Lies Abusers Tell: Weaponisation of the Bible in the Home

CBS Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Kirsi Cobb, reports on ‘Lies Abusers Tell’, a webinar on the topic of the Bible and domestic abuse.

The Bible, Gender and Church Research Centre (the BGC) held an evening seminar on Tuesday the 20 of April on the topic of ‘Lies Abuser Tell: Weaponisation of the Bible in the Home.’ The hosts were the co-founders and directors of the BGC, Dr Holly Morse from the University of Manchester, and Dr Kirsi Cobb from Cliff College. Our speaker was Revd Dr Helen Paynter, the director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence and the author of The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why You Don’t Have to Submit to Domestic Abuse and Coercive Control (2020). Her paper was followed by a response from Natalie Collins, an international speaker and trainer on issues of violence against women and wider gender injustice. She is also the author of Out of Control: Couples, Conflict and the Capacity for Change (2019). After the papers, there was time for discussion and Q&A.

In her paper, Helen focused on lies that abusers tell their victims, such as demanding submission from their wives and expecting the wives to forgive their abusers in ways which meant letting the abusers back into their lives. Helen studied several passages in depth to illustrate how these and other lies were not what the biblical texts implied. She read Paul’s advice for wives to submit themselves to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22 in the context of mutual submission advocated in Ephesians 5:21 and concluded that the passage encourages a voluntary submission of the wife in the context of a loving relationship where the husband honours and supports his wife. None of this suggested that the husband can demand submission from his wife. Furthermore, Helen emphasised how forgiveness does not exclude due process, such as that laid out in Matthew 18:15-17. Nor does forgiveness require the abused to make themselves vulnerable again to the abuser. Rather, forgiveness is part of a long, hard journey of healing and it does not preclude the possibility of separation or require a restoration of the relationship to what it was before.

After Helen’s paper, Natalie commented on the issues that Helen had raised and brought her significant experience as a gender justice advocate to bear on the issues. She noted that even though domestic abuse is something that is beginning to be recognised in churches, there is often a lack of willingness to admit that abuse might happen in ‘my actual church’ or that people ‘I actually know’ could be abusive. As believers, we want our faith communities to be safe spaces and admitting abuse in our faith contexts can shatter this image. Such a mental shift can be difficult and lead to minimizing the abuse or not believing the victim. Therefore, ‘the lies abusers tell’ are not only propagated by the abusers but are often believed by church members to retain the idea of our churches as safe. This is an attitude we must be willing to recognize and address for there to be a positive change. Natalie also discussed several of the lies Helen mentioned in her paper and gave both biblical and practical examples of how to understand and refute them.

The seminar ended with a lively Q&A that centred around questions to do with forgiveness, biblical authority, and the possibility of change in perpetrators. We are thankful for both Helen and Natalie for their contributions and look forward to hearing more about this timely and important subject. For more information, please refer to the books authored by our speakers mentioned at the start of the article.

Kirsi Cobb

You can read more about the work of the BGC centre and watch the recording of this event on the BCG web page.

Share this page