TEC: Chapter 27: Supplemental Reading
Yanno, I make my little jokes and we all have a good laugh at Michael Murphy’s silly antics and talk of “more Arabs,” but when it comes right down to it, the vast majority of readers of these books will never be pressed into service as terrorist-hunters by their Mossad-agent best friends.
But 1 in 3 women will be victims of domestic partner violence in their lives (so will 1 in 4 men, but I really can’t imagine LaPhillips including an abused husband as a character in these how-to manuals).
And these books (at least since Phillips took over) have been how-to manuals for Christians: how to act with a new love after your wife dies, how to respond to a friend who is cheating on his wife, how to counsel a young woman in an unequally-yoked relationship. And now: how to be an abused partner.
In other words, this is as real as it gets. It’s darkly funny in a weird way: we’ve watched Paul Stepola rejoice over the deaths of children, yet this is what angers me more than just about anything else we’ve read.
And the weird thing is, there’s not even one clear teaching that I can be angry at. Because the Christian view of spouse abuse is, at best, muddled. At worst, it is fatally divided against itself.
What’s the first thing RTCs say about marriage? That the wife must submit to her husband, of course.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. or the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
In everything. Every single thing.
And gee, go figure that if you tell a person that he has absolute authority over another person no matter what, in every single possible issue in life, such a God-mandated power imbalance might have…unfortunate consequences.
So on one hand, we have the wives who must submit. And on the other, we have the very human sensibility that says that a person should not have to put up with abuse.
See what I mean about fatally divided against itself?
RTCs twist themselves into some pretty complex knots to get out of this conundrum. (Granted, some of them don’t. Read a few blogs, and you’ll find an enraging number of accounts of women told by their pastors to go back to abusive husbands and submit harder already!)
- This delightful gentleman thinks abuse is wrong, but not quite so wrong as to justify divorce. He defensively protests that he is not condoning abuse, darn it…just making it impossible for an abused wife to get closure, move on, and try to find some happiness away from the beatings.
- This woman at least thinks abused wives should be able to divorce…because any man who would abuse his wife is, ipso facto, not a Christian. So the wife has accidentally gone and gotten herself unequally yoked and thus can divorce under 1 Corinthians 7:15. So, points for getting the wife out, even if you have to convince yourself that only a horrid nonChristian would ever be capable of hitting someone.
- Another vote for Leave, but no Divorcing. (And the last sentence of the whole piece advocates involving the police!)
Now, being the unrepentant liberal feminist atheist that I am, I don’t want to leave out the supposed counter-argument to the idea that a wife submitting to a husband in EVERYTHING is sick and wrong and a recipe for disaster. After all, any preacher knows to quickly add, “But husbands are commanded to love their wives! So wives aren’t getting the bad end of this deal at all!”
Except I’m not so sure that the command to love would automatically convince a man not to abuse. After all, this is the same Bible that commands fathers to beat their children, and I doubt that is supposed to imply that hitting a kid means you don’t love her. So why would a Christian husband think that hitting is out of bounds for an insufficiently-submissive wife, of it is not out of bounds for an insufficiently-submissive kid?
As well, this is the problem that arises when one party is commanded to DO something (obey), and the other party only to THINK something (love). I mean, isn’t “I’m sorry, babe, I love you” the rallying cry of abusive husbands? You can’t prove he doesn’t love her, can you?
Oh, and that brings up another muddling point: the doctrine of forgiveness no matter what.
And again, people tie themselves into knots. Many Christian commentators will claim that forgiveness doesn’t have to mean forgetting and reconciling…except that divorce isn’t an option and reconciliation should be the ultimate goal.
Now, I will add here that there are Christian blogs that advise abused spouses to go to the police and to separate from the abuser. Some even call out church elders who side with the abuser (or maintain “neutrality,” which amounts to the same thing).
But honestly, all this reading makes me feel a tiny bit better for poor Stephanie Kovacs. Seems that Shane actually did her a favor by not putting a ring on it. Because Stephanie will never have to worry about reconciliation or how much God hates divorce. Being a new baby RTC, she’ll probably have to immediately forgive him, but at least she won’t have to live with him again. Filthy unmarried (monogamous, committed) relationship that it was.
Damn, that was depressing.
But next time: Michael Murphy tackles theosophy!