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Women, Abuse, and the Bible (Social Work book review)

Posted: July 12 2021

Student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Women, Abuse, and the Bible: How scripture can be used to hurt or heal
  • Authors: Catherine Clark Kroeger and James R Beck
  • ISBN:13:978-1-5326-8798-3
  • Publication: Wipf and Stock Publishers: Eugene, Oregon, 2019
  • Reviewed by: Pamela Aben Shelley, Doctoral Researcher, Department of Health Sciences, Brunel University London, UK (pamela.shelley@brunel.ac.uk)
  • First published online in the journal of Qualitative Social Work, 2021, Vol (20)4: 1135-1137: https://doi.org/10.1177/14733250211024802

This book is a compilation of papers written by therapists, sociologist, pastors, theologians, biblical scholars, survivors, and an abuser and read at the conference on Women, Abuse, and the Bible organised by Christians for Biblical Equality.

It was written to raise awareness of the increasing rate of violence and abuse in the church and home and the need for clergy and other professionals to collaborate to address the problem. Christian women survivors may seek support from clergy and social workers; thus, this book is a much-needed resource.

In the Christian community, Biblical scriptures have been used for healing and restoration, but they have also been misinterpreted and misrepresented to abuse women and coerce them to stay in an abusive relationship (Johnson, 2015; Nason & Clark et al., 2018). This book contributes to the readers’ understanding of how biblical scriptures can be used to hurt or heal Christian women and family in abusive situations.

The book is well structured and easy to read. Following the prologue, the book is divided into two sections. Part one explores how scriptures can be used to hurt, and part two explores how scriptures can be used to heal. Each chapter is written by a different author. They used theological evidence and biblical scriptures to analyse intimate partner violence within the Christian context.

In chapter one, Carolyn Heggen examines four Christian beliefs that may contribute to men’s abuse against women: male headship and female submission, women’s inferiority, suffering, forgiveness, and reconciliation. She concludes that “... we cannot both support patriarchy and stop domestic abuse. To stop violence among families, we must stop holding patriarchy as God’s intention for us” (pg.18). Also, marital permanency should not be elevated above the sanctity of personhood and safety. Thus, to successfully address abuse in the Christian community, these beliefs must be challenged from within.

In chapter two, David Scholar carries an exegetical and hermeneutical debate on headship within the evangelical circle. He asserts that “the Bible does not institute, undergird or teach male headship and female submission in ministry and marriage. Rather, the Bible affirms, supports and teaches by precepts and examples of equality in Christ for women and men in ministry and marriage” (pg. 51). Similarly, in chapter thirteen, Catherine Clark Kroger provides an extensive biblical expose on family hierarchy, headship, submission, and marriage. She declares that the Bible calls all Christians to submit to one another, and it is wrong to submit to an individual whose behaviour and communication was wrong.

In chapter six, Shirley Gillet pleads for spirit-led interpretation of the scriptures and churches to become “safe places” for women. In chapter nine, Joan Winfrey elucidates pastoral care for the abused woman as a process of restoring, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling. Through this process, the woman can recapture her self-voice, gain herself-worth and make decisions for her life, home and marriage. In chapter eleven, Steven Fleming maintains the abuser is a ‘wounded person’ who needs help; hence the “local church has the potential of being a significant agent for change and a source of healing in the abuser’s life” (pg.175). Accordingly, clergy can play a crucial role in providing support to the woman and her abuser.

In chapter ten, Mary Bruce shares her testimony of answered prayers. The little church she co-pastors with her husband creates two shelters to provide healing and restoration for families. Their church became a catalyst for change by coordinating other local churches, farmers, and families. This indicates the importance of including clergy in the domestic abuse coordinated community response team.

In chapter twelve, Thomas, an incarcerated perpetrator, had time to deliberate on his behaviour and broken fellowship with Christ, finally rebuild his relationship with Christ, stop blaming other people for his failures, and take full responsibility for his lack of self-control. Consequently, being in prison separates the abuser from the ‘world’, allowing time for self-reflection, confession, and restoration of fellowship with God and others.

The rest of the book discusses clergy abuse, incestuous family, justice, depression in abused women and theology for a healthy family. In the epilogue, the authors conclude that “through prayer, action, study, and planning, we can create an environment within our churches that communicates our repudiation and abhorrence of abuse in any form within the household of God” (pg.235).

Although the book used theological evidence developed mainly in the eighties and nineties, overall, the book highlights that the misunderstanding of scriptures on headship and submission is a contributory factor of violence within the conservative Christian community. Moreover, the church can play a vital role in addressing abuse in families.

It is an excellent book. It has informed my research on intimate partner violence and Christianity. I strongly recommend it to clergy, social workers and other professionals supporting Christian women and families who have experienced abuse. This book’s audience is clergy and church community, Christian 1136 Qualitative Social Work 20(4) professionals, therapies, social workers, healthcare professionals, advocates, and voluntary staff who provide to Christian women.

References:

  • Nason-Clark N, Fisher-Townsend B, Holtman C, et al. (2018) Religion and Intimate Partner Violence: Understanding the Challenges and Proposing Solutions. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Johnson N (2015) Religion and Men’s Violence Against Women. New York, Springer.