Steven Sandage, a professor of Psychology of Religion and Theology at Boston University, recently conducted a study that reveals a link between belief in Calvinism and domestic violence.
Calvinism, named after theologian John Calvin, preaches a strong belief in ultimate depravity. It also emphasizes God’s sovereignty over free will, meaning God decides at birth who is to be saved and who is not. (I find it interesting that all the Calvinists I’ve ever heard of are among that elect group of saved people. But I digress…)
As explained in RELEVANT Magazine, Sandage had seminary students across the religious spectrum answer questions about God and their views of gender and relationships.
What he found was disturbing.
Sandage summarizes the upshot of his research: “Many Christian theologies emphasize the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, but the New Calvinism seems to promote a rather stoic and un-empathic attitude that valorizes suffering, particularly among women.… Calvinist beliefs were related to higher levels of domestic violence myth acceptance and lower levels of social justice commitment.”
In the Calvinist view, “God causes all things, including hierarchical social structures and all suffering,” he says. “Domination by the powerful,” be it God or men, “is just and appropriate, and submission to suffering by the less powerful is virtuous and redemptive.”He doesn’t contend that all people embracing Calvinism endorse domestic violence myths: “There are many contemporary Calvinists who hold progressive views of gender and other social issues. But our research does offer some data suggesting the ‘New Calvinism’ that combines Calvinistic beliefs and very conservative, binary views of gender may be a kind of theological risk factor for the acceptance of domestic violence myths and other socially regressive attitudes.”
Mind you, the study, published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, shows correlation between Calvinist beliefs and domestic violence, not causation. Still, it’s not surprising that people who sincerely believe that every human being is depraved are more likely to accept violence in relationships — or myths that suggest why that violence occurs. That lack of empathy seems like a necessary component to spousal abuse.
As if to further corroborate Sandage’s findings, the most infamous Calvinist of our time, John Piper, once stated that women married to abusive husbands should stay in their marriages and pray for their husbands rather than seek divorce. That sentiment was also echoed by former Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson, who has been roundly criticized for it.
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