Abuse of Male Headship – An Excerpt from Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife
In her upcoming book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, Ruth Tucker recounts her story of abuse at the hands of her husband, in hope that it would help other women caught in a cycle of domestic violence.
She makes a compelling case for mutuality in marriage by weaving her shocking story and stories of other women together with powerful stories of husbands who truly have demonstrated Christ’s love to their wives. Including reflections on biblical, theological, historical, and contemporary issues surrounding domestic violence, Tucker helps women and men become more aware of potential dangers in a doctrine of male headship.
Engage with this excerpt as she details a flashpoint in her journey:
The setting was our dining room. I had flown into Grand Rapids from Chicago, having finished an intensive two days of teaching at Trinity. My ex-husband picked me up at the airport. I could tell he was in a foul mood. Before we arrived home, he raised the topic of the women elders elected the previous evening at our church’s annual congregational meeting. They would be the first-ever female elders at Fifth Reformed Church in 1985, one hundred years after it was founded.
Amid my hectic schedule, I had forgotten about this critical meeting. Although I had not voted, his anger was directed at me. After we arrived home, he demanded that I verbally stand with him against women in office. When I refused and remained silent, he began pummeling me, pushing me, knocking me to the floor, and kicking me. As I had done before, I went into self-defense mode. I curled into a fetal position, my arms, legs, and head tightly tucked. He stopped kicking. It was over. He walked away. Black-and-white Bible, black-and-blue wife.
I later learned from our pastor that during that congregational meeting, my ex-husband had gotten up, without any warning, and distributed and read a written statement on why women should be prohibited from office. If there were some in the congregation who were undecided, his conduct that night may have had an opposite effect from the one he intended.
Several months later, a male elder commented to me how the consistory had changed since women had joined the group. These two homemakers, whose children were grown, were actively involved in a variety of local ministries. Their presence often redirected discussion toward personal and family issues in the congregation and away from administrative details that were better handled by deacons or by staff. These new elders had their ears to the ground. They were aware of hurting families both inside and outside the church, some with sensitive issues that needed attention. Their input changed the whole atmosphere of these monthly meetings.
What my ex-husband saw in the election of women elders was power—women trying to take control. Headship in his eyes constituted authority that women were forbidden to exercise. His mind was closed to the benefits of creational gender difference—“male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added). He felt threatened by his own church, by women in general, and by a wife who celebrated these gender differences.
That a husband might feel threatened by an intelligent and articulate wife who speaks her mind could easily occur in an egalitarian marriage. But the man who insists the wife is under subjection is absolutely convinced that Scripture is on his side. And like my ex-husband, such men would typically have a significant gender advantage of physical size and strength. It’s a muscular Christianity that holds the Bible in one hand and a clenched fist in the other.
Indeed, a clenched fist alongside a black-and-white Bible was figuratively my ex-husband’s standard pose. The Bible—as he interpreted it—was the very Word of God, never to be challenged. For me, his belief in creation some six thousand years ago was not a problem as long as he did not make me subscribe to the same position. And what practical difference did it make in our everyday lives if we came to different conclusions on such matters? For him, the issue was my lack of submission to his views.
But the women’s issue itself became the catalyst for most of his frequent explosions. My changing stance began slowly several years before women were elected as elders at our church. Even though I had taken a college course in biblical hermeneutics, it never dawned on me that I was accepting a traditional interpretation on women’s roles without questioning its serious inconsistencies. But in the late 1970s, we moved to Michigan where we began teaching at the Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music. I was assigned to teach a course in women’s ministries. The previous teacher had offered insights for pastors’ wives and presented practical ideas on organizing women’s meetings and mother-daughter banquets. My own failures along those lines pushed me toward historical and biblical topics. I hunkered down and read everything I could get my hands on.
Holy smokes. That was a dangerous turn. But I was, after all, teaching at a school that emphasized the Bible, and I had the full support of the president. What I discovered when I began digging into the most frequently referenced texts was that gender roles were not nearly as cut-and-dried as I had been led to believe. From Eve and Sarah to Priscilla and Phoebe, women had played critical roles, and I needed to give them a fresh look. Such was also the case with Paul’s references to marriage and ministry. With my research under way, I was finding more and more serious scholars who were challenging long-held interpretations.
And I began to read the Bible differently myself, aided to at least a small degree by the two years of Greek I had taken in college. Greek scholars challenged me on certain critical passages such as 1 Timothy 2, which had long been the key text for restricting women’s teaching and authority in the church. The fact that Paul in the same chapter takes a stand against women wearing jewelry and braided hair was mostly ignored by those who restricted women’s roles in ministry. But that was not the issue on which I focused. I pointed my students to a much longer passage in chapter 5 of this same letter. There Paul goes on for fifteen verses, explaining exactly how older and younger widows should be regarded and supported or not supported by the community of believers.
Paul says nothing in the text that would indicate his concern for widows was merely a cultural issue that related to one particular church. Nor does he suggest that the matter related to women’s teaching and having authority (however the verses were rendered) was written in stone for all time. Yet today we ignore this longer passage in chapter 5 and focus our attention on the few verses in chapter 2. In doing so, we are deciding which words of Paul’s are important and which are not—an exercise in hermeneutics, always a human endeavor, and often seriously flawed. (Pgs 72-75)
To continue reading the harrowing account, pre-order Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife today.