Nominal Christianity—Not Complementarianism—Leads to Abuse

"Is there an essential connection between conservative theological beliefs about gender and the family to environments that foster and tolerate abuse? An increasing number, it seems, would answer 'yes.'" - 9 Marks

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Aaron Blumer's picture


Indeed, far from being a corollary of abuse, Wilcox finds that, when coupled with church attendance, theologically conservative views about marriage and gender actually correlate with the lowest rates of domestic violence.

In Wilcox’s words:

Contrary to the assertions of feminists, many family scholars, and public critics, [churchgoing conservative Protestant men] cannot be fairly described as “abusive” and “authoritarian” family men wedded to “stereotypical forms of masculinity.” They outpace mainline Protestant and unaffiliated family men in their emotional and practical dedication to their children and wives… and they are the least likely to physically abuse their wives. (199–200)

josh p's picture

That’s a great quote. Isn’t it amazing how well things work when people follow God’s plan for mankind?

Bert Perry's picture

Probably the first thing that needs to be said about this is that if you can't find some methodological weakness in a given sociological study, you really ought to have someone take your pulse and maybe do a brain wave scan.  There are weaknesses in all of them.

That noted, I can accept the main premiss--that by and large, churchgoing men are less likely to abuse their wives and/or children--and I can go further to suggest that the idea that complementarianism causes abuse is really an artifact of the Duluth Model, which still insists that "patriarchy" is the main problem with domestic abuse despite three decades of research pointing out that abuse is actually higher among homosexuals and unmarried couples.  Um, precisely who is the patriarch in a homosexual couple, especially given that the highest domestic abuse rates are found among....lesbians?

So what you've got, at least inasmuch as the "mode" of the distribution is concerned, is a conflict between reality and the Duluth model, IMO.  Another interesting thing about the Duluth Model is that when counseling is based on its assumptions, it is generally unsuccessful--a Washington state study did a meta-analysis of dozens of studies found that very few reported positive results.  So we would infer that even when abuse occurs within marriage, it's for reasons other than "patriarchy", and when non-patriarchal abusers are told to repent of their "patriarchy", it makes as much sense to them as to tell them to stop perming their hair; they simply aren't doing it.

On the flip side, there is probably a "minor mode" of people who do indeed use complementarian theology as a cover for various kinds of abuse, and they moreover can and do use our culture to hide things.  So my take here is to be very grateful that we'd infer (with Josh) that things work out better when we follow God's plan, but we also need to know and understand how a "bad apple" would use our own culture as a smokescreen.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


but we also need to know and understand how a "bad apple" would use our own culture as a smokescreen.

They're going to use whatever culture is there.

But "does subculture x encourage behavior y more than alternative culture z?" is a really good question. Still, it's not the same thing as asking "is doctrine 'a' true?"

You can have particular doctrines straight and still have a sick culture, and the latter may not really be related to the former in any inherent way.