*Warning* – people who have been abused may find this post triggering.
Let’s get this blog off the ground.
A while ago I came across a video of John Piper, a complementarian pastor and theologian, addressing the following question: “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”
Here’s part of Piper’s response (italics are all his emphasis, bolded are mine):
Part of that answer’s clearly going to depend on what kind of abuse we’re dealing with here . . . .
If this man, for example, is calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly – group sex, or something really weird, bizarre, harmful, that clearly would be sin. Then the way she submits – and I really think this is possible, it’s kind of paradoxical [sic]. She’s not going to go there. I’m saying no, she’s not going to do what Jesus would disapprove [sic], even though the husband is asking her to do it.
She’s going to say, however, something like, “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. I think God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership.” And so – then she would say – “But if you would ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can’t – I can’t go there.”
Now that’s one kind of situation. Just a word on the other kind. If it’s not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.
Now, I found the idea that an woman would have to submit to an abusive husband horrific enough on it’s own, but not terribly surprising given what I’d experienced and observed of the misogyny that pervades complementarian communities. Even so, I was completely unprepared for the dismissive, abuse-enabling, stomach turning response that Piper gave.
Not only did he fail to challenge the assumption in the question that an abused wife is required to submit, he also placed the onus on the wife to grovel before her abuser – to affirm, validate, and never question her abuser’s authority over her, and to adopt a deferential, ingratiating tone in the face of a demand that she participate in sex against her will. Worse, Piper’s concern wasn’t that in such a scenario a wife is being coerced by an abusive partner, but that she’s being asked to do something that Christ wouldn’t want her to do. What the actual victim of abuse wants or feels doesn’t factor at all into his response – only what the man wants, and what God wants.
Piper’s dismissive comments about physical and emotional abuse forcefully drive home his total disregard for abused women, and all women. I’m still grasping for words that adequately capture how callous and dehumanizing it is to describe abuse that doesn’t require a woman to “sin” as something that “simply” hurts her. I find it particularly despicable given Piper’s position as a man, and a pastor, in a complementarian community, who’s extremely unlikely to ever experience emotional or physical abuse at the hands of his wife or anyone else. It’s incredibly patronizing and deeply hypocritical.
It disgusts and infuriates me to watch complementarians spew this kind of poison. This crap not only enables the abuse of women by telling them to “endure” it “for a season” (which is how long, exactly?) and to depend on the church to defend them, it literally puts women’s lives and health in danger. This stuff can literally kill women.
And I’m convinced from Piper’s facial expression and body language – his awkward laugh (honestly?!) and grimace in response to the question, his obvious discomfort throughout the video – that he knows he’s dealing with a land mine, and he knows he’s in an awkward position because he’s asking women to submit even in the face of degrading behavior that he himself will likely never experience. He knows, on some level, that what he’s saying is deeply dishonest and unfair.
I have to wonder, too, how much thought Piper really gave to where the question was coming from. Was this a question from a woman trapped in an abusive marriage, and further trapped by her religious community’s demands that she submit? Was this a cry for help from a woman who was looking for someone tell her she doesn’t have to obey or appease her abuser? It’s horrifying to think of a battered woman holding out hope that John Piper, so respected as a man of God, would be able to help her, only to have him give an answer that so completely affirmed her abuser’s power over her, and her total powerlessness to extricate herself from an abusive marriage. I don’t hold out much hope that this was a purely academic question – I strongly suspect the question came from a woman who was living with an abuser, or someone who cared about her welfare enough to look for help. I don’t know whether this possibility never occurred to Piper, but whatever the case, he completely failed any woman in such a situation, and abused the trust and power placed in him as someone entrusted with the counsel and care of people’s souls.
As I’ll discuss in my next post, this isn’t an isolated anomaly. Complementarians as a group are deeply dishonest about the misogynistic implications of their theology and the very real, damaging consequences this theology can have for girls and women.
Full video of Piper’s comments: