Domestic and family violence is too grave a problem to be misused as a weapon in anti-Christian bigotry. And yet, the ABC has just achieved a new low standard in ‘anti-Christian’ journalism. In a recent report on 7.30, Julia Baird and Paige MacKenzie claimed the biggest wife-bashers are Christian men who ‘sporadically’ attend church. The report quoted advocates claiming ‘the church is not just failing to sufficiently address domestic violence, it is both enabling and concealing it’. In an online article by Baird, published by the ABC on July 21, no details of any surveys are given to substantiate the claim that Evangelical Christians are the worst wife-beaters. There is only an inconclusive reference to an obscure researcher’s citation of a survey in Brisbane.
Here we encounter a militant anti-Christian bias by this tax-funded media corporation. A journalist makes an outlandish charge, oblivious to the immense body of research that contradicts her. Not only is there no support for a claim that Christian husbands are more likely to abuse their wives; there is actually solid evidence that they are better, more loving spouses.
Of course, modern feminism has a distinctly anti-Christian flavour. Feminist scholars often claim that Christianity has been a major oppressor of women throughout history. Amidst ongoing denunciations that Christianity is inherently patriarchal and sexist, these ideologically-driven scholars often ignore the fact that the early Church was especially attractive to women. The first Christian communities were predominately female, not male. As noted by the celebrated Cambridge historian, Henry Chadwick (1920-2008), in ancient Rome ‘Christianity seems to have been especially successful among women. It was often through the wives that it penetrated the upper classes of society in the first instance’.
Although from the early days of Christianity women were involved in numerous church activities, feminist scholars have gone so far as to claim that rampant sexism was the rule in the early Christian communities. In fact, in those days Christian women enjoyed a much greater status then did their female counterparts elsewhere in the ancient world. According to another prominent historian, Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), in early church history ‘Christian preaching was laid hold of by women in particular…’. Christians differed in this respect not only from pagans, but also from Jews. As noted by Peter Brown, Emeritus Professor of History at Princeton University, ‘the Christian clergy … took a step that separated them the rabbis of Palestine … [T]hey welcomed women as patrons and even offered women roles in which they could act as collaborators’.
Professor Rodney Stark was for many years was professor of sociology and professor of comparative religion the University of Washington. He now works as Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. According to him, ‘objective evidence leaves no doubt that early Christian women did enjoy far greater equality with men than did their pagan and Jewish counterparts’.
Professor Stark informs that ‘there is virtual consensus among historians of the early church as well as biblical scholars that women held positions of honor and authority within early Christianity’. For example, he explains that women deacons assisted in liturgical functions and administered the charitable activities of the Church. This is in line with the Apostle Paul’s commendation of ‘our sister Phoebe’ to the Roman congregation, stating that she was a ‘deaconess of the church of Cenchrea.’ In 1 Timothy 3:11, Paul refers to women in the role of deacons. In Corinthians 11:11-12, Paul talks about the right of women to prophesy, and that they are as essential as men in Christian fellowship. ‘For it is through women that man comes to be, and God is the source of all,’ he says.
In deeply elevating the status of women, those early Christians were simply emulating the example of Jesus Christ, who had many women as friends, followers, and supporters. Christ even saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death. It was to women that Christ first appeared after His Resurrection. He purposely confronted prejudicial attitudes toward women in general, and so he blatantly broke with the rabbinical tradition to not speak with a Samaritan woman at the well (See John 4). Not only was it totally unheard of for a rabbi to be alone with a Samaritan woman, but to discuss theology it was virtually unthinkable and absolutely scandalous. This is why the Bible refers to the disciples’ reactions upon finding Christ talking to that woman: they were ‘surprised’ or ‘marvelled’, which carries a sense of incredulity.
No doubt, the disciples’ wonderment arose from the exposure to their Jewish culture. Women in Palestine at the time of Christ were subject to severe legal restrictions. Their witnesses had no validity in law courts and they were often segregated from the rest of society and shut upon in their houses. They weren’t even considered fit for education. Jewish women were not allowed to read the Torah to the assembly, and women were seated separated in the synagogues. As quoted in the Babylonian Talmud (ca. AD 90) by Rabbi Eliezer: ‘Better burn the Torah than teach it to a woman’. Elsewhere the Talmud admonishes: ‘Everyone who talketh much with a woman causes evil to himself’.
The disparagement of women is particularly seen in this prayer often uttered by ancient Jewish men: ‘Praised be to God that he has not created me a Gentile; praise be to God that he has not created me a woman; praised be to God that he has not created me an ignorant person’. By contrast, writes U.S. theologian Gary Thomas, ‘Jesus challenged and confronted these attitudes about women, lifting women up and including them in his inner circle of confidantes and supporters’ (See Luke 8-1:3).
Based on the Christian statement of faith expressed by the Apostle Paul, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). Statements such as this exercised an enormously positive effect in the development of human rights in the West, including gender relations. Arguably, in an ideal Christian community all barriers of prejudice must be broken, including xenophobic nationalism (Greek or Jew), racism (barbarian or civilized), social discrimination (slave or free), and finally, of course, gender discrimination (male or female).
Feminist critics have unreasonably dismissed all these biblical statements. They assume that such remarkable statements had no impact whatsoever on the advancement of human rights, in particular fundamental rights to women. In reality, however, the late Harvard legal historian, Harold Berman, credits biblical statements such as the one found in Galatians 3:28 as positively having ‘an ameliorating effect on the position of women and slaves and the protection of the poor and helpless’ between the sixth and eleventh centuries. According to Sanford Lakoff, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of California, San Diego:
The Christian teaching with the greatest implications for democracy is the belief that because humanity is created in the image of God, all human beings are of equal worth in the sight of God. Along with the Greek Stoic belief in equality as a reflection of the universal capacity for reason, this belief shaped an emerging democratic consciousness, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted when he observed in the introduction to his study of democracy in America that Christianity, which has declared all men equal in the sight of God, cannot hesitate to acknowledge all citizens equal before the law.
Frequently, feminist scholars interpret the rejection of divorce by Christianity as something incidental to a revulsion against sexuality, and also demonstrating a strong bias in favour of ‘patriarchy’. These critics remain blatantly ignorant, or simply unwilling to recognise, what Paul wrote about marriage and sex: ‘The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to the husband. For […] the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control’. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) This means that Christian husbands should not withhold from their role of fulfilling their wives’ sexual needs. This is why in seventh century’s New England the courts consistently ‘upheld the view that women had a right to expect content and satisfaction in bed’.
Of course, even this historical fact may not necessarily pacify the ideologues who are blindly convinced that Christianity must be an anti-woman religion. This is especially so when someone lacks the proper knowledge of the meaning of the following instruction which is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything’ (Ephesians 5: 22-24).
Submitting to another person is an often misunderstood concept. For the Christian wife, this means obeying a husband as long as he acts in Christlike manner. For the Christian husband, this means putting aside his selfish desires in order to care for his wife’s well-being. This is why Paul adds this important admonition: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her’ (Ephesians 5: 25). Paul is saying here that husbands must be willing to sacrifice everything for their wives. They should give away their own lives if necessary. A Christian husband must make the well-being of his wife the primary consideration, ‘so husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself’ (Ephesians 5: 28).
The essence of Christian leadership is not personal empowerment, but sacrificial love. This essence of sacrificial love is found in Philippians 2 where Paul urges believers to ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2: 3-4). Paul then goes on to escalate the concept by requesting Christians to emulate the example of Christ himself, ‘who, being in the very nature God … made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2: 6-7). That Christ often expressed this principle is found in several passages of Scripture:
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’
‘The greatest among you will be your servant’.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
‘Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant’
‘But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.’
Although claiming to be the Son of God, Christ made himself into a humble servant. On the night before his death, he humbly washed his disciples’ feet (John 13: 1-17), ‘thus demonstrating in the most dramatic way that authority and leadership mean that you become the servant, you die to self in order to love and serve the Other’. In doing so, theologian Timothy Keller notes: ‘Jesus redefined all authority as servant-authority. Any exercise of power can only be done in service of the Other, not to please oneself. Jesus is the one who did not come to be served, as the world’s authority figures expect to be, but to serve, to the point of giving his life’.
At least for those who truly live by Christ’s definition of authority and leadership, in the language of Christianity the leader is the one who must be the most self-effacing, the most sacrificial, and the most devoted to the good of others. It takes an equal degree of submission for a faithful husband to actually submit to such a sacrificial role, as a ‘servant-leader’ in the marital relationship.
How different is this Christian message from the feminist language of gender empowerment and gender-domination! Of course, we know that today’s feminism is basically a sexist ideology aiming at empowering woman in the pursuit of individual autonomy. The ultimate goal of feminist ideology is personal achievement at the expense of all others. Accordingly, the expectations of husbands, parents, and children are considered less important than a woman’s right to attain autonomy and self-determination.
What could not be more departed from the Christian concepts of leadership, love and sacrifice? It is really no wonder why Christianity is so hated and despised by the advocates of radical feminist ideology. Take the issue of marriage, for instance. We often encounter in the feminist literature a highly militant anti-Christian bias. Some feminist scholars dare even to claim that Christian views of sex roles lead to justification of husbands’ mistreatment of their wives. Of course, this precisely what the ABC alleged to be so. However, as Professor Stark correctly points out, ‘not only is there no support for claims that Christian husbands, especially those of the Evangelical Protestant variety, are more likely to abuse their wives, there is solid evidence that they are better, more loving husbands’.
About two-decades ago the U.S. National Health and Social Life Survey conducted massive personal interviews with a national sample of 3,432 Americans 18 years of age and older. ‘That survey was remarkable for the care that went into its execution, and the results are probably very accurate’. At the end of this, it was found that Christian women were ‘extremely’ emotionally satisfied with their sex lives. And here, too, the irreligious were the least likely to give that answer. Interestingly, the researchers concluded that ‘conservative Protestant women’ are far more likely to ‘always’ have an orgasm during sex with their husbands (or live-in partner), while those with no religious affiliation were by far the last likely to do so.
As can be seen above, the feminist stereotypes about the lives of married Christian couples are ill founded. Perhaps some of those feminists would have a happier marriage if they embraced biblical Christianity and married a committed Christian husband, and reject their arguably narcissistic lifestyle. Although committed Christian men would reject premarital sex with them (but without any of the last repressive effects proclaimed), once they got married they would almost certainly have far superior sex lives with them! Indeed, as Professor Stark notes, ‘Christian women married with Christian men reportedly have sex more often, more reliably achieve orgasms, and express greater emotional and physical satisfaction with sex than their irreligious counterparts’.
As can be seen, although Christianity has received considerable bad press (especially from the ABC) we are talking about a religious worldview that is profoundly pro-family and pro-women. There is no justification for a tax-funded media corporation to support unsubstantiated claims that contradict ‘an immense body of well-done research’ supporting the claim that Christian men, especially of the Evangelical kind, are better, more loving husbands. Christianity, to be sure, is definitely not ‘feminist’ and it offers a worldview that is deeply departed from contemporary feminist ideology; though one that is far more attractive for women, and which works.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM, PhD (Mon.) is Director of Post Graduate Research and former Associate Dean (Research) at Murdoch Law School. He is also Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus), and a member of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia
 Julia Baird, ‘Submit to your Husbands: Women Told to Endure Domestic Violence in the Name of God, ABC, July 21, 2017, at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028 See also: Ean Higgins, ‘Churches Hit Back at ‘Selective’ ABC Show’, The Australian, July 21, 2017, at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/broadcast/churches-hit-back-at-selective-abc-show/news-story/1b779dbd8eecb3e071298690c6494571
 Rodney Stark, America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists (West Conshohocken/ PA: Templeton Press, 2012), 66
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (New York/NY: HarperCollins, 1997), p.98.
 Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Harmondsworth/UK: Penguin Books, 1967), p. 56. Likewise, the German Lutheran theologian and prominent church historian, Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) stated: ‘[T]he percentage of Christian women, especially among the upper classes, was larger than Christian men’. – Adolf von Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries – Vol.2 (New York/NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1905) p. 227.
 Harnack, p.73
 Peter Brown, The Body and Society (New York/ NY: Columbia University Press, 1988) pp. 144-45. Peter Brown is Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His work has concerned, in particular, the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, and the relation relation between religion and society.
 Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity (New York/NY: HarperOne, 2011), p 124.
 Ibid. p 109.
 Romans 16:1-2
 1 Corinthians 11:12
 John 8:1-11.
 Matthew 28:10; John 20:11-18.
 Susan Groag Bell, Women: From the Greeks to the French Revolution (Palo Alto/CA: Stanford University Press, 1973), p.72
 Harold Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge/MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), p 65.
 Sandorf Lakoff, Democracy: History, Theory and Practice (Boulder/CO: Westview Press) 1996, p 90.
 Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America: Gender Relations in the American Experience (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p.60.
 Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (London/UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), p. 178.
 Christopher G. Ellison and Kristin L. Anderson, ‘Religious Involvement and Domestic Violence among U.S. Couples’ (2001) 40 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 269-86. See also: W. Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago/IL: Chicago University Press, 2004).
 Stark, above n.2, p. 87.
 Ibid., p. 88.
 Linda J Waite and Kara Joyner, ‘Emotional Satisfaction and Physical Pleasure in Sexual Unions: Time Horizon, Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Exclusivity (2001) 63 Journal of Marriage and Family 247-64. See also: J. Kenneth Davidson, Caron Anderson, Darling and Laura Norton, ‘Religiosity and the Sexuality of Women: Sexual Behavior and Sexual Satisfaction Revisited’ (1995) 32 Journal of Sex Research 235-43.