**This post was updated on 4/8/2016. Added content is marked with the following symbol ° **
Melissa Kruger recently wrote a review of Ruth Tucker’s book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife for The Gospel Coalition. Since I was one of the first to review the book, and since I have also interviewed Ruth regarding her story of abuse, a reader made me aware of the review in order to get my thoughts.
I have to say, upon initial reading I was nothing short of astounded that so much of what Kruger says about the book is simply untrue. In fact, her review contained so many mischaracterizations that one of the first questions that came to mind was “Did she actually read the entire book?”
°While I am certain she did, this raises many more questions given the seeming dishonesty of Kruger’s review. I have chosen to put together a response by briefly addressing three patently false statements Krueger has made. In doing so, I will demonstrate that Kruger’s review is both intellectually dishonest and utterly self-defeating.
°Before I begin my own analysis, I need to cover two things. First, it is important to define the term, “intellectually dishonest.” I want to be abundantly clear, this is not an accusation of lying or intentional falsehood. Quite far from it, actually, as I have no doubt Melissa Kruger intended to communicate a sincere critique. However, as I will outline below, both her method and her word choice are deeply flawed. In my opinion, no person engaging a text solely to confirm the bias they brought to the text can engage said text in an intellectually honest manner. Unfortunately, from examining the method and wording of the review Kruger has written, it is my opinion this work falls into the quagmire of confirmation bias. I believe this will become evident in my argument below.
°Second, I want to encourage the reader to engage the text for themselves. It is important to not only consider my words, but to determine for one’s self whether my assessment of both Kruger and Ruth Tucker’s book is correct. Kruger’s post is linked in the first paragraph. If you wish to read the book, it is available here.
Whether intentional, or simply the result of a poor engagement of the text, Melissa Kruger made several demonstrably false statements regarding this book. I want to outline three particularly egregious examples.
- Kruger claims that Tucker does not back up her thesis. She does this in three ways, which I will address in turn. First, she claims that the book lacks statistical analysis of the correlation between complementarianism and domestic violence. Second, she states that Ruth Tucker presents her story as the only data point in her argument. And third, she claims that the only support Ruth provides for her thesis is that she “feels that complementarian thinking led to her abuse and so it must be true” (emphasis original).
On all counts, Kruger’s statements are false. I don’t know how she came up with these assertions, but I can say with certainty that it was not by carefully engaging the text she sets out to critique. Through all these allegation, Kruger seems intent on demanding an objective proof of Ruth’s thesis.
But this demand is misleading. For instance, the demand for statistical analysis to support her personal narrative is inconceivable because Kruger is not critiquing the content of the book within its intended genre. To demonstrate what I mean, allow me to consider a Scriptural example. Suppose we were to read the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16. Now suppose someone were to write a critique of the story for not being historically verifiable. There is a reason this is an absurd notion: Jesus is telling a fictitious parable to emphasize a theological point. A parable is a specific genre by which Jesus communicated; treating it as a historical narrative entirely misses the point.
In the same way, when an author sets out to write a theologically driven memoir, in which they juxtapose their own story with the teachings of well-known complementarian thinkers, it makes no sense whatsoever to ask for a flow chart. Statistical analysis is not a common feature of personal memoirs and to critique the text for not featuring it is nothing short of absurd.
The motivation for this dishonesty becomes readily apparent when you consider Kruger’s assertion that Ruth presents only her own story as a data point because, in reality, Ruth also presents the experiences of other abuse victims and uses her own experience as a vehicle for exploring common themes. Among the several stories she recounts is an abused woman’s interaction with Paige Patterson on the first page of the book! She also addresses Karen Hinkley’s experience of Church abuse at The Village Church, under the leadership of Matt Chandler.
Ruth also enters into evidence the words of prominent complementarian leaders juxtaposed with her own experience. For instance, when she speaks of John Piper telling women to endure abuse “for a season,” Ruth asks if Piper’s advice to “endure getting smacked one night” is safe advice given that her husband threatened to kill her on more than one occasion.
While there may not be an in depth statistical analysis like one would find in an academic paper, it is entirely dishonest to say that the only “data point” presented is Ruth’s personal story.
This leads to Kruger’s assertion that Ruth’s “emotional” story is not a valid source of truth. Yet, despite this claim, an article written for Slate in 2013 debunks the idea that an emotional appeal is a reason to deny the story of an abuse victim. In fact, it notes that descriptions of abuse which are based in emotion, even if the emotion seems strange or out of place, are actually a sign of truthfulness. The article states this is because these reactions are actually a normal function of complex brain chemistry, according to a leading study conducted on how abuse affects our neurobiology.
Now I want to be clear that Kruger does not dismiss Ruth’s entire story. She accepts that she was abused, but asserts that she cannot judge whether complementarianism played a role in her abuse because she is “too emotional” to objectively look at the events. Essentially, Kruger is saying, “What happened is terrible but I have no obligation to learn anything from it.”
It seems to me that Kruger’s words betray a profound misunderstanding of abuse by dismissing any aspect of a victim’s story which cannot be objectively plotted on a graph. One wonders how she would respond to a woman who called her crying, hysterically asking for help escaping an abusive spouse.
This brings me to my next point.
- Kruger asserts that Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife lacks any notion of spirituality. She asserts that God is “relegated to the fringes” in Ruth’s story. Questions that Kruger asks include “Did she pray?”, “Did she read her Bible?”, and “Was she ever mad at God?”. All of these questions boil down to, “Was there any way in which she sinned in the midst of her abuse?”
In doing so, Melissa Kruger implies that God is not central to Ruth’s story because she does not mention him enough. She even wonders if perhaps Ruth is bitter in her reading of Scripture because it was so closely linked to her pain.
One wonders if Kruger also critiques the book of Esther for failing to have an explicit reference to YHWH. Perhaps Esther’s story of peril and heroism, the prevention of an ethnic cleansing by her courage, somehow means less because there is, at no point, any reference to Esther making a direct appeal to God for guidance. The only possible time she could be seen as praying is when she is fasting, but that is hardly conclusive evidence as even pagans do that.
It seems to never occur to Kruger that, as with the book of Esther, God is at the very center of Ruth’s story. She ignores the fact that Ruth is a respected scholar who has written extensively on issues of women and inequality in the Church. She ignores that Ruth repeatedly references how her understanding of God informs her understanding on gender equality and how that understanding is informed by Scripture. Instead, Kruger has chosen to engage in thinly veiled tone policing.
Tone policing is a method of obfuscation used by privileged persons to prevent those who do not share their privilege from being heard. In this case, Kruger states that, because Ruth does not express her relationship with God in a way that she considers to be acceptable, the book is unhelpful and offers no relevant advice to victims or Church leaders. She declares the actual story told by the actual survivor of abuse irrelevant because it does not meet a specific set of arbitrary criteria that bear absolutely no relevance to evaluating the truthfulness of Ruth’s claims.
Kruger portrays Ruth’s tone as “emotional” and “not God centered” because, as I recently told a friend on Facebook, “tone management is an expression of privilege designed to control the narrative while quietly pulling the door closed to hide the rotting corpses.”
The reality is, Kruger has not in any way, shape, or form even addressed the content of the book. She has not analyzed a single story of Ruth’s husband abusing her. She hasn’t addressed the incident in which he beat Ruth for disagreeing with complementarian theology. She hasn’t discussed how he tried to prevent one of Ruth’s books from being published by stealing the final copy of the book because Ruth was writing on egalitarian mutuality and gender equality.
Instead, the only thing Melissa Kruger does is create a Strawman argument to hide the ugly realities of the abuse described in this book. She creates a version of the book so distorted, so utterly false, that when I read her review I found the book she described unrecognizable.
This brings me to my final point:
- Kruger states the thesis of Black and White Bible, Black and Blue wife is that complementarianism is the root of domestic abuse. This is a subtle manipulation, but an important one. Ruth does not state that complementarianism is the root of all domestic abuse – if that were the case, she would have a difficult time explaining why non-believers abuse their spouses. Instead, Ruth explains the role a complementarian reading of Scripture played in her own abuse. She then uses this to explore how the words and actions of complementarian leaders create a safe haven for abusers. That is, she doesn’t state all abuse is rooted in complementarianism, but that complementarian theology enables abusers.
By erasing the nuance of Ruth’s goal, Kruger has set herself up for a classic “No True Scotsman” argument. She argues that the existence of men who “sinfully abuse complementarian theology” does not represent a correlative relationship with abuse because “Not All Complementarians” abuse their wives. But this is a red herring argument which fails to answer a fundamental question:
If complementarian theology is the clear, correct, and unquestionable teaching of Scripture, what flaw in the teachings of its leaders keeps creating environments of systemic abuse?
If complementarian theology is correct, what deficit exists within the teaching of CJ Mahaney that resulted in the systemic cover-up of child sex abuse at Covenant Life Church? What part of his teaching led his own brother-in-law, Grant Layman, to cover up the sexual abuse of multiple underage boys by Nathaniel Morales, a fact he testified to in court?
If complementarian theology is correct, then what corruption in the leadership of Ken Ramey led him to try to silence a thirteen-year-old boy who was raped by placing his mother under church discipline?
If complementarian theology is correct, what caveat of Matt Chandler’s personal theology allowed him to create an environment at The Village Church where Karen Hinkley was placed under church discipline for attempting to annul her marriage to a self-professed child molester and child pornography addict?
If complementarian theology is correct, then what personal flaw of character led Thabiti Anyabwile to call the accounts of sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministry churches “he said/she said”?
If complementarian theology is correct, what sense of entitlement led Tullian Tchividjian to intentionally and blatantly lie about his affairs? What sinful commitment caused Tchividjian, Steve Brown, and two Coral Ridge elders to fail to report Clergy Sex Abuse to their local presbytery?
Sadly, as I look over Melissa Kruger’s review it seems impossible not to conclude that the goal of this review was to distract her readers from the skeletons in the complementarian closet. Rather than honestly engage the content of the book, she has used a number of diversionary tactics to dismiss a feeble strawman that in no way resembles the book Ruth Tucker has written.
Ironically, in doing this, Melissa Kruger has provided a damning indictment of how The Gospel Coalition – a group of proudly complementarian evangelical leaders and churches – responds to the stories told by victims of abuse.
Thus, to quote Kruger herself, “I eagerly await a thoughtful contribution from someone else.”