Christian Women in IPV Relationships: An Exploratory Study of Religious Factors

By Wang, Mei-Chuan; Horne, Sharon G. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Christian Women in IPV Relationships: An Exploratory Study of Religious Factors


Wang, Mei-Chuan, Horne, Sharon G., Levitt, M., Klesges, Lisa M., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


The study examined Christian women's religious beliefs and practices in relationship to their intimate partner violence (IPV) relationships. The religious variables included religious affiliation status, religious attendance, religious teachings about gender roles in marriage, and religious problem-solving approaches. Of 1,476 religious Christian women in a southwest metropolitan region, 50.7% (n = 749) reported that they had experienced at least one or more types of abuse (physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault, stalking, or threats) by current or previous intimate partners. Women and their intimate partners who attended more regularly in church services were less likely to be involved in IPV relationships. There were no significant differences in rates of domestic violence reported between women from conservative affiliations and liberal/moderate affiliations, although women in congregations that did not support divorce in cases of IPV appeared to be more likely to be victims of abuse. In addition, more than 70% of Christian women who left an IPV relationship reported their faith provided them the strength to leave.

The decision for women to leave or to stay in an abusive relationship is a slow and complex process. Many factors are evaluated before the victim can decide to leave. These factors may include the presence of children, societal norms about marriage, attachment to the abuser, and economic constraints (see Barnett, 2001; Barnett, Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2005; Strube & Barbour, 1983, 1984; Werner-Wilson, Zimmerman, & Whalen, 2000). In addition to the above reasons, for Christian women, religious factors may play an pivotal role in whether and how women leave abusive relationships, as well as whether they receive sufficient support to make a transition.

Many Christian women reported seeking church community and religious leaders' guidance in the process of leaving an abusive relationship (Beaman-Hall & Nason-Clark, 1997). Existing literature has shown that women with deep religious beliefs have reported that their religious doctrines and the perceived attitudes from their church communities have been part of their consideration in the process of leaving an abusive relationship (e.g., Ake & Home, 2003; Giesbrecht & Sevcik, 2000; Knickmeyer, Levitt, Home, & Bayer, 2003; Merritt-Gray & Wuest, 1995). For instance, Giesbrecht and Sevcik (2000) reported that churches whose doctrines stress wives' loving and obethent submission to their husbands can be a primary barrier to leaving for those battered women. Sleutel (1998) found that religious women who experienced IPV often reported feeling responsible for sustaining the relationship because of the religious beliefs that good Christian women should sacrifice and forgive.

Some researchers have suggested that religious beliefs may be associated with women deciding to stay in an abusive environment (e.g., Burnett, 1996; Foss & Warnke, 2003; Griffin & Maples, 1997; Knickmeyer et al., 2003; Nason-Clark, 2004; Sleutel, 1998). Church leaders may overlook the severity of partner violence by simply viewing the husband's violence as the victim's cross to bear. Therefore, these Christian women who experience IPV may believe that clergymen care less about the women's welfare than about sustaining the marriage. In a qualitative study, the majority of religious leaders regarded marital divorce due to IPV as a last resort; separation or divorce were to be considered only after other measures, such as counseling or religious interventions, had been tried and failed - a process that might act to prolong women's endurance of abusive relationships (see Levitt & Ware, 2006; Ware, Levitt, & Bayer, 2003). In fact, a minority of the Christian leaders in this research reported that they would never condone divorce due to IPV even after other methods and attempts to end the abuse had failed, as their Scripture cites only infidelity and desertion as acceptable grounds for divorce. …

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