Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and an average of 3 women per day are murdered by a husband or boyfriend. Almost one-third of American women report being physically abused by a husband or boyfriend, and this proportion is even higher among specific ethnic groups.
The book makes two problematic points: 1) A wife is usually responsible for the violence done to her, and 2) A wife should usually risk life and limb to remain submissive and bring glory to God. Point one is illustrated by this quote,
Page 79: “A Command Man who has gone bad is likely to be abusive. It is important to remember that much of how a Command Man reacts depends on his wife’s reverence towards him. When a Command Man (lost or saved) is treated with honor and reverence, a good help meet will find that her man will be wonderfully protective and supportive. In most marriages, the strife is not because the man is cruel or evil; it is because he expects respect, and is not getting it. When a wife plays her part as a help meet, the Command Man will respond differently. Of course, there are a few men who are so cruel and violent that even when the wife is a proper help meet, he will still physically abuse her or the children. In such cases, it would be the duty of the wife to alert the authorities so that they might become the arm of the Lord to do justice.”This quote puts the pressure on the wife to prevent her husband from abusing her. It suggests she can prevent abuse by obedience, honor, and reverence. This doesn’t work. Research on domestic violence shows that an abuser will hit his wife for a matter as simple as burning the dinner or him having a bad day at work or coming home drunk. Debi doesn’t seem to understand the pleasure of power, especially absolute power. It is the wife’s inability to prevent violence, even by her diligent attempts to obey, that perfectly expresses the abuser’s absolute control. The power is God-like, determining good and evil beyond her ability to comprehend. Men love power, especially Command Men.
This quote puts the guilt of abuse on the wife’s head (except for a very few unspecified cases). Even though it says that a few men are so bad they should be reported, there is no specification of when to make this distinction. An abused wife reading this book could, in retrospect, always identify some thing she thinks she could have done to stop her husband’s violence. Advice like this serves only to continue a cycle of submission and abuse often described in domestic violence studies. We believe, no matter what a wife does or does not do, a husband should never be abusive toward her. Abuse for any reason, even if the wife is not submissive or reverent , is cruel and evil.
A particularly troubling story shared in this book is of Sunny (pages 132-134, the chapter on “The Great Mystery”). Sunny married a man who started to abuse her during her first pregnancy (no surprise, since research shows that women are significantly more likely to be abused by their husbands when they are pregnant). Over the next 7 years, Sunny endured regular alcoholic rages and beatings, as well as her husband’s “flaunted unfaithfulness”. He often left her and the children alone for weeks at a time. During Sunny’s 3rd pregnancy, her husband came home drunk and tried to kill her with a butcher knife. Only the “miraculous intervention of God” spared her life. Debi meets Sunny at church and Sunny confesses to plotting her husband’s murder. After hours of counseling Debi asked Sunny to make a choice between leaving her husband once and for all, or staying with him and beginning “a campaign of winning his heart and saving their life together.” Sunny’s heart is changed and she decided to go back and submit to her man: “Sunny really wanted God’s will in her life. She had grasped an eternal vision about life, and she now believed God could save her man.” Before Sunny returns to Ahmed, Debi warns her that “blabbing” about Ahmed’s “faults” only compounded the problem, and from now on, Sunny was never to speak ill of him again. (Sunny was already doing everything else right: she was “already obedient, faithful, cheerful, a keeper at home, and a help meet”. Reverencing her husband by not speaking ill of him was the only thing lacking.)
Sunny returned to her husband, reverenced him, and her husband immediately, miraculously became a completely changed man and eventually became a Christian.
We are happy for the fairy tale ending, but very worried about the message this story gives to women in dangerous relationships. Statistics show that men do kill their wives, quite frequently. Even with everything Sunny was doing right, her husband still tried to kill her and her unborn child. Sunny’s options should have included more than either leaving Ahmed for good or returning to him in submission and silence. Not only did Debi send pregnant Sunny back to her dangerous and violent husband, but she took away Sunny’s ability to even speak of her husband’s violence to anybody. We don’t know whether Ahmed stopped abusing Sunny – because if he did continue, Sunny was not allowed to speak of it any more. We are not denying the fact that God can work a miracle like it appears he did in Ahmed, but we do think that it is both irresponsible and extremely dangerous to suggest that women can guarantee the identical outcome if they just do the same thing as Sunny, especially when such a choice is couched in pious Bible-talk – as God’s clear will, the result of grasping an “eternal vision about life”.
What to do about violence is a difficult question, both Biblically and practically. The answer isn’t always to run away, or to suffer in silence. The Bible portrays several responses. In his trial, persecution, and crucifixion, Christ suffered in near silence. But earlier, when the crowd tried to toss him over a cliff, he simply walked away, because his time had not yet come. The apostles, especially Paul, often suffered violence or the threat of violence. Their responses were highly varied: being lowered in a basket outside the city, public speeches, threats of civil action, walking to the next city, striding directly toward danger, and going to court. I suspect the responses varied because the purposes of God varied. We know Christians fled from Saul and that this served to spread the gospel and church to new lands. This pattern has repeated itself down through the centuries. The Bible rules out a few responses to persecution: vengeance, resentment, etc., but it leaves a variety of options. If persecuted, what should we do now? Only God knows, and through His Spirit will tell us.
What should abused wives do? What should they do for the children they protect, born and unborn? What should we tell them to do? Pray, certainly. Give them options, maybe. Steer them away from vengeance and resentment. Trust that God will guide them. Maybe to some, like Sunny, He will give redeemed marriages. Maybe others should flee, and some should call the police or go to court.
Blaming women for the violence is less likely to be helpful. Abused women also need to know how they can appropriately communicate their abuse to others, rather than being told to follow what Michael calls the “doctrine of suffering abuse in silence for the glory of God” (p.265), a point we discuss next.
Michael uses 1 Peter 2 & 3 to teach that women in abusive situations should suffer in silence in order to bring glory to God. 1 Peter 2 encourages slaves when they suffer for doing good and uses the example of Jesus’ suffering which brings us salvation. The beginning of 1 Peter 3 encourages women to submit to their unsaved husbands in hopes of bringing them to salvation. Michael ties these two passages together and teaches that women are to suffer in silence, even at the hands of abusive husbands, in order to bring glory to God. Here are some representative quotes:
Page 263: “Lady, you were created to give glory to God. When God puts you in subjection to a man whom he knows is going to cause you to suffer, it is with the understanding that you are obeying God by enduring the wrongful suffering. And when you suffer wrongfully, as unto the Lord, you bring great glory to God in heaven.”
Page 263: “Has your husband reviled and threatened you? You are exhorted to espond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how you respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer.”
Page 264: “You can freely call your husband “lord” when you know that you are addressing the one who put him in charge and asked you to suffer at your husband’s hands just as our Lord suffered at the hands of unjust authorities… I know that this must be an amazing doctrine to many of you. Nonetheless, it is no less radical than Jesus was radical, and it is God’s way.”
Page 265: “For the eyes of the Lord see all that take place. His ears are open to your prayers when you obey him and obey your husband. And then comes the promise: if you are following God, no harm will come to you by doing what is good… You will receive a blessing when you suffer for righteousness’ sake, that is, when you obey God by obeying your husband and not returning evil for evil. You will be happy, so don’t be afraid or troubled by the things you must endure.”Again, the Pearls have enough truth in this teaching to make it dangerous for a wife who is being seriously abused by her husband. Jesus does call us to (and is our example for) a life that includes suffering – both daily suffering in the sense of taking up our cross, and suffering that arises specifically from following Him. Sometimes (and again, Jesus is our example in this, as 1 Peter 2 points out) such suffering can be redemptive.
1 Peter 2 encourages slaves to serve God in submission to their masters (just or unjust), and to suffer in silence for doing good. This was a God-empowered response to someone in a position from which he or she had no escape – a free and grace-filled choice a slave could make from a position that involved little or no other freedom. However, this teaching has not prevented Christians from reading the rest of the Bible and being at the forefront (and rightly so, we believe) in ending slavery around the world, bringing South African apartheid to an end, and working to ensure equal rights for African Americans here. The Bible teaches a strong message both about God’s concern for the powerless and dispossessed, and about the imago dei – the image of God stamped on each person, male and female. We are called to treat all men and women with respect and reverence simply because they bear God’s image and are important to Him. We believe that we, as Christians, should speak and work against abuse and violence wherever it occurs. This includes abuse and violence within a marriage. CTBHHM does not do this.
Wives in the Roman world had a position similar in some ways to that of slaves—powerless and inescapable. Since a wife must, at times, suffer violence, she should do so to the glory of God, according to I Peter 3. She should not suffer passive-aggressively, resentfully, or sullenly. Peter doesn’t address whether women should escape or contact the authorities, since these alternatives were not available at the time. Church discipline would not have applied to these unbelieving husbands. We don’t believe that the “doctrine of suffering abuse in silence for the glory of God” goes so far as recommending that a wife being beaten by an alcoholic husband do nothing other than submit to him in happy silence and reference (such a wife could receive encouragement to do exactly this from reading this book).
Women enduring the physical and emotional shame and de-personhood of domestic abuse, as well as struggling with the often overpowering fear that abuse brings, should be provided with more options that “suffering in silence for the glory of God.” CTBHHM does not provide any more options, except for a vague statement that abused women will probably stay in their marriages, and so should “understand how to speak and conduct yourself in a way that will maintain your physical and emotional safety and ultimately win your husband” (p. 270; in the context of the book’s other teachings, this most likely means women should try to be perfectly submissive and therefore not anger their “Command-men”). Women who “threaten to ‘report him to the law’ … are rebellious. They will never make it to the hall of fame found in Hebrews 11, where Sara was listed, nor will they make it into a heavenly marriage here on earth. They will go to their graves unloved and uncherished, a total failure as the woman God called them to be” (p.270). The only practical example we are given in the entire book of a woman responding to domestic violence is that of Sunny and Ahmed – an example that creates a dangerous precedent.
Finally, we suggest that an abusive man is not functioning as he was created to be, and needs help and redemption as much as his abused wife. The one option given to wives in this book, to suffer in silence, leaves little opportunity for their husbands to get the help, accountability, and counseling they often need to change.