“Why does she stay? It doesn’t make sense!”
An abusive husband with a Bible-believing wife has an advantage – a secret weapon. The Bible, used in a twisted way, enables him to habitually control his wife and children and get that to which he feels entitled.
There are a variety of verses in his arsenal, but his Tsar Canon is God telling wives to submit to their husbands. If a self-serving husband can twist the meaning of these verses to convince his wife that God mandates unconditional obedience, he knows she will not “argue with God”, but rather choose to suffer “for Christ’s sake” to please her Saviour.
While I confirm that God’s plan is for wives to submit, church leaders unwittingly confirm the abuser’s extremism. Why? 1) not taking the effort to truly educate themselves about abuser’s behaviour patterns and violence, 2) not understanding that abuse is hidden in their own church family or 3) they are themselves abusive.
To use the Bible “as an excuse to demand slave-like servility, or even to engage in physical and emotional bullying, is to misuse it utterly and no wife should feel spiritually obliged to accept such treatment.” Peter Jensen
Using words in the Bible to get what you want is not such a far-fetched idea – Satan attempted to manipulate Jesus in the desert to do what he wanted by using verses. Matthew 4:5-7, Luke 4
“It’s always incredulous to me that a man can live like the devil but hold his wife accountable to follow the letter of how he interprets the Bible. It is important to understand that your husband isn’t using Scripture correctly. . . The Pharisees often twisted the Scriptures and Jesus called them on it over and over again (Matthew 15 is one example).”3
Someone with years of Scripture-twisting under his belt is IBLP’s ex-leader Bill Gothard (30+ young ladies accused him of sexual harassment). One minor example was related by Lauren – “ I heard [Gothard] ask my friend (to whom he was paying special attention) to remove a skin tag on her neck because ‘the Bible says we are to be without spot or blemish’.”
This mis-use of God’s Word is very familiar to every Christian victim of abuse.
Instead of being intimidated and manipulated, wives need to be like Jesus and understand the intent of God’s words. Let’s attempt in this post to untwist the submission verses.
“You have to submit to me as if I were God Himself.”
Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18 are strategically aimed to guarantee that every whim of the abuser is satisfied.
Using verses to control works well in the Christian community because a godly wife genuinely wants to obey God. Her husband merely has to threaten to tell their pastor that she’s not submitting or tell her she is displeasing God (which carries more weight), and she acquiesces to his wishes immediately. He’ll quote verses in the Old Testament to claim that God will hold him, not her, responsible for any sin he demands.
“Touch not my anointed” is used to claim that if she disagrees with his authority in her life, she is disagreeing with God Himself. I Chronicles 16:22
“My husband, through his actions and perceptions, was my God.” – Mary, blogger
God is talking to wives when He says “submit”. God is not assigning husbands the task of making sure their wives submit, as abusers feel entitled to do – even to the point of physically spanking their wives when they are “disobedient”.
This command to submit springs from the foundation of Ephesians 5:19 to 21 where we are to be filled with the Spirit which produces singing, giving thanks and “submitting yourselves one to another.” The husband is also to submit to the wife.
“Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman . . . so that your prayers may not be hindered.” I Peter 3:7
For a husband to be the “head” of his wife is for him to follow Jesus’ example of being a servant-leader. (John 13:12-17) Jesus did not lord it over us (1 Peter 5:3), but sacrificially gave Himself for us. Husbands are to love and care for their wives just as Christ does the church. The wife’s role of submitting is in this context. (Mark 10:42-43, Ephesians 5:22-28, 1 Peter 5:1-4) It is a joyful response to a loving husband.
“Ultimate accountability’ is the term Evangelist/Pastor John Vaughn gives to refute the abuser’s claim. All authority is given by God. The moment a leader uses his authority to force upon another something God did not say, he is abusing that authority.
“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” – Albert Einstein
A leader does not have Christ’s authority. Only Christ has Christ’s authority (Matthew 28:18), and He never “delegates” it to anyone. Therefore, a husband cannot exercise Christ’s authority. He can only appeal to his wife to submit to Christ’s authority.
“I was beguiled into believing my desire to serve God could be achieved through serving this man.” – Meg, blogger
Confronting abuse and implementing consequences is following Proverbs 31:12 “She will do him good.” “She has done the right thing by seeking help for herself, for her children and for her husband. To have done otherwise would have been to fail to love her family and to do them good.” InFocus To remain silent is to enable his sin.
The New Testament contends for the mutuality of spouses. Some examples:2
– In a world dominated by men, Paul said “there is neither male or female in Christ”. Galatians 3:28
– “In Judaism, the husband had the right to absent himself from his wife. . .(Jub.1:8; m. Yoma 8:1) and needed only to inform the wife of his decision … Paul insists that any withdrawal (from intimacy) may occur only after husband and wife arrive at a mutual decision.” I Corinthians 7:5 2
– Stating that the Christian wife has the same power to sanctify her unbelieving husband as the Christian husband has to sanctify his unbelieving wife was revolutionary.
– Culture, as well as the Hebrew Bible, assumed that a woman couldn’t divorce her husband, but Jesus said “If she divorce her husband” – raising women’s status. Mark 10:12
– Jesus mentions both male and female, which was contrary to the culture.
– The first of the Ten Commandments was to honour parents, but Jesus said that to honour your wife is a higher priority. Mark 10:7
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them”. Colossians 3:19
Peter says we’re never to exploit those with less power.
Michael and Debi Pearl
People like Quiverfull’s Michael and Debi Pearl liken marital submission to slaves obeying their masters. “The chain of authority must remain intact, even to the point of allowing some abuse.” “You are obeying God by enduring the wrongful suffering.” “When (Jesus) was reviled and threatened, He suffered by committing Himself to a higher judge who is righteous.”4
But Jesus was suffering for spreading the kingdom of God, not because of a narcissistic abusive spouse.
I’ve known wives influenced by the Pearls who only address their husbands as “sir” and, in public, only refer to their husbands as “Pastor Smith” or “Mr. Smith”.
“Did Jesus reject the will of God and flee to safe ground?” Michael asks. Women who stay, “enter into a plane of blessedness known only to the obedient.” I can’t help but wonder what that looks like! In truth, Jesus, as well as David and Paul, fled when they were physically threatened.
Pearl promises that unquestioning obedience to an abuser will bring about his salvation. But in truth, standing up to abuse and violence, and leaving if necessary, has more hope of changing him, statistically. Pearl’s philosophy enables the sin of the oppressor. This teaching is an evil obsession with authority – the opposite of God’s command to cherish and protect.
1 A Matter of Basic Principles by Don Vernoit and The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and VanVonderen delve extensively into this topic and have shocking examples.
2 Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT by David E. Garland