Yet I have heard stories of women who were told to go back and submit no matter what their husbands did, while still maintaining a reverential attitude toward their abusers. There may have been some exceptions if there was a pattern of violence, but never permanent freedom from the abuser. And what makes a pattern? Once? Twice? How much was too much? They were told to stop being so emotional and exaggerating their situations especially if there weren’t any bruises as evidence. They were told that God was for their marriages so they needed to pray harder. And wasn’t she as much of a sinner as her abusive husband? If she deserved Hell, wasn’t she getting better than she deserved?
In my last article, I pleaded that complementarian men should respond to women with a listening ear and a resolve to better teach what headship actually means and what it does not mean. They should be reaching out to abused women, whose husbands and churches hide under the banner of headship and complementarianism, and call out the abuse and false teaching loud and clear. They should be working to help church leaders to recognize abuse and provide godly counsel and resources for those abused.
Perhaps if we hear from some of the women who have been through such abuse, we can improve in this area. This is a guest post from an anonymous author that I am sharing to hopefully raise awareness leading to positive change.
Please understand that I am not saying that the distinctive view of male-female relations which CBMW promotes inevitably leads to abuse. And I’ve said before that they have also published helpful teaching. My point is that when you make authority/submission of Father to Son the distinction between the two in eternity (ex., Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 251) and make that the paradigm for male-female relations you risk developing a position where the Christological/crucicentric pattern of the husband-wife relationship is relativized or even sidelined. And you may well end up with a monochrome understanding of marriage which misses the need for the husband to sacrifice for the wife, as well as all of those beautiful, playful dimensions of biblical love and marriage as we find, for example, in the Song of Songs. All of these things must be part of anything claiming the name of biblical complementarianism. The current reductionism, by way of contrast, may not cause but certainly enables the kind of abuse described here. It is a pity that, in the rush to defend the barricades, so many seem to have lost sight of the human side of this Trinitarian problem. — Aimee Byrd
Listening to Abused Women
When I first met my husband-to-be, it was like a dream come true. We met on a missions trip. He was kind, considerate, actively serving in the church, spiritually mature, and handsome, too. Our friendship grew quickly and within months we were meeting with the elders to get their blessing on our engagement, which they gladly gave. My parents even consulted with mutual friends as to his character as a Christian, and he passed with flying colors. But to top that, he confided to me that he received a prophetic word from God promising him a special blessing on this marriage. Who could resist that? I was in a different place theologically at the time, so I did not see extra-scriptural revelation as a problem. Rather I felt humbled and honored to be the person whom God choose to fulfill His promise to my future husband. This all but guaranteed to my mind that we would have a happy marriage.
I would not characterize the marriage as being difficult initially. Just the normal friction that happens between two normal people. I was not perfect, but I believed that everything would always work out because God brought us together. I wanted to be a good wife, so I was determined not to usurp my husband’s authority. I deferred to him in just about everything. I trusted that if he was wrong, God would correct him in His time. My job was to be obedient. I never teased him or joked about him. That behavior was too disrespectful. But over time, it became clear that I would never live up to his expectations. I think only perfection would have only satisfied him, not a normal, fallible human being. Even when the children disappointed or embarrassed him, it was my fault because I was not doing enough to raise them properly.
After more than a decade of marriage, my husband began slowly to withdraw emotionally. First it was little things like deliberately not holding my hand and failing to open doors for me. As he grew colder, I asked what was wrong. He said it was his problem and not mine. Then one evening, he told me he no longer loved me. He never really loved me and had obviously misinterpreted the prophecy. It was more than my needing to improve. I was wrong. He said that he had tried all these years to make things work. He even said he believed that he loved me as Christ loved the church to which I blindly agreed. I asked if we could go to counseling, but he said most counselors would encourage us to divorce. I was relieved that he wasn’t talking about divorce, but it shut the door on any help I could possibly get.