Recent comments by a Southern Baptist seminary professor that abused women are at least in part to blame if they refuse to submit to their husband’s God-given authority don’t square with official teachings of his denomination.
“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,” Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in a June 22 sermon at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.
An article on the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention Web site, meanwhile, counsels that, “The most harmful rationalization for woman abuse is the tactic of blaming the woman herself.”
Titled “Breaking the Cycle of Abuse,” the NAMB article instead attributes most abuse to feelings of “inadequacy, helplessness and fear” on the part of the man.
“Because of negative experiences with females and his own lack of satisfaction with his life, the abuser feels great hostility toward women, along with a need to dominate and control,” it says. “The ‘macho’ image which may have been fostered in his family or culture causes him to see women as extensions of himself, his property, to treat–or mistreat–as he pleases. A common factor is competitiveness with women, especially when the woman has a higher educational or vocational level.”
“The fact is that battering occurs under any circumstances where the man wants to show that he is ‘the boss,'” the article continues. “He may be upset about something that has nothing to do with her, which is why a wife’s efforts to please, to placate, and to avoid trouble usually are pointless. Police files are filled with cases of women beaten or killed because dinner was late or his shirt needed a button, because she wore her red dress or didn’t wear the red dress.”
If an abused woman seeks counseling, “the counselor can only suggest ways she can change, and her behavior is not the problem,” the article says. The abusive husband “almost always refuses to go for counseling, either because of his own deep-down sense of shame and guilt, or because he actually does not see himself as having a problem.”
The Southern Baptist Convention has issued statements condemning domestic violence. The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message assigns to the husband “the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family.”
A 2007 SBC resolution on children said “abuse has occurred too often in churches and homes–which ought to be places of shelter and safety–and it has happened at the hands of family, educators, ordained ministers and ministry workers–who ought to be trusted persons of authority.”
In his sermon, Ware went on to say that Christians should follow God’s ideal plan of a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church and a wife who submits to her husband with gladness. But Cindy Kunsman, a blogger who writes about spiritual-abuse issues, said that doesn’t relieve Ware of the consequences of his earlier statement, which she called “irresponsible” and “provocative.”
Kunsman said Ware’s teaching “paves the way for subtle misunderstanding” by men with abusive tendencies. The mention of abuse in that context, she wrote, “sensitizes the listener to rightfully and logically anticipate abuse in some cases.” It also “alleviates man of full responsibility for his actions,” by making his immoral actions contingent on the behavior of his wife. That legitimizes a “victim of circumstance” mentality that subtly implies “that woman is morally culpable for man’s action.” That, Kunsman argued, reduces Christian marriage “to a legalistic, cause-and-effect arrangement of keeping score.”
Kunsman said Ware’s theology views the relationship between husband and wife as “naturally contentious.” While not a main point of his Texas sermon, Kunsman said Ware’s comment was a logical extension of the “The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” the position statement of The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, of which Ware is a member.
The statement says in part that the Fall “introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women.”
“In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity,” it says, while “the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.”
The statement says husbands “should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives” and that “wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.”
Kunsman said Ware’s statement created a “false dichotomy of choice between either aggression or passivity.” Instead of strongly defining abuse as “unconscionable,” she said, the statement implied “it was an inevitable consequence in some instances.”
While Ware did not “directly advocate abuse,” she said, whether or not he intended to do so he sent a message consistent with “indirectly spoken and unwritten rules” that both abusers and victims will understand.
“Abusers of all types will exploit whatever situation that they can to justify their actions,” Kunsman wrote. “Victims will automatically punish themselves and redefine every situation to make them the causative factor in every situation gone awry. Those are the roles that victims know well, and they will then generally seek out an enabler to encourage what they understand to be their role within all of their relationships. A victim ‘one-downs’ him or herself in any given setting because that is what is most familiar to them, whether the context of the situation deems them to be so or not. An aggressor will always ‘one-up’ themselves by assuming the superior role of power in any given situation, because that is their most familiar role. We choose what is most familiar to us, not necessarily what is most healthy for us.”
Kunsman said in Ware’s view the “Christian ideal of hierarchy” is the only way to transcend the inevitable conflict between husbands and wives, meaning that even regenerate Christians will struggle with the justifiable temptation to abuse.
Presenting the wife’s passive role as “the only viable alternative to abuse,” Kunsman said, leaves only two options for the male–violence or to do nothing–and the former is the more masculine and therefore preferable of the two.
In the hierarchical view of the household, Kunsman said, the husband “must choose” some form of corrective action against a rebellious wife, because it is in her own best interest.
The model also assigns first cause to abuse to the husband’s frustration with his wife’s refusal to submit, Kunsman said, making her both the causative and curative agent. “The greater burden of culpability for the man’s actions falls to her and not the more powerful man of authority,” she said. “She becomes his external locus of control. This is a double bind.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Previous related articles:
An Open Letter to Dr. Bruce Ware
Show Me a Sexist; I’ll Show You a Racist
Texas Church Says ‘Egalitarian’ View Not an Option for Evangelicals
Southern Baptist Scholar Links Spouse Abuse to Wives’ Refusal to Submit to Their Husbands
Speaker Chastised Over Criticism of ‘Biblical Patriarchy’ at SBC Seminary
Southern Baptist Leaders’ Comments Echo ‘Biblical Patriarchy’ Theology
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.