, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/28/2009, at The Unreligious Right

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