A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Woman as Owned Property —A Prevailing Mentality in the Church

I have mentioned in past articles that I have known professing Christian men (and women who have bought into it) who really believe that a wife is the husband’s property. Owned. He sees his children that way too, even when they grow up. His. Mine. Holds the title deed to them.

One such man — probably the most notorious I have ever known — evidenced this thinking numbers of times. He said things like this:

  • If another man is flirting with my wife, I am going to fight for her. She is mine.
  • “You must obey me,” says this guy to his wife.

The first statement sounds noble, right? It isn’t. What he means is “my wife is mine just like my truck is mine and no one is going to take her away from me.” When “fighting for her,” he will not only fight against the other man (who may really not have been making advances to the wife at all, maybe only talking to her), he will launch his assaults against her as well.

Property owned, you see.

And I suggest (no, really I just flat out say it) that this property-owned mentality is prevalent in many if not most churches today and explains why abuse victims are treated so shabbily in those places. Husbands own their wives. Therefore, husbands pretty much have the right to do whatever with them. Yes, once in a while you will run across a woman who treats her husband in such a way. I’ve seen it. But it is far more common for the husband to think he holds title. EnTITLEment, you see.

Dr Josie McSkimming is a clinical social worker and an Australian Christian. On this recent ABC TV program about domestic abuse in the church, she said:

How can it be that when an abused woman goes to her church leaders for help, she is accused, spurned, disregarded, yada, yada. You know the routine. How is that? Well, the men of the church, including the leaders, reinforced by various celebrity “christian” authors, see her as a slave owned. Her duty, like a slave owned by a cruel master with no way of escape, is to submit quietly. In the end, if the victim leaves her abuser, she is spurned for having defied her owner like some runaway slave. He on the other hand, is excused of his cruelties (yes, in many such cases the pastor and church leaders KNOW how he has mistreated her) because after all, he is her master. And shucks, none of us are perfect, ya know.

What do you think is going to happen on that Day when Christ comes and judges the world? What is it going to be when men like this who claimed to be His undershepherds, are called to give accounts to Him for the abuses of His flock? I can tell you.

It’s going to be hell.

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46 Comments

  1. Hello Sunshine

    Oh yes. This is why, for instance, the easiest (or only) way to get rid of an overly attentive man is to tell him you have a boyfriend or husband. He respects another man’s right to his property more than he respects the woman’s right to her time, energy, and body.

    When we tried couples therapy the counselor said Husband sees me as an object, not a person.

    The wife-and-children-as-owned mentality was downright celebrated in my former church.

    • Suzanne

      I’m glad that it’s your former church. I believe that any church that has that mentality should be shunned by all true followers of Jesus.

      • Hello Sunshine

        I agree. Sadly, it would not be considered an extreme or terribly sexist or unusual church at all. Considered a very friendly, well bred sort of place. The pastor had even been disciplined for not treating his wife well. But there were always comments from the pulpit on how incomprehensible women are, wouldn’t it nice if wives came with a “mute” button, and marriages are saved by wifely submission alone.

        Children were explicitly expected to glorify their PARENTS by living a chaste and successful lifestyle. If an adult child expressed faith (i.e. attended church, had a good job, and smiled a lot), parents took all the credit for their salvation.

        Obedience and submission were the answers to everything and many of the harmful books listed on this site were taught in Sunday School. Jealousy and extreme protectiveness about wives and daughters was considered commendable and funny.

        I’ve had my husband say he will fight for me, to the point of saying more than once that he wanted to murder a male friend of the family.

      • Sorrowful

        My husband “joked” in the past about killing men I was speaking to that he didn’t know and stated that if he found me cheating, one gun and two bullets would be all that was needed to solve the problem. While I think these were mostly terrible “jokes”, they speak to the underlying attitude very well. :/

    • Kay

      Very true!

    • Lea

      “This is why, for instance, the easiest (or only) way to get rid of an overly attentive man is to tell him you have a boyfriend or husband. He respects another man’s right to his property more than he respects the woman’s right to her time, energy, and body.”

      I know this is true, but a lightbulb just went off about why! Wow.

    • Clockwork Angel

      Golly! You reminded me of an incident I had at work earlier this year. One of my coworkers began to harass me. Before he began full throttle with it, he checked to see if I had a husband or boyfriend first. I had to go to my supervisor when it culminated with him touching my knee. He ended up getting a talking to by my manager, and his office moved. He finally left for another company. I’m sure it was puppy love and he was just a young little who didn’t know how to handle it and came off creepy. (I was getting worried he would start following me home next.)

      But, you have brought to the foreground a common male mentality. So many men feel that women are property. This young man didn’t respect me, even after I asked him essentially TWICE (once even by email) to please be professional. I gave him ample opportunity to back down and save face. No respect. And yet, he would have respected the husband or boyfriend if I had had one.

      Fortunately, he at least respected our female supervisor, knowing she had the power to escalate things to HR.

      Sadly, Christian men seem to behave more like that young man in the office (who by his own admission was definitely NOT a Christian) than like Jesus. This should not be!

  2. Suzanne

    There are far too many attitudes and beliefs in “Christian” churches that mirror those of Islam. The subjugation of women and children is an all too common sin in both. When will those who claim the name of Christ read what their Bibles have to say about making slaves of others? And when will all in the true church of Jesus Christ stand up for the slaves and rebuke the enslavers? I think that God must weep to see so many suffering under the yoke of bondage, and especially when it’s perpetrated in His name.

    • Sorrowful

      So true. I remember early in our marriage my husband using Genesis to tell me that he was supposed to rule overy me. He seemed flabbergasted when I told him that was a curse, not a proscription.

    • everydayBRAVE

      Amen to that! After trying to stand up for the oppressed, a church elder confronted my husband to tell him that I wasn’t “obeying”. He couldn’t say it to my face because In these churches women dont really even exist except to meet needs of arrogant men and only addressed if they are stepping out of line (i.e. following our God given gifts or leadings of the Holy Spirit.) We weren’t even allowed to pray during a church service.

      • Suzanne

        That sounds more like a cult than a church.

  3. Lily

    Yes. My x and I went to a “Financial Freedom” seminar, where the speaker warned against partnerships. At home later, I said, “But marriage is a partnership, isn’t it?” He said, with an ‘how-can-you-be-so dumb’ look on his face, “No it isn’t, it’s ownership.” Ah! This was at least 25 years ago, way before any of this teaching was available, but I was still stunned, and it was a small beginning to my figuring out what was so off in the marriage. And yes, the churches we had gone to and the books we read (there were many churches, as his jobs and our homes changed often – somehow that was my fault too, ha!) all taught a variation of that. I have to say, though, that I was also drawn to that like a human moth to cults, because they did promise utopia in marriage and a perfect family, which was my main goal in life.

  4. Late-Bloomer

    Yes, I have found this to be true. It’s sad that the place you would think would be the safest actually does the opposite at times.

  5. MoodyMom

    I think that this is part of what shocks us when we go to the church for help and receive this treatment. When we are treated as disobedient runaways, our 21st century, 1st world minds can’t… just… can’t. They short circuit. It’s so… anachronistic. Such a time warp. This is in addition to the betrayal we experience at the hands of the one institution, the one Body, we were raised to trust as representing the God who loves us infinitely.

    We can’t believe that we’re hearing ideas that are so medieval, so prehistoric. (I do believe in Adam and Eve, and not missing link ancestors, but I can’t think of any way to express a societal structure more primitive.) The old cartoons of a brute in lion skins, dragging a woman around by her hair come to mind.

    Or maybe the pre-Civil War era. The ‘c’hurch acts as slave catchers. It feels like the church/slave catcher clapping the master on the back, saying, “Well, son, you better keep a better eye on your woman here. She almost got away this time, but we caught her and brought her back in for ya’. Make sure this doesn’t happen again, will ya’?”

    And he will.

    • Jeff Crippen

      There is far, far more man-made tradition parading as “Bible” in the churches than most people realize. Lots more. And as we are seeing increasingly, these man-made traditions and ideas have wrongly influenced some passages in Scripture as translators did their work, or at least in the interpretation of those passages.

      • Oh yeah… I’m working on a post about this right now.

    • ^ This!

  6. Rambling Rose Inspiration

    In years past I heard several times, “I couldn’t wait till I could be the father.” When I asked him to explain, he replied,”I just can’t say, but I couldn’t wait till I could be the father.” Evidently from his actions like leaving his shoes in the family room but angrily kicking our son’s shoes out of the way, what he meant was entitlement to do anything he wanted. Now I know this is “patriarchal abuse” and I still see it in him six years after he divorced me. Empathetic me doesn’t want to see anyone go to hell, but I have to acknowledge that’s not my call, but his own. I can pray for him, but even that i know I have to moderate so i don’t feel enmeshed in the outcome. Yesterday the LORd brought Psalm 58:10 into my view on a car, and yikes! God IS righteous, and I won’t stand in the way of His righteous justice.

  7. MoodyMom

    So please, how do you separate out this idea of the woman is not chattel and 1 Cor 7:4 “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”?

    I know this is a verse that gets twisted a lot, and (sarcastically) SOMEHOW the second half of the verse seems to get misplaced or lost or forgotten… But how do we say that each spouse has authority over the other’s body (including – I assume – it’s location: in the home or separated from the home) but also say that one is not owned by the other and definitely not to be treated as property?

    To make it clear, I am not in the home anymore and the divorce is finalized. But I’m really trying to feel out and really get to know my Firm Foundation, now that all this gross fog is dissipating.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I think that verse 3 really explains what verse 4 means – “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband….for…”. It’s a matter of loving, of giving, not owning. Ownership says “I am going to take what is mine.” That is not what Paul is teaching here. He is saying “each should give to one another what is rightfully due them.” Voluntarily. Freely. Lovingly.

      • MoodyMom

        Thanks so much, Pastor Jeff.

  8. Stronger Now

    Yes. My husband justified molesting and raping me with the defense: “Your body belongs to me. It is my property and I can do anything I want to it.” Including hurting me as he used my body to please himself. As long as it didn’t hurt him, it didn’t matter how much it hurt me.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I am convinced that the counterfeit “church” of the spirit of antichrist is far, far more common around us today than we think. This very kind of supposed Christian doctrine, using the Bible to justify evil, has been with us from the beginning. I bet your husband even had other professing Christians and/or pastors backing him up on this.

  9. celestebella

    My soon to be ex told me once it was “my job” to take care of him and the children; like I was property to be dictated too. I realized he had no desire to be in a *relationship.* It explained why all these years I felt held at arms length.

    Speaking of property I am now in the dividing up property stage and my lawyer is trying to arrange mediation for permanent support. I really need it due to my health problems and we are trying to avoid a trial where the judge would probably deny it.

    I still don’t know where I’ll live and I don’t have a job. Just going through the divorce process has been challenging. My hat off to all the moms with minor children being put through the mill. I know I couldn’t have endured that and wound up staying til they were grown . Really there are no easy answers and abuse victims get the rotten end of the stick no matter which way we choose.

    The house goes up for sale soon and I need it sold, before Dec. or else half the monthly mortgage comes out of any profit I get plus I will have to still leave the house.

    I’m starting to have a hard time with knowing my I have to leave the home my babies grew up in. They’re having hard time too; they are quit sentimental like me.

    I feel quite lost now. No place of my own to live, being in a location very far from where I was raised, and with almost all previous relationships abandoning me including extended family. It’s also hard to believe God will take care of me when I see so many people devastated by hurricanes and wildfires. Have a lot of sadness and great loses right now.

    • Anonymous

      I almost got through all the replies and then read yours… We live in a fallen world and anyone who is a true disciple of Jesus is not of this world. God sees everything and I believe that everything is going to work out for you and your real family. Of course you need to do you part which I’m sure you are. Just know that as a result of your post you touched a perfect stranger. You pulled on my heart in a way that really touched me for some reason. Thank you for posting.

      • celestebella

        “Of course you need to do you part which I’m sure you are.”

        What exactly is my part?

      • Hi Celestebella, I want to tell you this. The email address of the Anonymous who responded to you saying “of course you need to do your part” indicates that commenter is a man. He has submitted a comment to answer to your question. We are not going to publish this comment of his.

        But I will tell you what he said. He said that your part is “Simply putting on (and never taking off) the armor of God and trusting Him. Believing Him at His word and applying it to our life. This includes what He says about us as well and He has said some amazing things about His sons and daughters.”

        To me that sounds like an overly simplistic response — a response that is insensitive and verging on foolishness.

        Let me explain why I think that, so the man who calls himself ‘Anonymous’ can hear my explanation, and our other readers can hear my explanation of why I think his response to Celestebella is verging on foolishness.

        Yes, the Bible exhorts us to put on the armor of God and to pray to God and trust in Him . It exhorts us to believe His word and apply it to our lives.

        Yes, the Bible tells us that God says some amazing things about His sons and daughters – those who truly believe in Him and follow Him.

        And yes, the Bible promises blessings and salvation for all God’s people. But it doesn’t promise that we will be free from tribulation and persecution in this temporal world.

        Celestebella, I encourage you to keep praying and trusting in God. But I don’t instruct you that ‘you have to do your part’ as if that is a formula which will enable you to escape tribulation and you must follow that formula with total confidence that it is a recipe with a guaranteed outcome. God is not a system. He isn’t a formula or a recipe. He is God. I am praying for you Celestebella, but I’m not going to give you orders or simplistic instructions. 🙂

        And I honor you, Celestabella, for your courage in standing up for justice and righteousness.

      • Anonymous

        I never implied that we would be free of tribulation as Jesus made it clear that we would have tribulation. Persecution is also promised to all who live Godly in Christ Jesus and it always comes from the highly religious. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling is our part and the point of what I was saying is that this life is temperoral. We need to fight and above all stand. If that is foolish and insensitive take it up with God.

      • Anonymous, I’m glad you hear that you recognise that Christians are to expect persecution and that we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But I don’t think you realise how in your first comment you came across as ‘telling Celestebella what to do’ and you don’t seem to realise that telling victims what to do is insensitive.

        Victims have been told what to do by their abusers and the pharisaic church ad infinitum. So it’s not wise for any of us to tell victims what to do in a way that comes across as a directive or an order. It’s much better to phrase it less like an order. Please read our New Users Info page for guidance about this. We discourage commenters on our blog from telling other readers what to do or how to think.

      • celestebella

        Barbara, I appreciate your sensitive response *very* much! I did feel like “Anonymous” was talking down to me and giving me an order:”do your part”.; it reminded me of my h-abuser.

        I also don’t like his snarky “take it up with God” comment to you.

        I’m wondering if he is here to troll and cause trouble.

      • That Anonymous man submitted one more comment which clearly showed he is not willing to abide by our commenting guidelines. We have now blacklisted him which means we won’t be publishing any more comments by him.

    • GloryGirl

      Your post touched me as well, because I can relate. I also lost family connections and friendships and finances and a lot of other things. You are in the thick of it — the worst part of the process of getting free. I can tell you as one who is now several years past the divorce that standing up for myself and my children was worth it all. Freedom and self-respect are precious gifts. We first have to give them to ourselves, and in turn that teaches our children how to do the same. You are a warrior. Or since you referred to hurricanes — you are a hurricane survivor. I applaud what you are accomplishing.

      • celestebella

        After round one in the process I didn’t think I could go on. It’s now several stages forward and it’s God who has carried me.

        When I doubt I’ve done the right thing by ending this abomination of a marriage God reveals more of h-abuser’s secret life. Like a counselor once told me, “From my experience dealing with situations like you’ve shared, what he is involved in is probably far worse than what you’ve uncovered.”

        I miss him like missing a plague.

  10. GloryGirl

    What has caused the evangelical church culture to remain “frozen” in these archaic attitudes? I grew up with them, and experienced them in my marriage. I didn’t take a stand against the idea of “headship,” which is one step away from “obedience,” until it was used against my children and me to try to lock us into relationship with the abuser. In my mind I am like two persons — 21st century educated woman versus subservient second-class citizen. I would love to trace how we (evangelical church) got stuck in this conundrum, and how we break free into correct and truly biblical thinking.

    • Suzanne

      I believe that the answer to your question can be summed up in one word: sin. You used the word archaic to refer to attitudes in the church. And in the sense that they’ve been around for a long time you’re correct. But the sin nature has never left the hearts of men and women and is still wreaking havoc everywhere, even in the church.

  11. GypsyAngel

    This post bring me back to my upbringing in the Mennonite faith as well as the Lutheran church. We were taught as young as three and four years old that this is how it was done. And when I married That thinking was so prevalent. I do believe that I was pre-conditioned to accept this way of living. Only after my ex intimated that he was allowed to take my life, that I honestly started to question the doctrine as a whole. He would tell me over and over that I was his to do with as he saw fit. Church elders just reinforce this lie within the realms of counseling. Praise God that He got me out, and too a new church family, so that I could renew my mind and my heart with truth.

  12. everydayBRAVE

    Yes, praying the Lord will help me and my children to think biblically about this topic after many years of indoctrination.

  13. everydayBRAVE

    So as I have thought about this, I have been trained to believe that I need to go to my husband in all major decisions. There have been times when doing what my husband wanted me to do and what I felt the Lord was leading me to do were different things, or I felt the Lords leading but my husband didnt agree with what I wanted to do. Is this concept of a wife deferring to husband in all decisions and having to be in agreement about decisions even a biblical concept. My husband is not abusive but has grown up in the church that we left that was patriarchal and abusive.. If I am feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit and I go against my husband, is that sin? Is it unwise?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Those are excellent questions everydayBRAVE. I will just give you my opinion. That business of “need to go to my husband in all major decisions” is something that is really hurting people, promoting abuse, enabling abusers and is not a biblical concept. It is a not so subtle distortion of how things should work in that one flesh relationship. The wife doesn’t “go to her husband” ie, seeking his permission. She, and him too, goes to her spouse because a marriage is supposed to be a one flesh communion, the parts working together toward common ends. A wife talks to her husband and a husband to his wife about, for example, spending a $1000. Just because that is the loving thing to do. On the other hand if the wife is required by the husband to get permission to spend even small amounts, something is wrong.

      We all need to flex in our marriages as in all of our relationships. We want to act out of love for others and apply Paul’s instruction to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. BUT when it comes to a matter in which we know the Lord would have us do A and that a wife’s husband is demanding she do B, well as Luther said, it is never wise or proper to disregard conscience or Scripture. For a wife to defer to her husband in all decisions is not healthy, not biblical, and one would have to ask the husband in such a case, “why are you not loving your wife? Why are you demanding to have your own way every time?”

      • I cannot unsee what I see now

        It seems to go back to the assumption that the Lord will direct our husband in every matter so we must trust that process. If the husband gets it wrong somehow, the Lord will sovereignly redeem the situation and bring good out of it. Our job is to submit to the authorities God has placed over us and He will magically make it all work out. My husband, pastor and elders did not agree with my decision to divorce my abusive husband. It might have been one of the most courageous acts of following Christ I have ever demonstrated. It was costly in every way. I was accountable to the Lord directly seeking His direction. It can be much easier to hide behind an authority figure.

      • everydayBRAVE

        Thank you for these thoughts. May the Lord continue to unravel these lies in our hearts.

    • Hi EverydayBRAVE, you might find this post helpful.
      1 Peter 3:6 — Sarah’s children do what is right and do not give way to fear

      And even though your husband is not an abuser, this one might help you dismantle the false teaching you were given by the church —
      Should wives submit to harsh husbands just like slaves submitting to harsh masters? (1 Peter 2 & 3)

      • everydayBRAVE

        Thank you Barbara. Both of those articles were helpful. It seems the mentality is that men in these churches are accountable to no one. Even when I tried to confront things, it was always turned to be my fault. I would have these verses playing in my head, that I needed to just suffer for Christ which now I see was wrong. I enabled the destructive behaviors and this was not loving to me, my husband or other men who had influence in our life. There was very false teaching coming down from the top that “men don’t change”. Thank you again for your help.

  14. Mother Goose

    Might I gracefully offer another explanation for the first example given of a husband fighting for his wife? Some husbands “fight” for their wives not because they are sexual property but to protect his wife’s virtue(cheesy old fashioned I know). It is insulting to think she would desire to be hit on when she is obviously married. This assumes that the flirter thinks very lowly of the wife that she would welcome such advances. I am also seeing this as metaphorical fighting for and not an actual fist fight.

Trackbacks

  1. Woman as Owned Property – A Prevailing Mentality in the Church – A Cry for Justice blog by pastor/former cop Jeff Crippen – GBFSV SPIRITUAL ABUSE VICTIMS' RECOVERY

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