December 1, 2006
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
What do you think about a Christian pastor who tells women that they are forbidden from divorcing abusive husbands who hit them? Well, that's what Rick Warren believes -- and that's not the worst of it. What makes the situation worse is that he actually wishes there were permission in the Bible for women to leave their abusive husbands.
I'd always rather choose a short-term pain and find God's solution for long-term gain than try and find a short-term solution that's going to involve long-term pain. ... [In scripture] adultery is one [reason for divorce] and abandonment is a second. I wish there were a third in scripture.
Having been involved as a pastor in situations of abuse there's something in me that wishes there was a Bible verse that says if they abuse you in this and such kind of way then you have a right to leave them. ... If you're in this kind of situation I strongly recommend that you take advantage of our lay counseling ministers.
So Rick Warren recognizes that abused wives are in a dangerous, nasty situation and he's telling them to stay anyway. Warren is putting adherence to his ideology over the health and safety of women, all in the context of a religion which is complicit in the abuse by teaching that women must submit to men.
Apparently, physical abuse only becomes a legitimate reason to leave a husband when he is "habit of beating you regularly." This raises two difficult questions. First, where is the scriptural support for this? Rick Warren is quite clear that there are only two reasons for divorce and "he regularly beats you" isn't one of them. If he can make up a new rule for "he regularly beats you," why not one for "he occasionally beats you"? The hypocrisy here is palpable.
Second, what does "beating you regularly" even mean? Is once a month "regular" enough for Rick Warren and teaching pastor Tom Holladay? Does it have to be once a week? Or once a day? What if the wife is only beaten "irregularly," but it's always enough to leave marks or cause real injury? According to their completely arbitrary and made-up standard, non-injurious regular assaults are a reason for divorce but irregular assaults that cause serious injury should only lead to counseling.
In my opinion, this makes Rick Warren complicit in any emotional, psychological, and physical abuse suffered by women in his church.
But I guess that's only to be expected when someone who has theological training is accorded any sort of authority in areas where they clearly have no competency. You can probably trust Rick Warren to give you an accurate explanation of how his particular denomination traditionally explains or interprets some portion of the Bible; that's all his theological training is good for and that's not much. To trust his advice on anything else is just absurd.
And sadly, he's not even the worst of Christians pastors who are advising women to stay in dangerous situation that might kill them -- and all because they sincerely think that adherence to the Bible is more important than women's health and safety:
In June 2007, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Bruce Ware told a Texas church that women often bring abuse on themselves by refusing to submit.
And Debi Pearl, half of a husband-and-wife fundamentalist child-training ministry as well as author of the bestselling submission manual, Created to Be His Help Meet, writes that submission is so essential to God's plan that it must be followed even to the point of allowing abuse. "When God puts you in subjection to a man whom he knows is going to cause you to suffer," she writes, "it is with the understanding that you are obeying God by enduring the wrongful suffering."
Source: Religion Dispatches
Is it any wonder that in more religious cultures, particularly Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, women who are assaulted are presumed to have been at fault? Women who are raped are blamed because their clothing or behavior is allegedly too provocative. Wives who are beaten are blamed because they are "provocative" in a different way -- not sexually provocative, but rather failing to properly submit to husbands.
That line of reasoning justifies anyone in a position of authority beating someone who is perceived as insufficiently subservient. It's not a coincidence that authoritarian systems like those being promoted by these Christian leaders also tend to be very violent systems. Authoritarian systems breed violence because they breed contempt for the equal dignity and humanity of everyone. And Christianity is inherently authoritarian.
Rick Warren, I think, has nothing but contempt for the idea that women are equal human beings who deserve equal rights and dignity. If he weren't contemptuous of that idea, he wouldn't tell women to stay in abusive, dangerous relationships. A person who sincerely respects other human beings doesn't encourage them to needless risk their lives like that. Then again, a morally mature person wouldn't do that either.
Why would any woman want to remain part of a system which explicitly and repeatedly teaches that they are inferior, that they only exist to serve men, and that they don't even have a right to leave an abusive relationship where their lives are in danger because it's their own fault for failing to be submissive enough?