Bruce Ware teaches that a wife’s lack of submission threatens her husband’s authority, and he responds to this threat by abusing her (ESS part 3)
Here is what Bruce Ware teaches — When women challenge their husband’s authority by wanting to have their own way rather than submitting to their husbands, one of the ways husbands respond to that ‘threat to their authority’ is by becoming abusive.
Ware explains male-on-female domestic abuse as follows: Wives threaten their husbands’ authority by not submitting to them, and husbands respond to that threat either by becoming abusive, or by acquiescing and sinfully abrogating their authority.
We know this because of what Ware said in his talk A Complementarian Vision of Creation which he gave at Denton Bible Church on June 22, 2008. Why am I writing about this now, eight years later? Because Ware has never retracted that teaching, and it is appropriate to spotlight what he thinks about domestic abuse because Ware has been in the headlines recently due to his doctrine that there are Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission within the Trinity (ERAS).
Ware maintains that
The Father is supreme over all, and in particular, he is supreme within the Godhead as the highest in authority and the one deserving of ultimate praise. (link)
The authority-obedience relation of Father and Son in the immanent [eternal] trinity is mandatory if we are to account for God the Father’s eternal purpose to elect and save his people through his beloved Son. (link)
Ware has been displaying a determined resistance against changing his doctrine of ERAS, despite the sound arguments which many respected scholars, pastors and teachers have made against it, and despite the grave concerns many people have about ERAS.
Bruce Ware’s notion of male authority in marriage is bulwarked by his belief that the Son is eternally submitted to the Father. His doctrine of ERAS is dangerous.
One reason ERAS is dangerous is that it is used to coerce women into submission to abusive husbands. Here is a quote from Bruce Ware’s book for children, Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God:
The Father is highest in authority, the Son is under the Father, and the Spirit is under the Father and the Son. But there is not the slightest hint of discontent in this order. Rather, there is joy and fulfillment both in each being fully God and in each working in the proper lines of authority that exist forever in God. A lesson we can learn from this is that lines of authority and submission are true in our human relationships because they are a reflection of what is true in God (see 1 Corinthians 11:3). The Father, Son, and Spirit are fully equal as God, yet they live gladly within lines of authority. So, too, we humans should live both as equals of each other, yet gladly in God-given lines of authority. (link)
Did you notice how Bruce Ware used the S word? (should) He says that in our human relationships we ‘should’ live gladly, without any discontent, in God-given lines of authority. Need I spell out how this becomes coercive to the wife who is being abused by her husband, or the child who is being abused by his or her parent(s)? — (trigger warning) “You seem to be discontent with God-given lines of authority. You should be respecting the authority of your husband / your parent(s). You should be glad to submit to their authority. If you love God you will gladly submit to their authority, just as the Son has always been in submission to the Father.”
As I mentioned above, Bruce Ware delivered an address on A Complementarian Vision of Creation at Denton Bible Church on June 22, 2008. Later in this post I’ll give a partial transcript of his address, but first I want to give you a time line of articles related to Bruce Ware’s address.
In 2008, Denny Burk was the editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. (He is now President of CBMW). On June 24 (two days after Ware’s talk at Denton Bible Church), Burk wrote an article highly praising Ware’s talk — Bruce Ware’s Complementarian Reading of Genesis.
On June 27, Bob Allen, managing editor of EthicsDaily.com, reported on Ware’s address — Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives’ Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands. In his opening sentence, Bob Allen noted that Bruce Ware made a causal link between wives’ behavior and their husband’s responses—
One reason that men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband’s God-given authority, a Southern Baptist scholar said Sunday in a Texas church.
After Bob Allen’s June 27 report was published, Denny Burk added an update to his article, labelling the Ethics Daily June 27 report as a “scurrilous, patently false” account of what Bruce Ware had said. Burk also called on Ethics Daily to retract and apologize for their story which he claimed had ‘borne false witness’.
Was the Ethics Daily report scurrilous and patently false? Did it bear false witness? Let’s examine the evidence for ourselves.
Here is my partial transcript of Ware’s talk at Denton Bible Church
The transcript starts from 8:35 in the audio. See for yourself whether Ethics Daily misinterpreted what Bruce Ware said:
The complementarian view holds that God created us as men and women with a design in which, yes, we are equal in essence, we both are fully human, male and female, equally image of God. And yet, God designed that there be an authority and submission relationship in that male/female structure. So that God intended in creation for there to be male headship in the relationship between Adam and woman in the garden, and he [Adam] had authority, he had ultimate responsibility.
What happens in sin is that that very wise and good plan of God, of male headship, is sought to be overturned — as women now (as sinners) want instead to have their way, instead of submitting to their husbands to do what they would like to do — and [women] seek to work to have their husbands fulfill their will, rather than serving them.
And the husbands on their part (because they’re sinners) now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive —which is, of course, one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged — or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescing and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches.
Later in the talk, Ware used very much the same phraseology when discussing Genesis 3:16. He interpreted the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 exactly as Susan Foh* interpreted it — a desire to usurp her husband’s authority. And then he said this explains why a husband abuses his wife. Let’s pick up the audio from 46:47 —
Go back to [Genesis] 3:16. Here is what God is saying. The curse is this: that the woman, though she is created to be helper to her husband, assist her husband, submit to her husband, though that’s her created design, what will she want to do because of sin? Her desire will be to usurp her husband’s authority. Her desire will be to have her way rather than his way — because she’s a sinner.
Now what will he do because he’s a sinner? He will have to rule, and because he’s a sinner this can happen in one of two ways. It can happen through ruling that is abusive and oppressive (and of course we all know the horrors of that and the ugliness of that). But here’s the other way in which he can respond when his authority is threatened: he can acquiesce, he can become passive, he can give up any responsibility that he thought he had to be the leader in the relationship.
I think it is clear. Bruce Ware definitely taught that a wife’s lack of submission threatens her husband’s authority, and he responds to this threat by abusing her.
Can anyone honestly deny that Ware wasn’t talking about cause and effect? No! He was implying a causal link. He was saying that A is the reason for B. In fact, he was inferring that a husband almost can’t help himself because “he will have to rule”.
Trigger warning… this is a paraphrase of Ware’s formulation —
Wives want to have their own way, and husbands respond. Wives sinfully desire to USURP their husbands’ authority, and husbands RESPOND. The problem starts with the wife. The wife’s attitude explains the husband’s conduct. Her behavior explains his behavior. A gives rise to B — if she were properly submissive to him, he wouldn’t feel threatened. He felt threatened because of how she interacted with him. (She started it!) And if he becomes abusive, well…it’s because she threatened him. She was not being submissive. She was usurping his authority. She was falling short of her duty, her creation-ordained role of being his helper and assistant and following his lead.
Did Ethics Daily retract and apologize? Not at all. On July 9 they published another article by Bob Allen, Texas Church Says ‘Egalitarian’ View Not an Option for Evangelicals, which reported again on Ware’s talk and noted how favorably it had been received by Denny Burk from CBWM. Here is an extract from that article —
Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, suggested women wouldn’t have to worry as much about spousal abuse if they were more obedient to their husbands.
In marital relationships marred by sin, Ware said, wives are tempted to have their own way instead of submitting to their husbands. The man’s natural response, he said in remarks reported previously by EthicsDaily.com, is either to become abusive or to acquiesce.
Critics said that blames women for their own abuse and gives men an excuse for battering their wives. Defenders said Ware wasn’t condoning domestic violence but merely explaining it is a fact of life.
Denny Burk, editor for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, called Ware’s sermon “one of the finest, most succinct presentations of the Complementarian point of view that I have ever heard” in a June 24 blog posting that prompted more than 1,500 responses.
Then, on July 18, Ethics Daily published An Open Letter to Dr. Bruce Ware by Kate Johnson, president of the Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse. Kate’s letter was very courteous; she only very lightly questioned a couple of scriptural interpretations Ware had made. Her primary aim was to enlighten Bruce Ware as to how sermons are heard (a) by wives who are being abused and (b) by husbands who are doing the abusing.
Kate pointed out that an abusive husband in the congregation would hear Ware’s phrases “rightful jurisdiction” and “rule over” and come away believing that Ware had endorsed his tactics of bullying and coercive control over his wife. And his wife, sitting next to him in the pew, would hear Ware admonishing her for “not submitting” and for “threatening her husband’s authority” — so whenever she got abused, it was her own fault. Kate put the outcome in a nutshell:
He leaves church telling her, “See, even the pastor says I have a right to take control in my house and that it is your fault I have to be so tough.”
She leaves church thinking, “I will never be good enough to please God.”
He leaves the church very happy. She leaves the church in despair.
Have either of these men changed?
Bruce Ware has never retracted or apologized for what he said at Denton Bible Church. He has denied that his teaching blames women who are victims of spousal abuse. Denny Burk has not retracted his praise of Ware’s talk. Furthermore Denny Burk recently said that while he doesn’t hold exactly the same view of the Trinity as Bruce Ware, he believes that Ware’s concept of the Trinity is not heretical, and that anyone who affirms the Danvers Statement (as Ware does) is welcome in CBMW.
Anything that can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse is unacceptable
Ware’s teaching can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse. Kate Johnson’s Open Letter to Bruce Ware made this clear. She was trying to enlighten Ware. Good for her! But as we have so often observed, men like Ware seem to be resistant to being enlightened on this stuff.
Abusive husbands can use Ware’s teaching to excuse the sinful ways they treat their wives. Abusive men can use it to justify their belief that they are entitled to disrespect and hurt women, and to coerce or pressure women into submission.
The ideas held by Ware are often used by pastors to coerce women into submitting to their abusive husbands and keeping silent about their suffering.
The concept of domestic abuse taught by Ware can be perceived and used by ‘biblical counselors’ to minimize male abuse of women, and to lay the blame on the women.
Ware’s teaching on domestic abuse can be used by any Christian to pathologize and blame women who are victims of abuse. It can be used by any Christian to compound the suffering and entrapment of victims of abuse.
And perhaps most importantly of all, how are Christian women likely to perceive Ware’s teaching? A woman can think Ware’s teaching means that God so firmly endorses husbandly authority that she must submit to her husband’s authority no matter how much he may be controlling her. An abused woman will hear Ware’s teaching as meaning that if she doesn’t submit, she will be defying not only her husband but God — she’ll be flouting the proper lines of authority for human relationships which reflect the lines of authority that exist forever in God. Ware’s teaching is certainly perceived by the abused Christian woman to endorse the claims to authority which her husband and her pastor and all those pink women authors are making when they tell her she must submit.
Anything that can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse is unacceptable. Bruce Ware’s teaching can be perceived to promulgate domestic abuse; therefore it is unacceptable.
*Here is my post that rebuts Susan Foh’s interpretation of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16
And here are a couple more articles about Bruce Ware’s talk at Denton Bible church —
Trinity Debate Trickles Down to Gender Roles Bob Allen, Baptist News Global (Nov 5, 2008)
SBC Professor blames wives for husbands’ abuse Danni Moss (June 30, 2008)
Danni was a survivor of domestic abuse; she died of breast cancer some years after escaping her abuser. After Danni’s introduction and comments, the rest of the post reproduces Bob Allen’s June 27 article. (Note: because Danni has passed on, no-one is moderating or approving comments at her blog, so comments are effectively closed there. Since commenting on her post back in 2008, I have changed my interpretation of the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16, and I would no longer approvingly quote to CBMW’s statement as I did back then.)
Posts in this ESS series
Part 3: Is this post.
UPDATE: Wendy Alsup has published a post about the talk Bruce Ware gave at Denton Bible Church — Dr. Bruce Ware Defines the Complementarian Position
UPDATE: [3 Aug 2017] Authority: Is It Really the Biblical Counterpart to Marital Submission? by Rachel Shubin. THIS ARTICLE IS BRILLIANT.