Jesus wants you to beat your wife? The dangers of ‘Christian Domestic Discipline’

Biblically backed gender hierarchy, combined with a perverse biblical authority to use violence against your wife to maintain “Christian marriage,” is apparently growing in popularity in very conservative Christian circles.

According to the website “Christian Domestic Discipline,”  “A Domestic Discipline (DD) marriage is one in which one partner is given authority over the other, and has the means to back up that authority, usually by spanking.”  In other words, violence is justified against wives in a “traditional, male-led, Christian marriage…set up according to biblical standards.”

In the “biblical standards” department, no Gospels need apply and Jesus of Nazareth is never quoted despite what these self-styled Christian advocates of this form of abuse would like you to believe.  Of course, that is because there is nothing Jesus ever said or did that could even be bent or twisted enough to justify domestic violence as “Christian.”

Instead, the site turns to Ephesians and the Roman Household Duty Codes that became part of the New Testament as Roman and Greek understandings of hierarchy, authority and even violence were imported into Christianity.

The “Christian Domestic Discipline” website makes this clear with its biblical citation:

  • The husband is the head of the household, whilst the wife is submissive to her husband as if the Lord Himself was her husband. See Eph. 5:22-24.

As I wrote in “Every Two Minutes: Battered Women and Feminist Interpretation,” Ephesians is a very difficult text for Christian abused women as the text seems to validate their husbands demands for “submission,” and the text makes the claim that submission by wives is God’s will for marriage.  The physical and emotional abuse that often results from such unequal power relations therefore seems divinely ordained.

“In the pseudo-Pauline epistles, a shift away from the egalitarian ethos of the Jesus movement can be observed. Ephesians was written about the same time as Colossians, another epistle where the subjection of wives to husbands is emphasized.”

Women, I wrote, need to claim liberation from these “subjection” texts and move on to other more justice-affirming, egalitarian biblical texts.

When we #OccupytheBible, it is also always helpful to look for the economic “hook.”  Even on, sure enough, there it was.  The link to the economy. Inserted below the biblical text bullets was an ad where a woman is being spanked by her husband for not testing to see if the coffee she purchased was fresh enough.

The “cultural values” represented in this ad and as cited by this website are very revealing.  There isn’t enough in the pseudo-Pauline literature to justify abuse, so consumer culture is recruited to make the closing argument.

This is, without qualification, dangerous.

In my experience as a domestic violence counselor, many battering incidents have as the trigger a male’s sense of entitlement to the proper preparation of food as well as to the woman doing general household chores to his liking.

This “movement” called “Christian Domestic Discipline” is nothing more than yet another religiously based conservative effort to justify domestic violence and excuse it as “Christian.”

It is nothing of the sort.

It’s immoral, and it’s criminal.

[If you are being violently treated and need help, call the domestic violence hot line at (800) 799- SAFE (7233) or visit their website here. Keep in mind that computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. Digital or landline phones can also be monitored.  If necessary, go to a safer computer such as at a library, or use a pay phone.]

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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5 Responses to Jesus wants you to beat your wife? The dangers of ‘Christian Domestic Discipline’

  1. misseagle says:

    Dear Susan, Here in Australia I have a couple of conversations going on Facebook and Twitter about this post which i uploaded to the aforesaid sites. Could you please enlarge on the “pseudo-Paulian” concept. Does this mean that some of Paul’s letters are OK and others not? How does this concept of female discipline transfer itself to children, violence, paedophilia? Thank you for providing this information. There is so much darkness in the church around attitudes to women that this sort of information needs wide currency. I am an Anglican (Episcopalian in the USA). I am currently living in an Anglo-Catholic Diocese which won’t ordain women. My biggest bugbear is that while Mary Magdalene could carry the good news of the resurrection to the male Apostles – to the extent that she is called the Apostle to the Apostles – I cannot stand up in my church and read the gospel account of what Mary did!

    • Dear miss eagle: “Pseudo-Pauline” letters refers to letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul but not very likely written by him. Ephesians as well as Colossians, with their “wives be obedient to your husbands” theme is not Paul’s view, but introduced to accommodate Christianity to Roman culture and the Roman legal concepts of hierarchy in the household of male householders having absolute authority over women and slaves.

      Thank you for asking, and I hope the following articles are helpful to you. Best. Susan

      Here is an excellent introductory summary of this concept and why it makes a difference by John Dominic Crossan, a very famous New Testament Scholar.

      “Christianity’s New Testament attributes 13 letters to the apostle Paul: letters to communities such as the Romans, Corinthians (twice), Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians (twice) and to individuals such as Timothy (twice), Titus and Philemon.

      There is, however, a massive consensus in modern scholarship that those three letters to Timothy and Titus were written in Paul’s name but long after his death. It would seen, then, that around 1265 a Byzantine artist at Sopoćani already accepted that viewpoint — hence, only 10 scrolls for 10 letters.

      There is also a strong (but not massive) consensus among much of modern scholarship that a further three of those 10 letters were not written by Paul. In other words, we have seven letters certainly from the historical Paul (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), three others probably not from him (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians) and a final three certainly not from him (1-2 Timothy, Titus).

      The problem is that those post-Pauline or Pseudo-Pauline letters are primarily counter-Pauline and anti-Pauline. What happens across those three sets of letters is that the radical Paul of the authentic seven letters (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon) is slowly but steadily morphed into the conservative Paul of the probably inauthentic threesome (Ephesians Colossians, 2 Thessalonians) and finally into the reactionary Paul of those certainly inauthentic ones (1-2 Timothy, Titus).

      In other words, the radical Paul is being deradicalized, sanitized and Romanized. His radical views on, for example, slavery and patriarchy, are being retrofitted into Roman cultural expectations and Roman social presuppositions. Watch, then, how it works in terms of slavery (I leave patriarchy for my next blog in this series on Paul):

      [SBT: and that can be found at:

  2. Joel Cruz says:

    thanks for the insight. I grew up in a Latino, highly conservative, patriarchal, Pentecostal church and even as a teenager could see how the “submission” texts were being used to deprive women of their voices both in the church and in their marriages. I took a look at the CCD website and find it incredibly interesting that a) there is a section that links to “secular” sites dealing with wifely discipline that Christians are encouraged to read “prayerfully.” They appear to be nothing more then S/M stories. It adds a new facet to this dangerous movement. Are these evangelical men (and some women) trying to justify an “ungodly” desire for sexual kink by using the Bible? Are women being sexually, as well as spiritually and emotionally used and abused as objects to their husband’s fetishes? The site claims that there will be a store added soon. i’m not sure I want to see what kinds of things they will be selling–paddles with Scripture verses? whips? “chains of Christ?” To many the barely veiled S/M aspect of this is totally obvious but whereas in the BDSM community, as I understand it, submission and domination are consensual, here there is none of that. It’s just abuse.

  3. Nearly every bad thing about “Christianity” could be resolved by eliminating the writings attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Saul of Tarsus. So many of the admonitions in the Pauline Letters are in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus Christ, but conveniently justify the continuation of patriarchy.

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