At the same time, there were significant distortions in Baird’s references to American research on this issue, which led sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, one of the researchers, on to whose work Baird’s article relied on, to publish a critique in The Australian. Criticising Baird for presenting a ‘relentlessly negative picture of the influence that Christianity has on domestic violence’ Wilcox reported that US research actually shows an inverse correlation between church involvement and domestic violence: men and women who attend church regularly are the least likely to be abusers. What the US research actually shows is that nominal evangelical Protestant men who never or rarely attended church were the most violent. So Wilcox asked, “How would bad Christian preaching, teaching or counseling be a major factor in spousal abuse if the worst abusers are rarely or never in the pews? It doesn’t follow.” He reported hat “couples report significantly higher quality relationships if they attend church together.”
The ABC’s media watch host Paul Barry criticized Baird’s article for ‘cherry picking’ research reports, and I can only agree with him that “It’s just a shame that it tarnished an otherwise compelling and worthwhile investigation.” For my teaching on relationships in marriage please see latest blog post at oaktreevicar.blogspot.com.au, and my recent sermon from June 18 2017 on ‘Transformed Marriages’.
The controversy over Baird’s journalism also reflects the politicisation of religion in our time. It is difficult to have a balanced, fair discussion about a connection between faith and human behaviour because there is so much invested in this issue for so many. Some have a deep-seated bias against faith, and others have tendency to white-wash it. But faith can have positive or negative affects on people’s behaviour, depending upon what the belief is, and it is legitimate to discuss these things.
|Is the Temple of Science Crumbling?|
This is important for Christians because there is a pressure in public policy to rely on evidence that is ‘scientific’, and reject any other source of moral authority. The odds are that, in our increasingly politicised cultural environment, the research which policy makers rely on is going to be biased in one way or another. Science is not perfect. It can be manufactured too.
Christians do face challenging times ahead. We need clear thinking, strategic prayer and boldness to hold our ground, with firm gentleness in the face of rapid and intense societal change.