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Domestic Violence and Fundamentalist Christianity

Updated on October 22, 2011

I was the victim of domestic violence in my home, growing up. I was a battered child.

I was also the daughter of two extreme fundamentalist Christians.

My mother was also the victim of domestic violence, though she thought that was acceptable. Dad hit her in the face so hard one time, that he broke her dentures. Blood from her mouth flew across the room. She had the temerity to accuse him of something. She didn't often get hit: she most often simply submitted to whatever he wanted. But the threat was always there. Her victimization of domestic abuse most often took the form of emotional and psychological domestic abuse. She also could gauge his mood, and use the children as a shield, to vent his unrelenting anger at the world and the people in it.

I've written a lot about that elsewhere, in the "Stories From My Life" series. I don't particularly want to go into the details of being a battered child in this hub. We want to explore the relationship between my parents' religion and their attitude towards "discipline", which, in a different religious culture, would be called "child battering". We want to explore the relationship between Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity and domestic abuse.

Both my parents had a particular and peculiar narrow vision of what was right and what was wrong. It was confusing. For instance, they saw nothing wrong with beating a newborn baby until it ceased to cry and disturb my father's rest during the night. They evidently had no clue the baby needed to be fed at regular intervals through the night. That was "Discipline". They had no problem with letting my sister Faye almost die from bee stings, a consequence of her disobediently crossing the road. That was "Discipline". They had no problem with Dad issuing routine beatings to all his children, on "general principles". That was "Discipline".

OK, enough, you get the idea. Yet, they professed to be Christians. They talked a good line, about the love of Jesus and the love of God for sacrificing His only begotten Son to save our sinful souls. We saw very little (actually none that I can remember) love in action in our home.

The religion they practiced tended to focus on the darker aspects of Christianity. They focused on the sufferings of Christ on the cross, His torments. They focused on the torments of hell for unrepentant sinners. They focused on how BAD people were, how we were all born in sin and would die in sin, did we not repent, and suffer the torments of hell in the lake of fire forever!

There was no carrot in front of the donkey's nose: it was the devil with a pitchfork prodding the donkey from behind, all the way.

They also blamed EVE, for letting sin into the world. We were all children of Eve. They also had a peculiar relish in eschewing the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Whore of Babylon, and the adulterous woman that Jesus saved from stoning. It was impressed on us as girl children that any immodesty on our part, the least bit of natural human curiosity about the opposite sex, was shamefully our fault and could lead to dire consequences here on earth in addition to damning us to hell forevermore. My mother was excessively modest, appearing to be frightened of and uncomfortable inside her own body. I think she wished not to have a body at all, and wished no one else did, either.

This religion was rigid about the Ten Commandments. Enforcing these behaviors in their children with excessive "Discipline" was the RIGHT thing to do. I truly felt my parents' God was Discipline, that's why I keep capitalizing this word.


It wasn't until I became an adult that I realized how much we had suffered from the battering behavior of our father and the acquiescent, compliant, enabling behavior of our mother. I learned that what we suffered, both physically and mentally, as children, was called "battering" and it was generally socially unacceptable. People by now had realized what damage it caused to the self-esteem and development of its victims and were against it.

All while we were growing up, this behavior appeared to be acceptable, or condoned or maybe even recommended by the church elders. "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Yes, that's in the Bible. We accepted this behavior on the part of our parents without question as children. We suffered in as much silence as we could muster. We toughed it out, as best we could. We had no other milieu to compare it to, until we went to school. Then, indeed, we did notice a difference. And we weren't able to specifically identify it or understand why our plight made people so uncomfortable until we reached adulthood.

We also accepted Dad as the head of the family. His word was law. The hierarchy went like this: the children were subject to Mom, Mom was subject to Dad, and Dad was (supposedly) subject to God. In practical fact, Mom referred all matters of "disciplining" the children to Dad, who was always ready and eager to beat us with a cane or kick us in the butt or slap us up side the head, anyway. In practical fact, Dad was a law unto himself in that household. His word was law. Whatever he said, went. And Mom was fine with that, because she thought she was doing her duty as a Christian wife to obey her husband in all things. What an evasion of responsibility on her part that was! She could never see it.

Mom was abused, herself, in many ways. Dad was always, always, talking her down, calling her "stupid", "incompetent"; he criticized her in every way possible; he emotionally battered her in front of the children. He established dominance, or maintained dominance, in his household in this way: by being so punishing, so abusive, so unpleasant, that no one wished to go against him and bring down untold suffering upon their hapless heads.

So when I came across this excerpt, from "The Repentant Fundamentalist" by James C. Alexander, it seemed so familiar to me:

  • The most obvious is physical abuse. It is difficult to make a conclusive statistical connection between fundamentalism and domestic violence . There are numerous anecdotal cases of fundamentalist husbands hitting their spouses. Also, virtually all fundamentalist churches recommend spanking as a normal, frequent method of child discipline, and all "fundamentalist experts" advise using an object to spank and to spank until profuse crying ensues.
  • Another type of abuse is psychological. Here the wife is under constant pressure to submit to her husband. She is under constant scrutiny and the always a candidate for criticism.
  • The woman is constantly reminded that she must submit to her husband because the Bible says she must.

So there we have it. The fundamentalist church condones hitting the wife, to "correct" her, and that's part of the husband's marital duty. The fundamentalist church advises to beat the kids with an object until they cry, "profusely", which leaves a lot of room for the indulgence of domestic violence on the part of a husband who has those proclivities.

I'm not saying that ALL Christian Fundamentalists are wife-beaters and child-batterers. I just wish to point out that women in a Fundamentalist Christian household who are subject to domestic violence may very well have a special challenge to alter their life situation. They can't find any help within their church or their congregation. Their own mind-set works against them, to be able to assess what is acceptable and what is not. There are many far-reaching implications to the belief that the man is the head of the household and his actions and words are indisputable, infallibly correct, and beyond challenging.


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