Were I queen, it wouldn't be Andrea Yates on trial for the deaths of those poor children. I've stated my case on this subject before -and better than I'm feeling capable of this morning: Is This God's Will for Women?. At the very least, the social commentary (since I have no legal qualifications of any sort) ought to be about the consequences -for all of us- of these extremely conservative surrendered-wife kind of relationships.
Since I wrote that first piece, I've done a smidge of reading about this issue. It does seem clear that there are religious variations in the prevalence of domestic violence; men who hold much more conservative religious beliefs than their female partners are more likely to be violent (Ellison, Bartkowski, and Anderson, in case you care). Abused women who are members of conservative evangelical churches are more likely to define themselves as "bad" than as abused (Stotland) and it's well-documented that abusers can find allies in conservative churches. Let's assume in some twisted way they mean well or are operating from ignorance rather than malice, but pastors are notorious for blaming the victim, for encouraging ineffective forms of counseling, for assigning great stigma to the dissolution of an abusive relationship, and for interrupting the victim's relationships with health-care providers.
And historically, the evidence seems to suggest that we wouldn't care if the victims were "only" women. But do we really need more evidence that children are also injured by this kind of relationship? I'm a little dissatisfied with my own hysteria on this subject. I do think that Rusty Yates is also guilty in this tragedy. I certainly think that his views are a misuse of religion. But I can't believe that we can juridically do away with that kind of religious expression. Nor can we (social workers and other health care providers) prohibit someone from having children when, in our hearts, we know it's not a good idea. That way lies madness, for sure. But might there not be some kind of legal recourse when religion is so clearly complicit in a tragedy like this?
Or is the only solution for those of us who are also religious to model relationships that are healthy, joyous, and strong? And why does that not feel like enough to me? And here's another thing. Why can't I find a study that looks at depression in fundamentalist households? Religiosity is largely a buffer for depression, but I'm curious to know if there's a difference in the incidence and prevalence of depression among conservative, mainstream, and progressive forms of religious expression. Can't find it. That seems weird.