Can abuse happen in Christian homes? Is the Bible sometimes used to support violent behaviour in the family context? Do religious women find it difficult to leave a violent partner? Do some religious men believe that wifely submission means they can violate their wives or fill them full of fear? The answer to all these questions can be "yes."
For many years I have been arguing that the Christian family may be considered sacred, but that the sad truth is—some of those families are simply not safe. Not safe for the women, whose physical or mental health cannot be assured. Not safe for the children whose present circumstances leave them vulnerable and full of fear. Whatever our theological persuasion, Christians in North America, and indeed around the world, need to wake up to the seriousness of the malaise impacting family life. Abuse happens inside and beyond our churches, in families that claim to love God and amongst those who make no such claims. Family violence is everywhere and its reality cannot be denied. Something must be done to stop its impact. Many voices must be raised in protest and in prophetic vision. Aimee K. Cassiday-Shaw's voice helps to fill a great void-the near silence of the churches, and especially church leadership, on this issue.
Family Abuse and the Bible takes very seriously the issue of spousal abuse, its stark reality, its pervasiveness and its dramatic consequences. Writing as one trained in criminology and social work, Ms. Cassidy-Shaw highlights some of the data to emerge from The US National Crime Victimization Survey and the more recent National Violence Against Women Survey. She outlines some of the reasons why women find it difficult to leave abusive relationships and the increased risk for further abuse for those who do. She touches briefly upon restraining orders and episodes of stalking. The message is clear, though offered in a rather abbreviated form: women are at most risk from the men they currently love or have been associated with in terms of an intimate relationship.
Notwithstanding the brief trajectory into some data about violence, Family Abuse and the Bible is primarily a Scriptural treatise arguing that the God of the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures does not support violence in the family context. Cassiday-Shaw minces no words: abuse is wrong; it must not be tolerated. Furthermore, she offers compelling evidence that it cannot be justified by reference to notions of wifely submission, woman abuse as the cross a wife must bear, or that it should be quickly forgiven and any memories of it be swept under the proverbial church carpet. Rather, she writes that when Christians know their Bible and believe its message, they will do everything they can to act swiftly to provide help and counsel for families in the midst of turmoil. Offering compassion to victims and holding victimizers accountable is the mission of the church, and by extension, ought to be the personal mission of every believer.
Writing as a sociologist, I would have liked the book to provide a much more nuanced development of the prevalence and severity of abuse in families of faith. The arguments advanced by Aimee Cassiday-Shaw would have come across much stronger if she had referenced other theological and social science work more carefully. While I differ remarkably from the author in my understanding of Biblical texts on submission, hierarchy, gender and divorce, I believe her voice is an important one to be heard. For even if one accepts a hierarchical model of family life as the blueprint proclaimed in the Bible, abuse cannot be justified on the basis of Scripture. In any language, violence in the family is wrong.
Family Abuse and the Bible is packed full of Scriptural references, highlighting especially helpful passages for victims as they journey towards healing and wholeness in the aftermath of domestic violence. Also, the book calls perpetrators to accountability, holding out hope that violent abusive behaviour can be stopped. It would be a great resource for a pastor or other religious leader to have on their shelf. Together with other voices from the feminist community, the shelter movement, and religious people all along the theological continuum, Aimee Cassiday-Shaw's book says in no undercertain terms: Violence happens in families of faith. And it must be stopped.