Domestic abuse.JPGThe big picture is relentlessly gruesome, as we have just seen from Elaine Storkey’s Scars across humanity. But the problem with big picture surveys is invariably the difficulty of personal connection. This is why it is vital to read Storkey’s book (and others like it) in conjunction with the personal and testimonial. Stories of individual experience earth the inconceivable.

So Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife is a vital, if agonising, read. For integrity’s sake, I received a review copy from the publisher, Zondervan, soon after it came out, and I read it almost immediately. But various things piled up (inevitably) so I’ve been able to give time to it until now – but it’s probably providential, since it enabled me to cover it in parallel with Storkey.

Tucker was married for 19 years. To a church pastor. While she worked as a professor. There were indications of something darker it seems, even before they were engaged. But who can blame her for that, when so much seemed to be good and wholesome? But it was soon clear – their’s was a relationship dominated (I use that word advisedly) by horrifying abuse of every kind: sexual and physical, emotional and spiritual.

There is a host of things to say, but here are a few initial thoughts.

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Grateful for Ruth’s courage

Anyone can write a sociological or historical survey (well not anyone, but you know what I mean). Few will expose their deepest pains. Ruth Tucker (right) has clearly wrestled with the dilemma for years, as one who has spent much of her professional career doing the former. The latter could only have been possible in a position of safety and security, which her second marriage clearly and wonderfully provides

In the decades since we escaped, friends, acquaintances, and even publishers have urged me to write my story.  Why not?  Writing is my primary profession.  But the pain of reliving those years has always stood in the way.  More than that, humiliation.  Few can comprehend the depth of shame that still lingers.  And not just the shame of being married to an abusive minister, but also the awful acknowledgment of my own complicity – the failure to report my husband to law enforcement when his crimes involved an innocent foster child. (Tucker, p13)

But I am SO grateful for her in being willing to do this. Her courage gives profound hope to many whom she will never know. Including one dear friend enduring a comparable situation.

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If you’re not sure what we’re talking about here, then check this out. It is worth quoting at length.

It was a cold West Michigan evening in March. Spring quarter at Trinity had begun a week earlier. I recognized my husband’s mood before we had even sat down for the evening meal. When we finished eating, I tidied up the kitchen, took my books and notes, and went upstairs while he watched his usual TV programs and Carlton did homework nearby, listening in as he typically did.

After an hour or so, I heard my husband’s footsteps on the stairs. I stiffened, dreading the worst. He entered our bedroom where I was hunkered down and then, seemingly out of the blue, with not so much as a segue into the topic, demanded to know my interpretation of a particular biblical passage that related to women. I explained that I was very busy in course preparation and did not wish to discuss the matter, particularly because I knew it would create problems. He proceeded to give me his interpretation of the passage. When I remained silent and refused to agree with him, he became irate and began very loudly to threaten me and exclaim that he would not let me fly to O’Hare in the morning. He yanked me from where I was sitting, my papers flying in every direction.

Hearing his father shouting, Carlton was up the stairs two steps at a time. It was not the first time he sought to defend me. Normally, his crying out at his father put an end to violence. But not this time. My husband demanded he leave the room while at the same time squeezing my arms with all his might and viciously shaking me. Carlton did leave. He raced back to his own room and grabbed two knives, one no more than a hard plastic toy, the other a Swiss Army knife he had managed to open before returning to confront his father. At twelve, Carlton was tall and lanky, but no match for his six-foot-two father, who could do a hundred push-ups without breaking a sweat.

When I saw the knives, I screamed for Carlton to get out, but within seconds my husband had thrown him to the floor, taken the knives, and was coming at me again. In a second, Carlton got back up and tackled his father, crying out at the top of his lungs. And then somehow amid the mayhem, it ended. My husband left the room still raging, ordering Carlton to come downstairs with him.

The next afternoon I was in Deerfield, greeting students in my classroom and wearing a turtleneck and blazer that conveniently covered the bruises— black-and-blue finger marks on my upper arms. I had taught the course before, and once I was into my rhythm and a lively discussion was under way, I was in another world. (Tucker, p20ff)

I’m sitting here weeping again, as I did when I first read it. I. Just. Can’t. Bear. It. As I asked repeatedly of Storkey’s book, I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. Would you?

As she says just before this quote, ‘How sad it is when a Christian man cannot say, “Never in our years of marriage had I ever so much as touched her in anger.”  What if, rather, the husband beats his wife in anger?”‘ (Tucker, p19) This is a heart-breaking book. It is also an important book. I praise God for it’s existence. I totally see why Scot McKnight described it in his blog review as ‘the worst great book of the year‘. it’s The awful thing is that her first husband was a pastor and preacher, someone who justified everything he did to her as a legitimate outworking of a biblical mandate for husbands. Everything.

Provoked by Ruth’s experience

I am a church minister and have been for 20 years. I have led and preached at many weddings, I have counselled countless individuals, with varying degrees of effectiveness, no doubt. I have worked in many different cultural contexts, including teaching 4 years in a Ugandan institution, and especially now that I have a travelling job (though this doesn’t usually involve me directly in pastoral difficulties anymore). And to be honest, I have plenty of my own issues (about which I am currently trying to write a new book – more of that, no doubt, in future posts). So I do not pretend for ONE SECOND to have everything sorted out in my internal or public life, my marriage or my parenting. But I can say that I have never resorted to violence in my marriage. Thank God. (Which is not to suggest that we don’t get annoyed with each other!!)

Lifeway - Preaching about domestic abuse survey 2 - Lifeway.jpgBut what I am ashamed to confess is how little I have raised the subject of domestic abuse (let alone the challenges for women globally, as highlighted by Elaine Storkey) in my public ministry. In fact, even that is probably too generous. I’ve hardly mentioned it. As I now see it, that is unacceptable. And in fact, my primary reason for writing this blog. Will say more in a subsequent post. But various surveys suggest I’m far from alone in my irresponsibility.

Challenged by Ruth’s theological reflection

A number of reviews of the book have taken issue with some of the arguments presented here for an egalitarian, as opposed to complementarian, views of gender relations. That is legitimate – and some of them make fair points (eg Tim Challies here). Indeed, the church constituency that I have been part of for years would tend towards (a softer end of?) complementarian. As she notes near the start of the book,

Some, of course, prefer debates and proof texting.  But I would remind them that storytelling is the stuff of the Bible.  True, there is nothing wrong with debates.  We learn a lot from them.  The debate over headship, however, has become rancorous in recent years, often sounding very un-Christian.

But is it possible, I wonder, to deal with some very touchy matters with graciousness?  Can we come together as a Christian community and recognize that the doctrine of male headship has sometimes been used as a cover to perpetrate violence against women?  At the same time, can we come together in an understanding that marriage based on mutual submission is a biblical model – a valid interpretation of Scripture?  I acknowledge that the headship model is a valid way to interpret the Bible.  I certainly do not believe it is the most faithful interpretation, particularly in light of the central themes of Scripture, but I would never claim it has no biblical basis at all and is simply pulled out of a magician’s hat. (Tucker, p23)

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Note her graciousness here (despite all she’s endured) – that’s something I hugely appreciate. And this is, I think, where she totally has a point, even if people disagree with that final sentence. Because, without doubt, headship, submission, male authority (etc etc) have been used to justify the most appalling brutality. I know this as a matter of fact – indeed, in one specific context at the moment, I (alongside a number of others with pastoral involvement) have felt the need to advocate unequivocally the breakup of a marriage. Through tears, anguish and much prayer.

And this is the most important point.

I am simply not going to engage the theological debates about headship here. Not because I don’t have nuanced views or disagreements with advocates on both/all sides of the debate. But because the most glaring issue must be faced – and I fear it won’t be, if I get embroiled in those debates. Because whatever one’s view, the horrors that Ruth Tucker, and countless others, endure voicelessly for years have NO justification. EVER. As with Elaine Storkey’s stats, these are concerns which men must address and act on.

This is not a feminist issue. This is a human issue. This is an issue of being Christlike.

And those who are more conservative theologically must step up here. Don’t be diverted by hermeneutical disagreements. Because however we might interpret Ephesians 5, say, I simply don’t get how ‘headship enforcers’ imagine they show anything remotely resembling a husband’s cross-shaped love that Paul radically insists on. Paul never says, make your wives submit. He says, love them like Jesus loved you.

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This is why I think it is of fundamental importance to talk about misogyny. Again this is not a feminist issue. It is a human issue.

Men who hate women.  This culture of hatred is found among religious and nonreligious alike.  But what is truly astounding is that it is not infrequently seen among those who demand that women be subject to men, basing that obligation on Ephesians 5. What stands out in the passage is that husbands are directed to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church.  We must be cautious about throwing the term around too casually, but at the same time we shouldn’t be afraid of the word misogynist. How do we know if a man truly is one?  “I love the pretty girls,” he says.  So we assume he can’t be a misogynist.  But “loving the pretty girls” might be a telltale sign of misogyny.  Control is a key.  Whether it’s African mutilation rites or rap music or marital abuse, the demand to domineer is always present.  Yet hatred of women is not easily detectable.  Indeed, there is a fine line between male domination and misogyny. And the term misogynist that refers to one individual should not be used apart from the phrase culture of misogyny – a culture that rears its ugly head even in Scripture. (Tucker, p 126)

I think she is right.

Quite what we do about it is the subject of the next post.

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