Yesterday I applied Caroline Newheiser’s lecture “Living with an Angry Husband” (link) to the wife of Devin Patrick Kelley, the man who shot and killed 26 people in a Texas church on November 5, 2017. It is a lecture that sounds a very uncertain call to the church, with contradictory counsel. Through the whole time I listened to it, I kept taking off my glasses to rub my aching temples. You can read that Part One commentary here (link).
Today I want to make some observations from that same lecture about what “Biblical counselors” (actually nouthetic “admonishing” counselors) will say about submission, fear, and suffering in a marriage to an angry husband.
Caution: I received feedback that yesterday’s post was very difficult for some people to read, because of the counsel I was analyzing. Today’s post will be similar.
Submission in a marriage to an angry husband
Two thirds of the way into her talk—after 40 minutes of an hour-long lecture—Caroline Newheiser addresses the problem of wrong teachings about submission (41:25), which she calls “misunderstandings.” I’ve heard that a well-respected teacher of women has said, “Submission is, when your husband wants to do wrong, you let him get away with it.” This is not, thankfully, what Caroline Newheiser is espousing.
But I’m not sure exactly what she is saying. She says the wife shouldn’t “follow him into sin,” but the submissive wife may be left wondering, “What is ‘following him into sin,’ exactly? Is it ‘following him into sin’ when he strips off my clothes in front of the children and drags me into the bedroom? Is it ‘following him into sin’ when he commands me to lick his feet and I do it?”
The only example Caroline gives of “not following him into sin” is when he tells his wife not to go to church, she should do it anyway. (43:35) And what then? Will she be punished when she gets home, for disobedience? Will she be locked in her room and denied food for three days? Will the children be terrorized, to punish her for going to church? No answer is forthcoming.
But in the group of women Caroline is speaking to and for, a far more common problem, in fact, perhaps one of the biggest problems, is that the angry husband will actually order his wife to go to church—with him—while he puts on the show of being the godly “leader of his family.” But this problem of hypocrisy, though it gets a bare mention in one section, isn’t ever really tackled as the huge issue it is in the church of Jesus Christ.
Again, as I did yesterday, I want to emphasize that the examples Caroline uses are examples of violent and dangerous men, not men who are simply frustrated or aggravated. As another example of misunderstanding of “submission,” Caroline says that a woman may think (42:45), “Am I taking revenge if I say he twists my arm when he gets mad, pushes me up against the bed, and throws me down?” Caroline adds, “Women who’ve been in this mindset have been told that they are unsubmissive if they tell anyone [about the abuse].”
The solution she offers is for the church to get involved, which I plan to address next time, but which (spoiler alert) falls woefully short.
Fear in a marriage to an angry husband
At minute 44, Caroline explains that the wife of an angry husband lives with great fear of a man who is “screaming, yelling, throwing things, belittling her, and calling her names.” She observes that this fear can affect the wives physically, causing them to end up in the doctor’s office because of the fear, with ulcers or other illnesses. (She commendably urged her listeners to check on women with unusual bruising, but I wish she had said something similar about women with lots of other kinds of physical problems.)
She observes that fear can lead to irrational behavior (I would say behavior that appears irrational to others) because the wife is “crazy fearful and can’t think straight.” Yes, I’ve heard from many women that it was hard to think clearly in their marriages because of the crazy-making and the fear.
But then Caroline springboards off of this to say, “So fear can lead to sin because you’re not trusting God.”
Did you hear that?
It is astonishing to me to accuse these women of sin because of their fear of a man who could hurt them or their children, or kill them.
Ha ha. I just realized I was pressing on my temples again.
At minute 47 Caroline begins to list some of the many very legitimate fears the wife of an angry husband may have. When her listeners finish hearing these last few minutes, they might actually have an idea of just how dire is the situaton of many women in their churches. She describe the fears . . .
- that people won’t believe her because her husband is a really, really good deceiver [my note: This is where she mentions the hypocrisy. This is a fear grounded in reality because it really happens because even though “at home he’s a maniac” [47:53] many hypocrites are really super good at their hypocrisy].
- that the church leader she speaks to who didn’t believe her will then tell her husband [again, a fear grounded in reality because it really happens] who will then punish her unspeakably.
- that in counseling the husband will manipulate and control and “take charge of that meeting, turning the sin on her.”
Whoa! Wait a minute!
Is that couples’ counseling I see there?
It sounds like Caroline Newheiser is simply assuming couples’ counseling will be part of the natural order of things in cases of domestic abuse (a term she never uses, even though that’s what she’s describing throughout), and all she recommends is that a woman be present in the counseling session because “we’ve got instincts.” But not necessarily, because I know about abusers charming women counselors too, and in couples’ counseling, the abused wife is not free to speak truth, no matter who else is there. This was never addressed.
Caroline should have said that couples’ counseling is never to take place in cases of “angry [cruel] husbands”, and she should have explained why. This didn’t happen.
Continuing with the fears as described by Caroline . . .
- that the church leaders will listen politely to her but won’t take any action at all.
- the future, that she won’t be able to provide for herself and her children without her husband’s income.
- her reputation, because she can’t fix her marriage, she doesn’t want to be labelled as divorced, she feels the need to keep the facade of “happy family.”
- the effects on her children, living in “this screaming yelling household,” or living in a one-parent household, or having to bounce back and forth between households in which one is abusive.
- blame and guilt that she should have done something to make the marriage work, which is false guilt . . . except for when she’s really guilty of provoking him.
That last little jab there serves to counteract the previous helpful statement.
Caroline lists many absolutely legitimate fears that the woman will face. In the part I’ll be looking at next time, she talks about how the church and counselors should help, so I don’t want to leave you thinking that she lists fears without offering any solution. But at the end of her talk about fear, I still felt the ringing accusation that no matter how bad the abuse is, if you’re afraid, that means you’re in sin or somehow “leading to” sin.
On the contrary, though, some of the bravest women I know are the women who came out of abusive homes. They had to face their fears—all of them legitimate fears of real things, not imagined things, but things that could really happen—and do almost impossibly hard things, often because their love for their children was greater than their fears. Even in spite of their fears, they did trust God as they moved forward. I would never accuse them of sin for being afraid in a situation such as this.
One more topic for today . . .
Suffering in a marriage to an angry husband
In the same place where Caroline said the wife should respond gently when the husband is slamming things around in a rage, which I referred to yesterday, she also says (30:00) that the wife should be “not quarrelsome or nagging, but patiently enduring.”
Well, of course to me that sounds like the suffering mentality that is so common in domestic abuse counseling. So judge at my surprise when ten minutes later (40:28) she says, “Some of these ladies have adopted the idea that they are called to suffer in this life.”
I wonder where they got that.
Then to my extreme surprise, she gently mocks the women who are being abused! “‘I’m a martyr. I’m just going to stay married no matter what.’”
You are mocking a woman who is married to a dangerous man, of whom she is living in fear?
You’re mocking her for saying she’s going to “stay married no matter what” when (spoiler alert!) that’s what you yourself are going to tell her at the end of the lecture?
I don’t understand.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Caroline’s other listeners are as confused as I was when she then said, “She may need to understand suffering, but the martyr thing? Not acceptable to God. Not if we love our brothers.”
But Caroline didn’t explain what the “martyr thing” was or how to help a woman avoid it.
I don’t understand.
But it wasn’t over yet. Another 20 minutes later at the end of the lecture, when Caroline (spoiler alert) tells the women not to think of divorce, she says (59:40), “As we think about our Savior, He was abused, was He not? Screamed at, misunderstood, accused of being of the devil. . . . He understood what it was like to be in this situation.”
Then she says counselors should give these women Hebrews 4:14 as a comforting Scripture.
So . . . let me see . . . a woman who lives in fear of her life and her children’s lives is not to live as a martyr but is to suffer like Jesus (who was in fact a martyr) so she won’t dissolve a marriage whose covenant has already been broken by an angry husband.
Got it. I think.
Oh, ha ha. I’m taking off my glasses and rubbing my pounding head again.
Alternative views to this uncertain sound
About fear in an abusive marriage . . . I recommend this post from A Cry for Justice.
About suffering in an abusive marriage . . . I recommend three of my posts: “In which I have a small argument with a Puritan about suffering,” and “Does God crush you like a rose to make perfume?” and “Do you pray for God to ‘break’ you?”
If you’ve read helpful posts about any of these topics that present the topics from a Biblical viewpoint (the kind of Biblical viewpoint that puts the responsibility for abuse at the feet of the abuser), please feel free to link to them in the comments.
Ultimately, we hold to the truth that our God and Savior cares for the oppressed and hates wickedness. We know that He values your life more than any marriage. And we know that those who put their trust in Him will not be ashamed.