Pastors of evangelical Christian churches need to acknowledge that wife abuse takes place in their congregations, says an evangelical Christian counselor who has done a national study on the subject.
"I dare say it is in every church represented here," James Alsdurf said in a recent address to a group of evangelical ministers here.
Alsdurf conducted the study for a doctorate he will receive in June from Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, Calif.
In an interview, Alsdurf said he sent questionnaires to 5,700 U.S. and Canadian clerics -- most of them conservative evangelicals -- and 80 women. His thesis is based on an analysis of responses submitted by 5 percent of the total. He also interviewed 40 Christian women.
Alsdurf's study found that some pastors tend to link a husband's violence to the wife's failure to be submissive in marriage. This was especially true of those clerics who have little regard for women's rights and who discount reports of violence.
The study also found that even though "it is not God's perfect will," a majority of pastors surveyed were willing to accept a marriage in which some violence is present. They are more willing to accept that than to advise a separation that might end in divorce, he said.
Another finding of his study, Alsdurf said, is that faced with the moral decision of having to choose between a violent marriage or marital separation to end the violence, most pastors support separation.
"They are willing to support a woman's leaving a violent situation, particularly if the violence is extreme," he said. "However, the majority of pastors did not accept divorce as an acceptable kind of resolution to the problem.
"Only six pastors said they would encourage the wife to divorce the abusive husband. Pastors find themselves in a situation where they have to, at some point in time, decide between the sanctity of the victim's personhood or their concept of Christian marriage. They are finding it very difficult to balance both of those. At some point in time, they have to decide between that woman's life and safety over and against a kind of view of marriage that almost becomes law."
Alsdurf said his overall impression is that pastors are concerned about this issue but they also are scared because "it means honestly acknowledging that there is a gap between our ideal commitment to theology and the practical stuff of life."
He cited Bill Gothard, a conservative evangelical teacher who has conducted seminars for thousands of conservative evangelicals, as "a good example of how a segment of the church deals with this issue. What he does is totally dismiss it as an issue by saying there are no victims."
Alsdurf said the "one-dimensional model of submission that flows from the Bill Gothard model can in many situations be ripe ground for both the psychological and physical victimization of women because it gives men implicit permission to mistreat women."
Alsdurf offered some suggestions about what ministers could do about the problem. One was to provide an open door to abused women and to announce there are shelters and support groups.