A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Bruce Ware teaches that a wife’s lack of submission threatens her husband’s authority, and he responds to this threat by abusing her (ERAS 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.

v.i.c.t.i.m   b.l.a.m.i.n.g

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 —

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 ERAS series:

Part 1 It’s vital to talk about motivation in the debate about ‘Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission’ 

Part 2 The ceiling came down, so it’s time to inspect the whole building

Coming up Part 4 Why I think Wayne Grudem is motivated by an unwillingness to accord full respect to women

They…weave a spider’s web — Charles H Spurgeon


See the spider’s web, and behold in it a most suggestive picture of the hypocrite’s religion. It is meant to catch his prey: the spider fattens himself on flies, and the Pharisee has his reward.

Spider has trapped caterpillar

Foolish persons are easily entrapped by the loud professions of pretenders, and even the more judicious cannot always escape. Philip baptized Simon Magus, whose guileful declaration of faith was so soon exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter. Custom, reputation, praise, advancement, and other flies, are the small game which hypocrites take in their nets. A spider’s web is a marvel of skill: look at it and admire the cunning hunter’s wiles. Is not a deceiver’s religion equally wonderful?

How does he make so barefaced a lie appear to be a truth? How can he make his tinsel answer so well the purpose of gold? A spider’s web comes all from the creature’s own bowels. The bee gathers her wax from flowers, the spider sucks no flowers, and yet she spins out her material to any length. Even so hypocrites find their trust and hope within themselves; their anchor was forged on their own anvil, and their cable twisted by their own hands. They lay their own foundation, and hew out the pillars of their own house, disdaining to be debtors to the sovereign grace of God.

But a spider’s web is very frail. It is curiously wrought, but not enduringly manufactured. It is no match for the servant’s broom, or the traveller’s staff. The hypocrite needs no battery of Armstrongs to blow his hope to pieces, a mere puff of wind will do it. Hypocritical cobwebs will soon come down when the broom of destruction begins its purifying work. Which reminds us of one more thought, viz., that such cobwebs are not to be endured in the Lord’s house: he will see to it that they and those who spin them shall be destroyed for ever.

O my soul, be thou resting on something better than a spider’s web. Be the Lord Jesus thine eternal hiding-place.

Modern Adaptation by Jim Reimann

A spider’s web is the symbolic picture of a hypocrite’s so-called faith. It is designed to catch his prey, so just as the spider fattens himself on flies, the hypocritical Pharisee gets his reward. Foolish people are easily entrapped by the loud declarations of false believers, and even the most discerning does not always escape. Philip baptized Simon the Sorcerer, whose false profession of faith was quickly exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter (See Acts 8:9-24) Tradition, reputation, praise, advancement, and other “flies” are the small prey hypocrites trap in their nets. Look at the spider’s web and admire the cunning craftiness of the hunter, for the web is skillfully and wonderfully woven. Doesn’t a deceiver’s false faith appear equally wonderful?

How does he make such a bald-faced lie appear to be truth? How can he make his flimsy foil of an answer seem to be as pure as solid gold? The spider’s web comes completely from within its own bowels as opposed to the bee that gathers its wax from flowers. The spider takes nothing from a flower yet spins out the material for its web to any length it needs. Likewise, hypocrites find their trust and hope only within themselves. Their anchor is forged on their own anvil and the anchor’s chain is twisted into shape by their own hands. They lay their own foundation and fashion the pillars of their own house, rejecting with disgust the idea of being a debtor to the sovereign grace of God.

However, a spider’s web is fragile and frail. Yes, it is wonderfully formed, but it is not made to endure. It is not a match to someone’s walking cane or even a janitor’s broom. The hypocrite needs no battery of Armstrong artillery guns to blow his hope to pieces, for a mere puff of wind will do it. Hypocritical cobwebs will be quickly removed when the broom of destruction begins its purifying work, which brings up another thought, namely this: such cobwebs of deception will never be tolerated in the Lord’s house. The Lord Himself will see to it that the cobwebs, along with those who spin them, will be destroyed forever.

“O my soul” (Ps 103:2), rest on something better than a spider’s web. May the Lord Jesus be your eternal hiding place.


Thanks to MaxGrace, one of our readers, for bringing this devotional to our attention!

I’m Nobody Special; What Can I Do To Help Lazarus?

In the 1950’s through the 1970’s I was nurtured in a healthy Christian home by parents who have just now celebrated 63 years of marriage.  I’ve had the joy of being married 30+ years to a most wonderful husband.

Domestic abuse was quite hidden in decades of the past; it was hushed.  I know my eyes did not see nor comprehend the damage inflicted upon some spouses.  Since then I’ve encountered abuse’s ugly face as I walked for years with a friend on the brutal path to emancipation.  Through that experience and others, the study of the topic, and the divulgences of survivors, my eyes have been opened.  As I have learned their stories I can now count a minimum of 12 women* who were, or are, the targets of domestic/intimate partner abuse and post-divorce harassment.

These women were not walking in Biblical disobedience by petulantly deciding they just didn’t want to be married anymore or because they found someone more attractive.  On the contrary, most were trying their hardest to be the best wives possible and uphold their vows before their Lord. Though details differed, most were living with an enemy who shot them with various projectiles, then jeered at them for having the nerve to bleed and/or cry for help while burying the victim in wretched disgust!

Many had children in the tomb of abuse with them.  These moms saw their children contracting diseases of the soul; yet another reason to escape so as to remove them from the contamination of abuse or show the adult children a better way.

Sadly, some escapees are scorned in unmerciful judgement by critics who lack the facts, the desire to know details beyond gossip level, have little compassion, and even less understanding of the nature of abuse, to say nothing of right dividing of Scripture.

Recently I pondered Jesus calling Lazarus forth.  Yea!  A brother brought back to his grieving sisters!  High five!  All is well!  But the story doesn’t end there.   Come learn with me.

John 11:44 reads that at the command of Jesus The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Can you imagine the scene?  Onlookers stand in stunned silence as Lazarus somehow gets off (out of?) the place where his body had lain.  No doubt fearing the expected stench, the spectators probably took a step or two backwards.  Lazarus stumbles, hops, falls (?!?) through the tomb opening bound like a mummy at a cheesy high school haunted house.

This scene is comparable to an abused woman fleeing an already broken marriage.  Her head is wrapped in the fog deliberately created for her by the abuser to keep her off balance.  She is bound both by the tactics of abuse and the PTSD resulting from the continual trauma.  Surprised observers sometimes step back from the unmistakable odor of death and, quite frankly, so as to not be in the path of the death angel (abuser) that sometimes pursues her beyond the tomb.

In verse 35 Jesus wept.  While God foreknew the sin that would bring death to mankind, He did not ordain death.  Sin brings death.  Death brings anguish to the living.  Death wasn’t supposed to be and it brings Jesus sorrow.

So it is with marriage.  God never designed marriage to be one partner habitually lording domination, manipulation and control over the other… all three being evidences of the spirit of witchcraft in operation (1 Sam 16:23). Our loving Father established marriage as a type of the cherished relationship between Jesus and His Bride whom He laid down His life for. God weeps over the cruelty one spouse directs at another. Abuse is sin in any relationship. In marriage the sin of continual abuse breaks covenant, and it brings death.

“Oh, but we are ALL sinners!” parrot the naïve.  Don’t go there with me.  Submitting one’s sin nature to the cleansing blood of Jesus makes us new people.  New in Christ.  Our nature is changed as we submit to the sanctification process.  We sin.  We screw up.  And we know it. We humbly repent and keep offering ourselves to be transformed into His image…and we are.

Habitual abuse is a different animal altogether!  The abuser sees no wrong in his behavior. He knows others may think it is wrong, but he thinks it’s just fine for him to control and abuse his victim. Repeatedly lying to and about the victim, stealing, purposely ruin her credit, subverting, shaming, ridiculing, raging, imprisoning, gaslighting , abusing financially, sexually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally (restricting access to others), parental alienation are the sick tools of domination’s lifestyle.  Such a life is completely opposite the occasional “Oh honey, I was a jerk to you today, I was wrong. I’m so sorry.”

The abuser doesn’t abuse because he’s had a bad day.  He doesn’t do it because of poor upbringing or trauma in his childhood.  He. Does. It. Because. He. Can.  It benefits him.  We know this because, like a light switch, he can turn the malice off and on at will depending upon who is witnessing his actions.  He controls his behavior.  It is a choice.

“Habitual, consistent, chronic, practice, lifestyle.”   These words differentiate between the occasional “jerk” behavior that plagues us all.  Consider the “practice” of medicine. People are doctors because they practice medicine.  It is who they are and what they do.  People are abusers when they practice abuse. Like doctors, they daily hone and practice their skills.  This perpetual lifestyle is evil.  It is immoral.  It is depraved.  It is wicked.

An abused woman is living in a tomb surrounded by death while her essence, her personhood, decays.  When the stone is rolled away and fresh air flows in she recognizes the death around her and in her… she’s infected with it through the choices of another.

The wedding promises of love, cherishing, and fidelity, give a glimpse into the union every bride is longing for and expecting.  Regrettably, many discover that the spouse has worn an impenetrable mask of calculated goodness, yes, even “godliness” that he excels at using to fool everyone.  The mask is conveniently discarded once the vows are spoken.  Marriage made a sham by the vows he spoke under false pretenses.

When she seeks help through the court systems, pointy polluted fingers of family, friends, and/or church members level the accusation that she “broke the marriage”.  How wrong is their utter arrogance! The abuser’s unrepentant, continual ruthlessness leveled against her broke the vows, and thus the marriage, before she ever left the home!  Plainly stated, civil divorce legally ratifies the decision the abuser made to break the marriage.

Unfortunately, there are some who see her staggering out who tell her she must return to the tomb of the dead.  That she has no right to be rescued from the destruction, decay, and death because, after all, SHE chose this life, bad as it may be, when she married this man.  Marriage becomes the idol to be served. The blame is laid upon her for not serving the idol: She made a bad choice; she must have chosen him out of God’s will; she is at fault.  Such logic is akin to blaming a rape victim for the perpetrator’s violence.

Did Lazarus do something out of God’s will to encourage his illness or was it just a result of a sin-cursed world?  Scripture doesn’t tell us.  Yet, Jesus apparently didn’t care what caused the death.  He simply raised Lazarus to life again.  Because that’s what Jesus does.  He brings life out of death and sets the captives free.

If there is exegesis on the remainder of verse 44, I haven’t heard it yet. “Jesus said to them (the onlookers), “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Lazarus needed help removing his bindings because he did not bind himself!

Thus Jesus commanded the bystanders to release Lazarus from his bindings.  Amid joy at renewed life there were practical needs to be addressed.  As the bindings came off he was naked in front of everyone!  Moles, scars and every private part lay open to be viewed by those who loved him…and those who were merely gawkers.  He needed clothing to cover his nakedness!

His financial dealings, having been rearranged as a consequence of his death, had to be reordered to care for him in his remaining years.  Four days dead with no food?  He could have been famished for a good home-cooked meal and a drink of water!

Jesus calls out the abused wife.  Eyewitnesses are stunned and skeptical – “We never saw that side of him!” “Did you pray about this?” What kind of stupid asks a question like that?  Of course she prayed about it as she cried out to God for help! “But he didn’t hit you, right?”  “But he is a <deacon, pastor, missionary, godly man>, he couldn’t be like you are painting him!” All are inane comments of unbelief equating to “Hey, the tomb couldn’t have been that bad of a place for you to live!”

With the luxury of not living in a tomb, the presumptuous easily reach these conclusions and sanctimoniously spout them.  They are totally ignorant of the shame and fear a woman must overcome just to admit she’s abused…even to herself!

As Lazarus had practical needs, so does the woman leaving abuse.  Because He is in the business of releasing the captives, and we are His hands, Jesus commands us to remove her bindings.  The abuse survivor, too, is naked with the raw pain of broken promises, shattered dreams, rejection, torment, shame, threats, fear, abandonment, and poverty.  She needs “covering” that goes beyond mere clothing, which she may also desperately need.

The woman coming out of an abusive marriage needs to be gently washed, sometimes again and again, with kindness, compassion, and the Word of God!   She must be patiently filled with the assurance of her Father’s limitless and passionate love for her since she unquestionably has been indoctrinated, by words and actions, that she is unlovable, that she is valueless.

Trusting again can be a fearful thing to one whose trust has been deliberately decimated. Her abuser distorted her reality on a regular basis, so disorientation in the real world is more often the rule than the exception.   Thus, her frame of reference for “normal vs not normal” is fragmented.

Often she is penniless because part of the pre-mediated emotional murder committed against her was the intentional manipulation of finances so she would find starting over nearly impossible.

There are many resources available to enlighten the concerned about the hideous patterns of abuse, the excuses offered, and the difficulty escaping it.  Great places to start include cryingoutforjustice.com and lundybancroft.com.  Searches for “narcissistic abuse” on the internet and Pinterest are helpful, too. Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts excellently reveals the whole counsel of God regarding the “God hates divorce” misquote. A Cry for Justice* and Unholy Charade*, both by Pastor Jeff Crippen, enlighten regarding abusers using, and hiding in, the church.

Psalms has dozens of passages revealing how God feels about abusers, oppressors and their victims.  Some, like Psalm 82:3,4 below, command our part to play:

Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

Here are some ways to partner with Jesus in fulfilling this Psalm and removing the grave clothes of a modern-day Lazarus:

  • Can you listen (over and over again) without judging as she processes through the hurt?
  • Can you discretely press some money into her hand?  Poverty is a favorite tool of the abuser.
  • Can you drive her to court and stand beside her as her knees shake under his venomous gaze?
  • Can you fill a bag of groceries from your own pantry, or give a gift card for food or gas?
  • Can you share a coat from your own closet when it’s cold out if you can’t do anything else?
  • Can you host a GoFundMe account for legal fees she can’t afford?
  • Can you pray?  And let her KNOW you are standing with her?
  • Can you hold her while she cries?
  • Can you assure her that despite the abuser’s claims, she is NOT crazy but suffering from her abuser’s engineered cognitive dissonance?
  • Can you praise her for her bravery in the face of her abuser’s “one step short of arrest” retaliation?
  • Can you offer her the use of your computer if she doesn’t own one?
  • Can you and your friends host a “Love Shower” if she’s not been allowed to take basic necessities from the family home in her attempt to start over?
  • Can you help her figure out a budget when she does earn money?
  • Can you let her know she can call you for emotional support anytime day or night?
  • Can you offer her your extra bedroom while she gets on her feet?
  • Can you watch her children while she meets with a lawyer?
  • Can you believe she wouldn’t do something this drastic without a good reason?
  • Can you go with her when she meets her lawyer to take notes for her to refer to later?
  • Can you help her check her free credit report to see if her abuser has opened accounts in her name?
  • Can you take her to a bank and teach her how to open an account? (A skill withheld in financial abuse.)
  • Can you educate others to put aside their preconceived, and often sanctimonious, biases that threaten to re-abuse her in her time of desperate need?
  • Can you stand up for her if members of her own family declare they are “neutral”? (“Neutral” = neutered where evil is concerned; it is cowardice.)
  • Can you stand with her if weak church leadership sides with her abuser because it’s less messy for them
  • Can you put in a good word for her with a potential employer?
  • Can you use your own healing from an abusive marriage to comfort and encourage her?
  • Can you have her over for meals and holidays, especially if she is bereft of family?
  • Can you help her laugh and forget her troubles for an hour?
  • Can you make her YOUR family?  Even give her a house key?  (She may not have been allowed to have a key in the house she shared with her abuser.)
  • Can you choose to use language such as “Have you considered…” rather than “You should…”?
  • Can you suggest options, but not be offended if she is unable, or afraid, to follow your train of logic?
  • Can you advise, but still support her in making her own decisions?  Decision making may be new to her; she may need help seeing all sides of an issue—but she still must decide on her own.
  • Can you show her what a healthy, God-honoring marriage looks like from the inside…in your home with all your warts, but also all your loving commitment to each other and the Lord?
  • For that matter, does this topic bring to mind your behavior toward your spouse that you need to submit to Jesus and change?
  • Can you stand up for her in the midst of gossip and declare “We have not walked in her shoes; there but for the grace of God go we!  God is her judge, not any us.”?
  • Can you LOVE HER?

You have no idea if you might be the one person standing between that bottle of pills or a razor blade poised over the wrist of an abused woman.  A precious woman who has had her last ounce of emotional blood sucked out of her by the vampire delighting in destroying her.  YOU might be the only one at that moment to hear Jesus command “Take off her grave clothes and let her go.”

So the question really isn’t “Can you…” but “Will you…”?

He who has pity (compassion, mercy, graciousness) on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given. (Proverbs 19:17)

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* This post is by Harriet Cook. Harriet is a wife, mother of adult children, and grandmother, loving and serving Jesus for 57 years in the Pacific Northwest.  She does not deny there are some male abuse victims.  However, her experience is with the gender usually more easily preyed upon.

For Further Reading and Resources:

Thursday Thought — How to Support an Abuse Victim

Two books for supporters of survivors

Resources for Supporters of Victims of Domestic Abuse


*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.

Thursday Thought — On Violence, Resistance, and Power in Language by Dr. Allan Wade

At a conference in Sweden, Dr. Allan Wade discusses social responses. In particular in this short video clip he touches on how people who have been abused may be further traumatized by the negative social responses they receive from ‘helping’ professionals, authority figures, family, friends and neighbours.  Very often, the social responses an abused person receives from others just mis-label, blame and pathologise the abused person. Allan discusses how the mutualising language used to talk about assault can impact the victim in negative ways.


Philippians 2 is Often Erroneously Applied to the Victim instead of the Abuser

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

This is the kind of scripture that people so often butcher, and in the process they carve up abuse victims while claiming to speak for the Lord. You all know pretty much how this passage would be used. “Now, what you need to do is humble yourself. You need to seek your husband’s interests and stop seeking just your own welfare. You are being prideful and self-serving and Jesus wants you to be like Him. Your husband needs his wife to look out for him and help him. Count him more significant than yourself.”

Right? That’s how it goes. But as is soooo typical, this is turning the Scripture completely on its head (i.e., upside down). How many abuse victims do you know who are selfishly ambitious, conceited, arrogant, and only looking out for their own interests? I don’t know of ANY (except maybe one or two who turned out to not be real victims at all). None. In fact what gets us all into trouble when we are oppressed by the wicked is that we end up misapplying humility. We look out for the interests of the abuser far too long. We want to please the Lord and so we (erroneously) think that He would have us regard the evil abuser as more significant than ourselves or our children. After all, that is what we were so often taught.

But it’s all wrong.

This scripture is addressing people who are selfishly ambitious, conceited, arrogant, and who look out only for their own interests. Who does that describe? The abuser! Yes, the passage is certainly addressed to all of us in the sense of warning us not to be mislead by false teaching and not to permit our sinful flesh to lead us into sin. But specifically, Paul would have been addressing people in the church, professing Christians, who were puffed up and selfish and trampling on others. He says such an attitude and behavior is not of Christ.

Humility is not inconsistent with standing against wickedness

This passage in Philippians immediately goes on to say —

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

So Christ is our example in all of this. Yes, Christ emptied himself and was a servant. He died on the cross. But as we study His life and teachings in the gospels we see Him standing up to the wicked, denouncing them, exposing them, preaching against them. In other words, Jesus’ life and example shows us that humility is not inconsistent with standing against wickedness and refusing to tolerate evil.

Jesus submitted to evil when it unjustly murdered him on Calvary Hill. But He submitted to that evildoing for a special and unique reason: He lovingly wanted to make a way for fallen mankind to be forgiven of sin. His humble submissive non-resistance and non-escape from evildoers was done for a very specific purpose: to effect a once-for-all substitutionary atonement for the sins of the people. So in His death at the Cross, Jesus was seeking the interests of others: those who would come to faith in Him.

But during His life on earth, Jesus was seeking the interests of others in a different way: by exposing the wicked who oppress victims, by warning this disciples to beware of wolves and the leaven of the false teachers, and by setting the captives free from affliction, sickness, stigma, etc.  In His life and teaching, one of his key messages was this: The stance of turning a blind eye to the wicked who oppress victims is a self-seeking stance.

That, you see, is what the problem is. People, and often in particular professing Christians, are actually SELF-seeking when they turn a blind eye to the wicked who oppress victims, when they enable or collude with the wicked, and when they tell abuse victims to buckle down, humble themselves, and endure more abuse. By choosing these responses, self-seeking people don’t have to pay the price of standing with the victim.

Therefore, it is abusers and their allies who are selfishly ambitious, self-interest seekers, arrogant, and conceited. Philippians 2 is for them, not for the victim.

Mind-boggling isn’t it? I mean, so often we are seeing that we have been taught EXACTLY OPPOSITE of what the Bible really says. That is called false teaching, and those who mishandle God’s Word this way are going to have a big price to pay one Day. Big. I mean, really, really big.

* * * *

For Further Reading

What “Do Not Think too Highly of Yourself” does NOT Mean

When is suffering God’s will for us?

Does Unconditional Love Even Exist?

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Christians tend to make much out of this notion of “unconditional love.” Most of our readers have no doubt been on the receiving end of this idea that they need to love their abuser “unconditionally” because, after all, God loves us unconditionally. No matter what, He loves us.

We think not. Let us propose to you that there is no such thing as “unconditional love.”

It is true that in eternity past God elected His people to salvation. And he did so based upon nothing in themselves. Jacob and Esau were twins, yet before they were born and before they had done anything good or bad, God set His election upon Jacob. Christians will debate until Christ comes about the specifics of how this all works in conjunction with free will and so on. But for now, let’s just think about this matter of “unconditional love.”

When God decreed that He would love us, we were still sinners. Unlovable. So if by ‘unconditional love’ we mean that there was nothing in us to commend God’s love toward us, fine. Reformed theology calls this ‘unconditional election’ rather than ‘unconditional love’.

In the plan of salvation there were conditions

In God’s plan to bring us to salvation, there were conditions. Conditions that had to be met. You see it in both of the verses above. Namely, Christ had to die for us and be the propitiation for our sins. All the benefits we enjoy in Christ (forgiveness, adoption, justification, sanctification, regeneration, glorification, etc) are conditioned upon Christ coming and redeeming us. And we also had to repent and believe the gospel.

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

So it simply is not true that God loves everyone without condition. If He has anything that can be defined as “love” for His enemies (and many would argue that His common grace toward everyone is not the same as love), that kind of love is not the fullness of the love He has for His own people in Christ. And there will come a Day when all of humanity is sorted out into two groups (really, we already are) for all to see. Many (most) will hear Him tell them to depart from Him into outer darkness, while His sheep will be invited in to receive their inheritance.

But here is the point. Even those sheep are not loved by God UN-conditionally. Oh, there is no room for them to boast about their justification. Nothing that they did was in any way meritorious as far as “deserving” to be saved or somehow “obligating” God to save them. Even faith and repentance are gifts from God. But conditions were met, and God met them in Christ. There was indeed a price to be paid, only it was Jesus who paid it. He met the conditions. So we are secure in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. But it is not an unconditional love, you see.

Which brings us back to the case of the wicked abuser. God does not accept the wicked. God has one message to the evil man — repent and believe the gospel or you will remain under wrath and perish in hell. The good news has conditions — terms if you will. It is not (as seems to be so frequently preached nowadays) a declaration that “Christ has died, God loves everyone now unconditionally, and we will all live happily ever after in heaven no matter what.”

The same truths apply to our relationships. Unless the abuser repents and is born again WE do not relationally forgive and reconcile with him. Oh, we don’t go out and seek our own personal vengeance. And we don’t leave him lying in the highway run down by a car and bleeding — if we see him in that state, we call the ambulance and get him to hospital. And we can pray that God will forgive him, as Jesus prayed for the soldiers who carried out his execution, and as Stephen prayed for those who stoned him. But in praying those prayers, Jesus and Stephen both knew full well that for God to forgive those people each individual soldier, each person throwing stones, had to repent of his or her sins and come to saving faith.  A prayer for one’s enemy to be forgiven may be uttered in simple words — “God, forgive him!”  — but those simple words take as their presupposition the idea that God does not forgive a sinner who doesn’t have genuine repentance. Only those who repent, being born again unto saving faith in Christ, can enter the kingdom of God.

Three things we are to do for our enemies, with two caveats

Christians are instructed to do three loving things for their enemies, and two of these three are tempered by other biblical precepts.

  1. We are to refrain from personal vengeance.
  2. We are to do good (do deeds of mercy) to our enemies. But at the same time, we are called to be wise and not put our pearls before swine who will only turn again and rend us.
  3. We are to pray for our enemies that God will forgive them — that they will be granted repentance and saving faith. But we are not required to pray for the sin that leads to death.

In a sense, all these three things are linked by a common desire: in refraining from vengeance, doing deeds of mercy to our enemies, and praying for our enemies, we are desiring that our enemies repent and come into the kingdom of God. If that should transpire, we will meet them lovingly in the New Heavens and New Earth (if not before) and we will greet them with rejoicing and thanksgiving for the glory of God.

These things  are really the limit of our “love” for our enemies.  Because full love, relational love, forgiving love has its conditions. And abusers almost always fail to even want to meet those conditions.

Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was a once off. We are not called nor must we presumptuously think ourselves capable of replicating it for our abusers.

So the next time someone pulls the “unconditional love” card on you (“you must love your abuser without condition because God’s love is unconditional”) perhaps these thoughts will help you throw a monkey wrench into the gears of their thinking. We don’t claim to have all of this totally sorted out. This is the stuff that theologians will banter on back and forth for decades. But we know enough to realize that all of this common talk about God’s “unconditional love” is a perversion of Scripture and is a twisting of truth that does not line up with God’s Word. Don’t feel any obligation to yield to it.

A brainstorming exercise

Let’s brainstorm ways we can respond to someone who tells a victim of abuse, “You must love your abuser without condition because God’s love is unconditional.”

Here’s Barb’s attempt as a starter:

“As a born again believer, the Bible tells me that God elected me unconditionally to salvation. But God’s unconditional election is not exactly the same as ‘unconditional love’. God’s loving plan of salvation has conditions: Jesus had to die as a propitiation for sin, and I had to repent and believe.”

But Barb is always rather longwinded (says Barb) … so maybe some other readers can come up with more concise responses.  And maybe some can come up with shrewd questions to put back to the advice-giver — see here and here for posts about asking shrewd questions.

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Related posts 

our tag Unconditional Love

Posts that touch on praying for abusers

To pray for our abusers… or not? (we don’t need to pray for the sin that leads to death)

Praying for God’s Justice

Have I prayed enough? – a question often asked by victims of domestic abuse

our tag Praying For The Abuser

Posts that touch on the ‘pearls before swine’ scripture

Ed Welch Has Abuse All Wrong, and so does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)

They will turn again and rend you — Matthew 7:6

Victims’ vulnerabilities that abusers exploit



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