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Patriarchy and the abuse of power

22 March 2022

Patriarchy and the abuse of power

Subordination of anyone is not part of God’s plan for human relationships (photo jr-korpa@Unsplash)

Words Star Conliffe

“I didn’t want his sympathy, I wanted him to use his power as Prime Minister.” You might be familiar with these words, spoken by Brittany Higgins in her National Press Club address last month. She was talking about the response from the Prime Minister in relation to her allegation that she was raped in her workplace, a minister’s office at Parliament House. 

This use and abuse of power was also raised by Grace Tame, 2021 Australian of the Year, in her speech. She stated: “Sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence are all linked by this common thread; the abuse of power.” 

It’s well-known that violence against women is deeply rooted in gender-power imbalances. Wherever women are viewed as inferior to men and assigned a lower social status, resources, and opportunities, the incidence of domestic and family violence (DFV) increases. Gender-power imbalances are reinforced by harmful patriarchal gender norms and stereotypes that disempower women. While anyone can experience DFV, it is overwhelmingly men who commit domestic and sexual violence against women.

While the prevalence of DFV in the Australian community is difficult to measure, we do have reliable statistics indicating that Australian women experience violence in their relationships at devastating rates. On average, one woman is murdered each week by a current or former partner or another family member. Intimate partner homicide and violence is the greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44 and is the single greatest cause of homelessness for women and child protection notifications. Every two minutes across Australia, the police are called out to a DFV incident.


You might be surprised to learn that DFV is just as common in Christian homes. A recent report from the National Anglican Family Violence Project found the incidence of intimate partner violence to be the same or higher within Anglican families than in the general Australian public (44% compared to 38%). They concluded that Christian teachings sometimes contribute to situations of domestic violence and that perpetrators misuse Scripture and positions of power in their church or family to justify their abuse.

Some Christians still misuse the Bible to insist that we should have strict gender roles and that a woman’s place is under the authority of men. The idea that God made women subordinate to men is called ‘Christian Patriarchy’. Christian patriarchy creates gender-power imbalances that hurt women. I know this to be true because I have counselled many Christian women who have disclosed their experiences of DFV to me. Often, Scripture has been used as a weapon against them to force them to stay in violent marriages. 


In The Salvation Army, we don’t hold to Christian patriarchy. The subordination of any group of people to another, whether due to gender or skin colour or any other attribute, was never part of God’s good plan for human relationships. Jesus taught us a way of living that sets us all free from a model of power based on hierarchy and control, including within our family relationships. For this reason, The Salvation Army is working to correct our past mistakes and ensure there is gender equity in all levels of our organisation. 

If you are currently experiencing domestic or family violence, please reach out to your local Salvation Army for support. 

If you’d like to learn more about preventing violence against women and children, check out these links:

Lieutenant Star Conliffe is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Victoria.


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