How Wayne Grudem fits his ideas on authority/submission with his thoughts on domestic abuse
Wayne Grudem claims that complementarianism guards against abuse. He maintains that his ideas on authority and submission don’t lead to abuse because he also emphasizes that men and women are equal in value:
This created order is also best for us, because it comes from an allwise Creator. This created order truly honors men and women. It does not lead to abuse but guards against it, because both men and women are equal in value before God. (Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, link 53)
How, specifically, is Grudem guarding against abuse? How does he put the rhetoric into practice?
I couldn’t find much teaching Grudem has given to wives about how to deal with domestic abuse. I found some advice he gave to pastors which I’ll discuss below, and some general teaching that perhaps touches on the issue from which a wife could glean some crumbs.
Grudem’s general advice about distortions of authority and submission
Here is Grudem teaching in general about how biblical gender roles can be distorted. (Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, p39, link, boldface mine)
Putting this biblical pattern into practice in our daily lives is a challenge, because we can err in one direction or the other. There are errors of passivity, and there are errors of aggressiveness. This can be seen in the following chart:
The biblical ideal, in the center column, is loving, humble headship on the part of the husband, following Ephesians 5:23-33. The biblical ideal on the part of the wife is joyful, intelligent submission to and support of her husband’s leadership, in accordance with Ephesians 5:22-24 and 31-33.
On the right side of the chart, the errors of aggressiveness are those that had their beginning, as we saw, in Genesis 3:16. The husband can become selfish, harsh, and domineering and act like a tyrant. This is not biblical headship but a tragic distortion of it. A wife can also demonstrate errors of aggressiveness when she resists and continually struggles against her husband’s leadership, not supporting it, but fighting against it and creating conflict every step of the way. She can become a usurper, something that is a tragic distortion of the biblical pattern of equality in the image of God.
On the other hand, on the left side of the chart, are the opposite errors, the errors of passivity. A husband can abdicate his leadership and neglect his responsibilities. He does not discipline his children, and he sits and watches TV and drinks his beer and does nothing. … A wife also can commit errors of passivity. Rather than participating actively in family decisions, rather than contributing her wisdom and insight that is so much needed, her only response to every question is, “Yes, dear, whatever you say.” She knows her husband and her children are doing wrong, and she says nothing. Or her husband becomes verbally or physically abusive, and she never objects to him and never seeks church discipline or civil governmental intervention to bring about an end to the abuse. Or she never really expresses her own preferences with regard to friendships or family vacations or her own opinions regarding people or events, and she thinks what is required is that she be “submissive” to her husband. But this also is a tragic distortion of biblical patterns. She has become a doormat.
Oh. So a wife who never expresses her preferences and opinions and who only submits to her husband is a ‘doormat’. She has erred into too much passivity.
But what if her husband is an abuser and she’s walking on eggshells to avoid trouble? (The trouble he creates all the time and then blames her for.) What if she is not expressing her preferences and opinions because whenever she has done so in the past, he has abused her? Is she making the error of passivity? Sounds like Grudem thinks she is. So what is his remedy for her?
- She should object to her husband about his abuse. Ah! But that rarely works! The abuser escalates or gets more crafty with his tactics when she objects.
- She ought to seek church discipline and civil government intervention to bring and end to his abuse. Ah! If only those things DID bring an end to the abuse! And if only most churches realised that abuse is more than physical violence and that many abusers never use physically violence. If only churches and civil governments recognised coercive control as abuse. If only they could recognise when coercive control is occurring.
Grudem’s advice sounds quite like Calvin’s advice to the abused French noblewoman who sought safe haven in Geneva (see appendix 11 of my book Not Under Bondage). Nothing much has changed in the last 450 years in conservative Christian circles when it comes to domestic abuse.
When women realise they are being abused, how is Grudem treating them as “equal in value to men” when he advises them to seek help from and submit to pastors? FACT: most pastors typically think they know how to deal with abuse but they are dangerously clueless. (evidence) Ditto many Christian counselors
Grudem’s advice to pastors on domestic abuse
How Grudem fits his views about authority and submission with his thoughts on domestic abuse — that is where the rubber meets the road. As you read Grudem’s advice to pastors, ask yourself whether the tyres are likely to skid, or whether they will grip the road. (And I cannot bring myself to spell tyre like the Yanks do, sorry!)
From Mary Kassian’s blog, 2012 (source) —
I [Mary] emailed Wayne Grudem earlier this week to ask what he would like to communicate to complementarian pastors on this Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This is what he said:
I strongly deplore any abuse of wives by their husbands and I believe the Bible teaches clearly against it. When pastors learn about abuse occurring in a home in their congregation, they have an obligation before God to seek to bring an immediate end to it, through direct personal conversation with the abuser, support of the abused, professional counselling, through means such as church discipline, protective personal intervention in dangerous situations, using law enforcement and other legal pressures, extensive prayer, and, if necessary, legal separation. Pastors also need to encourage their church members and attenders to tell someone in church leadership if abuse is occurring, so that appropriate means can be brought to bring an immediate end to it. Nobody in a leadership role in CBMW thinks that abuse within a marriage is justified by the biblical teachings about husbands and wives.
Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., Research Professor, Phoenix Seminary, and co-founder and past president of CBMW
‘Tell a church leader’ — some help that is! Our readers frequently report that when they told a church leader, it only compounded and prolonged their suffering. (evidence)
‘Seek to bring an immediate end to it’ — how naive! As if any abuser ever immediately stopped being an abuser! Pretty obviously, Grudem thinks abuse is just physical violence. Clearly he has very little understanding of coercive control and emotional and verbal and financial and social and sexual and legal abuse…
‘Direct personal conversation with the abuser’ — some help that is, when pastors are so untrained in recognising and resisting the abusive man’s attempt to recruit them as allies, or at least get them to take a ‘neutral’ stance! Neutrality is not neutral: it serves the interests of the perpetrator far more than it serves the interests of the victim. (Lundy Bancroft explains that here. Judith Lewis Herman concurs.) Grudem hasn’t warned pastors to be on guard against the manipulations of abusers. He’s said nothing to reduce the risk that pastors will pressure victims to reconcile and submit as soon as their husbands masquerade repentance (which they almost certainly will).
‘Support of the abused’ — what, exactly? How far will that support go? Will it be like this?
‘Professional counseling’ — for whom? with whom? It’s all so vague. Will they refer the couple to Biblical Counselors like CCEF? Lots of room there for the abusers and the pastors to push the woman into couple counseling and mutualize the problem. Clearly Grudem has no idea how few counselors are properly trained to deal with domestic abuse… and how many counselors think they are trained, but are clueless.
‘Church discipline’ — what exactly? Does it mean remove the abuser from the church roll, but urge him to still come to church, like Ps Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks would? How does that help the victim feel safe when her abuser can get in the ear of all the congregation to slander her and exonerate himself?
‘Protective personal intervention in dangerous situations’ — are Grudem and other pastors sufficiently trained in how to do this? Maybe. But maybe not. It depends on how dangerous the situation is. And are they capable of assessing the risks? (learn about risk assessment here, here and here)
‘Using law enforcement and other legal pressures’ — great, so far as it goes. But it’s naive. Grudem doesn’t seem to understand how little the law in most jurisdictions protects women from coercive control, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and sexualized abuse. And how often the justice system is manipulated by abusers to get custody or unsupervised access to the kids. And how abusers use access to the kids to abuse the kids and to continue abusing their spouse / former spouse.
As an aside, have CBWM ever thought of lobbying government to make family courts and family law more protective of victims of domestic abuse? I’ve only every heard of complementarians lobbying government to do more for the Fathers Rights movement. Father’s Rights groups are largely driven by men who have abused their wives and kids (evidence here and here from Lundy Bancroft; evidence here from Dr Michael Flood).
‘Extensive prayer’ — okay; but we have never heard of prayer making any lasting difference to the entitlement mentality of abusers.
‘And if necessary legal separation’ — so Grudem doesn’t allow divorce for abuse (proof). And as Jeff Crippen has said, what is this business of “legal separation”? Where is the biblical case for that? Is it not a limbo state of married but not married? Doesn’t it sound a whole lot like one of those Pharisaical half-measures that inevitably are required when our interpretation of Scripture makes no sense?
Readers, if your pastor said what Grudem said, would you feel confident that he could and would fully support you? Is there anything else you would like to add?
The Silence of our Friends — at The Housewife Theologian