|My husband never hit me and I was miserable a lot of the time. That's when I started looking for answers--as
you are doing now. I commend you for being brave and daring enough to look for answers. Make sure you are
safe--where your partner can not check the computer's history and see you are getting informed. Try a
computer at the public library or at a friend's house. When you are on a safe computer, please return to this
site. Thank-you and God bless you!
This page will focus on "submission abuse," especially as it relates to people of the Mennonite faith. To see
more comprehensive information about abuse, to see the resources page. What I write here is
specific for Mennonites, but can also apply to other Christian denominations, or even other religions.
Although few have the combination of beliefs that Mennonites have.
Mennonites are one of the peace groups who believe violence is wrong, that a person is not to resist when
someone does evil to him or her. They not only teach that it is wrong to go to war, they also teach that it is
wrong to retaliate, to seek revenge, and some would even teach that it is wrong to be angry when mistreated.
They rarely sue or go to court, believing it is better to endure wrongful mistreatment than to fight or to bring
those with a secular viewpoint into the dispute. They are more likely to try to resolve their issues through the
church than through the courts. In other words, as Jesus taught, they "turn the other cheek" and "go the
Another background teaching is that of submission. Mennonites teach that a husband is to love his wife as
Christ loved the church, and that he is to be the head of the home, the leader, the final decision-maker. A
woman is taught that she can and should present her viewpoint to her husband, but she should not insist on
her way. Instead, she should submit to her husband and trust him to make the final decisions when they
Mennonites believe marriage is until death. Among the conservative Mennonites, divorce is allowed in rare
and extreme cases, but the divorced are likely to never quite be accepted by the congregation, and
remarriage is not allowed until the original spouse dies. Among liberal Mennonites divorce and remarriage are
allowed as a concession to the sinful reality of the human condition, but couples still try very hard to avoid
divorce. Thus divorce is rare. In 1998 research revealed that only 4% of Mennonites had ever divorced. More
recently, in 2006, a book by Conrad Kanagy entitled Road Signs for the Journey reports that divorce among
Mennonites has increased to just over 10% of those in the sample.
If a counselor of a non-Mennonite background were to work with a Mennonite woman, the counselor would be
likely to think the woman had developed "learned helplessness," thus blaming the woman, and would try to
teach her how not to be helpless, which would feel to the Mennonite woman like she was being pressured to
drop beliefs that are faith-based ones. It is very important for counselors to familiarize themselves with a
clients' faith beliefs so as to not instill distrust in the counselor/client relationship. In the case of a Mennonite
woman, a counselor can build the woman's sense of what is right, and even her faith, by stopping her focus on
her own faults and instead focusing on what a husband's love should look like, how it would behave if a
husband followed the teachings that are specifically for him. A woman should submit to being cherished (not
smothered or controlled), as in "Honey, you look tired. Why don't you go to bed and I'll wash the dishes and
put the kids to bed?" or "What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime?" (instead of the focus being on his
goals and aspirations, likes and dislikes.) This approach would build her faith and her sense of self, instead of
Because of their beliefs against violence, and because of the emphasis on submission, it is my belief that
Mennonite men who choose to be controlling or abusive are less likely to resort to physical violence against
their wives, although a few men do eventually choose to hit or otherwise physically abuse their wives.
Instead, Mennonite men rely heavily on their authority rights, and may turn to pastors or threaten to turn to
pastors to coerce their wives to yield. Some would say if it's not any worse than that, we shouldn't make a big
deal about it. But I disagree. Even though most Mennonite men rely on other forms of controlling their wives,
because a few resort to physical violence, and both women and children are in danger of being seriously
injured and even killed, it is still necessary to do everything we can to stop DV (domestic violence). And I
believe for Mennonites and for other groups who emphasize the submission of women and the authority of
men, it is imperitive to battle DV long before it becomes physical. We still do not know at what point a woman's
or her children's mental and/or physical health will collapse or deteriorate because of the mental, emotional
and spiritual abuse they feel forced to endure because of the collective pressure of their church community.
It's probably easier for a Mennonite man than for a secular man to use economic abuse, because many
Mennonite wives are homemakers or only have part time jobs. Few have careers, and those who do are
usually among the liberal Mennonites. Therefore, the husband is usually the primary breadwinner and can use
that fact in addition to his "God-given authority" to control the purse strings. Many Mennonites are farmers or
own their own businesses, which makes it very easy to spend the lions share of the family's income on
expensive things like top-of-the-line workboots ("needed" for the job), big tractors and other machinery, etc,
while limiting their wives and children household and personal items, and limiting their activities as well.
Some men may give their wives a certain amount of money to spend, while others give them the check book,
but scold and/or rant and rave if not pleased with the purchases.
Mennonite men who choose the controlling route, may have a variety of ways to put their wives down. As
mentioned under "male privilege" they may call her the names of bad Bible characters, like Jezebel, or claim
that it was a woman who brought the curse on human beings, therefore she along with all women deserves to
be demeaned. He may play mind games, humiliate her, or make her feel guilty. All have more power if he uses
bible teaching to strengthen what he says.
Again, it's fairly easy to isolate a wife who stays at home with children all day, to limit her social life to church
services and activities. Isolation is very important in his effort to control her, because it limits her access to
other sources of information. If her conversations with friends are limited to a few minutes, she will never get
to the deeper more personal things like if she is doing enough, being submissive enough, or that HE is the
one who is out of line. Limiting her access to money makes it easy to keep her from getting out to go
shopping--unless absolutely necessary. Another trick is to find ways to add to her work load, or to refuse to
help with household or children. Some men may order their wives to stay home or not talk to certain people,
while others are more subtle and isolate by using various tactics to drive a wedge between friends.
The belief in God-given male privilege can't help but show up in the bedroom. As with all the other tactics, this
one, too, can use any of the other power tactics to gain or maintain the goal of dominance over the wife. And
in this case, too, it is made worse by the submission doctrine that is far too often over-emphasized in church
teachings. And it's not just in teaching from the pulpit. It's in what women teach each other about always being
sexually available, always yielding. It's in the wife-blaming opinions offered when it becomes apparent a
couple is not getting along. Little is said about the expectations of men who are into porn and demand
degrading things from their wives, or about the men who put their wives down by day and expect sexual favors
from them by night. And again, the husband has the final word. It is his decision if his expectations are
degrading or if his behavior is putting her down. What she says, thinks or feels doesn't count. And like as not
her sexual pleasure or satisfaction doesn't count to him, either. For the husband who thinks he must control
his wife, his satisfaction is all that matters.
Mennonite men who choose to be controlling are likely to tell their wives as frequently as necessary that it was
God who decreed the man was to be in charge. He believes this gives him the right to define her role and his,
her work and his. For example, if he chooses to help with "women's work" he chooses what he is willing to do,
and the rest is her responsibility. Any woman who resists her husband's right to be in charge would be
considered a rebel against God, himself, which would make her into a non-Christian and headed for Hell, not
Heaven. As the Bible says, "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." In the Bible, witches were supposed to be
killed. Thus if his wife does not yield to her husband in any and every situation, her eternal future is at stake.
It would be considered one of the worst sins. Even the angels were cast out of Heaven when they rebelled
against God. If a husband calls his wife Jezebel, he is saying she is a very evil, God-hating person, and he is
warning that God, himself, may have her destroyed even as He had Jezebel violently killed. The other forms of
power and control are strengthened (I think) because of the man's use of his "God-given" right to have
authority over his wife and children, and his constant reminders that she must submit to him in everything and
no matter what. That God says so.
And I add here, men who feel the need to control their wives may actually be pleased or have been pleased
with a certain behavior of their wives in the past, but change the rules in order to feel they are in control of
Coercion and Threats
A Mennonite man is more likely to threaten to report her to the pastor or to other men of power in their group.
Thus her continued failure to please him could gain her the disapproval and judgment of the couples's church
community, which in some groups may include excommunication--a very humiliating and isolating experience.
At this point in her life, a woman's church may be the only social ties she has.
Although a Mennonite man may think it wrong to attack his wife's person, he is still unlikely to destroy her
things because of heavy teaching about stewardship. To Mennonites it is very important to be "good stewards
of what God has given us." Therefore, he would be unlikely to be destructive to things. His intimidation would
be more along the line of instilling fear by stern looks aimed at making her think she's a "bad" woman because
of her imperfections or insubordination, because she didn't keep the house or garden perfect enough, didn't
cook good enough or on time, or didn't handle the children well enough. He may also use his larger size to
cause her to fear him. Simply towering over her while he chews her out has an intimidating effect, causing
her to feel vulnerable and not safe. So does yelling--especially when his voice is substantially louder than
hers. Claiming to be smarter, more able than his wife to "correctly divide the word of truth," and that his wife
is lacking in reasoning skills and logic, is another way husbands claim they "have a corner on God." If he really
does have superior logic skills, a loving husband would be using them to help his wife grow in that area, partly
because he genuinely wants her to be able to put up red flags if his thinking becomes skewed.
Again, a Mennonite man can easily use the children by refusing to help care for them, thus adding to his wife's
workload, and keeping her isolated at home and away from people. He can also blame her for their children's
behavior, thus making her feel guilty or not good enough as a mother. A woman who feels she is lacking is
less likely to want to be social. He can also use this one in conjunction with almost any of the other control
tactics. For example, he can threaten to report her poor parenting to the pastor and ask that the pastor
counsel her on how to be a good wife and mother.
Minimizing, Denying and Blaming
This one can help Mennonite men twist bible teachings or otherwise mis-inform their wives. If a husband
insists he loves his wife because he would be willing to die for her as Christ died for the Church, he is
minimizing both Christ's love and the love the husband is commanded to have for his wife. Or if he claims he
is loving her because he is providing food and shelter for her, he again is minimizing the self-sacrificial love
the passage is talking about. If a husband minimizes his own nasty behaviors, in other words, talks as if his
own bad behavior is minor and not particularly sinful, or outright denies his horrid and hurtful actions, or
blames his wife for causing him to be nasty, over time, in some part of herself, the wife will begin to believe in
her own guilt and her husband's innocence. A variation of this is the men who do help with a small portion of
the housework or childcare, and embellish it to make it sound like a huge contribution, while at the same time
claiming the major contribution of their wives was minor. Here again, if an abused wife can get access to other
people, she is less likely to believe his resizing of the truth, and less likely to blame herself.
|© Waneta Dawn 2007 Created June 2008