A conversation about Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse

A conversation about Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse by Ruth Tucker (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016) with Bruce Hulme and Dr Melinda Cousins.

Bruce Melinda, I came across this book by Ruth Tucker and found that you’ve recently read it too. Through her own story and theological reflection, she explores how particular views of male headship/female submission can perpetuate domestic violence (DV), which can include physical, sexual, psychological and emotional violence. Not a light topic! What did you make of it?
Melinda It’s a harrowing read; she is very open and vulnerable about the abuse she experienced.  I don’t think the book fully answers all the questions it raises, but her story is one that is all too common and therefore so important to tell, particularly given that as a well educated Christian theologian, she doesn’t conform to some of the expectations people might have of DV victims.
Bruce You think it’s common?
Melinda The most recent ABS statistics show at least 1 in 4 women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. Two Australian studies in the 1990s and a 2006 British study found there is basically no difference in DV rates within the church. Even if those studies are dated, there’s no reason to think the numbers have shifted significantly. But this doesn’t seem to be a topic that we talk about too often in our churches.
Bruce Perhaps we think the problem is ‘out there’; it is confronting to think of similar statistics reflected in Christian communities. The issue did find a public voice two years ago in Sydney circles starting with some Sydney Morning Herald articles by Julia Baird, but there hasn’t been much since.
Melinda I remember that. At the time Julia and an anonymous woman who had experienced DV, ‘Isabella Young’, received a flood of communication from women sharing similar stories. I was horrified when a pastor in my own denomination wrote a response saying he was unaware of DV within our churches. That’s certainly not been my experience.
Bruce Your experience?
Melinda I know numerous stories from women in our churches who have experienced DV. I have my own story of a relationship I was in when I was younger that was physically violent and justified by the misuse of Scripture.
Bruce I don’t tend to hear those stories …
Melinda I think that’s the challenge. Because specific data is hard to come by, we can think the issue doesn’t exist in our churches. But the stories are there if we will listen and provide space for them. Tucker’s book is an important voice in that conversation.
Bruce So it’s a significant issue. I wonder, though, about the causal connection Tucker makes. I was horrified at the way her husband—a pastor—blatantly misused headship/submission to justify his abuse; clearly loving his wife as Christ loved the church didn’t feature. So is it fair to blame a complementarian viewpoint if the perpetrator isn’t faithful to every aspect of that perspective?
Melinda Some have critiqued Tucker’s book saying that her husband was not a ‘true complementarian’. However, while it may not be the cause, the teaching he received provided him with justifications for his behaviour. Without wanting to get into a debate on the merits of complementarianism itself, I think it is worth pointing out – as Tucker does – that proponents of that view have often heavily focused, rightly or wrongly, on male headship and authority and wifely submission. In our cultural context, where we know that two Australian women are killed each week by their partners, and given that DV is about controlling behaviour, we need to be extremely careful that we are never heard as giving licence to that. How willing are we to name the issue of domestic violence from our pulpits? Do we have systems in place to respond to someone experiencing it? Would we ask them to stay in danger? Would we even believe them?
Bruce That’s the challenge, whatever perspective you take on the complementarian-egalitarian ‘debate’. In fact, Tucker names that as central to the problem; headship vs. mutual submission has been fashioned as a proof-texting debate, rather than as an opportunity for stories to be heard and responded to. The book steps in that direction. But what levels of response are called for, do you think?
Melinda I think the book raises some questions worth asking about complementarianism itself, even if Tucker herself does not provide the best articulation of an alternative viewpoint. Her book also reminds us that we don’t speak into a vacuum on this issue and so need to be extra careful lest we provide abusers with justification for their actions. Most of all, I hope it raises our awareness of stories like this. Too often we can pretend that the church is only made up of ‘happy families’; we can assume DV doesn’t happen among our people. If we take the statistics and stories seriously, we would instead operate from the assumption that there are both perpetrators and victims of DV in our congregations right now. How does knowing that shape the way we preach and teach?

 

If this is an issue that you would like to address further, a good resource is J. McClure and N. Ramsay (eds.), Telling the Truth: Preaching Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1998), especially chapter 9 “Preaching about Sexual and Domestic Violence”. This book grew out of a consultation on preaching and sexual and domestic violence held by the Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. This book is now out of print and can be downloaded for free at http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/1976/preaching-about-sexual-and-domestic-violence-free-e-book

Rev Dr Melinda Cousins- mcousins@adelaide.taboir.edu.au

Bruce Hulme- bhulme@adelaide.tabor.edu.au

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