On May 4, 2016, Mary Kassian published a review of my book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. Her review was in many ways similar to reviews of others who hold fast to the doctrine of male headship. The final paragraph, however, was somewhat curious, unlike anything I have ever seen in relation to one of my books:
I’ll fly anywhere in North America at my own expense to meet you. We’ll hash out a Ruth and Mary personal statement. I suspect we’ll really like each other . . . [her ellipses] we’ll sip frothy cups of cappuccino, laugh and cry, share stories (and pictures of our grandbabies) and become friends. And perhaps that, in and of itself, will make a difference.
My initial reaction was that this is odd. It’s not as though I am an Oprah or Michelle Obama. Why would anyone make such an offer—requiring at least an overnight stay, plus a day or two of time, and the expense of an airline ticket? Who really cares about a personal Ruth and Mary statement?
If my book has done anything at all, it has exposed the correlation between the doctrine of male headship and domestic violence. Indeed, that is where the complementarian ideology is most vulnerable. I certainly do not try to make a case that all complementarian husbands beat their wives. Not at all. But the unequal relationship between the one holding headship and the one required to submit can make a marriage a very dangerous setting for the wife, as I testify in my book.
When advancing headship benefits such as the claim that marital decisions are better when there is both a head and a submitter, it might be tempting to say, fine, if that’s what the couple wants. (Egalitarians typically maintain that decisions hammered out by both husband and wife as equals end up better than those made by the husband alone). So, the frequently-raised issue of the husband as tie-breaker might be shrugged of with a whatever. Not so domestic violence. That is precisely where complementarians are most vulnerable. And that is why it would be so valuable for someone like Mary Kassian, a long-standing complementarian, to convince me to sign on to a joint public statement.
As it turned out, I did respond to Mary, outlining some critical questions that must be dealt with by those who hold to the doctrine of male headship. They can be found in the Afterword of my book, including some of the following:
- If the husband is the head—the ruler—in the home, who regulates him? Who determines if his headship is actually comparable to the headship of Christ? The husband himself? Is he alone the interpreter of the biblical standard?
- How do boys and single men prepare to rule a wife? Is headship training available?
- How do girls and young women prepare for submitting to their husbands? Do teenage girls have full equality with their male counterparts? Do they have full equality when courting? During the engagement period?
- Does headship allow the husband to physically prevent his wife from making phone calls, from leaving the house, from using a vehicle? Does his headship give him sole control over money and permit him to deny his wife access to financial records? Does it allow him to confiscate a manuscript or to make a major decision without her consent?
- Who is the head when the husband is, sadly, deep into dementia?
The burden of responding to these matters lies with those who preach male headship. Here I have asked some of the dozens of critical un-answered questions that relate directly to women’s stories of abuse. Sadly, there is little evidence that proponents of male headship are seriously grappling with them and speaking out publicly, and most women in such marriages are not being correctly counseled on matters of domestic violence.
Mary emailed back saying she would be happy to address some of these questions in a blog post. I truly hope she does that.
But her primary response was to send me a 10-point statement that was drawn up by her and Wayne Grudem more than twenty years ago—the statement she references near the end of her lengthy review of my book. I do not make a practice of publicly responding to book reviews; in fact, I do not remember ever doing so. I feel it is up to the reader to make a judgment, though I do believe she judged me very unfairly on many points.
But regarding the statement drawn up by Mary and Wayne, I responded back to her only on two points, one being that I could never agree to a joint statement that did not explicitly reference the criminal nature of domestic violence and that law enforcement must be the first line of reporting—not the church. And I made clear that the Statement posted on her review (and elsewhere) places the abused and abuser along side each other in needing counseling. That is unacceptable. The abuser, whether or not incarcerated for the crime, must undergo serious anger management through a certified Batterers Intervention Program (BIP). And even that doesn’t always succeed.
I have no doubt that Mary Kassian is opposed to domestic violence. The chasm that divides egalitarians and complementarians, however, relates to how the problem is addressed. Is a church that is headed by male elders the entity to determine how this crime is to be handled or is law enforcement and the criminal justice system? And is counseling to be done by the church elders and/or their own assigned outside counselors?
These are critical issues and little if anything is accomplished simply by publishing a joint statement against abuse