Over the past year, I’ve been involved in an ongoing dialogue with friends, co-workers, my wife, and others over the issue of domestic violence in Christian homes — especially when husbands are cruel, abusive, angry, or otherwise sinful in their behavior. How is a wife to respond? One of the threads we have had to deal with involves the nature of submission and authority in the home. Some of the husbands I’m talking with say submission is absolute, that is, no matter what, a godly wife will submit even to her hurt … even if the husband is being evil and sinful. A truly godly woman will trust God with her life, it is said. I’m pretty sure that it is a very small percentage that hold that extreme view, but there is certainly strong disagreement among conservative, Bible-believing Christians about how Christian wives should handle verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse.
I liked much of Nancy Wilson’s insights in this article of Credenda Agenda. Nancy seems to have a very strong, conservative view of submission. She also seems to have a reasonable and biblical approach to a husband who sins against that wife. Her conclusion is: “A wife is to be a helper to her husband not a blind follower, and this sometimes includes going past him to get help. God blessed Abigail when she did this. In her case it was abundantly clear what was necessary. In other cases it might require pastoral oversight. But obedience and submission to a mere man is never absolute. God governs all of us. We demonstrate that we serve Him above all others when we realize that our submission and obedience to our husbands is always to be lived out within the boundaries God has wisely set for us.” Read the whole article, especially the part about Abigail.
I’m sure the dialogue will continue. I find 6-10 new web articles on the topic every day (using Google Alerts). There’s other themes that come into play as well and there’s lots of disagreement about what action a wife might take. Is it OK to leave if you are beaten? What does that look like? When do you come back? Lots of other questions inhabit our discussion as well: Is the abuse merely a symptom of something deeper — power and control? Isn’t this just a psychological construct; or part of the feminist agenda? Is verbal abuse as damaging as physical abuse?
Some seasons of pastoral ministry are harder than others.