Friday, March 30, 2012

The Bible and Domestic Violence

By Valerie Hurwitz

I have been reading the minor prophets of the Old Testament for a class, and part of the reading for this week prophetically fit in with the Peace Forum speaker. From Hosea 2:2-3, 14-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

Plead with your mother, plead — for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband— 
that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts, 

or I will strip her naked and expose her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and turn her into a parched land, and kill her with thirst.

Therefore, I will now persuade her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak
tenderly to her. From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of

There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,   as at the time when she came out
of the land of Egypt.

This metaphor of God as husband punishing faithless Israel as wife has troubled generations of seminary students and confounded readers of all types. Does this teach us something about the way a husband should treat a wife? Yuck!

Vivian Finnell, founder and CEO of the organization Not 2 Believers Like Us came to Peace Forum on March 8th, 2012 to speak about domestic violence in the faith community. There is the tendency, she says, to think that domestic violence doesn’t happen in faith communities, or isn’t an issue that should be addressed in those communities. Unfortunately, one in three women and one in eight men will report domestic violence during their lifetime. We pay for this violence through both financial loss and lost human potential; through hospital visits, bullying in the schools, and a number of other societal issues.

This violence is taught over the pulpit and through scripture. If clergy are not familiar with domestic violence issues, they can mis-advise their parishioners. At best they might not know where to direct someone to for help, at worst they might tell a wife to “go and submit” or tell a man to “stand up and be a man.”

Vivian advised seminary students going into ministry of any type to educate themselves about the signs of domestic violence and local resources (see, for example, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). She also suggested that pastors address this issue in sermons, bible studies, and other settings.

We might translate this into unprogrammed Quaker terms by saying that unprogrammed Friends should educate themselves and their meetings about domestic violence.

At the very least, we need to discuss and come to terms with biblical passages such as the one above. Thoughts?

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

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