Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have more in common than the fact that their domestic violence has become headline news. They’re both running backs in the midst of successful careers. Both have wives and child(ren). And both men are, apparently, Christians.
Adrian Peterson, in his first “official” statement after being indicted by a grand jury for injury to a child, posted a photo of Bible verses to his Twitter account. Ray Rice, who was cut from the Baltimore Ravens once video surfaced of him punching his wife so hard she lost consciousness, reportedly became a “born again” Christian after the incident. He claims to be a “changed man.”
At face value, their crimes seem different. Peterson, acting in what he saw as an appropriately loving way, beat his son bloody with a “switch”–or, as he called it, “whooped” him… in the legs, buttocks, and scrotum. Many people, including celebrities and former athletes like Charles Barkley, have defended Peterson’s actions. Spanking is not abuse, they say. Since they themselves survived being “switched, ” so can their kids.
Not as many people have sought to defend Ray Rice’s actions, which, unlike Peterson’s, were caught on video. Rice can be seen punching his wife Janay in an elevator, then standing over her unconscious body, apparently unphased. While Peterson was just suspended for his actions, Rice was (eventually) cut by the Ravens.
What’s interesting is the seeming distinction some have made between these two actions. One is seen as debatable (spanking) while the other is not (domestic abuse.)
In discussions on the use of spanking, especially among Christian parents who support the practice, many have quoted the Bible. “Whoever spares the rod spoils the child” (Proverbs 13:24). As is Proverbs 23:13, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.”
Yet, if we are to use the Bible as a defense for corrective violence, we must note that its admonitions do not only apply to children. In Bible times children, women, and slaves were all under the “headship” of their father/husband/master. Instructions regarding “obedience” were given not just to children, but also to wives and servants. Why would it then be OK to use physical discipline on your servants and children, but not your wife, since all fall under the same household codes?
According to some Christians, there is no distinction. Have you heard of “Christian Domestic Discipline?” It’s the practice of husband’s “lovingly” disciplining their wives with spanking (not that kind) if they disobey. Well. At least their consistency is refreshing. (Though I’ve not found anyone using the Bible to justify physical violence against their household help.)
To many Christians, this thinking is absurd. Even proponents of Christian Domestic Discipline would agree that what Ray Rice did to his wife was abusive. And many of those who believe in spanking have agreed that Adrian Peterson crossed a line.
But how did we even get to this place?
Patriarchy explains a lot. The notion that “real men” should be in charge and that women and children should defer to them–this is an assumption prevalent both in and outside the church. You know what else Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice have in common? The NFL is an institution that perpetuates a patriarchal view of worth and value. The wives of NFL players (most of them) stay home and do whatever they can to support their men. The husbands are the stars, the bread-winners, and the ones who everyone else’s lives revolve around. The NFL might not be a “biblical” organization, but they sure are a patriarchal one.
The problem is that patriarchy does not work. It does not lead to happy, healthy families, but instead breeds a culture of abuse – physical, emotional, spiritual, or even sexual. When women and children are seen as less than men, they’re treated that way. Which means their abuse becomes justifiable. It’s no wonder that an organization with no female coaches, players, announcers, owners, or referees would fail to treat women with the respect they deserve.
The solution to the problem of violence in the NFL isn’t just to hire more women (although that would be a good start). We’ve tried this is the society more broadly since second wave feminism in the 1970s. If the problem is misogyny, then the answer is getting more people – especially Christians – to see women as not just equal to men, but as people just as deserving of respect, success, and leadership roles.
This is, after all, what the Bible says. Women in the Bible were not always just the “helpers” of men. They were teachers, church planters, and, in the case of the resurrection, the ones who Christ chose to reveal himself to first.
Perhaps if more Christian men were taught in church about these women leaders and the significance of their contributions to the faith, there’d be less abuse. Maybe if we didn’t teach Christian women that the most important thing they can do in their marriage is submit, more wives would be able to leave abusive husbands. Imagine how much more empowered young women could be when choosing significant others if they were taught by their churches that Christ is fully realized in them as they are, and that a partner is not needed to complete them.
This is indeed how Jesus views women. But it’s not always how to church has seen them, or how men in church have either.
What is needed to help prevent more incidents of domestic violence – in our sports, and in our churches – is not just harsher punishments and laws. We also need a shift in how we view and treat women. Until we learn to see women as Jesus sees them, we’re not going to change a thing.