taking the words of Jesus seriously

A young college student went on a shooting spree, killing because he felt rejected by women. A pulsing wave of men, ignited with grief and frustration began a hashtag on Twitter: #notallmen. Not all men have violence pumping through their veins. Not all men need sadistic payback. Not all men hate women.

Then, like a rolling tide, another wave emerged: #yesallwomen. Not all men are misogynists, but all women have lived with threats. All women have to be cautious when they walk after dark. All women hear degrading slurs about their bodies. All women are told that what they wear will cause a man to rape them. Women know that one out of every four of us have been victims of domestic violence. Yes, all women know how to live in fear.

In the wake of these Twitter waves of violence, grief and confession, Christians were also a part of the conversation. Barna’s Research (which I helped to reflect on with Tyler Wigg-Stevenson) said that Christians are most concerned about domestic violence when compared to other types of violence. But that concern is not reflected in the pulpit. Sojourners worries that pastors don’t preach about domestic violence in the church and do not feel equipped to address it. Lifeway Research explains that pastors believe that domestic or sexual violence is a problem, but not among their church members.

Related: 50 Shades of Broken, Why Do Women Fantasize About Abuse?

I’m sad to say #yesallchurches. We may think that it doesn’t happen in our faith communities, but our opinions do not match up with reality. Our members and leaders are not immune to perpetrating violence. Research has shown that the incidents of violence do not change, no matter what religion a person confesses.

Even though we have a faith that encourages love and peace, in some corners of the church, spanking and submission are also taught. Both can cause people to use violence to maintain order and promote inequality, and they can also lead to domestic violence. How can we find another way? How can we become reflections of the Prince of Peace in our homes?

We need to stop spanking. If someone hits a grown person, he or she will be arrested for assault, but if a parent hits a child who is half his or her size, it’s considered discipline. Can we be smarter and less violent as we discipline? How can we be wise as serpents and gentle as doves as parents?

Boys are more likely to be spanked than girls. Religious conservatives are more likely to spank. Mothers are more likely to spank. Not only can spanking cause aggression and psychological damage, it teaches boys that they should use violence to solve problems. Violence maintains order. Violence is the prerogative of the one in charge. People take these lessons from their childhood and apply it to their adult lives.

Can we take Jesus’ words seriously, and use wisdom rather than a belt to discipline?

We need to stop preaching submission. When I was growing up, I heard countless sermons on Ephesians 5:22 admonishing women to submit.

I don’t believe wives should submit to their husbands. The letter to Ephesus is full of insight and beauty, but when we turn the page, we find the command “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ” (Ephesians 6:5). This verse was used in our history to promote and protect slavery. Then, Christians realized that all people were made in the image of God and the institution of slavery was a sin. As a result, we do not preach on this verse.

Also by Carol: Why the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision upsets women and men of faith

It’s the same thing with the instruction for wives to submit to a husband. The ancient world’s ideas of women are much different than our understandings. In our culture, women can more freely grasp on to the biblical truths that we are made in the image of God, and that in Jesus Christ, there is no male or female, slave or free. Just as we struggled with the admonition to slaves and found it sinful, we need to see submission of women as sinful.

We need to create sanctuary. Misogyny has festered in our country, making half of our population live in fear. But a faith community can also be a woman’s most important lifeline. When church members surround, believe and support a woman, she can find the resilience and courage she needs to leave an abusive situation.

Domestic violence is rampant in our country. Women have learned to live in fear. Now, in this important moment, can churches respond by teaching peace and creating sanctuary for families who suffer?

About The Author


Rev. Carol Howard Merritt is a minister whose writing, speaking, and teaching is anchored in theological and sociological insight. She’s a sought-after keynote speaker, especially on the topic of ministering in a new generation. After being raised as a conservative Baptist and attending a fundamentalist Bible college, Carol studied at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas and became a Presbyterian (USA) Minister. She’s known for serving growing Presbyterian (USA) churches, especially those with a deep commitment to serving the poor and disenfranchised. A pastor for more than a decade, Carol has served Presbyterian (USA) churches in the swamps of Cajun Louisiana, a bayside village in Rhode Island, and an urban neighborhood of Washington, DC. This breadth and depth of practical experience informs her consultations with denominational governing bodies, publishing houses, seminaries, and local churches. The award-winning author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (Alban), Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (Alban), and Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church (HarperOne, February 2017), Carol is a frequent contributor to books, websites, magazines, and journals. She is a regular columnist at the Christian Century where her blog is hosted.

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