This is going to be a different kind of book review. Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife is different kind of book. It is a page turner autobiography about an educated, independent Christian woman who falls in love with the tall, handsome, charming guy who knew all the right answers at a Christian retreat. She marries him and endures 19 long years of abuse. But as the subtitle explains, it’s also her story of finding hope after domestic abuse. And did I mention her husband was a preacher?
Despite the fact that Tucker’s husband “hurled biblical texts” at her while “hitting and punching and slamming [her] against doors and furniture,” despite his “terror-loaded threats” if she didn’t submit properly “from the kitchen to the bedroom,” despite feeling “trapped and fear[ing] for [her] life, while outwardly disguising bruises with long sleeves and clever excuses,” she doesn’t abandon her Christian faith. No, during this time, Tucker earns her PHD, teaches courses at Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music (as does her husband for six years) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and even spends some summer weeks teaching at a Bible college in Kenya. She maintains a high view of Scripture and continues in the Christian faith.
But there is something Ruth Tucker abandons. And that is what adds another layer to the storytelling in this book. Tucker is now an egalitarian, arguing for mutuality in marriage, church office, and society. She no longer supports the complementarian teaching that “although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.” While celebrating gender distinction, Tucker argues that complementarian teaching is unbiblical and provides fuel for abusive relationships. This argument is woven throughout her testimony of enduring and escaping abuse.
I’ve read the reviews by complementarians in my so-called circles that, while having sympathy for Tucker’s story of abuse, say they cannot give their recommendation of the book, even turning their reviews into corresponding arguments of why Tucker’s egalitarianism is wrong. And that is why this is a different kind of book review. I would like to engage with the complementarian reviews of this book with my own response. I am bothered by how these reviews from within my own circles have not really listened, have not really learned, and have not really engaged with Ruth Tucker.
Sure, Tucker does write an argument against complementarianism in her book, and one form of engagement is to respond to that. But it is revealing that the response is to want to defend complementarianism and to advise people not to read from someone who was abused in its system. I want to go on record as someone in a complementarian denomination that I am challenged and sharpened by Tucker’s book. While complementarians are writing reviews saying that they do not recommend Tucker’s book, I want to urge people to read it—especially pastors. I gained more insight into why women stay in abusive relationships for so long. I learned more about red flags that may indicate an abusive relationship. And I was enlightened by the cold reality of how pointless couples counseling is when one of the spouses is abusive. After reading this book, I am even more convinced that complementarianism and egalitarianism are not as simple as the definitions provided for us. I closed Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife challenged to learn more. Particularly at the end of the book, Tucker poses some tough questions for complementarians.
Victims of abuse need to be heard. We especially need to listen as a church.
So, I was bothered by the reviews that don’t recommend Tucker’s book due to her egalitarian position. One common critique among them is that Tucker’s view of complementarianism is wrong. Complementarianism does not teach abusive headship, it teaches using the model of how Christ leads his church. I think the author would agree that her ex-husband would have been abusive no matter what doctrine he held. But here’s the problem: the “that’s not complementarianism” critique doesn’t have a leg to stand on when some of it’s most well-known proponents are quoted in the book teaching devastating applications of complementarianism. And while their teaching doesn’t advocate abuse ostensibly, it doesn’t protect women who are abused—at all. It exposes them to more abuse. And so it is fuel for an abuser. These are devastating quotes that need to be addressed. We must ask—what is being taught in the name of complementarianism? Are all of its teachings biblical? That is a question I have been asking the leaders in the movement for a while now.
And Tucker’s book is where I see the rubber meeting the road on the over-emphasis of an unbiblical form of authority and submission taught under the label of complementarianism. The defensiveness and denunciations in some of these reviews send the message that there is a greater fear of people reading Tucker’s book and becoming egalitarian than my fear of people reading leading voices in complementarianism and leaving Christianity!
Tucker opens her book with a quote from Paige Patterson when he was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This was from a session at a CBMW conference in 2000:
I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what you want to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about to sleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.” (11)
“Some abuse”? Really? Tucker added after the quote that Rev. Patterson provided the reason why he was happy—this woman’s husband came to church afterward and responded to the invitation at the end of the service to come forward. I could spend three more posts breaking down what’s troubling here, but have to move on.
Bruce Ware, who years ago was a colleague of mine at Trinity, stated the matter even more forcefully at a 2008 conference when he said that “women victims of domestic violence were often to blame for their own abuse because they were failing to submit to their husband’s authority.” (48)
These are just two examples of many from the book. Are complementarians troubled by these teachings? I am! I wouldn’t stand behind that. Why can’t we at least agree that we are told to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, women to their own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22-23), and husbands are to give themselves up in love for their wives, just as Christ loved the Church (v. 25). That is the man’s submission. The type of teaching that the above quotes represent diminishes women, whom the Lord says are to be cherished.
While Tucker has this dual aim to argue for egalitarianism in the home, church, and society while raising awareness for domestic abuse through her own story, she focuses most of the book on marriage. It is difficult to accomplish a task of storytelling and teaching theology at the same time. Not everything descriptive is prescriptive. And while there were areas in the book where I wanted to push back on Tucker’s teaching, I realized I am reading a book from a woman who has endured and escaped horrible abuse—a book peppered with quotes from leading complementarians who blame women for their abuse, reduce complementarity to male authority and female submission, send victims back into abusive homes for the sake of submission, teach a distorted view of masculinity and femininity, and reduce women to the role of elevating men.
So here’s my question: why are complementarians so quick to call out an abuse victim’s egalitarianism and yet so absolutely silent about the troubling teaching she quotes from many leading complementarians? This is why Ruth Tucker wants nothing to do with your theology—you refuse to confront the damaging errors within it. And I’d say that is not worthy of the word complementarity.
Bruce Ware has contacted me, upset that the quote Tucker has provided is misleading. It is from a blog article describing a session Ware gave at a “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” conference in Denton, TX, 2008. The words were the blogger, Kathryn Joyce’s, summation. It is fair to point that out. Joyce does provide these two quotes from Ware’s talk that are just as disturbing:
“And husbands on their parts, 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, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches.”
“He will have to rule, and because he’s a sinner, this can happen in one of two ways. It can happen either 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 the leader in the relationship and just say â€˜OK dear,’ – Whatever you say dear,’ – Fine dear’ and become a passive husband, because of sin.”
I did ask Ware if he would repudiate those statements, as the inference is clearly one that a man’s abuse is the result or effect of the woman challenging his authority by not submitting. He denies that is the inference. He also said that men bear full responsibility for the sin of abuse.
Unfortunately, the link provided on CBMW for the talks is now broken. But I did find another article (there are many) that covered this talk. Here is another one that summarizes more of Ware’s argument.
**Another link has been brought to my attention, from an interview Ware did on Revive Our Hearts, where he basically says the same thing.
*Originally published on July 12, 2016.