Introduction and background
This is the fifth in a series of First Man Standing bible studies. The series as a whole explores themes of masculinity, relationships (including those with friends, our partner and children) and how we can change our society to end violence against women. Today’s Bible study is a challenging one on the issue of violence against women itself.
Purpose of the study
To explore what the Bible says about violence against women (VAW) and
how we as men can respond to the reality all around us.
Key bible passages, reflection and questions for discussion
1. VAW is rooted in gender inequality, which is rooted in the fall
The Genesis accounts of creation state that women and women were created equal and in the image of God. In the same way we look forward to an eternity in which we will all be equal before the throne of God (and there will be no marriage). Sin came with the fall and so did a disruption of the relationship between men and women. We have seen the consequences of this throughout history. In Christ there is no male or female. Should we as Christians be accepting the power imbalance between men and women that results from the fall or working to bring in God’s kingdom, where men and women are equal and there is no violence?
Let’s start with Genesis, where at the point of creation Scripture tells us that men and women were together made in the image of God:
“God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”
The account of the fall shows us the origin of sin, but also includes a specific curse that relates to the relationship between men and women:
“To the woman he said… Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you”
We have seen this playing out across the centuries and it is vividly illustrated in the Bible as we see below. Moving to the New Testament, however, there is a very different story. It is illustrated by the way Jesus related to men and women with equal respect and summarised by Paul in Galatians.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
A very important passage which records Jesus words, also speaks of our future state in eternity:
“Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come…will neither marry nor be given in marriage and they can no longer die because they are like the angels. They are God’s children”
This passage says to me that there is no distinction in heaven between men and women, but that we all as individuals, loved and cherished by God, worship together before His throne.
2. The Bible bears witness to horrific violence against women
The Bible speaks repeatedly of violence against women in multiple forms. I have chosen only a few examples, but there are many. The Bible records these, but there is no sense in which God approves of these actions.
The Levite and his concubine is a notorious example. It shows how in a culture of honour and shame, women were treated as expendable possessions (see also the example of Lot in Genesis 19:8):
“The man took his concubine and sent her outside to them and they raped her and abused her throughout the night”
Can one event change a nation?
Sometimes events are so appalling that they prompt a national debate and the possibility of change. In Judges 19:30 the reaction to this dreadful story was “We must do something! So speak up!” We have also seen this with notorious rapes in India in 2012 and Brazil in 2016.
Are there incidents that you are aware of, where attention and debate could lead to change in the law, in attitudes or in behaviour?
Consider also the appalling treatment of the women in David’s harem when Absalom takes power. These women were taken in to be sex slaves for the king, were raped in public by Absalom and, perhaps worse of all, through no fault of their own, were then required to spend the rest of their lives locked away and treated as widows, just because of crimes that had been committed against them:
“They pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel… When David returned… he took the ten concubines…and put them in a house under guard… They were kept in confinement until the day of their death, living as widows.”
(I Samuel 16:22, and 20:3)
These incidents are recorded to illustrate the pervasiveness of abuse. This is mirrored in our own world by the cradle to grave abuse suffered by women worldwide including sex selective abortion, female infanticide, female genital mutilation, forced and early marriage, domestic and sexual abuse, sexual harassment and the abuse of widows, to name a few examples.
3. The rape of Tamar
What is going on to explain this extraordinary catalogue of abuse in both in the Bible and all countries around the world? At its root we believe that it reflects an abuse of power by men within a culture of privilege and entitlement. As such it gives huge opportunities for Christian men to model a different way of living.
The Biblical story that best illustrates the individual and corporate role for men in violence against women is the rape of Tamar from 2 Samuel 13. Please read the whole passage. I give only a small extract:
“ ‘Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.’ But he refused to listen to her and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.” (2 Samuel 13:14)
Note the roles of the different men in this passage and how they all colluded to make this rape possible.
What is rape? Rape is about power over an individual and using sex as a tool of the destruction of the individual. It is the opposite of what God intended for sex, which was a gift in marriage for the blessing and enjoyment of both man and woman within the marriage context. It is an abuse of an individual made in the image of God, an abuse of God’s gift for marriage and an abuse of self to the individual committing the rape.
Statistics on Violence against Women
Some statistics include:
One in three women worldwide are affected by male violence or abuse during their lifetimes. In the UK, the figure is 1 in 4.
Seven women a month are killed by a partner or former partner in the UK.
One in five women worldwide will suffer rape or attempted rape.
Links to popular culture
How would you change the wedding ceremony?
In the Church of England, we can still be asked “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” What does that say about the status of women? How could it be revised to reflect equality?
In some ceremonies women still choose to ‘obey’ their husbands. Ephesians 5 calls on a woman to submit (in Greek, ‘hupotasso’) to her husband, but this is not the same as to obey. Submission is a voluntary act in the context of a loving relationship. Why do you think that the word obey is still in some marriage ceremonies? How do you feel about this changing to reflect what the Bible actually says?
Consent is the key to respectful sexual relations, including within marriage. Rape within marriage only became a crime in the UK in 1991. In many countries it is still not recognised under law as an offence. Sexual abuse within marriage is often used as a form of domestic abuse.
Mandy Marshall, Co-Director of Restored comments:
“Does a Christian man still think it's OK to demand sex from his wife because she is to 'submit' to him? I think we need to ask these difficult questions as many, many Christian women have suffered through sex because of this belief. It causes deep emotional pain and scarring for life. So may women succumb to sex through husbands/partners nagging them or sulking if they say no, so that the woman gives in. I remember on the Freedom Programme training (a course for women affected by abuse) that 95% of the women present had given into sex with their partner at some point either to keep him happy even though they didn't want it, felt scared if they said no, felt stupid to say no or of fear of being abused. The programme was attended by a mix of social workers, trainers and survivors. It was a jaw dropping moment to realise how prevalent the issue was in the UK in a society supposedly enjoying freedom of choice.”
If you are worried about your actions
Contact Respect www.respect.uk.net or the Men’s Advice Line in the UK on 0808 801 0327.
Some more key verses
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Going deeper: Possible follow-up studies and action
Ending Domestic Abuse – A pack for Churches – Restored download for free here http://www.restoredrelationships.org/churchpack
You Tube clips
‘Dear God, My husband is hurting me’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9mCSfC2m2w
Domestic Abuse – Myths versus Truths https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaKpZVQ4l8M
My daddy hurts my mummy
Love is patient, Love is kind – the impact of verbal abuse
Films and TV
Sleeping with the enemy
How do you react when you see male violence against women in soap operas, films or theatre or on the news? Are we so used to seeing it that we become immune? How does that affect our reactions and the acceptability of violence against women in general?
Scars Across Humanity – Elaine Storkey
At Therapy’s End – Susie Flashman Jarvis
Beaten, Battered, Bruised and Blessed – Pastor Joe and Lizzie Hayes
Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse – Nancy Nason Clark, Barbara Fisher-Townsend, Victoria Fahlberg
Domestic Violence – What every pastor needs to know – Rev Al Miles
No Place for Abuse - Catherine Clark Kroger and Nancy Nason-Clark
Beyond Abuse in the Christian Home – Nancy Nason-Clark & Barbara Fisher Townsend