Why Abusive Men Repudiate True Manhood: Letter to an Abusive Husband

Today, November 25, is The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  I do not normally blog on Sundays, as faithful readers know.  But this is a topic worth addressing, especially because I am on the record as being for manly leadership in home and church.

Let’s address this awful subject this way: if I could talk with a man who was abusing his headship of his home, what would I say?  What follows is an attempt toward that end, and ultimately, toward the strengthening of Christian families.  This is no mere hypothetical, of course.  Abuse happens.  Here you see how I as a complementarian, Christ-driven head of home and church would handle it.

******

Dear Bob:

It has come to my attention that you are abusing your wife verbally and physically.  Knowing this, I am trying not to tremble as I write.  There is nothing worse than the strong mistreating the weak.

Please know this: your abuse of your wife in the name of Christian leadership is a direct repudiation of true manhood.  You think that the expulsive exercise of your strength is warranted by Scripture.  You think that it shows that you are a man.  Actually, it shows your depravity.

It shows that you are acting as and very well may be the opposite of what you claim.

Ephesians 5 teaches that a man is head of his wife.  There is no textually faithful way to take this verse other than to conclude that it teaches manly leadership in the home.  But this does not mean that a man can lord his God-given strength over his wife and family.  Hear Ephesians 5:29-31 again, perhaps for the first time in reality: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.””  Did you see that?  The godly man “nourishes and cherishes” his wife.  Is that what you are doing?  It most certainly is not.

As is obvious from both Scripture and the most rudimentary moral sense, you are not called to use your strength on your wife.  You are called to use it for your wife.  Your full manhood should be aimed at protecting and blessing and building up the woman God has given you in marriage.  As a husband, the Lord has commissioned you to stand in the gap for your wife.  This means that you will sacrifice your body for her, not lead her body to suffer.  You see a train coming and her in the way, and you know your fate.  A man menaces her, and you are a spring-loaded force acting in her defense.  Somebody whistles at your wife, and you stare back at them, fire in your eyes.  In these and other ways, you are not directing your prowess at your wife–you are using it for her good.

Your present pattern, Bob, looks like Satanic headship.  You are attacking and tearing down.  The biblical pattern is Christic headship, sacrificial, others-centered, offered in order that others might flourish and thrive.  If you do not cease your ways, the elders of your church will “deliver [you] to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:6).  If you are bent on destroying your loved ones, you will face the prospect of a life outside the church, which places the soul in danger of eternal destruction if gospel repentance does not happen.

In our wickedness, we will use the Bible and Christianity to justify nearly anything.  The fact that you have justified your wicked abuse by Scripture does not for an instant reflect poorly on God’s Word.  It speaks to the depravity of the human heart.  The Bible nowhere enfranchises your behavior.  It holds up men like Boaz, who is a kinsman-redeemer for needy Ruth, even as it shames wicked men like Shechem who defiles Dinah (Ruth 3; Genesis 34).  Which kind of man will you be?

Repent of your sin.  It is a stench in God’s nostrils.  Were it not for your worth as an image-bearer, I would find it difficult not to threaten harm to you myself, and to bring many men with me.  As things stand, if you continue your pattern of abuse, I will indeed bring men with me, and we will rescue your wife and family, and we will not allow you to harm them.  We will bring the full force of the law crashing down upon you.  We are men of God; we are not weak; we are leaders and protectors of wives and children.  The Lord has saved us from our own wickedness and transformed us to be good to those he has given us.  As men of God, we are not scared of you.  We will surely stand up to you.  We urge you to stop your abuse, repent of your sin, and leave the pattern of destruction you have begun.

Know this, Bob–you will not for an instant longer be able to take advantage of this woman.  Those days, so help me God, are over.

Sincerely,

Owen Strachan.

  • Jonathan Chambers

    I have to confess this is truly awful! Awful!

    Firstly, if it did come to your knowledge that a husband was abusing his wife, to begin with, you would not send a letter! For a sustainable response, you need to attempt to form a relationship to properly engage with the man and on the long term aim not to alienate him from the Christian community but lovingly show him the brokenness of his actions.

    Secondly, instead of just jumping to conclusions and beating him with your Bible, you need to carefully establish the facts. Where did you hear about the abuse? Can you guarantee it is reliable.

    Thirdly, for a sustainable Godly response, one needs to establish the precipitants. Why is this man abusing his wife? Is it precipitated by alcohol use, financial hardships, job stress? Is his wife verbally abusive herself and provoking his anger?

    None of these BY ANY MEANS justify domestic abuse. As you pointed out, it does not reflect the calling of men to show Christ-like sacrificial love in the marriage relationship.

    Yet, if you are truly to address this constructively as a church member, you need to wade into the situation, willing to establish the facts, the precipitants and the attitude of the husband to his abuse. Is he sorrowful or hard-hearted? This shapes a more informed response.

    A slamming letter of rebuke will not engage this husband nor help him or his wife on the long-term. Threatening to run in with a band of men and steal away his wife and children would be an end in an extreme, to be invoked by state authorites if indeed required. It is truely foolish to suggest this action in initial engagement. A much more personal, holistic approach is required. Simply pointing to the Biblical pattern of love is not enough if you are not demonstrating your own sacrificial love. To redemn this situation, may require you or your church to sacrifice money, direct him to an alcohol rehabilitation service or set up marital counselling for both members to establish when they err, to name a few possibilities. He will ultimately engage in a daily repentance as broken husbands everywhere seek to mimic Christ’s character in marriage, as we all daily should as husbands.

    I am conscious in writing this that you may indeed have someone in mind as you have written this letter. You therefore may already have reliably established the truth of the situation, that he is unrepentant and hardened to any change, that he is (as your letter seems to suggest) trying to justify his broken behaviour through the Bible and to your knowledge no clear precipitants that he himself is trying to change. Indeed if this was the case (and that most certainly could be possible), then you would surely need to visit this man as a church leaders. You would need to establish a sensible avenue of escalation through the state authorities and police services, so your actions are backed by the legal system.

    Does this all not seem more sensible?

    • Jonathan Chambers

      I let this stew for about 24 hours and after praying through it felt I needed to apologise for being so strong worded on my point.

      Reading through some of the other blogs and chatting to my wife about this post pointed out that there are at least three points that people are trying to address on this day
      1) Establish that complementarian by theological viewpoint is not a justification for domestic abuse
      2) Being strong as a Christian community in showing just anger against something which is indeed awful
      3) Considering our response to this issue in our church communities

      Your letter I felt addressed the first two well. We do sense your just anger at this sinful aspect of life. You do demonstrate that the Bible does not give justification for it.

      Although I still feel that some better consideration could be shown on how Christians, particularly church leaders, should respond (+- discipline) to those who are doing this, nonetheless, sadly it is no doubt far to prevalent that men who abuse their wife have no interest in repentence and indeed are hardened to their sinful actions. Women abused need help and fast and that should not be compromised whilst establishing how sorrowful the man is. Even if he was, it still would warrant his wife distancing herself from him until things and be safely addressed. Furthermore, in all stages of addressing this community, both I, as you do, seek to encourage women, if they are in these situations, to come forward to members of the community and church, so we can together respond, swiftly and effectively. I do not want to undermine that in your post.

      So apologies. And at least you can know that for at least one of your readers, it provoked lots of thought! Thanks.

      • ostrachan

        This is remarkable self-awareness, Jonathan. I commend you for this gracious and mature response. Thanks for writing this. Even if people do end up disagreeing with me, I’m hopeful that we can interact in civil ways.

  • Craig

    Bob wrote this in reply:

    I don’t know this meddler Owen from Adam, but what I do know is this: disciplining one’s help mate is a perfectly consistent with the Word of God. I’ve got no truck with the namby pamby liberals who call manly, head-of-the-family discipline “abuse.” These are the same busy bodies who call Child Protective Services when I use the rod on my own children–and you can’t tell me that that’s unbiblical. As head of my wife, I try to discipline my woman just as God discipline’s his own people–although I’m a darned sight softer. The wife has disobeyed me, but I have never once condemned her to starvation, chains, and exile (though I do let her know that nothing biblical is ever off the table). Women need a strong hand, or the back thereof. So check yourself Owen: maybe this ungodly world and your own woman has you got whipped and deceived.

  • Craig

    Bob wrote this in reply:

    I don’t know this meddler Owen from Adam, but what I do know is this: disciplining one’s help mate is a perfectly consistent with the Word of God. I’ve got no truck with the namby pamby liberals who call manly, head-of-the-family discipline “abuse.” These are the same busy bodies who call Child Protective Services when I use the rod on my own children–and you can’t tell me that that’s unbiblical. As head of my wife, I try to discipline my woman just as God discipline’s his own people–although I’m a darned sight softer. The wife has disobeyed me, but I have never once condemned her to starvation, chains, and exile (though I do let her know that nothing biblical is ever off the table). Women need a strong hand, or the back thereof. So check yourself Owen: maybe this ungodly world and your own sneaky little “Eve” has you got whipped and deceived.

    • Karen

      Are you serious?

      • Craig

        I think Bob is.

        • Elvira

          That’s right – Bob is my husband, and we had a big misunderstanding the other night, and I told pastor about it. But I prayed about it and I realize I am the one who was in the wrong – I didn’t have a cooperative attitude and completely usurped Bob’s headship in this family. And Bob is right – I need a strong hand sometimes. I love Bob and I’m glad to have come back to my senses – I wouldn’t leave him for anything in the world.

          • Sophie

            You wouldn’t leave him for anything in the world? LEAVE. HIM. Divorce him. Leave him before he uses ‘something Biblical’ like starvation or chains. You don’t deserve the ABUSE he is giving you and God is not impressed by your arrogant fool of a husband, nor your Stockholm Syndrome. If he ‘disciplines’ you who ‘disciplines’ him? He should love you and sacrifice himself for you as Christ loved and sacrificed Himself for the church – not administer ‘divine’ justice the way Yahweh dealt with Israel. It’s NOT Biblical for husbands to do that! Getaway from hm while you still can. Only a monster would ever consider starving and chaining his wife.

          • Pam

            What you have is called Stockholm Syndrome. You defend your abuser. I pray you – and your children – wake up to this and escape to safety.

  • http://www.bradhambrick.com Brad Hambrick

    Here is a blog series were I try to deal with the issues of abuse and chronic neglect within a thoroughly biblical, gospel-centered paradigm — http://www.bradhambrick.com/selfcenteredspouse.

    As a church this is a subject for which we must become more skilled in our assessment and pastoral care. Thank you for bringing the subject out of the shadows.

  • http://twitter.com/mattsmethurst Matt Smethurst

    “As is obvious from both Scripture and the most rudimentary moral sense, you are not called to use your strength on your wife. You are called to use it for your wife.”

    Thanks for this, brother.

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  • http://beaconbaptistalbany.wordpress.com Reagan Marsh

    Owen,

    Excellent, courageous, and biblically-faithful article. Thanks for sharing. Grace to you as you serve Christ’s people.

    • Sue

      As someone who went through this – all the police, for God’s sake, please recommend something useful!!

      • http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com Barbara Roberts

        Sue, check out our blog A Cry For Justice (wordpress) and you will find much help there. I’m a survivor like yourself and would like to hear your story. The church often thinks it knows how to help in these situations, but its actions often do more harm than good. Hugs to you.

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  • richardmoski

    Reading both post and comment brought these words to my heart read a long time ago, “An open bible is not an opened bible.”

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  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Call the police in there somewhere, too.

  • MatthewS

    It is so needed that church leaders take a clear stand against abuse.

    It is important to note that abuse is not a mode that an abuser turns on or off. It is often pervasive, a way of life. There tends to be a cycle where abusive speech or actions might occur in a big explosion, but then there can be a “honeymoon” period followed by a stretch of walking on eggshells. It’s a pervasive and pernicious cycle that is almost invisible to outsiders.

    Tripp and Powlison wrote about domestic violence (available here: http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=412 ). There is a section titled “YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT VIOLENT PEOPLE ARE LIKE, BECAUSE THEY EASILY CREATE A FOG OF CONFUSION AND EVASION”.

    That fog of evasion and confusion can easily involve notions of headship and submission, and the family will not have a clear sense of what is loving vs. what is abusive and what is biblical vs. what is abusive. When you are inside the fog, you may know that something is wrong but not be able to tell exactly what. If you try to step away from the fog, the church is likely to exert a great deal of social pressure to step back in line. Most of us probably don’t realize how strong or instinctive that pressure is.

    It would be nice to ride in like Clint Eastwood and solve the problem by meeting force with force. But tending to abuse is not like filling a cavity – an hour of intense treatment and you’re done. It’s more like treating cancer with chemo and then helping the person to recover to a new and healthier lifestyle. It’s a long-term commitment. It would be easier to ride in and speak above the situation but, you often need to enter in and speak with the people involved and hear from them what trauma they have experience and help them uncover what truth in love looks like. The whole family probably believes lies about themselves and perhaps about God. If they didn’t they would not perpetuate or tolerate the abuse. If you catch the family on a “honeymoon” day, they may deny the entire problem even exists. Catch them on an explosion day, and you might hear tales that curl your hair. Some members may feel a sense of loyalty to the family and fight off the helpers, while others might be crying out for any help they can get.

    One other note – it is hard for many people to believe that emotional and verbal abuse can do as much damage as physical violence but it can and does.

    • http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com Barbara Roberts

      Matthew, it sounds like you are pretty much on my page. I am a survivor and an advocate and writer in the field of domestic abuse and Christianity. I’m a conservative Christian, Bible believing, Reformed. If you are interested in this issue, please check out more by clicking on my name.

  • Debbie Hewitt

    Why do you say to Bob that you will come with other men and rescue his family if he “continues his pattern of abuse”? Continues doing what and for how long?
    The reality is that abused women don’t disclose the first incident of abuse to others. Especially in the church. If you heard about one incident, it has already continued for a long time. And it doesn’t just “continue” it escalates and increases in frequency and brutality. What are you all waiting for?
    Why not rescue first and correspond second?
    I’ve been an abused wife, and found nothing but this kind of brave masculine threat from church leaders I turned to. Quite literally. No rescue. Not this time. Wait till next time.
    How many women are right now, in your congregation, suffering abuse silently? If they are, why would they take the frightening risk of speaking up for help next time?

    • http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com Barbara Roberts

      Debbie, I agree with you. The kind of response you’ve described, or worse, is what the church usually provides.
      I also want to say that if a church leadership wrote such a letter to an abuser, the abuser would very likely feel a strong desire to retaliate against his victim for disclosing the abuse.
      Church leaders: you should NEVER confront an abusive husband like this unless you have the wife’s explicit permission. Otherwise, you may endanger her more. Abusers sometimes track victims down even when they have fled for their safety. Don’t underestimate the guile and tenacity of the abuser, or the danger of the victim. Safety issues are for the professionals to advise on, not Christians, not unless the Christian has extensive and specialised training in Domestic Violence – and that training usually comes from secular sources because Christians are not usually sufficiently trained.

      • ostrachan

        Barbara,
        I’m thankful that you’re sharing wisdom in response to my blog. So you know, I was asked to follow this format. I actually wouldn’t respond to abuse in this way, by publicly publishing a letter on my blog. And there would be all kinds of involvement in different ways by elders that are not highlighted here. My charge in writing this letter was to show that complementarian men do not countenance abuse. It is no part of our theological makeup.

        In actual fact, if abuse is happening, the law needs to be involved, period. The church needs to work hand in glove with legal authorities on matters of abuse. My post assumed a man who was threatening his wife but not acting–yet–on his tendencies.

        So again, remember my point in writing: to show as a theologian and churchman that there is no place in biblical thinking for abuse. There is a great deal more that needs to be said than I did in my post. I had a specific thesis I was asked to pursue, and I did.

        • http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com Barbara Roberts

          Owen thanks for being frank. You say you ‘were asked to follow this format’. That is interesting to me. It suggests to me that someone of influence in the comp world has emailed around suggesting to their colleagues and friends that they blog about marital abuse on 25 November, the UN day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
          Owen, I applaud you for writing a post about this issue (even if you were prompted!) –– it is an important issue 365 days a year, and we are glad that one day a year is given to highlight it.

          I appreciate your saying that “complementarian men do not countenance abuse. It is no part of our theological makeup.” I agree with you: if one is a true complementarian (or a true egalitarian, for that matter) abuse should be no part of one’s theological makeup. That is fundamental to any version of Christianity, whatever stance it takes on gender roles. Abusive conduct and attitudes are contrary to all that Christ teaches. (and notice, I’m not defending either comp-ism or egal-ism, because I am yet to be convinced that either complementarianism or egalitarianism are the lever with which we mechanistically fix the problem of domestic abuse.

          I hope you come to the blog A Cry for Justice at WordPress and read some of the posts there, Owen. I believe the church as a long way to go in learning how to deal with domestic abuse, and we are all in this together.

          I appreciate that you wrote your hypothetical “Letter to Bob” as a simple hypothetical, just to express that comp-ism does not endorse or condone domestic abuse.
          However, if a pastor is actually going to address an abusive husband, there are many factors to consider, primarily the safety of the victim (the abuser will probably want to retaliate against the victim for her disclosing the dirty laundry. I s she safe from his retaliation? Has she given permission to the leaders for them to confront her husband in this way? If not, they should never write such a letter unless they can be sure it will not endanger her more.

          Furthermore, any conversation with an abusive husband needs to be done wisely, and the best place to find such wisdom is from the secular domestic violence professionals who work with abusive men. It is a sad but true fact that the Christian community is by and large way behind the secular community in knowing how best to respond to domestic abuse. If you want wisdom about how to have a conversation with an abusive man which will encourage help to face up to and deal with his abusive/entitlement mindset, you could look at the website of No To Violence and the Men’s Referral Service. The websites are below (I’ve picked sub-pages that might be most useful) :
          http://mrs.org.au/pages/concerned-about-someone-s-behaviour/if-a-man-tells-you-he-is-using-violence.php
          http://ntv.org.au/pages/our-work/about-male-family-violence.php

          kind regards,
          Barb

          Having establishe that,

          • ostrachan

            Barbara, glad to have the interaction. Something that you and others might want to keep in mind: in writing these letters, my fellow complementarians and I were trying to be a part of the solution. Do remember that we’re speaking against abuse. I’ve picked up a note of skepticism in some of these communications, but I assure you that I participated solely to be a part of a movement speaking from a gospel-centered perspective against abuse. I had no other motive in writing, and I don’t think my peers did, either. We’ve taken a bit of heat on this but are simply trying to speak up against sin. There’s not some kind of broader pseudo-conspiracy here. There’s a desire to honor God’s image and to create a culture in which abuse is altogether unacceptable.

            I hope that this series of posts, of which mine was one, was encouraging. It was, after all, meant to be.

  • MatthewS

    I posted a comment which seems to be stuck awaiting moderation…

  • Dana

    All I can say is that if I were to be abused in my home, I hope that Owen Stachan is not all there is to stand between me and my abuser.

    This letter is all about Owen’s manliness and theology. A victim of abuse needs people who know what to do and law enforcement. I’m sure Owen is a nice man, but I hope he takes a pass on handling abuse and gets victims to someone who can actually help.

  • Sue

    So Bob gets the letter and yells at his wife for being a total b**** and letting others know what was going on. He punishes her for letting other people know information that is to do with their own private life. He tells his wife that if she had been bucking and kicking against his God given authority to organize every tiny detail of her life, she would not have been hit in the first place, and after all, he knows that he hit her on her thigh above the knee to how could anyone else know about it.

    If this man did hit his wife, the police should deal with it. Bob is always happy to uproot the family and take them to another church. He doesn’t care how many churches excommunicate him.

    • http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com Barbara Roberts

      Sue, I hear your pain, you’ve lived it. Please click on my name if you want more info.

      • Sue

        I have saved this comment and will email it to Barbara just in case it is deleted here.

  • Tom Parker

    Sorry, but this is nothing but a stunt by Owen. His little letter writing helps not one woman. Owen simply seems to want to remind everyone a man must be the man of the house.

    As Owen said:”But this is a topic worth addressing, especially because I am on the record as being for manly leadership in home and church.”

    Yea, Owen thanks for nothing!!

    • John R Huff Jr

      Exactly Tom Parker. Marriage is a “mutual” leadership by both.

  • John R Huff Jr

    Insightful. What about abusive wives? There are such people.

  • John R Huff Jr

    Ok, Dr Owen: Come clean. No hedging. You do consider the man the head of the house? Why do you believe the man should take the lead? It seems you pander to the literal understanding of scripture, don’t you?
    Everything in life is not a rosy black and white orientation. There are and must be shades of gray sometimes.
    It’s called tolerance and compassion, not giving in to what you believe the Bible says. I sure would not want to recommend you to any young ministeral students for guidance.

  • Anne

    I’m really glad this letter spells out what headship is not. Some conservative churches go overboard on ‘submission and leadership’ without placing boundaries or definitions. There are no accountability measures for husbands, hence why abuse can flourish in such environments. Thanks Owen, for helping to spell out some truth on how a husband should behave. This should be a big feature in marriage sermons, instead of a prideful lecture on ‘wifely submission”.

    As others have spelled out, there needs to be just as much if not more action behind the theory. If a pastor really were to send such a letter to an abuser it must must MUST be done AFTER he is prosecuted. Instead of telling him that he will face the strong arm of the law if he doesn’t stop, let him read it behind bars so he knows just WHY he is there. (Else you are giving him a tip-off and he WILL punish his wife AND run away with the family to avoid arrest). Law enforcement, strict and sudden and swooping in, MUST come before ANY church contact with an abuser. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to make them see differently, don’t underestimate what they will do to keep their power because honestly, their hold over the family means far more to them than their church. A single letter will not only put the wife in serious danger for ‘tattling’, but the abuser himself will ignore the scripture referenced, deny every accusation and/or justify himself by blaming someone else, usually his spouse. Change does not come easily from abusers, if it comes at all. Prosecution must be the first thing on the to-do list, to keep the wife safe.


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