I don’t know how to describe Ruth Tucker’s new book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, without calling it what this post is called: it’s a very important book about an awful subject. The title makes it as clear as possible: Ruth Tucker knows her Bible and her ex-husband was a pastor and that Bible was read with exquisite simplicity and alongside that Bible world and church world in the heart of American evangelicalism, Ruth’s husband was physically abusive again and again. It is the worst-great book of the year — the abuse of women is not a new topic, nor is the abuse by a Christian husband nor even by a pastor. The worst of subjects in a book that captivates and a book like this or this book needs to be on the shelf of every church library, of every pastor, and the subject needs to be known in all churches. This is a great book about a terrible subject.
I cannot blog through Ruth’s story, but I can highlight some themes in this book.
First, if you are being abused, get help today. If you know someone who is being abused, do something about it.
Second, I was there. I consider Ruth a friend, not a close friend but a colleague-kind of friend to whom I can (and have) written a number of times and engaged in discussion. Ruth was my colleague at Trinity many years back when her husband was regularly abusing her — physical violence covered up with the clothing she chose to wear. I was there and knew nothing about the abuse. I am more than grateful to discover now that others did, that Ruth told the president, that Ken Meyer told her to get a separation and to seek shelter with her son. But I have to tell you: as I read this book I was amazed all this was going on under the surface of Ruth’s life. She was no pushover; she was tough and smart and articulate and willing to engage in arguments about all sorts of topics. I’d call her feisty. But I was unaware of the abuse, saw no signs, and she was not talking publicly about her turbulent family life. As I read this book I kept thinking this: (1) How could this all be going on without our knowing it? and (2) abuse lives undercover all the time. Ruth’s book tells that story brilliantly. The looming issue of shame prevents so many women from seeking help.
Third, abusers like her ex-husband use theology to prop up and justify and empower their abuses. Her husband was a big-time complementarian — and I’d be careful to use that term in this context because the word for it is “hierarchical” or “patriarchal” or “dominant.” He used his (mis)theology of complementarianism (“from the kitchen to the bedroom”), his verbal skills, his corrupted and perverse mental skills to justify his abuse of Ruth and their son. I’m not blaming complementarianism, I’m blaming the abusive male who uses an idea to his own advantage. I would, however, raise a red flag here: complementarians, especially those with strong views of it, need to be vigilant about how that subject will be heard by males with abusive and violent temperaments. The use of this theological subject by abusers is toxic and sick, but it’s one of their favorite topics. Ruth routinely weighs in connecting his distorted complementarianism-as-patriarchy with her husband’s abuse: males were for him superior and in authority, women were inferior and were in submission.
Fourth, this topic is so perverse that pastors and teachers and leaders who instruct vulnerable women to be better wives or more submissive should be held accountable for the abuse that nearly inevitably will occur. The only tolerable wisdom is for pastors and leaders to find shelter and pastoral care and personal, relational reconstruction into the life of the abused woman.
Fifth, the incomprehensibility of the seeming submission of the abused victim in these situations is culturally and ecclesially buoyed up — women often do not seek shelter because they will not find support by churches and pastors, because some pastors will actually suggest or claim the abused woman (not the abusing husband/male) is the problem, because by leaving they can trigger more violence and fear for their life and fear for the life of their children and family members, and because of the shame that comes over the woman for confessing they are Christian and living in an abusive situation. We must create situations where this story can be told in safety and honesty.
When I read Ruth’s book in galley form I was not only overcome by her story but I was teaching at an event, and at breakfast the next morning I began to talk about the book — and a woman began to talk and she told us her story of abuse and shame and that no one would believe her — and the whole table became pastoral care. You need two or more copies of this book handy to give to any woman who needs to hear someone tell her story and point her to redemption.