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Ministers Understanding of Battered Women:

Differences Among Catholic Male Priests,


Protestant Female Ministers
and Protestant Male Ministers
Sue Wong Gengler
Jerry W. Lee
ABSTRACT. Domestic violence does not stop at the threshold of the
churches doors. Domestic violence not only endangers victims physi-
cal and mental health, but also their spiritual health. In this study
Protestant and Catholic ministers beliefs and attitudes on the issue of
wife abuse and the possible effects of their beliefs and attitudes on inter-
ventions with battered women were examined. Results showed that the
degree of ministers adherence to fundamentalist religious beliefs and
the gender of the minister may affect the breadth of their definition of
wife abuse, their attitudes toward gender roles, whether or not the minis-
ter asks women about wife abuse, and the degree to which a wife or hus-
band is judged responsible in the abuse. [Article copies available for a fee
from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail ad-
dress: <getinfo@haworthpressinc.com> Website: <http://www.HaworthPress.com>
2001 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]
KEYWORDS. Domestic violence and religion, wife abuse, violence and
fundamentalism, ministers and wife abuse, gender and religious belief
My husband doesnt really hit me. He threatens me and constantly
demeans me and my children. He shouts at us and sometimes we
dont know what he would do to us when he gets into a rage. He
makes me get up at 4:00 amevery day to make himbreakfast, even
Journal of Religion & Abuse, Vol. 3(3/4) 2001
2001 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. 41
if I had been up all night with a sick child. I knowthat if I dont get
up to make him breakfast, he would hit me and Im scared. . . . I
met my husband at church. . . . I want to do what is right to follow
God. My pastor said I can separate (from him) but I dont have
grounds to divorce him. My mother told me that I amin a domestic
violence relationship and should get help. I never thought of my
situation as a domestic violence relationship. But I decided to call
and get more information. . . . Is your counseling confidential? I
dont want people to know. (a client of a domestic violence
agency)
Domestic violence knows no boundary between the secular world
and the spiritual world. In recent years, the veil of secrecy over do-
mestic violence has been slowly lifting, giving us a glimpse of its det-
rimental effects in our society. As a result, there is greater media
exposure and more legislation to protect the victims. Different seg-
ments of our society are also forming collaborative relationships to
raise awareness of the issue and to provide the community with infor-
mation on domestic violence. Unfortunately, the faith communities
have lagged behind the secular world in addressing this concern
among their congregations. Some act as if domestic violence stops at
the threshold of their spiritual world and that the church is pro-
tected. This is evident by these comments from some ministers: We
dont have this problem (spouse abuse) in our church. We dont deal
with domestic violence; we only deal with spiritual issues. There are
many reasons for this state of affairs in the faith community. There may
be denial that the congregations that theythe clergyhave nurtured and
taught would be involved in such heinous acts against their own family
members. In assuming this belief, clergy may not actively seek out in-
formation on this problem and hence, not recognize the signs of abuse.
Thus, the cycle of denial and silence is maintained. Some clergy may
feel that addressing societal issues would detract their congregations
from their spiritual growth.
Despite the fact that much work still needs to be done in the faith
communities, there are increasingly more religious denominations and
ministers who are forming collaborative relationships with community
agencies to address the problem of spouse abuse within their congrega-
tions. Various Protestant denominations and religions are making con-
scious efforts to train their clergy, develop educational materials and
establish policies to address domestic violence (<FaithToday.com>
2001). Andrew Weaver (1993) claims that domestic violence is the
42 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
number one pastoral mental health problem facing the contemporary
church. (as cited in Nason-Clark, 2000). The purpose of this article is
to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence in the faith commu-
nities, and to examine factors that may impact appropriate interventions
for victims within such communities.
There are no accurate statistics on domestic violence cases in the faith
communities, though the literature estimated that 17%-22% of women
in the faith communities have been abused by their husbands (Halsey,
1997; Alsdurf, 1989). Domestic violence, unfortunately, is often un-
der-reported. Victims of domestic violence are not exclusively females as
there are male victims as well. In this article, however, the term vic-
tims, will refer to battered women as it is estimated that 95%of the victims
are female and about 5% are male victims (U.S. Bureau of Justice, 1994).
For battered women who are of Christian persuasion (the focus of
this research), there may be some additional unique sets of values, per-
spectives and needs that may contribute to their distressful experience
beyond the physical and psychological trauma generally experienced
by many battered women (Miedema & Wachholz, 1998, as cited in
Nason-Clark, 2000). This has been evident in interactions with Chris-
tian battered women. These women have recounted comments made by
their ministers and/or fellowparishioners who had questioned their (the
battered womens) faith and spirituality because of the abusive relation-
ships. The ministers and parishioners blamed the women for the abuse
because they must not have been submissive enough or did not try hard
enough to be a better wife and mother. They intimated that if these bat-
tered women had been more spiritual (i.e., good Christians), then they
wouldnt be in such a predicament. If they had more faith in God, then
He would have changed their husbands and the women would not need
to leave the marriage. These women also grappled with guilt when their
option included a separation or divorce from their abusive husbands.
Some of the women felt that they were between a rock and a hard
place,would be hurt or killed by their husbands, or lose their souls
or their church affiliation (by separating or divorcing their husbands).
For some clergy, it can be difficult to counsel on a topic that may in-
volve a possibility of separation or divorce. This may be diametri-
cally opposed to their religious training to keep the family unit intact,
and it can become an obstacle to addressing domestic violence in their
congregations.
It is critical, nevertheless, that the faith communities listen and un-
derstand the issues related to abuse, and implement appropriate and
healing interventions. The clergy have a crucial role in society and in
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 43
the lives of their parishioners. Historically, people look to the clergy
for assistance in times of personal crisis (Lau &Steele, 1990; Hyman &
Wylie, 1990) and religion is often an integral part of peoples lives.
American families, particularly older family members and ethnic
groups, have high rates of church attendance. In a study by Privette,
Quackenbos and Bundrich (1994), frequent church attendees report that
they are seven times more likely to seek the assistance of clergy for mar-
riage and family problems (86%) than the assistance of nonreligious
mental health specialists (12.5%). Brenner (1992) conducted a survey
among 405 pastors in 10 geographical regions in the U.S. Eighty-four
percent of the clergy reported marriage and divorce as the most frequent
presenting problems (as cited in Weaver, Koenig & Larson, 1997). The
clergy also rank high among the various types of service providers to
whom battered women turned in times of crises (Weaver, 1992). The
frequency that battered women sought out these sources varied greatly
depending on demographics of the women, regional differences and
sampling procedures. Battered women seeking support from clergy
vary from 2% to 40% (Bowker & Mauer, 1987; Grayson & Smith,
1983). In a recent statewide survey conducted among 649 battered
women who were participants in 35 domestic violence Transitional
Housing Programs (second-stage shelters) in California, 68.4%of the
women specified a religious preference. The reported religious affilia-
tion of these women included 37.5% Protestants and 19.5% Catholics.
Approximately 20% of the participants indicated that they had sought
the clergy for help during their abusive relationships. In rating the level
of helpfulness of the clergy from the scale of Very Helpful to Not
Helpful At All, 38.1% considered the clergy to be Very Helpful to
Helpful and 62% considered them to be Somewhat Helpful to Not
Helpful At All (Wong Gengler, 2001). It is evident that the potential
impact of the clergys intervention in spouse abuse is substantial and
critical to the lives of the families. This then raises several questions:
How equipped are the clergy to address the issue of domestic violence
among their parishioners? What are the ministers attitudes and be-
liefs regarding domestic violence? What effects might these attitudes
and beliefs have on the ministers intervention?
RESEARCH STUDY
This research study examined many aspects of the ministers un-
derstanding of wife abuse. The focus of this article is to specifically
44 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
explore the relationships of the ministers fundamentalist religious be-
liefs, attitudes toward gender roles, the breadth of their definition of
wife abuse, and the possible subsequent effects these areas might have
on the ministers intervention with battered women.
METHODOLOGY
The sample for this study consisted of 294 Protestant and Catholic
ministers froma sample pool of 764 clergy who were randomly selected
fromtelephone directories in three counties in Southern California: San
Bernardino County, Riverside County and some adjacent cities in Los
Angeles County (Pomona, La Verne, Walnut, Rowland Heights, West
Covina, La Puente, San Dimas, Diamond Bar & Glendora). In the be-
ginning, 889 Protestant and Catholic churches were randomly se-
lected from the telephone directories and a four-page questionnaire
was mailed to them. Of these questionnaires, 125 of them did not reach
the church due to an address change or the church no longer exists. This
left 764 churches/ministers in the sample pool. Each church was as-
signed an identification number that was noted on the questionnaire so
that there would be a record as to which completed questionnaire was
returned. Churches that did not respond to the first mailing received a
second mailing two and one-half to eight weeks later. Follow-up tele-
phone calls (a maximum of four attempts to each church) were made
two to eight weeks after the second mailing to those churches that still
did not respond to the mailings, in an attempt to increase the response
rate and to explore reasons for non-participation. These telephone calls
followed a script that was developed to insure uniformity in the calls.
Telephone calls were made to 532 churches. A total of two hundred
ninety-four (a 38% response rate) usable questionnaires were returned
and used in this study.
Traditionally, a research method that uses mailed questionnaires
tends to elicit a low response rate from its participants. In past research
studies that used mailed questionnaires among the clergy, the response
rates seem to be influenced by the topic of the research study, or the or-
ganizational affiliation of the researcher conducting the study (e.g.,
secular vs. religious organizations). In studies that had a high re-
sponse rate among the clergy, the topics were related to religious mat-
ters or pastoral duties such as theological positions (65% response rate
in Gilbert, 1982), styles of pastoral counseling (37.6% response rate in
Beech, 1970) and needs assessment of the pastors counseling demands
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 45
(72% response rate in Ruppert & Rogers, 1985). Studies that examined
topics unrelated to the traditional pastoral duties seem to have a lower
response rate even though these studies included additional mailings
and follow-up telephone calls to increase the response rate. Ammerran
(1970) conducted a study on the relationship between religion and poli-
tics that had a response rate of 35%. McDaniel (1989) explored the
views held by the clergy toward various marketing activities in a na-
tional survey that had a response rate of 29%.
Sensitive topics that were seemingly unrelated to the traditional pas-
toral duties or where the clergy have less experience in the area may
contribute to a low response rate from the clergy. Alsdurf (1985) had
conducted one of the earlier research studies in the field of spouse abuse
and the faith community. The response rate for his study was 4.9%.
Midgett (1993) of Arizona State University sent questionnaires on fam-
ily violence to ministers in Arizona. The response rate was 25%. Nancy
Nason-Clark (2000) conducted a survey among Anglican clergy in New
Brunswick, Canada on family violence. Her affiliation is with the Reli-
gion and Violence Research Team and included church representatives
among them. The response rate fromthe clergy in this survey was 60%.
MEASURING INSTRUMENTS
Five scales were used to measure the following variables: (1) tradi-
tional attitude toward Christian women; (2) fundamentalist religious
beliefs; (3) belief in myths of spouse abuse; (4) recognition of signs of
abuse; and (5) breadth of definition of abuse. In addition, there was a de-
mographic section asking for personal information (e.g., number of for-
mal counseling courses taken, denomination, the number of years in the
pastorate, self-rating on the fundamentalist-liberalismcontinuum, etc.).
Religious Attitude Inventory
The revised version of a subscale of Broens Religious Attitude
Inventory scale (Robinson & Shaver, 1973), Fundamentalism-Hu-
manitarianism, measured the degree of adherence to fundamentalist
religious beliefs. This scale allowed for a more accurate reflection of the
ministers religious beliefs rather than through their identification with
a particular denominational affiliation. This 20-item Likert scale in-
cluded such statements as: There is really no such place as Hell. The
46 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
Bible is the word of God and must be believed in its entirety. The reli-
ability coefficient was 0.90.
Attitude Toward Christian Women
A principle component factor analysis with varimax rotation was
performed on Postovoits (1990) Attitude Toward Christian Women
scale. The results showed that three subscales were the most logical di-
vision rather than five as indicated by Postovoit. These three new
subscales were: (1) Females Rights/Worth (eight items, reliability co-
efficient was 0.81); (2) Male Headship (six items, reliability coefficient
was 0.81); and (3) Equality of Sexes (five items, reliability coefficient
was 0.64). These Likert subscales contained statements that described
patriarchal and egalitarian attitudes toward women and the ramifica-
tions those attitudes may have on a Christian womans role in the fam-
ily, church and community. Examples included such statements as:
The woman should never desire to teach the man, but should always
learn from him in subjection and quiet submission. Wives and hus-
bands are commanded to treat each other as equals in mutual submis-
sion. The Bible shows that Christian women can be prophets, leaders,
wives and mothers.
Belief in Myths of Spouse Abuse, Recognition of Signs of Battered
Women, and Breadth of Definition of Wife Abuse
An additional three new Likert scales were developed for this study:
Belief in Myths of Spouse Abuse, Recognition of Signs of Battered
Women, and Breadth of Definition of Wife Abuse. The ten-item Belief
in Myth scale measured the degree to which one believes in myths sur-
rounding spouse abuse and included such statements as: The abuse
cannot be that terrible or the women would leave. Batterers are uned-
ucated men who are unable to cope with the world. The reliability co-
efficient for this subscale was 0.83. The eleven-item Recognition of
Signs of Battered Women scale measured the degree to which one rec-
ognizes the signs of wife abuse and included such statements as: She
seems to take the blame for mishaps in the family. She is hesitant to
provide information when asked about her relationship/marriage. The
reliability coefficient was 0.90. The 21-item Breadth of Definition of
Wife Abuse scale measured the extent to which one defines certain be-
haviors as abusive, and it included such statements as: He monitors
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 47
how she spends her time (run errands, commute to work, etc.) and He
screams and yells at her. The items included behaviors that were
considered physically, psychologically and financially abusive. Re-
spondents were asked to rate each itemwith regards to whether it rep-
resented wife abuse. The reliability coefficient was 0.96.
POTENTIAL LIMITATIONS
Maturation
This threat to validity was most probable among those ministers/priests
who received the first mailing, read it but delayed in filling out the ques-
tionnaire. Between the first and second mailing (two and one-half
weeks to eight weeks), they might have become sensitized to the issue
of battered women. This increased awareness could have affected their
responses such as increased suspicion of spouse abuse. However, any
increased awareness would presumably affect both fundamentalist and
liberal ministers.
Mono-Method Bias
All the measuring instruments used a pencil-paper method. This
method was chosen because of the sample size and the relatively large
number of measuring instruments. Personal interviews could have been
added as another method and the responses could differ. The sensitivity
of the topic and the more probable threat of social-desirability bias,
however, over-ruled the choice of using personal interviews for all the
ministers. It would be recommended that future research use other
methods to measure these variables.
External Validity
Generalization of data to other populations of clerics may be limited
as the sample was drawn from Protestant and Catholic clergy who have
churches in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties and nearby cities in
Los Angeles County. In addition, regional differences may attract cer-
tain personality types or denominations, or may affect the amount of so-
cial awareness of domestic violence among the ministers. However, the
data set is broad; any regional differences may be minimal.
48 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
RESULTS
There were 38 Protestant denominations represented in the study, to-
taling 237 respondents (81% of all the respondents). Forty-nine percent
(144) of the Protestant questionnaires were from seven denominations:
Assembly of God, Baptist, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Non-
denominational, and Presbyterian. The ministers did not further specify
their denominations (e.g., Southern Baptist, United Methodist, etc.).
The rest of the Protestant respondents (51%) were spread among 31
other Protestant denominations. The sample size of each of these de-
nominations was not large enough to generate individual analyses.
Catholic priests returned 57 questionnaires (19% of all respondents).
Total male respondents constituted 95% (278 ministers) of the returns
and total number of female respondents was 5% (16 ministers). The
mean age of the ministers was 48.9 years; the range was from 24 to 79
years old. The ethnic background of the ministers was predominantly
Caucasian/Anglo (79%). Hispanic/Latino constituted 8% of the minis-
ters; African-American/Black 6.1%; Asian/Pacific Islander 4%and Na-
tive American 2%.
Differences Among the Ministers
Data analyses included the exploration of potential differences among
categories of ministers. Table 1 indicates the significant differences that
were found among the different types of ministers (Protestant female,
Protestant male, and Catholic male) in relation to the areas of funda-
mentalist religious beliefs, breadth of definition of wife abuse, females
rights and male headship. The results will be discussed in the following
sections.
Fundamentalist Religious Belief. There was significant difference
among the ministers in their degree of fundamentalist religious belief.
The Protestant male ministers had scored significantly higher on the
Religious Attitude Inventory scale than either Protestant female min-
isters or Catholic ministers. This higher score (as indicated by the
mean in Table 1) indicates that the Protestant male ministers held a
significantly greater degree of fundamentalist religious belief than ei-
ther the Protestant female or Catholic priests. The Catholic priests and
the Protestant female ministers, on the other hand, were significantly
more liberal and may have a broader interpretation of the doctrines
than the Protestant male ministers. The female ministers, in particular,
may be more liberal in their interpretation of the Bible especially re-
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 49
garding womens roles. A conservative stance on womens roles would
likely not support the women being ministers.
Breadth of Definition of Wife Abuse. The ministers differed in re-
spect to their breadth of definition of wife abuse. Female ministers in-
cluded the broadest range of behaviors in their definition of wife
abuse while the Protestant male ministers included the narrowest
range of behaviors in their definition of abuse. The female ministers
seem to be more likely to define wife abuse as encompassing aspects
of abuse other than just the physical (e.g., psychological, financial,
etc.).
A similar gender influence was found in Adams and Betzs study
(1993) of gender-role attitude among victims of incest which showed
that female counselors had broader definitions of incest than did male
counselors. It is possible that female ministers may be more sensitive
to any behaviors that suggest a restriction of their freedom or behav-
iors that connote that women have less worth than men. Another pos-
sible explanation for the gender difference in the breadth of definition
may be disparity in knowledge about spouse abuse among the minis-
ters. One of the questions in the survey had asked the ministers if they
had ever attended any seminars/workshops on spouse abuse. Twenty-
six percent of the male ministers (Protestant and Catholic) and 46.7%
50 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
TABLE 1. Means, Standard Deviation and Sample Size Between Catholic
Male, Protestant Male and Female Ministers
Catholic Protestant Protestant
Male Priests Male Ministers Female Ministers
M SD N M SD N M SD N
Breadth of Definition
of Wife Abuse (p .02)
5.05
ab
.73 56 4.86
a
.82 213 5.35
b
.45 16
Belief in Myth of Spouse
Abuse (p .10)
1.86
a
.70 56 1.72
a
.70 214 1.46
a
.34 16
Recognition of Signs
of Abuse (p .03)
4.27
a
.92 55 4.06
a
.87 213 4.58
a
.90 16
Fundamentalist Religious
Belief (p.00)
3.64
b
.72 51 4.99
a
.88 211 3.63
b
1.39 16
Females' Rights/Worth
(p.00)
4.79
a
.93 53 4.43
a
1.15 206 5.56
b
.53 16
Male Headship (p .00) 2.60
b
.77 55 3.18
a
.82 210 2.11
b
.52 15
Equality of Sexes (p .16) 4.91
a
.69 55 5.07
a
.56 216 4.94
a
.35 16
Note: The means in the same row that share the same superscript are not significantly different by Tukeys.
of the female ministers indicated that they had attended seminars/work-
shops on spouse abuse. Since more female ministers attended semi-
nars/workshops on spouse abuse, they would be more cognizant of the
types of behaviors that would be considered abusive, hence, defined
wife abuse accordingly.
It is also possible that some male ministers may be reflecting a pa-
triarchal mind set in seeing the behaviors that are seemingly more
male-dominant as normal behaviors in a marriage. There were a few
male ministers who commented that it was difficult to rate the behaviors
on a scale from abusive to not abusive, because they considered
some of the items on the scale to be normal occurrences in a marriage
(However, all these items had been selected for the scale because they
were defined as abusive in the domestic violence literature).
Religious belief also appears to influence the ministers breadth of
definition of abuse. Correlation analysis showed that ministers who
scored higher on fundamentalism (as indicated on the Religious Atti-
tude Inventory scale), tended to have a narrower definition of wife
abuse [r (275) 2.18, p .002]. Thus, Protestant male ministers who
had the greatest adherence to fundamentalism had the most narrow
breadth of definition of abuse.
Male Headship. Male headship refers to the belief that men have
greater importance or responsibility in the family and in the church.
Protestant male ministers endorsement of male headship was signifi-
cantly greater than that of either the female ministers or Catholic priests.
The degree of adherence to fundamentalist religious belief appears to
affect the ministers perspective on male headship. The Protestant male
ministers who had the greatest adherence to fundamentalist religious
belief had the greatest degree of endorsement of male headship among
the ministers.
Females Rights/Worth. Table 1 also shows that there was a signifi-
cant difference across gender among the ministers regarding their per-
spectives on females rights/worth. Female ministers were inclined to
advocate for a greater degree of females rights than male ministers;
female ministers advocated greater freedom for women in terms of
their roles in the church and home than male ministers. Advocacy for
greater freedom for women may be a reflection of the female minis-
ters continuing struggle in the faith community as their role is still
considered controversial in some denominations. Schurman (1991)
related his experience in having counseled women clergy who felt that
the price of their entering the ministry was very high due to sexism in
the church, and many have left because of that price. Female ministers
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 51
may consciously or unconsciously identify with battered women in
their struggles for rights of personhood in a patriarchal structure. This
possible identification is alluded by Keen (1999). Keen reported that a
study on female ministers found that clergywomen face the same con-
flicts as other professional women. . . . .But they also must interpret
Scriptures that are biased against women and struggle with a traditional
male model in their denominations. This seemingly similar experience
of female ministers and battered women in a patriarchal society may
lead to a greater willingness by female ministers to question their fe-
male parishioners about wife abuse. At the same time, battered women
may feel more comfortable and accepted in discussing their abuse with
ministers who also happen to be female.
Asking Women About Wife Abuse
The ministers were asked the question in the questionnaire: In the
past 12 months, have you ever asked a woman (parishioner/non-parish-
ioner) if she was abused by her partner? A Chi-square test showed that
there was a significant difference among ministers regarding whether or
not they asked women about wife abuse. Sixty-three percent of the
Catholic ministers asked a woman about abuse compared to 50.9%
Protestant male ministers and 87.5% of Protestant female ministers (2,
N 291) 9.83, p 0.01.
When the two variables, fundamentalist religious belief and denomi-
nation (Protestant and Catholic) were controlled using logistic regres-
sion, female ministers were found to be 8.4 times more likely to ask
about wife abuse than males (95% C.I. 1.8, 41.0, p .008). Female min-
isters may feel more comfortable in asking women about wife abuse
than male ministers because of their common gender. It is also possible
that their attendance at more spouse abuse seminars have taught them
the appropriate approach in addressing spouse abuse with victims. To
the battered woman, the female minister holds the position of a spiritual
adviser and confidant and as a woman, she may have greater empathy
for the battered womans predicament. The battered women would
probably be more inclined to discuss incidents of abuse that included
sexual abuse with another female counselor. McCutcheon (1989) made
a similar suggestion in her article on female ministers: the woman min-
ister is endowed with maternal characteristics projecting a mother or
sister image. . . . Their intuition is helpful in detecting and healing hurts.
Expressing love, compassion and understanding comes naturally. . . .
Women can be more intimate in their relationship with one of their own
52 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
sex (Vital Christianity, 14). In addition, when the variablesgender
and denomination (Protestant and Catholic)were controlled, minis-
ters who endorsed the rights and worth of females were more likely to
ask about abuse (O.R. 1.2, 95% C.I. 1.02, 1.61, p .031). The ministers
who are more likely to endorse females rights/worth, or an egalitarian
gender role may be more apt to or comfortable with asking women
about spouse abuse because they may not see this issue divided into the
spiritual realm and the secular realm. When ministers are comfort-
able with discussing spouse abuse, the battered women would be more
inclined to disclose to them. This effect was also evident in a study con-
ducted by Banikiotes and Merluzzi (1981) with 35 female subjects on
counselor gender-role orientation. The subjects expressed greater com-
fort in disclosing to female rather than male counselors, and to egalitar-
ian gender-role rather than traditional gender-role counselors.
Ministers Perception of the Degree of Responsibility of the Wife,
Husband and the Minister in Spouse Abuse
The ministers were asked to rate the degree of responsibility that the
wife and the husband have in spouse abuse on a scale between zero
(not at all responsible) and nine (totally responsible). Table 2 shows
the mean differences among the ministers. There was no significant dif-
ference among the three categories of ministers regarding the degree of
the wifes responsibility for spouse abuse. All the ministers tended to
rate the wife as having little responsibility in an abusive situation.
There were significant differences among the ministers, however, re-
garding the perceived responsibility of the husband for wife abuse. The
Catholic priests rated the husband as having significantly lower respon-
sibility than did either the Protestant male ministers or female ministers.
This might suggest that the differences among the ministers views on
the husbands responsibility may be due to the ministers degree of ad-
herence to fundamentalist religious belief rather than to differences be-
tween the Protestant and Catholic religions. However, when multiple
regression was used to examine which variables from among gender,
denomination, male headship, fundamentalist religious belief, females
rights and worth, and equality of the sexes predicted responsibility of
the husband, the only variable that predicted responsibility of the hus-
band was denomination (Catholic or Protestant). One could speculate
that there is a difference in perception of gender roles between the
denominations, however, the relatively small sample sizes of Catho-
lic priests and female ministers do not allowfor this analysis. Further
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 53
research with a larger sample size of female ministers and Catholic
ministers would be needed to examine the differences between the de-
nominations.
The ministers were also asked to rate the responsibility they have (as
ministers) to intervene when they become aware of occurrences of
spouse abuse in their congregations. There was only a significant differ-
ence in the rating between the Catholic male and Protestant male minis-
ters. The Catholic priests rated their level of responsibility significantly
lower than did the Protestant male ministers. Possibly Catholic priests
might be likely to learn about the abuse in confession and feel that they
could not divulge that confidence or take an active role in the interven-
tion.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Our society today seems more complex with a relatively fluid family
structure, greater stress, changing gender roles, and seemingly more in-
cidents of violence. Many people often do not have a strong support
systemwithin their families or extended families, especially in our tran-
sient society. The church then often becomes a place of refuge for fami-
lies, a place for the wounded and broken-hearted. To give comfort
and healing, the church would need to bridge the gap between the sec-
ular world and the spiritual world. By working collaboratively with
54 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
TABLE 2. Ministers Perception of the Level of Responsibility of the Wife, Hus-
band and the Minister in Spouse Abuse
Catholic Male Protestant Male Protestant Female
Priests Ministers Ministers
M SD N M SD N M SD N
Wife (p.28) 4.54
a
1.90 48 4.09
a
2.65 268 3.40
a
2.29 15
Husband (p.00) 6.70
a
1.58 48 7.46
b
1.50 208 8.27
b
.70 15
Ministers (p.00) 6.10
b
2.00 52 7.14
a
1.55 216 7.08
ab
1.93 15
Notes: High number in means equals greater level of responsibility. M refers to the means and SD refers to the
standard deviations.
Means of variables in the same row that share a letter in their superscript are not significantly different by Tukey's
HSD.
community agencies, the church can help bring about spiritual, physical
and emotional healing to their parishioners.
The results in this study suggest that a ministers degree of adherence
to fundamentalist religious belief and sometimes their gender may in-
fluence their perceptions of and interventions with battered women.
Among the ministers, significant differences were found in the areas of
fundamentalist religious beliefs, breadth of definition of wife abuse, fe-
males rights/worth and male headship. It appears that fundamentalist
religious belief has a significant effect on the breadth of definition, male
headship and females rights. It also impacts whether or not ministers
ask women about spouse abuse. The greater the ministers adherence to
fundamentalist religious belief, the narrower their definition of wife
abuse, greater adherence to male headship and greater belief in myths of
spouse abuse. The results are not suggesting that ministers who hold
fundamentalist religious belief are harmful to battered women or in-
effective in helping battered women. Ministers have often sacrificed
greatly to take up the call of the ministry. They are on-call 24 hours a
day, seven days a week to meet the needs of their parishioners. Minis-
ters with fundamentalist religious beliefs may be resistant to discussing
societal issues or working with secular agencies. But there are areas
where they cannot meet the needs of their parishioners. It may be neces-
sary to set aside religious differences to form collaborative relation-
ships in the community to mutually benefit each other in addressing this
issue of spouse abuse. There are battered women who want spiritual
guidance but use counseling services in secular agencies. The coun-
selors there may not be able to address the spiritual issues. It would be
helpful for these agencies to have ministers they can refer the women to
receive the spiritual guidance. Ministers can help train social workers
and counselors regarding major spiritual concerns that battered women
may have in facing abuse. Counselors/therapists can train ministers in
areas of crisis intervention, the dynamics of abusive relationships, rec-
ognizing signs of abuse, etc.
It would be important for the ministers to examine whether or not
there are components within their religious beliefs that may become
barriers to themin obtaining more information about abuse and learning
appropriate interventions. It would be helpful for ministers to be aware
that adherence to strict/traditional gender roles may prevent them from
having a clear understanding of spouse abuse and asking women about
spouse abuse. A lack of understanding or absence of discussion about
abuse within the church may inhibit battered women and batterers from
disclosing their abusive situations and seeking help.
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 55
The gender of the ministers also seems to have an influence in spouse
abuse intervention. The female ministers tended to have a broader defi-
nition of wife abuse, and they were more likely to ask about abuse than
male ministers. In addition, almost twice as many female ministers at-
tended seminars on spouse abuse than male ministers. It would be inter-
esting to explore in future studies some of the reasons that led ministers
to attend seminars on spouse abuse. This increased knowledge would
have given the female ministers greater understanding of spouse abuse,
increased their comfort level in asking women about spouse abuse and
appropriately intervene when necessary. Because of the complexity of
our society at this time, it is important for ministers to understand the
different societal issues that afflict their parishioners beyond the spiri-
tual interpretation of the issues. In some states, ministers are already
mandated reporters for child abuse. It would not be surprising if they
would become mandated reporters for domestic violence in the future.
In rating the degree of responsibility of the wife and husband in
spouse abuse and the minister in intervening in such incidents, there
was no difference among the ministers regarding the wifes level of re-
sponsibility. If the ministers are stating that the wife has the least
amount of responsibility, then why do Christian battered women en-
counter blame for the abuse in the church? Is it possible that even
though the ministers do not blame the battered women, neither do they
openly advocate for them from the pulpit? Is this implicit silence then
erroneously translated to be that the church condones domestic vio-
lence? Such silence could further alienate the church from its parishio-
ners and other members of the community.
The denomination of the ministers, however, appears to influence
their rating of the degree of responsibility of the husband in wife abuse
and the ministers responsibility in intervening. The Catholic priests
rated the husbands level of responsibility significantly lower than the
Protestant ministers, and the Catholic priests rated their responsibility
significantly lower compared to the Protestant male ministers. More re-
search, however, may be needed to examine the components within
each denomination that may explain the differences in the rating of re-
sponsibility assigned to the husband and the minister in wife abuse.
Ministers have a respected and trusted position, and their influence is
substantial in the lives of their parishioners. Intervening in spouse abuse
is a responsibility of the faith communities as it often negatively affects
the spiritual lives of those involved in the abuse. The safety of the vic-
tims and children must be of primary importance. It would be helpful to
create an environment in the church so that spouse abuse could be dis-
56 JOURNAL OF RELIGION & ABUSE
cussed openly and appropriate interventions implemented. Addressing
the problem of wife abuse within the faith community is also scriptural
in that . . . if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it . . . (I
Corinthians. 12:26a).
RECOMMENDATION FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
A concern for any research on a sensitive issue is the effect of social
desirability. It is difficult to determine this effect in this study. At least
one minister had made an off-hand comment about not wanting to be la-
beled a fundamentalist based on his answers on the questionnaire. It
would be advisable to include a social desirability scale in future re-
search. The results indicated that there were significant differences be-
tween male ministers for some of the variables, unfortunately the
sample size of female ministers was small in this study. Increasing the
sample size of female ministers may reveal more significant relation-
ships among the variables.
The findings alluded to certain relationships among the variables that
need further exploration. Future research may provide insights toward
identifying components within fundamentalist religious belief that
could specifically affect ones attitudes toward gender roles. As this
study surveyed the ministers perspective regarding wife abuse, it
would be necessary to survey a large sample of battered women in the
faith community regarding their perspective of the ministers interven-
tions.
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Received: 05/01
Revised: 08/01
Accepted: 09/01
Sue Wong Gengler and Jerry W. Lee 59
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