Why do women subject themselves to abuse in the name of religion?

Why do women subject themselves to abuse in the name of religion?

I wrote about this on my Becoming Episcopalian Facebook page as a status when I realized that it would be better suited to a blog post. It's a very heady topic. Why don't women simply LEAVE when abused? I suppose the answer is already inherent in the title. Because of their faith.

I just finished reading "Fleeing Fundamentalism" by Carlene Cross. It is a well-written book, an easy and thoughtful read, despite the very real and troubling story. Here's the quick summary: Carlene sojourned into fundamental Christianity as a teen, married a minister-in-training, and had babies, while striving to be a good "pastor's wife." Her husband became extremely controlling and angry, sinking into alcoholism, and severely addicted to girlie shows and porn. She felt stuck in her marriage because of her fundamentalist beliefs, even though it was verbally and psychologically abusive--and that spurred her to look once again at the Bible...and historic and literary criticisms of it. Inconsistencies within the Bible, and with peoples' interpretations of it, caused her to essentially lose her faith...and with it, her fear of divorce. She got a job, went to school, and divorced the manipulative and abusive husband for the sake of her children.

I kept seeing my mom in Carlene's place. At least, similarities. My father is similarly controlling, manipulative, and abusive. My mom never divorced him, because she believes that she would be in sin if she did. She also believes in wifely submission.

Ack. I'm sorry. The idea of 'wifely submission' makes me feel sick to my stomach.

When I was growing up, she would try to make examples of her marriage to dad. He's the head of the house, women are to be submissive to their husbands, because it's part of love. You just do these things when married, she said. He's supposed to take care of her--and dad did so by providing a home, food, and clothes.

These impromptu lessons often came after one of dad's rages, and especially so after she "gave up." I never liked these lessons, as I never agreed with them. It somehow seemed patently unfair. If that's what marriage is, I don't want it! I remember thinking.

She used to have some spark to herself, trying to protect us in her own sorely mistaken way, and trying to stand up to dad in a way that, you know, implies equality of the spouses. She even was considering going back to school and get a sign language interpreter's certificate, just so if something ever happened to dad, she'd have a means of income.

That all changed one day.  dad once overheard her giving me a heads up that he was in a bad mood. Mom would try to protect us by letting us know we needed to be highly on guard. Not anymore, after this incident.

I would pull my car into the garage after coming home from work and college, and she would try to be in the laundry room when I came home...just so she could warn me. Dad overheard her, and he yelled at her for a long time behind their closed bedroom door. She couldn't even get away to tend to dinner that was on the stove--I had to jump in and get the rest of it done, and I tried to take care of my siblings...mostly by trying to keep them quiet so he wouldn't have reason to yell at them, too.

After that, she stopped trying to give us a heads up about his moods, explaining that it was "disrespectful" of her to do so. She was going to try to be much more obedient. This was ccemented by the gift she once got from dad, called "How to Change Your Husband" by some cult leader. In it, the cult leader praised the woman who stuck with her husband even after he bashed in her skull with a hammer. I knew I lost her for good when I flipped through the book. (Mom showed it to me during one of her marriage example lessons.) To this day, I'm still shocked at how many people apparently buy into this cult leader's instructions, hook, line, and sinker.

All this leads me to the question. Why is it that women allow themselves to be abused in the name of religion?

The hammer-bashed woman stayed married to her abuser who tried to kill her...just because that brand of Catholicism prizes marriage over the dignity and integrity of the woman. Women subjected to the tyranny of Bill Gothard's teachings, just because he thinks that all women should be subservient (to say nothing of his abusive training camps!) just because the Bible told him so. Women and their children who are treated mindless sheep who can be reassigned at will, who are subjected to rape and pedophilia, all in the name of God, as told through Warren Jeffs.

As Carlene Cross said in her book, she used to fight until she gave up. She eventually had no will except be codependent on her abusive husband, since she felt she would be sinning, otherwise.

Sin. It hangs such a huge albatross around women's necks, so much so that they feel stuck. And it's not just the marriage "obligation." There's also that part about children obeying their parents. People still don't understand this mandate from the Bible. Hell, even I don't understand it, except I just knew that I could no longer tolerate being abused. In my opinion, people who abuse lose all rights and privileges to their once-inherent titles. By being abusive, my dad no longer is a father, but rather someone who happens to be related to me. Therefore, I owe him nothing, except the same consideration I would give to someone else who was also unstable and abusive.

I suppose my bigger question is this: Why is religion so often used to perpetrate abuse? It's one part I still struggle with the most. Even though there's little in the way of religion being used to hurt people in the Episcopal Church, at least in the modern day I still struggle with the Bible. Why is it so frequently used to hurt people?

It's times like these that I feel...dry. I love church, I love Mass and communion and the music. It's the faith that I have trouble with, sometimes. Why do I believe, when I grew up with beliefs being used to control people?

I suppose there's no easy answer.


Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    I think this is a very important question. You raised up some critical issues. Thank you for sharing this.

Leave a comment