Abusers and the Language of Complementarianism

By Maureen Farrell Garcia. She is the author of various articles including”Groomed for Abuse” and “Sex Offenders in Our Midst.” When she’s not researching sexual abuse dynamics, she reads, writes, and teaches writing at Nyack College in NYC. She would love for you to connect with her on Twitter: @mfarrellgarcia

Ruth A. Tucker’s new book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife is stirring up some discussion. While I am grieved to learn that our experiences have significant parallels, at the same time, I am proud of her resilience and excited by her new work.

Of course, not everyone is as excited by Tucker’s work as I. For example, Tim Challies’ review discourages his audience from reading it.

Tucker has responded here to Challie’s objections. Therefore, my two cents will focus on how Challies’ response unfortunately and unintentionally functions as an act of alliance with abusers. Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not claiming that Tim Challies is, in any way, abusive. I will be using Challies’ review as an illustration of just one example that reveals how many of us in the Christian community respond to abuse and why these responses should be cause for concern and need to be changed.

Having said that, let’s look at Challies’ recent review:

In the first paragraph, Challies considers Tucker’s biographical account a success. Yet, he then explicitly, and with an unfortunate passive verb phrase, claims her “critique of complementarian theology…falls prey to significant flaws.”

Consider Challies’ fourth paragraph which unpacks and appears to affirm Tucker’s work. He states, “Tucker’s story raises a host of important issues and concerns about matters of abuse.” Okay. So far, so good. He continues, “I appreciated…I gained insight…I benefited from her…reflections…and her willingness to ask and answer very difficult questions…I was shocked …by Christian[s]…[refusal] to help…and [their] judgmental counsel…As a Christian and a church leader I gained important knowledge from reading her book and I believe it will help me grow in compassion and understanding towards those who are in similar situations.” He concludes this paragraph by expressing his gratitude for all this.

This seems to be a positive, even excellent, appraisal of Tucker’s work. Challies writes, “Her story of suffering is, I fear, all too common and highlights one of the church’s great failings.” In light of all his praise and his critique of the church’s failure in handling abuse, it appears Challies suggests Tucker’s book is an important work, particularly relevant now.

But does he? Simply put, explicitly yes he does, meaning that he states directly his praise. Now here’s where it gets tricky.

Even though he states that he personally learned and gained much from Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, his refusal to recommend that others read it, reveals that he does not actually value the information and benefits he expresses gratitude for.

When abusers read the conclusion to Challies’ review they do a dance. Why? Because, while Challies seems to claim that Tucker’s book has value, his concluding claim, “I can not recommend this book” nullifies his previous claims that Tucker’s experiences as an abuse survivor, and her resulting book, have worth.

Whenever Christians devalue abuse survivors’ experiences and knowledge, we reinforce the abusers’ beliefs that victims/survivors are less valuable then they are, that victims/survivors will not be believed, and that they, the abusers, can continue to abuse with impunity.

In this case Challies states why he cannot recommend Tucker’s book and in doing so reveals his priorities of value. For Challies, Tucker’s abusive experiences and knowledge about abusers is just not as valuable as his concern for complementarianism. To put it as starkly as possible, Challies has allied himself with abusers in using his platform to recommend to his readers that they not read Tucker’s work, in effect silencing her, simply because she does not agree with him on one nonessential belief of Christianity.

Abusers seek to silence victims/survivors, particularly concerning their experiences and knowledge of abuse, and when we do the same we are abusive allies. In addition, the act of silencing a victim/survivor based on their differing beliefs is not only acting as an ally. It mirrors the behaviors of abusers.

Abusers refuse to allow differences of opinion. One must capitulate all their beliefs and ideas to the abusers’ or suffer consequences. When Challies mirrors this behavior it tells abusers that their expectations that victim/survivors should agree with everything they believe or else be silenced is not only the correct way to behave, but that this is the way Christian complementarians behave, and that Christians sanction this very behavior, regardless of what they may say explicitly to the contrary.

As I have written elsewhere, in order for Christian communities to become safe places for the vulnerable and for victim/survivors to heal, we must make space to highlight their stories and experiences of abuse. This shows that we value them and their voices, that we take their experiences seriously, and that we are willing to experience their stories as well as the vicarious suffering we experience when we empathize.

It also highlights, to potential abusers, that victims are given a platform, that they will be believed, and that to abuse in this environment is not safe for the abuser.

Now I assume, from years of reading Tim Challies’ blog, that being an ally to abusers is not who he wants to be. Perhaps he would be surprised to learn that Anna C. Salter, an abuse expert he quotes on his blog, and other abuse experts, such as Lundy Bancroft, fiercely claim that the real experts of abuse are those who have suffered it.

Tucker, myself, and far too many others, know what abusers think, what they believe, how they manipulate and charm, and what they do behind closed doors. I am hoping, based on past experiences of Tim’s expressions of humility in writing, that perhaps he will now be more open to listening, really listening, to the ways abusers justify their abuse with complementarian theology.

 

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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