Dr. Ruth Tucker has written a new book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. I have already written a review here, but for those unfamiliar I want to be sure to stress: this is a must read book. Dr. Tucker has written a moving memoir, using her own story as a vehicle for promoting theological change in the evangelical church. After reading the book, I reached out to Dr. Tucker, and she was gracious enough to agree to a Q&A interview regarding the book. I want to thank her for her thoughtful and engaging answers. I think the reader will find her thoughts both inspiring and challenging.
- How would you sum up your personal story in just a few sentences? Why did you choose to tell your story at this point in your life?
A chance meeting of a charming young man at an upstate New York Island retreat led to a long distance love affair. Ignoring all the red flags, I accepted his marriage proposal less than six months later. During some twenty years of marriage his domineering demands, supported by the doctrine of male headship, spiraled into terrorizing threats and violent attacks. His rationale: I had provoked him.
I had to write the book. I simply had to. The moment I saw Ray Rice (on the television news) drag his unconscious fiancé out of an elevator, I vowed I would write my story.
- Some people may wonder why you would stay in such an abusive marriage for 19 years. How would you respond to them? I have often heard people say, “Why didn’t she just leave?” Can you give some insight into the factors that discourage women from leaving abusive spouses in Western culture?
Back in the 1980s before the Internet age, the idea of an evangelical minister beating up his wife was virtually unheard of. My husband was articulate, intelligent, charming, and I assumed (rightly, I think) that few people would believe me and in the process I would be terribly humiliated. But more than anything else, I feared he would get joint custody of our adolescent son. But when the terrorizing threats became unbearable—and when Carlton turned thirteen, we escaped and he was able to testify before a judge. I was awarded full custody. The custody issue may very well be the greatest fear-factor for abused women.
- Why did you wait so long to write this book—long after your marriage ended?
I had been asked to write this story some years before I did, but the dread of recounting this terrible aspect of my life always held me back. Even now I feel dread as the book is released.
- What do you mean by Black and White Bible? Aren’t we supposed to read the Bible literally—absolutes expressed in black and white? What’s the alternative?
I’ve never known anyone who reads the Bible literally—as much as they claim to do so. For example, Paul’s letters admonish women not to cut their hair, to wear head-coverings and not to adorn themselves with jewelry. It’s true there are some Mennonites and Amish who follow these proscriptions, but certainly not the wives of the men who today speak the loudest in support of the doctrine of male headship. These men say women cannot preach and teach—that they must be silent, quoting 1 Timothy 2, while at the same time ignoring a much longer passage in 1 Timothy 5 that lays out how widows should be cared for by the church. These preachers and bloggers are picking and choosing their passages.
Of course we all do that to some extent, but I think we can come to a better understanding of biblical teaching by looking at the big picture and the major themes of Scripture—particularly the teachings and practices of Jesus and Paul. We must pay close attention to the grand narratives, for example, those in the Hebrew Bible featuring the Patriarchs and their wives and Jesus and the woman at the well in the New Testament.
Do we sometimes interpret Scripture in light of present-day cultural norms? Sure we do—even as Paul did.
- You suggest that there is a relationship between domestic violence and the doctrine of male headship. What evidence do you have that so-called egalitarian marriages are any better?
The relationship between domestic violence and male headship would not exist if all husbands loved their wives as Christ loves the Church. But sinful human nature as it is can easily transform headship into domination and from there to domestic violence. A husband committed to equality in marriage may also become violent with his wife, but he has absolutely no doctrine of headship to fall back on. She provoked me simply doesn’t wash.
- Do you deal with the subject of wives abusing husbands? How common is that?
I touch on that matter, but the physically abusive wife is the exception not the rule, and therefore I don’t use the term spouse abuse. She may throw the dinner plates, but it’s unlikely that she could squeeze his arms so hard they turn black and blue and throw him against the kitchen counter and then onto the floor and kick him, as I suffered on many occasions. My ex-husband, at 6’2” was 8 inches taller than I and easily twice as strong. I didn’t stand a chance even if I had been inclined to go at it with my fists. That’s true across the board. A man who is the same height as a woman typically has 50% more upper body strength.
- In the book you discuss the phrase “legitimate rape”. Is there such a thing as “legitimate” rape? Did your ex-husband ever rape you?
The term legitimate rape entered our American lexicon with Todd Akin, a member of the US House of Representatives from Missouri. While it is true that not every single accusation of rape is the truth, “legitimate rape” is preposterous, whether in a marriage relationship or not. I discuss this issue in a chapter titled “Fifty Shades of Rape,” and that title illustrates how difficult it is to define rape. For instance, Is it rape when a young woman successfully stirs a strongly resisting young man to have sex?
Was I beat up by my ex-husband? Yes, but not as badly as many women who have suffered broken teeth and jaws and internal bleeding. Was I raped by my ex-husband? Yes, I experienced the awfulness of rape but not in a physically brutal manner as many women have endured.
- In the book, you state that you feel responsible for what happened to your foster daughter. Why do you blame yourself for the sexual abuse of your foster daughter?
I did not report my husband to law officers. I did not stand with my foster daughter; rather I arranged for her to leave our home.
- What do you hope to accomplish with this book? Who is your primary audience?
The audience I most desire to reach is the very influential segment of evangelicalism that supports the doctrine of male headship. I don’t expect to “convert” them in large numbers to the egalitarian position, but I do want them to reassess their position and how it plays out in practical terms. At the very end of the book I ask a series of questions. Here I will simplify in one question: Does the doctrine of male headship allow a husband to take the car keys or the cell phone away from his wife? It’s a very simple question and I believe that those who promote male headship must be forthcoming. A standard response is that no marriage should get to the point of fighting over phone or keys and if it does the husband must go to the male elders of the church. But that does not answer the question. What power and authority does the husband have over his wife? Keys, phone, I want an answer.
- You have devoted your career to discussing and advocating the equality of women in the Church. How does this book fit into this vision?
All of my books in one way or another relate to church history, women’s issues and biblical themes. In fact, I wrote the Bible—The Biographical Bible, that is—and a book on women in the Bible. Also Daughters of the Church (with Walter Liefeld) and Women in the Maze: Questions and Answers on Biblical Equality.
I’ve taught courses and delivered lectures at conferences on those same themes. But never in my wildest imagination did I think I would ever write a memoir that featured the most humiliating aspects of my personal life. It is a memoir, but it’s far more than that. I bring biblical issues to the fore as well as historical and contemporary matters. Saint Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin find their place right alongside contemporary figures.
- In the book, you discuss the use of ezer kenegdo in Genesis 2. How do you see this term mistreated in male-headship centered theologies?
At one point in the book I say that I know so well the biblical arguments for the doctrine of male headship that if assigned that side in a debate I might even prevail. I go on to say that the one claim I could not argue is that inequality is actually equality. Male headship proponents insist that women are equal but that all kinds of opportunities for leadership are denied them and that they don’t have equal decision making in the home. Plain and simple that is not equality no matter how you parse the terms.
I should have also added that I could not make the argument that ezer kenegdo in Genesis 2 in even a remote sense supports a wife’s submission or a husband’s headship. Claiming it does is nothing less than hermeneutical mischief. In the second account of creation in Genesis 2, God creates woman a “help meet” (KJV) or “helper suitable” for the man. It is downright dishonest to suggest that this term connotes subjugation. Time and again the term is used not only for God but also for strong men. King David, for example, is ezer to Israel (Psalm 70:5, Deuteronomy 33:29). There are plenty of other biblical passages I might use to argue against women’s equality, but surely not this one.
- Have you seen this video by John Piper?
Given your own experience of abuse, how would you respond to him?
John Piper is one of the contemporary figures who factors prominently in the book. Chapter 1 begins with a 1995 debate between the two of us at Pierce Chapel on the campus of Wheaton College. The topic was male headship vs. equality in marriage.
Whether you’re watching to the video or reading the transcript, you know immediately that this is vintage John Piper. He loves to put words of submission into the mouths of women. Thus Piper insists that if a husband wants his wife to engage in group sex, his wife should answer, “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. I think God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership.” Followed by, “But if you would ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can’t – I can’t go there.”
Some might wonder if he should have cut to the chase and edited down his words in the mouth of the woman to just two: “Hell, no!” because that attitude is how she must respond to abuse. Piper’s “honey” business is simply not appropriate in such situations.
- What advice would you have for anyone currently experiencing abuse?
In most cases, the church is of little help. When I consulted with my minister (who fully supported equality in marriage), he was very reluctant to get involved. He encouraged me to escape with my son, which I eventually did. Churches who promote the doctrine of male headship typically channel John Piper on the matter of physical abuse: “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. . . .”
As I say in the book, the term abuse is very difficult to define when it comes to personal relationships. If the husband is nagging the wife about her lumpy gravy or her failure to lose weight after one more pregnancy, is that abuse? If he’s giving her the silent treatment or playing poker every night with his buddies, is that abuse? If the marriage is in trouble over such things, the couple should seek professional counseling together, and if the husband refuses, a wife might seek out a professional counselor or a good friend for advice on how to cope. But if there is physical violence, she must take a selfie for proof, begin a journal, consult an attorney and report to law enforcement.
- What advice would you have for someone whose spouse is verbally, emotionally and spiritually abusive, but has never been physically violent? When does one’s mental/emotional/spiritual well-being become just as important as their physical?
Actually, in my case, I would have preferred a beating to the terrorizing threats of my ex-husband. Knocking me against the kitchen counter and then onto the floor and kicking me tended to calm him down. But the terrorism remained in the air for days or weeks on end and kept me from sleeping at night.
Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse is not dependent on brute strength. It often goes both ways, and it often is sparked by strong differences of opinion, whether on religious, political, social or personal matters. One way to deal with such abuse is to talk with the spouse when things are calm and seek to avoid explosive topics. If that doesn’t work, I would suggest using a tape-recorder, then speak with a counselor and perhaps an attorney. No one–female or male–should live under such abuse.
15. What lessons would you want your reader to walk away with?
More than anything else I would want them to see that a marriage of equality between husband and wife is biblical and safer and more fulfilling than a marriage based on inequality.