Ruth Tucker Answers Questions about Complementarianism

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 2.13.16 PMRuth, how do you think “complementarianism” is connected to abuse in marriages?

The most obvious way, I believe, is its silence on domestic violence in relation to its own persona. Rather than denying there is any connection between the two, those who hold the doctrine of male headship should be out in front speaking out against abuse of women. Although my book was released less than a week ago, there have been many positive responses—responses that make me fear I’m simply preaching to the choir. Where are those from the complementarian crowd who ought to man up and say, yes we have a problem? Who say Tucker’s book is not the only evidence out there that ties male headship in marriage to violence against a wife. Who say we as complementarians are going to be the loudest voice against all forms of abuse and we will never try to cover it up.

[Ruth is right. I’ve heard nothing but crickets from the complementarian crowd in response to her book’s publication. Why the crickets? Is it the fear of affirming her point of view that complementarianism has a problem or that in calling attention to the necessity of not abusing women they have to admit a flaw in the system? Why the crickets?]

Another way this movement is connected to abuse in marriage is the counseling done by prominent preachers. In one instance a wife is told that if her husband is ordering her to do something terribly sinful (such and participating in group sex), she should respond: “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.” Such counsel sucks the self-confidence right out of a woman. How can any woman who says those words be assertive enough to stand up to a violent husband and call in the law?

After separating from my violent ex-husband I agreed to have joint marriage counseling with a Bible Church minister who I quickly discovered held strongly to the doctrine of male headship. He said that for my part, I was to commit to being a submissive wife. At one point I said that I had been too submissive because I had not reported to authorities my ex-husband’s sexual abuse of a teenage girl (nor had I reported his violence toward me). I told the minister about the incidents and how guilty I felt about my complicity. He emphasized that my place was to be submissive to my husband who represents Christ as the head, and thus there ought to be no guilt on my part. This is an example of the kind of counseling that is out there.

Why do you say that the term complementarian is simply a politically correct term for patriarchalism?  Should we see patriarchy only in negative terms?

The term, though claimed to be “coined” by those holding to the doctrine of male headship, was actually used by egalitarians long before. Paul Jewett, Mary Evans and Elaine Storkey, widely published authors, had all used the term, and rightly so. (See Scot’s discussion on March 2, 2015, featuring Kevin Giles.)

Egalitarians believe in complementarity between male and female which actually strengthens the argument for equality. I tell in my book how the addition of women elders broadened the ministry of the consistory of Fifth Reformed Church (and surely not because those women wanted power). The same is true for any ministry and for marriage. We need both male and female. We need complementarity. So to use that term for what is actually male hierarchy in ministry and marriage is disingenuous. But terms like hierarchy and patriarchy are not politically correct, so they use the term complementarian and frost the cake of inequality with the claim of equality. Now, don’t get me started on that.

As to patriarchy, it’s a biblical term and a good term if used in the right way. We need strong fathers in our families. My ex-husband abandoned his thirteen-year-old son. He demanded male headship in the family but then walked away from his own son. It’s mind-boggling.

Why do you question the value of marriage counseling for domestic violence?

I wish I had known at the time my son and I escaped the violent marriage that agreeing to marriage counseling was an entirely flawed concept. When a father sexually abuses a child, do you go to family counseling? Maybe some do, but it’s wrong—dead wrong. Crimes should be handled by the courts. My ex-husband’s violence against me and his sexual abuse of our foster daughter were crimes—not problems to be counseled away.

Some people may wonder why you would stay in such an abusive marriage for 19 years. How would you respond?

Most battered wives would know instinctively that there is no easy answer to that question. For me fear and humiliation sum up my response. I first of all feared that my ex-husband could charm a judge into granting him joint custody of our son. So I waited until he turned thirteen and was allowed to testify. After hearing his horror stories of what had happened behind closed doors, the judge granted full custody. I also feared for my life. When I threatened him on one occasion that if he ever beat me again I would call the police, he viciously hissed: “That would be fatal.”

But shame and humiliation were also a big factor. This was back in the mid 1980s. I had read too many stories of how the woman is blamed in such cases. Sure, he beat her, but she was contentious. She provoked him. She deserved it.

What is the cover supposed to say to those who see it?

As most people know, writers do not have a lot of say when it comes to book covers. In most cases publishers reign supreme. I was convinced I had the most incredible idea for a book cover ever submitted. The committee unanimously turned it down. They offered two options that a cover artist had designed. One I though was mildly pathetic. The other was this one. My first reaction was huuh? The artist should have turned the chair upside down, put the picture askew, and made a great big hole in the wall. But within seconds, I said YES, that’s it! That is the perfect picture of violence in the home. I’ve been there, done that—picked up furniture, put the Bible back in place, straightened the picture on the wall and pretended that everything was all right. I would re-plaster and paint the wall tomorrow.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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