John Piper on Domestic Abuse and Group Sex (Yes, That Combination Is Weird)

Back in 2009, evangelical heavyweight John Piper published a video of himself responding to this question submitted by a listener:

“What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”

Piper began his comments with these words:

[Chuckles] “Oh boy. Part of that answer is clearly going to depend on what kind of abuse we’re dealing with here, how serious this is. Is her life in danger?”

This is not an appropriate response to this question.

Also—yes, he really did respond to the question by chuckling.

Perhaps the saddest thing about the whole video is the question that was submitted. What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser? The answer ought to be, it shouldn’t. While the entire idea that wives should submit to their husbands is abhorrent to me, it seems on some level like shouldn’t be that hard to include a void clause—and abuse of any kind should seem an obvious candidate. But no.

The person submitting the question assumed that wives are bound to some form of submission even to a husband who is an abuser. Piper never once disabused his listener of her assumption. Instead, he affirmed it.

“Is her life in danger?” he asked. Because apparently that is some sort of standard. Because apparently it is easy to tell when an abuser will snap—and whether an abuser is dangerous. Because apparently things don’t escalate.

After explaining that women are under their husbands’ authority only because they are under Jesus’ authority first and he put him there, Piper headed off in a really strange direction:

“If this man is calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly, group sex or something really weird, bizarre, harmful, that clearly would be sin.”

This is just bizarre. Maybe it’s just me, but I think I can say with some confidence that the individual who submitted this question was not thinking of group sex when asking about marriage to an abusive husband. Is this really where Piper’s mind goes when someone uses the word “abuser”? Straight to group sex?

Furthermore, asking someone to willingly engage in group sex is not abuse. Coercing someone to engage in a sexual act they do not want is absolutely abuse—but why jump to a husband trying to coerce a wife into group sex (if indeed that is what we are talking about) rather than addressing a far more likely situation, like marital rape?

All this weirdness aside, Piper did offer an answer. Because she is only under her husband’s authority because God put her there, Piper explained, a woman whose husband wants her to engage in group sex should make this statement:

“Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader, 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, but if you ask me to do this, require this of me, I can’t go there.”

Do you see how sweet and nice that little speech is? Piper is once again emphasizing submission. Even a wife who must object to a husband who asks her to sin (and what this has to do with abuse is beyond me) must object in a submissive, quiet manner. She can’t just say no. She can’t just say I won’t do that. Nope. She has to have flowers in her voice.

Finally remembering that the question was about abuse, Piper quickly clarified:

“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.”

Eep.

Simply hurting her.

Yes really, that is what he said.

However many times I read it, I can’t get over the word “simply.” Such a little word, really, but it speaks volumes. Asking her to participate in group sex? That’s the big bad! Simply hurting her? Well, you know. Simply.

What was Piper’s solution? The church, he said, should step in and tell the abuser “you can’t do this.” Yes, really—that was the truly and only solution Piper offered. No mention of what to do if the husband didn’t go to the church. No mention of what might happen to an abused woman if her husband finds out she’s been talking to the pastor. No mention of all of the times men prove able to talk themselves out of situations like this.

Why do I address this video now, when it was published in 2009? Well for one thing, this sort of advice is in the public eye right now with the surfacing of similar comments made by Paige Patterson of the Southern Baptist Convention. For another thing, though, Piper still enjoys widespread support within evangelicalism. His words on domestic violence and spousal abuse deserve a public airing every once in a while.

Tomorrow I’m going to address a statement Piper put out in 2012 “clarifying” his statements on abuse. While he allows for a role of the civil authorities in that “clarification,” he also digs his hole deeper.

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