Black and White Reviews, Black and Blue Complementarianism

Victims of abuse need to be heard. We especially need to listen as a church.

One common critique among them is that Tucker’s view of complementarianism is wrong. Complementarianism does not teach abusive headship, it teaches using the model of how Christ leads his church. I think the author would agree that her ex-husband would have been abusive no matter what doctrine he held. But here’s the problem: the “that’s not complementarianism” critique doesn’t have a leg to stand on when some of it’s most well-known proponents are quoted in the book teaching devastating applications of complementarianism.

This is going to be a different kind of book review. Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife is different kind of book. It is a page turner autobiography about an educated, independent Christian woman who falls in love with the tall, handsome, charming guy who knew all the right answers at a Christian retreat. She marries him and endures 19 long years of abuse. But as the subtitle explains, it’s also her story of finding hope after domestic abuse. And did I mention her husband was a preacher?

Despite the fact that Tucker’s husband “hurled biblical texts” at her while “hitting and punching and slamming [her] against doors and furniture,” despite his “terror-loaded threats” if she didn’t submit properly “from the kitchen to the bedroom,” despite feeling “trapped and fear[ing] for [her] life, while outwardly disguising bruises with long sleeves and clever excuses,” she doesn’t abandon her Christian faith. No, during this time, Tucker earns her PHD, teaches courses at Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music (as does her husband for six years) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and even spends some summer weeks teaching at a Bible college in Kenya. She maintains a high view of Scripture and continues in the Christian faith.

But there is something Ruth Tucker abandons. And that is what adds another layer to the storytelling in this book. Tucker is now an egalitarian, arguing for mutuality in marriage, church office, and society. She no longer supports the complementarian teaching that “although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.” While celebrating gender distinction, Tucker argues that complementarian teaching is unbiblical and provides fuel for abusive relationships. This argument is woven throughout her testimony of enduring and escaping abuse.

I’ve read the reviews by complementarians in my so-called circles that, while having sympathy for Tucker’s story of abuse, say they cannot give their recommendation of the book, even turning their reviews into corresponding arguments of why Tucker’s egalitarianism is wrong. And that is why this is a different kind of book review. I would like to engage with the complementarian reviews of this book with my own response. I am bothered by how these reviews from within my own circles have not really listened, have not really learned, and have not really engaged with Ruth Tucker.

Sure, Tucker does write an argument against complementarianism in her book, and one form of engagement is to respond to that. So I’m not bothered if complementarians want to critique her theological position. I am not an egalitarian. I disagree with Tucker on several points in the book. But I was still challenged and sharpened by it. Rather than writing a review saying that I do not recommend Tucker’s book, I want to urge people to read it—especially pastors.

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