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The Socratic Method - An excerpt from Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife

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In today's excerpt from Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, Ruth Tucker applies the Socratic method to the discussion of headship versus equality in marriage by asking questions. Many of these question, she explains, are questions she or other women she knows have actually asked in their marriages. What do submission and headship look like?--especially in the context of domestic abuse.

As Tucker says, she hopes this book will spark discussions instead of "angry wrangling." Consider this together with her today.


The unexamined life is not worth living.


black and white bible black and blue wifePerhaps Socrates overstates his case, but it is important for us to examine our lives. Indeed, one of the reasons I so appreciate the apostle Paul is that he examines his life—often through storytelling.

I’m a storyteller. In fact, all of my writing in one way or another is an exercise in storytelling. I take the Bible as my model. It’s a book filled with honest, eye-opening, and often heart-wrenching stories propelled by rivers of heartache, anger, embarrassment, uncertainty, temptation, regret. In them we see our own sins and struggles reflected on the water. These narratives beg for explication and application.

Yes, I am a storyteller. But never before have I told my own story. Never before have I examined and put into writing a significant and secretive aspect of my life. As with stories in the Bible, I urge readers to think deeply about these dysfunctional decades I endured and also the years of struggle and happiness that followed.

Alongside the stories, I have woven the two-sided conversation in Christian circles today relating to marriage—headship versus equality. Actually, it’s often less a conversation than a heated argument—one that sometimes degenerates into angry wrangling.

Millions of Christians in North America and millions more around the world have ties with churches or parachurch ministries that strongly affirm male headship in marriage. Here women (and men) are often barraged with mixed messages. The concepts of headship and submission are often assumed to be cut-and-dried. But are they? Is a wife, for example, “graciously submitting” (to use Southern Baptist terminology) if she is standing up for herself and challenging her husband’s authority on matters that may involve physical and emotional abuse? There would be no need for her to make the challenge, headship proponents argue, if the husband is fulfilling his role. After all, the complete phrase reads, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband”—which is comparable to the “headship of Christ.”

Again I bring to mind Socrates, in this case to employ what is called the Socratic method—to understand a subject by asking questions. If the husband is the head—the ruler—in the home, who regulates him? Who determines if his headship is actually comparable to the headship of Christ? The husband himself? Is he alone the interpreter of the biblical standard? Is he the judge and jury in his own court case? Is he the referee, the umpire, in his own ball game? Is he absolutely unbiased? Who determines exactly what male headship entails in each situation? Is there a written or unwritten standard for twenty-first- century domestic situations? At what point, if ever, does his behavior make his headship invalid? Indeed, what are the consequences when husbands fail to live up to this standard?

Does this standard apply only to a husband? Indeed, when does male headship begin? How do boys and single men prepare to rule a wife? Is headship training available? Do they practice in high school? How should boys and men respond to female “headship” of teachers, corporate managers, a police officer, a wife who is a police chief?

And what about submission? How do girls and young women prepare for submitting to their husbands? Do teenage girls have full equality with their male counterparts? Do they have full equality when courting? During the engagement period? Does their submission begin only at the moment they say “I do”? What prepares a bride for such a drastic change if she is a corporate manager with an MBA, her supervisor a woman who emphasizes teamwork and collaboration over power and authority?

How does male headship play out on a practical level in marriage? When serious differences arise in marriage, how is the husband’s rule enforced? Does his headship allow him to physically prevent his wife from making phone calls, from leaving the house, from using a vehicle? Does his headship give him sole control over money and permit him to deny his wife access to financial records? Does it allow him to confiscate a manuscript or to make a major decision without her consent? Does it ever involve corporal punishment?

And what does a wife’s submission entail? Does a wife’s mandate to graciously submit stifle her better judgment in such things as voting or volunteering her time? Does it silence her voice in public discussions? Does it suppress the empowerment she may need to challenge her husband on immoral or unethical behavior and to demand changes? Does it curb her instinct to report him to law enforcement? Must she remain submissive to a violent husband? One who is mentally unstable? One who is impeded by dementia?

These are not simply hypothetical questions. Many of them relate to my former marriage and to women discussed in this volume. It’s a disgrace to simply pass responsibility on to male church elders or to argue that egalitarian marriages are also troubled by abuse. In such marriages, the submission mandate would never be an added cross for a wife to bear. Neither partner during courtship or engagement or marriage is a ruler of the relationship or of the other individual. Each one is confronted by high biblical standards such as these:

Jesus: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Paul: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

Jesus: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

The burden of responding to these matters lies with those who preach male headship. Here I have asked some of the dozens of critical unanswered questions that relate directly to women’s stories of abuse. Sadly, there is little evidence that proponents of male headship are seriously grappling with them and speaking out publicly, and most women in such marriages are not being correctly counseled on matters of domestic violence. It is critical that there is a process in place to support such wives.

It is my sincere hope that this volume and these stories will help spark conversation and will challenge Christian leaders and laypeople on both sides of the headship debate to deal directly and biblically with the often silent epidemic of domestic abuse.


Ruth Tucker's book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife is available from Zondervan Academic now.

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