Spiritual Abuse: Ephesians 5, Coercive Control, and the Domineering Personality
There are several types of domestic abuse, many of which I’ve discussed in previous posts (verbal, psychological, sexual, emotional). However, I haven’t yet spoken about an extremely toxic form of manipulation that’s particularly evil because it can cause a person to begin doubting the one thing that may be holding her together:
Her relationship with God.
Spiritual abuse, especially using Sacred Scripture as a manipulative weapon to “prove” why a wife supposedly has to tolerate the toxic behavior of her husband, is an attack not only against the victim, but against God Himself.
There’s a great deal I could discuss about the various aspects of spiritual abuse. For this post I want to focus on the one Bible verse that’s most often quoted out of context, the one that’s commonly used by abusive personalities as an excuse for coercive control and other venomous manipulations. Yes, I’m talking about …
“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.”
If any man cites this verse as “proof” of why his wife must be wholly submissive to his domestic authority, you can be fairly certain you’re dealing with someone who uses coercive control as a way of dominating his relationship in unhealthy, unbalanced ways.
This is not the mutual self-giving the Catholic Church teaches.
This is domestic abuse, plain and simple.
“As bishops, we condemn the use of the Bible to support abusive behavior in any form. A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships based on mutuality and love … Men who abuse often use Ephesians 5:22, taken out of context, to justify their behavior, but the passage (v. 21-33) refers to the mutual submission of husband and wife out of love for Christ. Husbands should love their wives as they love their own body, as Christ loves the Church.”
What’s of particular interest about Ephesians 5—and a fact that’s not mentioned nearly enough—is that the world “submissive” (υποτασσομαι) isn’t even in the original Greek text of Ephesians 5:22. In truth, the word is used in the previous verse, Ephesians 5:21, a verse that refers to the mutual submission of husband and wife to the love of each other.
This isn’t a power-over, male superiority type of submission, but rather that of authentic love—just as Christ loves the Church.