some closing thoughts on the DV discussion

Thank you all for commenting, facebooking and getting in touch over the last few days. I really appreciate it. I’ve particularly been grateful for those who have disagreed and felt free to voice their disagreement in a way that invited dialogue; as one friend put it to me, “critiqued with love and not from a point-scoring soap box”.

Domestic Violence is a difficult subject to broach. I know this not least because I deal with it every week. That means that people can be upset and offended for any number of reasons. For those actually hurt by my post, or simply it’s timing, I do sincerely apologise. Perhaps there is no good time to raise these questions but some have suggested right now certainly wasn’t one of them. To my mind it is when we are grappling with an issue that opportunities for engagement arise. But others’ minds and hearts function differently and I understand that.

Now where do I stand personally? I would have hoped it was quite clear by now but let me repeat so no-one can be in doubt. I am utterly outraged by domestic violence of any kind, whether emotional, verbal or physical. I am further grieved when men who are Christians act in this way and all the more when they abuse the Scriptures to defend their abuse. In my first piece I also attempted to set out why I think headship, properly understood, is something we ought not to be embarassed about but should embrace since it speaks directly of the gospel.

What do I think is going on in 1Peter 3:1-6? Well I asked a genuine question in my second piece, in particular how the “in the same way” of 1Peter 3:1 functioned. I was incorrect in my initial reading that it simply indicated a pattern of submission to abusive behaviour. There were many helpful comments on that piece which I can summarise with 2 convincing arguments that were made:

  1. the “in the same way” addressed to husbands in 3:7 clearly relates to a different form of relationship where the one being addressed has the power, unlike the wife or slave. Thus the continued pattern of speaking to the one in the non-power position is broken.
  2. the referent for “in the same way” is therefore not so much the model of Christ’s submission (1Peter 2:21 – although this is a general call to all Christians) but the summary statement in 1Peter 2:11-12, “live such good lives among the pagans…”.

Together they demonstrate how the position that I suggested for discussion was incorrect. I’m really grateful for those commenting who raised these objections. This, it seems to me, is the model for how we can have these discussions. If one of us gets something wrong, we show each other why the reading doesn’t work and what the better exegesis is. In that spirit I not only welcome the criticism of my piece but I wholeheartedly encourage it. It is a useful exercise for people to write things that are incorrect (as I did) and, from my friend again, be “critiqued with love and not from a point-scoring soap box”.

We are all going to make mistakes and those of us in the Christian community should not fear doing so if we can correct each other in love, all the more so when those correcting are in a place relationally where they will be listened to and respected. The first Christian to ever correct me was at university. I was newly converted and my tongue had not yet experienced anything like regeneration. He gently took me aside and opened up James 3 and some other passages with me. It was not just that he showed me what the Bible said but also that he said it from a context of a good relationship. I did not doubt his love and care for me, he wasn’t just out to score some points.

It would be a sad day if we were afraid to broach difficult topics and to be wrong about them out of fear of getting shouted down. We are peacemakers who should disagree in love and we are also speakers of truth that liberates. Sometimes the things we talk about may be fraught with danger, but perhaps that means we need to continue to tentatively speak about them some more. I remain gently convinced that it is better to discuss at the risk of some pain than not discuss at all when the topic is so important it needs some conversation. The question of abuse has remained undiscussed for too long, in part because of the fear of pain. Let’s make sure we are never silent on it again.

The gospel of Jesus, I am confident, is more than sufficient to not only provide balm for the abused, forgiveness for the repentant abuser, and a rock in the storm for a sometimes foolish commenter. Each one of us is included there at some or more points.

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9 comments on “some closing thoughts on the DV discussion

  1. Thanks for using your blog to raise awareness of domestic violence and for the work that you do with your church in helping those affected by it In my experience, (sorry don’t have any stats to back this up just many years of life). Men who abuse women like this are not reading the scriptures out of context, or using them as an excuse. I think male violence is more to do with problems of self control, insecurity and anger management. If more churches continue to address the problem and make it more open then this will help protect women as well as the secular agencies.

    • Hi Lucy, you may be interested to know taht the professionals who deliver behaviour change programs for abusive men have for a long time agreed that anger management is NOT the problem or the treatment for domestic abusers.

      Abusers (perpetrators of family violence/domestic abuse) can control their anger on the job, in public, at church, etc. They simply CHOOSE to unleash their anger only to those they are targetting in their family. And insecurity is not their primary problem either. Their problem is not in their emotions, but in their beliefs and attitudes — their thoughts. They believe themselves entitled to exert coercive power and control over their targets.

      Mens’ Behaviour Change programs work on the men’s beliefs and attitudes. They don’t do therapy, they do psycho-education. Please check out No To Violence if you want to learn more about this.

  2. There’s a pattern of argument about domestic violence that goes like this:
    – domestic violence is bad.
    – Scriptural teaching clearly proscribes husbands from using domestic authority to enable domestic violence
    – yet some husbands do this.
    – therefore, we must get rid of domestic authority vested in the husband.

    Let me run another argument:
    – pedestrians being killed by cars is bad.
    – the Law clearly proscribes drivers from running over pedestrians
    – yet some drivers still do this
    – therefore, we must get rid of cars (or drivers)

    The conclusion is not *necessarily* wrong. But it also argues that if some people misuse something then that something should be shunned, regardless of what other benefits might accrue, especially in situations where the majority do not misuse it. The cause of male domestic violence is sin overcoming evil men, not domestic authority. (Another analogy is that there should be no government because people with power have a tendency to misuse it. While pre-emptively destroying society through policy is one mechanism for preventing corrupt officials from doing so, I don’t consider that a net win.)

    Within the church, three things are needed to address DV:
    – husbands must be taught to lead and love in holiness (see 1 Pet 2:7, or Eph 4:25-33)
    – wives must be taught to submit and respect in holiness
    – we must recognise that all men and women will fail at this in small ways, and some will fail at this in a major way, causing severe harm to those around them (side note: both men and women – males do not have a monopoly on DV, though husband to wife and parents to children tend to be more dangerous to the victims in the short term due to disparity in strength). This means that we need ways to intervene, to protect, to rebuke, and to bring about change. And ideally to do this soon enough to restore proper relationship rather than mitigate the damage as it dissolves.

    Finally, there is clear teaching in Scripture that faithfulness under unjust suffering is admirable, whether a slave to a cruel master or persecution. However, it doesn’t follow from this that staying in the situation is always (or even normally) appropriate, nor that third parties should encourage this. A historical example: It is admirable for people sent to the Soviet gulags to continue to defer to authority. It is not admirable for us to be content that they are there and fail to confront the USSR about it. And it’s not inherently un-admirable for them to escape given the opportunity (I note that Acts documents multiple examples of both Paul & Peter making their escape or making themselves scarce, given threats to their life). Likewise, while it might be admirable for someone to stick to their wedding vows under persecution from their spouse, it is not admirable for us to fail to support them, protect them, and (where possible) confront and rebuke the persecutor. (In many situations, there are options that are superior to either “go back and endure” or “get out and have nothing more to do with that bastard” – though there are situations where the latter is the only viable option).

    • The church needs to put a lot more effort into teaching about what people can/should do when they are being oppressed by wicked people. This needs to be taught across the board, and the principles and precepts clearly articulated.

      Churches have done a reasonable job at this when it comes to the macro level — wicked governments oppressing their citizens.
      But they’ve done a poor job of it at the level of ordinary human relationships.

      When someone ( a spouse, a fellow church member, a boss, an employee, a parent, a child) oppressses and abuses someone else in ther family/ church /workplace, most Christians are taught just to suck it up and suffer and to believe that is somehow obeying Scripture and brining glory to God thereby.

      I believe churches and esp church leaders need to teach more about the Biblical principles of separation, discipline, and especially the abused spouse’s liberyt to divorce if they wish to do so. My book Not Under Bondage deals with this subject.

      Headship and submission are not the only doctrines involved in domestic abuse. Those who are seeing the field thru just the headship & submission lens are failing to see that a lot of other teaching is enabling ‘c’hristian abusers to continue to abuse their spouses.

      Doctrines we need to bring into this discussion:
      Forgiveness (it doesn’t necessitate or always entail relational reconciliation; etc, three meanins of the word ‘forgiveness’- see Steve Tracy’s “Mending the Soul”)
      Repentance (genuine vv phoney, deep vv shallow, worldly sorry vv godly sorrow, etc.
      Reconciliation after abuse — when (if ever) it is safe, when it is unwise and unsafe, how to discern the difference
      Suffering — when it is ‘for the sake of Christ’ and therefore appropriate to endure, and when it is simply unwise and wrong because it is mererly enabling the abuser to become more entrenched in his sin, and no-one benefits at all, not the abuser, not the victim, not the children, not the glory of God.
      Gossip — the prohibition against gossip has made many victims feel they cannot disclose their plight to anyone in the church
      Church discipline — the inappropriateness of Matthew 18 in domestic abuse cases, and the appropriateness of 1 Cor. 5:11-13.
      “Can you take a brother to court” to seek a restraining order if the ‘brother’ is your spouse and his abusing you? I say yes by all means you can, the text forbidding taking a fellow believer to court was meant to small matters, not matters as serious as abuse. The passage that grants a victim the right to ask the court to restrain her abusive spouse is Romans 13.

  3. David I never had any doubt about where you stood. You could see an issue with biblical interpretation and therefore you raised it. As I wrote in my response on that thread “thank you for an honest and courageous post, but I differ significantly from you on exegesis…” etc.

    If you hadn’t raised the issue in the way that you did, we would have missed out on an excellent discussion which will be helpful to anyone engaged in this area (which sooner or later means all of us).

  4. Hi David
    I've enjoyed reading your blog over the last few days. I've appreciated the humility you've shown in trying to come to the truth of God's Word in such a difficult and painful context.
    I know the discussion here is essentially over but my thought have been shaped by reading your blog so I thought I'd share them with you

    The focus is the phrase in 1 Peter 3:1 – 'in the same way'.
    – What is it referring to? In the same way as what?'
    – The phrase itself directs us to its reference – 'wives in the same way be submissive'
    Wives are to be submissive in the same way as others have previously been directed i.e 2:13 'submit yourselves to every authority' and 2:18 'slaves submit to your masters'
    The instruction to submit has its basis in verses 11 and 12 ….'live such good lives among the pagans that they will see your good works and give glory to God'.
    Peter's instructions in verses 11 and 12 have their outworking in submission. Submission, in its various contexts, is the characteristic of a good life, a godly life.
    This submissive life is described in its overarching terms in 2:16 and 17.
    We are to show proper respect to everyone, subjecting ourselves to their authority or their welfare – and so will fear God, love the brothers and honour the King.
    Specific examples of submission to authority are given – in 2:13 and 18, and to wives in 3:1

    Which leads to the first question – what about 3:7?
    Husbands are also called to act 'in the same way', but how can this refer to submission to authority when they are the ones in authority?
    The solution lies in the fact that in our different roles we are all called to submit.
    This is made clear in Ephesians 5:21 when, prior to instructions to wives to submit to their husbands, we are all called to submit to one another. The same verb as in 1 Peter 3:1 is used – hupotasso.

    In 1 Peter 3:7 Peter tells husbands to treat their wives with respect – the word used here is timeo, meaning to revere or hold in high honour. It is the same verb used in 2:17

    In English, the word submission conveys obedience to authority but in Greek the word hupotasso has a broader meaning and can include the placing of oneself in subjection or taking a subordinate place.
    This sort of submission is the calling of all Christians.We are called to follow the One who 'did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.' Our Saviour submitted to God, submitted to the authorities over Him and subjected Himself to our welfare when He bore our sins in his body on the tree.
    Husbands, in 3:7, are being called to act 'in the same way' – to submit themselves to the interests of their wives, holding them in a place of high honour.

    However the second question remains – what about 2:21? Are we called to submit to unjust suffering or abuse?
    I think the answer is yes – and no! (who said I couldn't be a politician!)
    We are called to live a good life – a life where we submit to authorities and subject ourselves to the interests of others. This will necessarily lead to suffering, and this is the suffering we are called to endure – the suffering for doing good. This is the suffering Jesus went through for us. He submitted Himself to the authority of his father. He submitted Himself to the evil authorities, and he submitted to us, subjecting Himself to our welfare in bearing our sins in His body on the tree. He suffered for doing good and this is our example to follow.
    We are not called to unjust suffering per se – otherwise we may as well go out into the streets and ask people to bash us up!
    We are called to live good lives, lives of submission, and bear up under the suffering this will bring, because we know He did this for us.
    This will mean submitting to evil authorities, cruel masters and sinful husbands, and it will mean submitting at cost.
    What it does not do is ask us to submit to an extent that condones evil. When a wife has a husband who practices consistent and unrepentant physical abuse, when we have a government that persecutes or slaughters its citizens, or when our government forbids the teaching of God's Word, the question then becomes when does submission result in the condoning of evil or the disobeying of God's Word? Peter himself in Acts 4:19 refuses to submit to authorities in this situation.

    We are called to 'live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us'
    Peter fleshes out the 'good life' as being a life of submission – to God, to one another, to authorities and between one another in marriage (2:17,13,18; 3:1,7) The 'in the same way' of Ch. 3:1 and 7 I think, refer back to the calls to submission in Ch. 2
    Living this good life will lead to unjust suffering, which we are called to endure following the example of Jesus, who endured such incomprehensible unjust suffering in His submission for us.
    It is a calling to a good life, but not one which calls for the turning of a blind eye to silently condone evil. When to take a stand in these circumstances will of course be a very difficult decision for someone to make.
    We have a glorious calling, even though painful and difficult, because it follows in the footsteps of our glorious Saviour, who bore our sins in His body on the tree, and whose wounds have healed us.
    .

  5. Jacky Hooper, I believe your approach is wrong, and is dangerous to victims of domestic abuse.

    Why? Because you've limited the 'out' for victims to only the situation when "a wife has a husband who practices consistent and unrepentant physical abuse." That is most unfair, and I have to tell you that in indicates to me that you don't have an adequate understanding of domestic abuse. Many husband do not touch their wives in anger — ever — but they destroy their wives with vile and demeaning verbal abuse, with gaslighting psychological techniques, with financial abuse, with sexual abuse (by way of coercion), with twisting weilding scripture to use Bible texts as missiles to oppress their wives. Etcetera.

    Please believe me. It is very counterproductive to say that physical violence is the only form of domestic abuse that really counts as 'serious.'

  6. I gather by you title ‘Some closing thoughts on the DV discussion’ that you’re not planning on writing any more posts about domestic abuse, at least for a while, David. I find that dissappointing. I believe we need a lot more discussion on this topic in the church. But it’s your blog, and it’s your decision what you do on it.

    I hope that you and your readers will read my post at A Cry For Justice —
    Should wives submit to harsh husbands just like slaves submitting to harsh masters? (1 Peter 2 & 3)
    http://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/11/02/should-wives-submit-to-harsh-husbands-just-like-slaves-submitting-to-harsh-masters-1-peter-2-3/

    PS, if you want tips about how to recognise whether a comment has been submitted to your blog by an abuser, we have a tag on A Cry For Justice for ‘the language of abusers’.
    We do not publish comments when we think they are written by abusers.
    You might like to take a leaf from our book here. I know that anyone who writes on domestic abuse on the web will find that many comments get submitted by perpetrators if the comments aren’t well moderated. You seem to have been doing a pretty good job of moderating comments on your DV posts, David, but you may have found it more difficult that usual on your DV posts. Just be aware you are not alone if you’ve had your posts targetted by abusers, and be aware that when they write on sites like yours, abusers will almost always portray themselves as victims.

  7. Hi David,

    I’m really thankful for you raising this topic. I’m currently writing a talk for a women’s event on this passage and found myself wrestling with the same sort of conclusions from your earlier post. It made me deeply uncomfortable, but I want to be faithful to the passage, not to my own comfort and societal push – if God really wants women to stay in abusive situations, then shouldn’t we be faithful to that, no matter how terrible it may be?

    It was of particular benefit to me that you also had the same preliminary thoughts and discomfort. The discussion in the comments section has been very edifying and enlightening, as this very particular question is addressed from this angle. I hope that I can be faithful and edifying in my own talk, and also address this question confidently if it comes up in the question time afterwards.

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