This blog post should be read in conjunction with “some closing thoughts”
edit (7 March 2015):
Thank you for the many helpful comments over the past few days. I’m particularly grateful for the sustained and direct engagement in the comments on my handling of “in the same way”, particularly with working out what the referent was. I would encourage everyone reading the post to read those comments too. This is precisely why I wrote the piece – to raise this thorny question in an environment where we are all vehemently opposed to DV and yet have this difficult passage in front of us. It is a post of questions, grappling with a difficult passage, putting forward a particular reading and asking for others to add their thoughts and comments. I am immensely grateful that people have done that.
I still think that Peter’s words are challenging to each and every one of us no matter what form of unjust situation we suffer under and so Peter’s consistent pointing to Jesus’ own submission to suffering is good for us to be constantly reminded of. The world does not understand it, and even those of us who know and love the Cross of Jesus struggle to comprehend all the implications too.
I’m really encouraged by most of the conversations we’re having right now here in Sydney (and those joining in) about the church’s response to domestic violence. I have, of course, set out my own thoughts about it here.
But I have a thought, or perhaps more accurately a niggling concern. Even as I voice it I fear that I will be misunderstood. I will certainly be leaped upon by those who (and let’s face it, it’s part of what’s going on) take pleasure in attacking Sydney Anglicanism and conservative (ie orthodox) Christianity in general. But I think it needs to be said.
So, before I say it, for the record (and, frankly, because there are those who are uncharitable enough to read the wrong thing into things that we write):
- I am implaccably opposed to domestic violence and abuse of all forms.
- I am incredibly disgusted by men who abuse women.
- I am particularly outraged when a man who calls himself a Christian acts in this way, since it is in direct violation of Jesus’ own instruction through His Apostle (Eph. 5:25-29 etc.). Few things, in fact, anger me as much as people who twist the word of God to justify evil behaviour.
Perhaps critics should also know (and I write this relunctantly because I genuinely don’t want others to think that I’m somehow seeking to justify or promote myself) that
- I am seeing DV of one form or another many times a week through our church’s charity.
- I have on multiple occasions intervened directly to remove a woman from violence or the threat of violence. I have faced off violent men (who almost always turn out to be cowardly bullies) and I have sat with women who have just fled from an abusive partner. I have done this many times and I expect to be doing it many times in the future.
- Whenever I preach on the “headship” of a husband I am at pains to stress the sacrificial love of Jesus as the only model. I spend my time on headship telling men how they need to act in service of women.
- I am responsible for an organisation where we not only help victims of DV but we also work with men to help them understand their own behaviour and motivations with a view to genuine change.
So when I write what you’re about to read I do so (I trust) as someone who’s credentials in this area, while certainly not enormous, are not utterly negligible either.
So now here is my dilemma.
I want to rescue as many women as possible from DV, but I think the Scriptures have something directly to say to a woman who stays (I presume for a while) in an abusive situation. Note very carefully what I am stating here. The Scriptures speak to the Christian woman and she should therefore consider this for herself and make her own decision about it. I am not telling her what to do, and nor should you. But I am telling all of us (including her) what I think the Bible is saying. And I think it says something incredibly shocking to all of us.
1Pet. 3:1 Wives, in the same way…
There is a call to wives to behave in the same way as … well as who? Reading a little before soon shows us:
1Pet. 2:18-25 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
So the Apostolic instruction appears to be that wives ought to act just like the slaves who Peter is referring to who, in turn, act just like the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered on behalf of every Christian.
Do please note that Peter is under no illusions as to what is going on; the abuser is harsh (v25), the suffering is unjust (v19), the experience is physical (v20). But the call is to submit in reverent fear of God. This is the example set for us and, incredibly, our calling as Christians (v21).
And then, shockingly and confrontingly for us, he writes,
1Pet. 3:1 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands…
What is most challenging here is the “in the same way”. Peter appears to have in mind submission to treatment that includes that which he has been writing about previously; harshness, unjust suffering, some form of physical abuse.
Again, please note, there is no ounce of justification here for any of this behaviour. As stated before it is quite clear that Peter considers all this abuse to be utterly wrong. That is not in question here. He also writes to Christian husbands to command them
1Pet. 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
He recognises the power imbalance and calls all husbands to never abuse it. On the contrary, to go out of their way to look after and respect their wives.
But nevertheless Jesus’ Apostle calls each and every one of us to submission. “To this you were called”, he writes.
I find this incredibly challenging. What do those of us who want ourselves to submit to the Scriptures make of it? Perhaps some observations and questions to push our thinking on a little:
- Are we convinced this Apostolic word is authoritative? I think that needs to be asked because it will frame our response and also protect us (hopefully) from the temptation to rapidly dismiss what we read here. If we think the Scriptures are the word of God then we will want to humbly work out what it means for us to sit under it. Of course, for some simply reading this will lead to the conclusion that it cannot possibly be God’s word. But that has never been the position of the Christian church. For that Church, for us, we must grapple further.
- When Peter writes “in the same way” does he refer to (not least) submission to unfair, physical abuse or is he simply instructing us to submit as Jesus submitted, albeit in different circumstances? I find the latter less persuasive. I sense that I’m tempted to go for the latter not because it’s the more linguistically and contextually sensible, but because I’m embarassed by the implications of the former.
- An observation: once again the call to submit is made to the person who will submit, in this case the abused wife. She is not to be forced to submit, but may choose to do so herself, out of reverence to and in trust of Christ. This is her choice and no-one else’s.
- What does this mean for pastoral advice for a woman in this situation? I wonder if it makes it a little more complicated than we may at first think. Again, nobody is in any position to tell her what to do, let alone make her do. But what if she chooses to stay and “endure verbal abuse for a season” (to deliberately quote John Piper in his much-criticised statement) or even choose to suffer physical abuse for a short period of time, citing 1Peter 3:1 as her rationale? What then? Is this not her seeking to obey the word of God?
- None of this means we ought not seek to empower and help her if she chooses to remove herself from an abusive situation. But is it so wrong, was Piper so wrong, to suggest that her choice to submit might have a flavour of “in the same way” and that this might actually be a Godly wise choice?
I realise some reading this will have already written me off. I also know that we’re in a season when we’re (quite rightly) taking seriously the need to protect and help women who are abused. All of this is good and important. But perhaps as we think these things through a little more we need to just stop and consider exactly what we’re saying and who we are seeking to please when we say it. Because the world around us has jolted us into thinking hard about these things (and we must be grateful for this) doesn’t mean we need to listen to them in all things. Because a measure of common grace has been at play, doesn’t mean that God’s special revelation in His word is no longer our prime rule.
As we revitalise our insistence that men ought to model themselves on Jesus’ sacrificial love for His bride, is it perhaps also necessary for us to begin to consider what it means for us to also think through what it looks like to model ourselves on Christ’s submission to unjust and unfair cruelty?
If you’re prepared to read this all again carefully, take seriously my opening caveats and then answer I’d be very grateful for considered response. What do you all think?