We need to man up and acknowledge where complementarianism provides a cover for abuse. For a movement that prides itself on promoting manly men, the powers that be seem reluctant to engage in meaningful dialogue with anyone on the opposite side of the gender role fence or respond to constructive criticism. No one, including Dr. Tucker, disputes the fact that if husbands loved their wives as Christ loved the church, there would be no abuse. Many men strive for this by God’s grace and may they continue to persevere. But what happens when the opposite occurs? What is our advice then?
Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuseby Ruth A. Tucker, Zondervan, 2016, 208 pages.
In 1967, Ruth Tucker was a young college student. She attended a summer camp and met the ideal Christian single man – a tall, dark, and handsome Bible whiz, who felt called to pastoral ministry. She was swept off her feet, and the relationship quickly progressed to engagement and then marriage. On the surface, it seemed straight out of a fairy tale, but there were red flags that indicated something lurking beneath the surface. Those warning signs did not lie. Ruth found herself married to an abuser who professed the name of Christ and used the Scriptures to justify his abuse, hence the title of her book – Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. She endured 19 years of battering and humiliation at the hands of her ex-husband, often hiding her bruises with clothing.1 After all, who would believe her? Who would believe that a pastor would abuse his wife?
The author is also Dr. Ruth Tucker, scholar, author of eighteen books, and former professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary, so she brings to this volume more than just her personal story. The factors that contribute to abuse are complex. Thus she examines historical attitudes towards women in society and the church, gender, justice, cultural misogyny, counseling tactics, and who bears the blame and shame. In the afterword, the book ends with a series of questions that challenge readers to think critically about their beliefs on marriage, gender, and authority and the implication of those beliefs. Dr Tucker is an egalitarian and her writing reflects this.
For abuse victims/survivors, publicly identifying yourself as such can give rise to the fear of retaliation no matter how many years have gone by, so I applaud Dr. Tucker’s courage. It took tremendous guts to write her story. At the same time, I find myself on the opposite side of a number of theological fences. However, focusing only on the fences avoids the point of her book – domestic violence in the Christian home and how do we prevent it. So even though I would disagree with Dr. Tucker in some areas, I strongly recommend Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, and here are my reasons:
– We need to hear the stories of abuse victims. Unless you are a victim yourself, how can you possibly understand the fear, anguish, and soul-paralyzing effects of abuse without reading firsthand accounts? Without understanding, how can you help? This would be like going to the ER with chest pains only to find a doctor who refuses to examine or listen to you and yet feels knowledgeable enough to prescribe treatment. We also need to hear these stories even when they aren’t pretty or arrive at the same theological conclusions. Some trauma victims will never speak of their past because remembering and verbalizing resurrects the pain all over again. For those who are able to relate their experience, why should we expect it to be neat and tidy? Do we only show compassion to those who don’t disturb our comfort zone? For the record, I respectfully disagree with reviewers who chided Dr. Tucker for being too emotional. In my opinion, her words were thoughtful and exhibited a self-command which is admirable given the subject.
– We need to man up and acknowledge where complementarianism provides a cover for abuse. For a movement that prides itself on promoting manly men, the powers that be seem reluctant to engage in meaningful dialogue with anyone on the opposite side of the gender role fence or respond to constructive criticism. No one, including Dr. Tucker, disputes the fact that if husbands loved their wives as Christ loved the church, there would be no abuse. Many men strive for this by God’s grace and may they continue to persevere. But what happens when the opposite occurs? What is our advice then? Dr. Tucker quotes several big names who are highly respected in evangelical and reformed circles, but their words offer little if any help to battered wives and may make the situation worse. If these leaders did not mean what they said, then shouldn’t it be brought to their attention so their statements can be retracted? Shouldn’t they be held accountable if their influence puts women and children at risk?
– We need to stand for what is biblical but also acknowledge where our personal biases and prejudices have crept in. I affirm that experience should not determine theology. The infallible and inerrant Word is the standard. However, we are neither infallible nor inerrant and neither are our interpretations and applications. No one lives in a vacuum, and culture and experience are powerful forces. Thus we bring those biases to Scripture whether we are aware of it or not. We point the finger at the egalitarian camp and charge them with being influenced by secular feminism. But are we influenced by traditions weighed down by the baggage of misogyny? Are we willing to examine our systems of thought to see whether they are faithful to the whole counsel of God or just our favorite proof texts?
Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife will probably raise defensive prickles in some readers and non-readers who can’t get past the author’s egalitarianism. However, I believe there is benefit in hearing from opposing views. We all have blind spots. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help us recognize our weaknesses, and this is one issue where our eyes need to be opened. Domestic violence is a stain on the Church which brings shame to Christ. May we lay aside one-upmanship on gender issues, fight this sin instead of one another, and be united in our defense of the widows and orphans of abuse.
1. To be very clear, Dr. Tucker did not initiate the divorce. Her ex-husband sued for divorce 3 years following court-mandated separation. pp. 12-13.
(Update for clarification 10:08 AM – I am not saying we shouldn’t have civil give-and-take on gender as it relates to family and church. But when it comes to abuse, the first thing we should ask is “Are you safe?” Victims shouldn’t fall through the cracks. This may happen when we make the issue all about us and our platforms instead of the victim’s plight.)