A Translation of Piper’s Clarifying Words
Colour coding: John Piper / my translations / my comments
The full text of Piper’s “Clarification” may be found here.
Clarifying Words on Wife Abuse Just the title makes this a women’s issue. “Wife abuse.” Why not use the terminology “men who abuse their wives?” Omitting the noun for the abuser — and his gender — makes the abuser less visible and less culpable.
Several years ago, I was asked in an online Q&A, “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”
It was so long ago that I wish people would stop bugging me about it already. I mean we took it off of the DG website and everything. But darn the Internet for never forgetting things. Oh well, I guess, I’d better try to save face.
I continue to assert that Piper’s career should have ended in 2009 when he said “simply hurting her.” That it didn’t, that he still has an audience and over half a million followers on Twitter, is an indictment on the Church and a huge warning signal declaring that Christians still don’t comprehend what abuse is or what to do about it.
One of the criticisms He could be subtly playing the victim by having to endure “criticisms?” Why not call them concerns? of my answer has been that I did not mention the recourse that a wife has to law enforcement for protection. So let me clarify Should’ve been an apology. with seven biblical observations. I’ll call them biblical and maybe I’ll look pious and they’ll forget that I’m not actually apologizing.
Therefore, an abusive husband is breaking God’s law. He is disobeying Christ. He is not to be indulged but disciplined by the church. How? Tell me how. What is this discipline and what keeps the unrepentant abuser from going to the church down the street where he’s not being disciplined? Exhibit A: Doug Phillips.
The wife is not insubordinate to ask the church for help. How should the church help? Because many churches believe that sending her back and telling her to be more submissive is helping. Ministers need real training on how to help.
A Christian woman should not feel that the only help available to her is the police. That would be a biblical failure of her church. This is subtle guilt mongering. The woman is the actor again. The church should be the actor, not the woman and her feelings. The word ‘should’ can be used to address the church, but not the woman and especially not in telling her how she should not feel. The church should be helping the targets stay secure and mitigating financial factors that would pressure her not to alert the authorities. The church should be apologizing for how it has made women feel that the police are more help than the church!
Which means that a husband who threatens and intentionally injures his wife is not only breaking God’s moral law, but also the state’s civil law. In expecting his wife to quietly accept his threats and injuries, he is asking her to participate in his breaking of both God’s moral law and the state’s civil law. Wait a minute John, I think that in 2009 you said that “simply hurting her” isn’t “requiring her to sin.” Here’s the quote:
If it’s not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.
So it seems to me that you need to say “I WAS WRONG,” instead of clarifying. Clarifying is making things more understandable. You are contradicting yourself. That’s less understandable. Which is it? Is “simply hurting her” requiring her to sin or not? In addition to an apology, I’d like an actual clarification on this point.
This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart Here, right here is where many churches will blame the victim. If she isn’t humble or heavy hearted enough (and they can always move the goalposts on that, because it’s so nebulous), they will claim that she is wrong, sinning, bitter, unforgiving, and all sorts of nonsense. The whole thing will get flipped and the victim will be placed on trial for not seeking help the right way. that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership. We have an entire post addressing the use of “restoration” in marriage ministry circles. Suffice it to say for now, it’s not appropriate.
I’m just going to bold all the qualifiers he uses in this next one. Qualifiers create wiggle room. If churches don’t want to act, they can find a qualifier/loophole and try to appease their consciences by pointing to the ifs, ands, buts, oftens, seldoms, mays, mights, and perhapses and claim the situation in front of them falls into a gray area provided by said qualifiers. A fun exercise to do on your own would be to go through the entire Clarifying Words… and just highlight the qualifiers.
- The church should not harbor an abusive man or woman whom the civil authorities would punish if they knew what the church knows. We are called to mercy. “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). But there are times when mercy to one demands justice for another. This is often the case with criminal abuse. Moreover, there are many ways to show mercy toward a guilty person who must pay fines or go to jail. We are seldom in a position where the choice is simply mercy or no mercy.
For many women, the thought of a husband going to jail and losing his job and being publicly shamed is so undesirable that they often endure much sin before becoming desperate enough to turn to the authorities. What I want to stress is that long before they reach a point of desperation — or harm — the women of the church should know that there are spiritual men and women in the church that they can turn to for help. This contradicts the first sentence of 4. Can I get a clarification?
[Later, still in 5]
Or they may determine that laws have been broken and the civil authorities should or must be notified. Who is determining that a crime has been committed? Is there a grand jury at the church? Is there a CSI unit that’s dispatched? Do they keep the CSI jackets next to the choir robes? That’s absurd. Police investigate crimes, not deacons, elders, home group leaders, etc.
[later, the last sentence]
Make it part of the culture of manhood in the church that the men will not tolerate the abuse of any of its women. “Its women?” This is the clincher for me. “Its women.” I have two problems with this. First, are we only to stand against abuse that Christian women are enduring? And second, “its,” the possessive adjective is very demeaning; “its” implies women are owned, chattel. It grates on me.
End of translation.
I haven’t even begun to address the fact that Piper ignores every other kind of abuse. He is still missing the point. Nothing is clarified. And he still hasn’t apologized.
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Note from Eds: If you liked this translation by Ellie, you might like to also read her other ‘translation’ posts: