It saddened me to read excerpts in from your sermon from a series on “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” delivered at Denton Bible Church. Therefore, my husband and I went on line and listened to the entire sermon to understand the context.

While it was not a sermon on domestic violence, you did mention abusive behaviors twice, and it appears that you place the responsibility for domestic abuse squarely on the shoulders of the woman, instead of on the man, and with that I take issue.

I am not a feminist, so please do not think I write from that perspective. And this is not an attempt to debate what has been debated for centuries, that of a “woman’s place” (although it seems to me the Proverbs 31 woman was also a business woman). It is to enlighten you as to how sermons are heard through the perspective of the suffering.

Man has always had an issue of wanting control. It is a struggle we see today in families, communities, politics and the world. It has been that way since the Garden.

The result of sin entering the world through Adam and Eve was that man would have a distorted view of controlling his wife (ruling over her rather than leading) and woman would have an unhealthy desire to bend into her husband (meaning to be too dependent on him).

I did hear your view that the sinful “desire” was to rule her husband, but God could have used those words had He intended that meaning. As women, we can become too dependent and passive and put incredible burdens on men to be our all-in-all instead of looking to God for fulfillment. I believe that is the meaning, and looking to another instead of God is always sin.

Further, any time we sin, there is a sinful result, and Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in a distorted relationship. God did not intend marriage to be this way; that is to be sure. He intended it to be a relationship that was helpful and honoring to each other, with love and respect.

So let’s put that in the context of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a complicated issue, and yes, it is that way because of sin–the abuser’s sin. But let’s take a closer look. Domestic abuse is about power and control, one person who wants to have power and control over another person at all costs. This is not godly leadership but sinful control. The more the desire for power and control, the more violent the person becomes. The violence can be verbal, physical, sexual, etc., but it is always spiritually abusive.

I am not saying you have inferred the man is not responsible, but please let me tell you what the man who is abusive and the woman who is being abused hears from such sermons. Sitting in that congregation were likely at least 28 percent of married couples who are experiencing domestic violence (and that is just physical violence and does not include those suffering emotional and verbal abuse).

The women who were listening heard certain words like “not submitting” causing his abusive behaviors, which cut her heart like a knife. The men who were listening heard certain phrases like “rightful jurisdiction” and “rule over” with vindication and validation for their behaviors.

He hears that he is justified for his abusive treatment because she is not submitting and it is her fault. She hears that it is all her fault because she hasn’t submitted enough.

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.

I have counseled many women who have been told over and over that if they submitted more, things would be fine in their marriage. I have heard the same thing as I struggled with an abusive husband.

I went to pastor after pastor for help, and what I was told was to submit more and be a better wife. I tried that. The abuse got worse because now my husband was given validation by the pastors that he was abusive because of my behaviors and he had a right to exert authority (control and abuse) over me.

I did everything he asked. He ran the house and the children, but it was never enough, because in abusive relationships, nothing the person being abused does is ever “good enough” or “right enough” or submissive enough. That is because it is not conditioned on the abused person’s behavior, it is conditioned on the abusive person’s desire–an evil twisted desire for control.

Domestic abuse is NOT an issue of submission. There is not a woman I know that would not submit (trust) a godly husband to do what is best for the family. I do know many women who “submit” out of fear of reprisal. Submission without equality is slavery, for in order for there to be godly submission, it must be a willing choice, not a forced subjection.

There is never a reason for abuse; many excuses, but no reason. If the husband feels threatened, wouldn’t the best response be to have a calm discussion with his wife about how he is feeling rather than acting in sin?

When addressing issues of headship and submission in any sermon, care must be taken to be clear as to what is godly headship and godly submission, otherwise it is misunderstood, misused and spiritually damaging. It is always misused by a sinful man who wants justification for his actions.

Kate A. Johnson is president of the Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse

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Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives’ Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands

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