Faith & Reason: Now Is Not the Time to Forget about Forgiveness ; Christian Theology Can Encourage Rather Than Hinder Violence against Women. but Only If the Church Adopts a Secular Definition of Its Core Concepts
Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
CAN FORGIVENESS be a bad thing? This might seem a motherhood and apple pie question, especially in a religious context. But it is one being raised at a conference of women in the Methodist Church who meet at Leeds University today. It is prompted by the suggestion that Britain's churches send out rather mixed messages on the issue of domestic violence and that, worse still, Christian belief can be a considerable barrier to providing an effective intervention in cases of violence against women.
The accusation is two-fold. First, that the churches' views on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family life sit uneasily with the need to encourage women to leave a violent partner. Second, that Christian belief in forgiveness may provide a smokescreen for violence. Methodist concerns here have been underscored by a church survey which shows that - though one in four women experience violence at some stage in their lives, according to the British Medical Association - only a quarter of Methodist ministers have had any experience of dealing with women with a violent partner.
The secretary of the Methodist Women's Network, Carole Burgess, attributes this to both church culture and theology. Culturally the church is still entrapped in the old "meek and mild" paradigm which avoids conflict or confrontation, she believes. Clergy are likely to show excessive optimism that abusive men want to stop their violence and that violent relationships can be transformed into healthy family living. Theologically, too many ministers approach the problem with the assumption that their first duty is to ask "Can this marriage be saved?" "They ask the woman to consider forgiving their husband rather than asking `Is this woman's life in danger?'," Carole Burgess says. This can lead to ministers giving women unhelpful advice or encouraging them into entering inappropriate counselling. It also creates a major obstacle to more effective partnerships with secular groups working against domestic violence.
In part here what we are seeing is a reflection of the churches' changing view on the nature of marriage, which has never been as fixed as traditionalists like to suggest. In practice, marriage has been subtly reinterpreted by each age, as a glance at the wedding ceremony from different epochs reveals. Only a century ago it was seen as a restraint on human sexuality for the stable upbringing of children; Victorian marriage laws even set out what level of physical chastisement a husband could use on a wife. Today all denominations' wedding liturgies focus on the couple's mutual cherishing, …
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Publication information: Article title: Faith & Reason: Now Is Not the Time to Forget about Forgiveness ; Christian Theology Can Encourage Rather Than Hinder Violence against Women. but Only If the Church Adopts a Secular Definition of Its Core Concepts. Contributors: Vallely, Paul - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 25, 2000. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.