[Feature] Domestic Violence in Chinese Church

By Karen Luo, June 07, 2018 01:06 AM

A woman hides her face.

As Paige Patterson stepped down as the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary due to his endorsement to having abused wives stay with their husbands, Christians in the United States start to pay attention to domestic violence in the church. 

China's first law against domestic violence came into force on March 1, 2016. Emily Rauhala stated in a Washington Post article, "In China, as elsewhere, domestic violence is a hidden epidemic - a public health crisis dismissed as a private scandal, a crime discounted or covered up."

Sadly, the social problem also exists in the Chinese church. Domestic violence in the Chinese church is tougher and more invisible than in the secular world.

On Oct 13, 2016, a spousal abuse case was a publicly heard in a Shanghai court. In this case, the wife who was a Christian of a Henan church left her husband in 2012 to escape a prolonged period of severe domestic violence, and since then had settled down in Shanghai with her daughter. In order to not lose face, the husband went to Shanghai to find his wife and hacked at her with a kitchen knife, which made her dead.

A sister who was suffering from family violence for decades exposed the dark side of her church at an online Christian group but was reproached by a brother who held the concept - "do not wash your dirty linen in public", citing 1 Corinthians 6:6-8.

Rev. Yang Ning contacts dozens of sisters who experienced abuse in religious settings during her years' ministry in a rural church of Liaoning Province. The article "Pastor: Female Victims Suffering from Domestic Violence Are Miserable" published in Christian Times shared women's accounts of domestic abuse. Instead of picking up the weapon to protect themselves, most female Christian abuse victims choose silence or swallow the insult.

The reasons for their negative responses include believing their husbands who promise not to abuse them anymore, fear of losing face, and regarding the abuse as disharmony in the home outsiders don't need to know. But the main reason is that they are counseled by the church to stay in abusive marriages and regard it as a lesson God assigns to them; to "endure, tolerate, pray for, and overcome violence" and "submit" to their husbands in the name of God. The victims, influenced by Christian conservatism, keep being abused and even some are beaten to death.

A sister is often abused by her husband without any reason. At ordinary times, he kicks her when she doesn't pay attention. Rev. Yang advised her to divorce him, but her church's pastor told her not to because 'divorcing was adultery'. Another preacher from Sichuan claimed that she should not divorce even though she was killed by him and she would be regarded as a martyr for the Lord if she were beaten to death.

A woman from Heilongjiang had an unfaithful husband who wanted a divorce. She refused because her church's preacher argued that divorcing was adultery and anyone who committed adultery could not be saved. She should endure it, love her husband, and pray for him. The situation lasted for over a decade. Actually, she wanted to agree with the divorce several times, but each time she went to the church, the preacher and believers said, "Men cannot separate what God has joined together. As a Christian, you shall not divorce, otherwise, you commit adultery. Do you want to sin against God and go to hell? " Finally, the furious man was angry brought another woman to live at home. Then she developed breast cancer and died in her forties.

Another case. A sister's husband was a deacon from a church in Shenyang, a northeastern city. He got married three times and every divorce resulted from domestic violence. He kicked and punched his first wife from the sixth floor down to the first one. His third wife was a diligent and devout sister, but she suffered from his beating for years and was black and blue at the worst times. Asked why he hit his wife, he answered --- she wouldn't be sensible if she was not beaten. It was only in the last two years that he put his fists down because his daughter screamed at him and cried loudly when he beat his wife. Rev. Yang said that the church leader was wicked at heart, lacking respect for his wife and life, rather than unable to control himself. She didn't believe that he had real faith in God.

There are victims who choose a divorce.

A sister was beaten by her husband almost every day since they got married. She was taught by the church to endure the abuse of any level and never to file for a divorce. One day, the man took out one of her eyes with his bands. Then the church stopped its opposition and she finally divorced him. However, he was not legally punished because the church told her to forgive him.

Another sister who lives in Xinjiang was beaten up and sexually assaulted by her former husband for as long as twenty years. There were many times when she thought she would be beaten to death, but the church prevented her from a divorce and advised her to endure to the end for divorce was adultery. Eventually, he clutched her with his two hands and she nearly died. Under extreme panic, her child begged her to leave in fear of losing her. Ultimately, she made up her mind to file for separation.

However, there is no denying that Christians successfully deal with domestic violence through faith.

Chinese Christian Wang Feng's husband was not abusive towards her in the beginning, but his mind became muddled after a surgery due to an accident. He began beating Wang and scolding their children. In 2008, Wang joined in a church founded by Koreans and comforted by the pastor's wife who told her not to divorce him because of God's commandment. Her friends all advised divorce. Two years later, she changed to another church. The new church leader Brother He taught her the Bible and pointed out her sins and told her to submit to her husband. She followed the advice and prayed for patience to wait for God's healing of her husband. In 2012, her husband was declared healed from epilepsy and had stopped calling her names for many days.

As to the causes of family violence, the Chinese church fails to explore further.

Kang Xiaorong, a house church pastor from Chengdu, analyzed that the factors were bad ways of communicating, psychological and mental illness, and personality problems.

Through three abuse cases, she discovered that wives spoke words that ignited the rage of their husbands, without noticing that they were actually the bombers.

Moreover, a large percentage of Chinese people are affected with hidden mania and depression. Plus psychological problems like anxiety, insomnia, sub health, and hypersensitiveness, they who don't intend to be abusers though are prone to exercise violence in their families. There are two different situations. Recognizing their problems, the first kind of abusers are willing to seek treatment and help. However, the other type allow their abusive behaviors to dominate them.

Thirdly, some abusers are like "senseless beasts" described in the Bible, whose personalities are damaged after being immersed in sins and evil for a long time. She heard some young men claiming that they felt excited and pleasures at the sight of fights and bleeding. It is no wonder that some people are pedophiles and necrophiliacs.

Kang said that the solution lied in the church. It should repent first - accept, care for, heal, and help victims rather than give empty preaching on whether they should get divorced or stay married. Different responses should be given according to actual situations: arrange counselors to stay with or comfort victims; assist couples to live apart temporarily or mediate between them in many ways; accompany them to see the doctor, call the police, and seek legal aid.

Yuan Datong, a famous Christian marriage counselor commented on a social networking website, "Domestic violence is not a problem of one partner, but always concerns both partners. One spouse turns violent and the other spurs verbal stimulation. If the wife knows the heart of God, she will face it with the attitude of 'turning the left cheek to the one who strikes her on the right one' and bless the husband, not cursing him. She will restore him gently rather than hit back with words. The wife's response with love will cover a multitude of sins."

Brother Cheng Pangshi, a Christian lawyer, told the Gospel Times, a Chinese Christian daily news website, in April 2016 that women made up a large percentage of Christians and women who had non-Christian spouses were more likely to suffer from domestic violence. The anti-domestic violence law provided a new channel for Christians to protect themselves, but he reminded a thing easily neglected: proof. There was a general lack of evidence awareness among abuse victims. He suggested victims to take photos of their injuries, write police reports, and keep medical records and prescriptions. Cheng emphasized that victims must take the first abusive behavior seriously and address it, otherwise, domestic violence will appear more and worse. Be aware that don't deal with the issue just between couples, but find trustworthy friends and pastors to intervene in it and give a penalty to abusers. He suggested a divorce when abusers who did severe violent behaviors refused to change. However, he didn't encounter a couple in an abusive marriage who regained harmony through the anti-domestic violence law.

The lawyer put forward that many Christians and preachers lacked the learning concept in marriage, but marriage management was the solution to address domestic violence. He suggested young couples to join in marriage courses. Currently, urban churches had many relevant resources like offering "Journey to Intimacy" lessons, marriage camps, and church relationship courses for single Christians.

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