Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mary Winkler: Comments from an ex-CofC Feminist

So, a lot of my friends and a couple of my family members have asked about my take on Mary Winkler’s trial and the verdict. And because they know, I’m a theology geek and a feminist, they also expect my take on the interaction of CofC doctrine and practice with spousal abuse. A caveat: Trying to apply the term doctrine to CofCs is artificial at best.

So, here’s Metra on the subject:

1) I don’t think Church of Christ doctrine on the relationships between men and women produces spousal abuse, or abusers.

2) I do think that the doctrines held by the CofC on the place of women within the church family and world can exacerbate pre-existing conditions wherein spousal abuse occurs. In other words, if you hand an already sick man the type of power that CofC doctrine can be interpreted to give him, yeah – location within the CofC can make that situation worse than it might be otherwise.

The stigma attached to divorce is also a factor, as it makes it harder for abused women to leave a bad situation. It’s not an intentional effect, but it is an effect. I’m very confident that the majority of CofC elders and ministers, if they knew a woman was in an abusive situation would not condone the actions of the husband, or try to shift blame to her, and would do everything they could to help out. The system is flawed. The majority of the people aren’t.

My main concern, as a feminist, is the mindset that I have found to be pushed on young girls and young women in the CofCs. Girls and young women are indoctrinated to focus on seeing themselves in roles of wife and mother – defined through others. I spent a good number of years in classes intended for teenaged girls; we rarely talked about anything other than dating and marriage. My little sister was once in a class with the theme: How to be the perfect woman for your future husband. CofC Colleges, particularly Freed-Hardeman, Harding, and Lipscomb advertise themselves as places where “you meet your mate.” The encouragement is to see yourself as attached to a man – there simply isn’t another model for female life and wholeness available to most young women in this context. (Paul might as well have never written that it was best to remain unmarried. Thank whatever god loves me that I had a close spinster great-aunt!) This conditioning, when applied to a person who may already have, for whatever reason, a weakened sense of self and you have a complete lack of an independent self that can contribute to unhealthy, or even abusive, relationships. Not the intention, but a sad effect – illustrated in this tragedy – at which the CofC needs to take a long, hard look.

Of course, the same is true for a number of Christian denominations that promote a hierarchal family structure where the man rules, marriage is overly-idealized, and divorce is heavily suspect. It’s not just a CofC problem. And, to be honest, the CofC isn’t the big fish in the game. It’s Dobson and company and their ilk that you need to be concerned about.

And, yes, I think voluntary manslaughter was a just sentence. It wasn't murder.


Messianic Gentile said...

Wow. That is a very thoughtful analysis. Thanks for sharing. I am pondering it now...

Jesus is Lord!

Seraph said...

I am very very late in responding to this (I clicked through from a more recent post that link a post that linked this one...) but I have a story relating to this statement:

"I’m very confident that the majority of CofC elders and ministers, if they knew a woman was in an abusive situation would not condone the actions of the husband..."

A good friend of mine grew up with an abusive dad, in a denomination (not Church of Christ, I think, but I'm not sure) that really emphasized the authority of the husband. When her mom finally left him, the preacher and a few deacons of the church came to tell her to not leave her husband. She told them that he was abusive to her and to the kids, and their response? You must not be loving him enough or obeying him properly, and it's well within his rights to beat the crap out of you because you're a horrible wife.

Needless to say, she left that church when she left her husband.

I figure you're right about the -majority- not being that horrible, but I figure there's a sizable minority that is.

WordK said...

Hi Seraph! Thanks for commenting. I'd agree about there being a sizable minority in any conservative religious group who are going to come down on the side of the abuse -- and they can't be dismissed as insignificant. I'm glad your friend's mother got out of that situation.

Unfortunately, a lot of those same tendencies have come out in the media coverage lately. I hope I haven't overestimated the amount of goodness, but sometimes...