Forsaken!

by Anna Blanch on November 28, 2011

Today’s guest post is from Hayley Matthews. Hayley is passionate about many things, including the reaction (and Non-Reaction) to Domestic Violence within the Church, the subject upon which she wrote her masters thesis.

Trigger Warning: This post  discusses subjects of a sensitive nature, such as rape, sexism, and violent crime. Please be aware that the blog as a whole contains a trigger warning for traumatic events. I apologize in advance if this material is disturbing to some readers.

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My theological training included an MA in Pastoral Theology as I have a strong streak of activism in my make-up.  Unless my work can be fed back into policy or praxis, unless it can effect change, be that as small as a moment of doubt about long-held prejudices, then it is not worth the agony that sitting still is to me.

Consequently I chose The Reaction and Non-Reaction to Domestic Violence within the Church as my thesis topic.  It was timely as Church House publishing released Responding to Domestic Abuse, Guidelines for those with pastoral responsibilities in 2006, just as I was writing up. All sounding rather good, so far, isn’t it?

But the reality on the ground was far from it.  Interviewing Christian women who had been physically, sexually and psychologically abused by their Christian husbands was a surprisingly traumatising experience.  My understanding of my faith and the experiential evidence just did not add up.  How could people who seemed so… so good on the outside, treat another as horrifically behind closed doors? It beggared belief.

On days like that, I sought out some of my dearest male friends for affirmation that Christian men were not, on the whole, abusive.  I was rudely awakened.

Let me recount just one dinner-queue conversation at Theological College held between myself and three married male ordinands (trainee vicars):

Man 1: “So what’s this thesis you’re doing then?  Domestic-abuse?  Bet you’re not writing about men who are abused, it’s always the women isn’t it?  Typical.”

Me (woman): “Well, statistics show that on average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner. That’s almost half of all female murder victims (Povey, (ed.), 2005; Home Office, 1999; Department of Health, 2005.)…

Man 1 interjects: “what was she doing then, nagging him to death?” (Laughter.)

”… and almost half of all rapes are committed by the woman’s husband or partner…’

Man 2: ‘Hang on a minute, how is it possible to rape your own wife?’ (They all laugh.)

(!!!)… do you realise that it is actually illegal to rape anyone, even if she is your own wife?  She has to consent to sex whether or not you are married…”

Man 3: “not that I’ve ever had to force my wife to have sex, of course not, we’re very happy, but it does say clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:5 ‘you shall not withhold your body from you husband and…’ does it say the other way ‘round?’

Man 1: ‘ yeah, neither can withhold their bodies from one another unless it’s for a set time of fasting and praying, but let’s be honest it’s not going to be the man is it?’ (They all laugh again.)

Man 3: (seeing my disturbed face) “to be honest, if (name’s wife) didn’t want to have sex, I don’t think I’d ever force her.  I mean I love her, I want her to be happy…”

Man 2: “Well I just don’t think it is possible to rape your own wife.  How can it be?  She belongs to you, that’s why you get married, isn’t it?”

Man 1: “Are you sure it’s illegal and you haven’t got your wires crossed?” (Man 1 & 2 laugh again, thankfully man 3 is having a light-bulb moment and looking rather sobered.)

I found myself time and again justifying my own work while being called a feminist, a man-hater.  Ingenuously, having enjoyed some very deep and loving male friendships with people who were not of faith yet would jump on anyone flexing their power over a woman (and I knew that having been protected on more than one occasion), I was expecting my Christian brothers all the more to say, ‘yes, that’s awful, how could anyone treat their wife like that?’  I was expecting them to want to hold such men/behaviour to account and to want to show a better way of relating to women to those men who thought it was all about power on one side and submission on the other.

But I was wrong.

Still I am startled at the way some Christian men talk about, behave towards and speak to women within the church.

It is not just about being married either.

Daily I encounter women who are bullied and abused within an institution based on these two dominical sacraments: ‘you shall love the Lord thy God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind, and with your whole strength,’ and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ and those from a God who personifies and exemplifies love at its best, in the laying down of His life with true humility that we might walk free and CHOOSE whether or not to love Him back.  Love in freedom.  It’s THAT simple.

As they say in Salford, it’s a no-brainer, and there are no excuses.

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Hayley Matthews is an Anglican Priest currently serving as Chaplain to MediaCityUK.  Having worked in a Safe House, developing Managed Learning Environments and with an Urban Priority Parish, she has passion for justice and equality through education and advocacy, communications being central to both this and her wider ministry.

This post is part of the 16 Days of Action toward eliminating violence against women. The 16 Days of Action is a global campaign founded by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, I’m hosting posts across the 16 days, from 25 November to 10 December. You can help by sharing these posts on social media, by taking care of the women around you, & by standing against violence against women.
Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, facebook page, & Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/mvahowe @mvahowe

    Yes, the men you quote above and men who behave like them are idiots. (Whether they are idiots who actually believed what they said makes a difference in my view, but to whether or not they are idiots).

    BUT I don't think it's mysoginist to think that there are real practical problems with defining and identifying rape within marriage. There's a fair chance that there will be no third-party witnesses. While getting married and sharing a bed doesn't mean consent to everything and anything at any time, it clearly means something. If there are signs of violence things seems clear-cut to me, but otherwise it seems like a very hard judgment call for a third party to make, unless rape happens whenever a woman says it happens…

    … and I'd suggest that this is part of what makes men uneasy about the concept – unease that they may hide behind their laughter and their inappropriate jokes. Because, without for a moment minimising the frequency or the seriousness of rape, frivolous or vindictive sexual assault and rape claims do happen. And when they happen it's very hard for an innocent man to prove his innocence, and even harder to clear his name. And that concern tends to be dismissed by those who (rightly) champion womens' rights.

    As in many other places, in my view, this is an example of a woman's issue where addressing the concerns of men would vastly increase the chances of real change. Because if the article above describes the current situation – if even a large proportion of men training for a "caring profession" reject this cause outright – the chances of real change are not high. And if that could be partially addressed by speaking to the concerns of men who never abuse their partners, that would surely be a stategically useful thing to do.

  • Chaplain MediaCityUK & The Anchor

    Thanks for your post. I'm sorry to say that the comments made only seem to prove my pont. Less than 6% of rape claims reach the courts, with a majority of cases being dropped bby the CPS before even getting there. Of those that get to court only 55% of those accused of rape are convicted. The Police, the CPS and Womens' Aid all agree with that the vast majority of perpetrators are NEVER brought to justive never mind convicted.

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