Church Omits 'Obey' from Marriage Vows to Tackle Domestic Abuse

A Church of England report has stated that traditional vows taken in wedding ceremonies, in which the bride promises to "obey" her husband, could be used by some men to justify domestic violence.

|PIC1|The report has been released by the Church of England and is backed by its spiritual head, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. It accused the Church of failing to develop itself in many "points" which could be used to prevent abuse.

Traditional theological ideals that promote the man as being the head of the family have been deeply embedded into the wedding ceremony, and concerns have now come out that these could be misinterpreted by some. In particular, the report highlighted that the teaching of a wife submitting herself to her husband could be construed in an extreme and physical way.

The origin of the wedding vows used in Anglican services can be traced back to the Book of Common Prayer, as authorised by King Henry VIII.

In traditional Church of England vows undertaken by those taking part in holy matrimony, the husband promises "to love and cherish" his wife "till death us do part", while the wife promises to "love, cherish, and obey" her husband.

However, the report has urged Church ministers to emphasise to couples preparing for marriage that men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.

It stated that the use of the word "obey" could possibly be outdated for use in today's society with regards to marriage.

The report said that the Church had, intentionally or unintentionally, reinforced abuse, failing to challenge abusers, and had therefore intensified the suffering of survivors, often through "misguided" or distorted versions of Christian belief.

|QUOTE|It said that if people were given a deformed view of their relationship with God as being one of domination and submission, and interpreted the character of God with masculine imagery, it could bring about "overbearing and ultimately violent patterns of behaviour".

Even more worrying, victims could even see themselves as deserving of the abuse they were receiving, simply as a normal part of their marriage. In a way they would be in a state of "self-denial", and not take action against the abuse they were experiencing.

The report, 'Responding to Domestic Abuse, Guidelines for Pastoral Responsibility', tells churches to adapt and become places of safety for survivors of domestic abuse. In particular, the Church will now offer an alternative version of marriage vows, omitting the word "obey".

Launching the guidelines, the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said: "We hope that these guidelines will play a small part in helping break down the silence and secrecy surrounding domestic abuse and equipping any of us entrusted by victim, survivor or perpetrator to offer the most appropriate care. These guidelines build on much good work already happening in dioceses and other agencies."

Davina James-Hanman, Director of the Greater London Domestic Abuse Project, welcomed the publication: "Domestic violence wreaks devastation on thousands of families in the UK every year - physically, emotionally and spiritually. For many victims, their faith can play a key role in supporting them in a time of upheaval and in helping them to heal from its effects. Church leaders can play a vital role in educating congregations and in ensuring that churches can be a safe haven for victims to get help and support. The key to effectively addressing domestic violence is partnership working and I am pleased that the Church of England is joining us in our quest to ensure every home is a safe home."

Kathleen Ben Rabha, Community Affairs Adviser to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and the mover of the motion that led to the guidelines, said: "This is evidence that the Church of England is recognising the issue of Domestic Violence and its catastrophic impact on people - women, men and children - and is preparing itself for a more informed pastoral response."