Piper: Abused women should seek help from the church

John PiperSeveral bloggers, including Henry Neufeld, have linked to a short YouTube video by John Piper entitled Does a women [sic] submit to abuse? I must say I wasn’t quite as shocked as I thought I might be from some of the comments I had seen. I can accept that a woman who has committed herself to a man in marriage should endure some difficulties including minor abuse without walking out on him – and exactly the same for a man who has committed himself to his wife. I am not saying that either should endure life-threatening abuse, or submit to being required to sin, but then neither is Piper.

Piper has wise advice in the last part of the video (starting at 2:36):

If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church. Every time I deal with somebody in this I find the ultimate solution under God in the church, where the words “This man should be disciplined, this man should be disciplined” … She should have a safe place in the body of Christ where she goes and where the people in the church deal with it. She can’t deal with it by herself.

So the short answer I think is, the church is really crucial here, to step in, be her strength, say to this man “You can’t do this. You cannot do this. That’s not what we allow. That’s not what Christ calls you to be.” So, I can’t go into all the details, but I would say “I hope …” I would say to a woman “Come to a church that you feel safe in. Tell them the case. Let the leaders step in and help you navigate the difficulties here.”

These are good words in principle. The problem is, what if the abused woman does not feel safe in the church that she and her husband attend? What if, as Henry suggests, the abusive husband is himself one of the leaders of the church? This certainly happens. What if the church doesn’t believe her? This also certainly happens. What if the woman is so badly hurt that she cannot trust any man, and the church leadership is all male as Piper would expect?

Does Piper mean to suggest that the woman should go to the leaders of a different church? That is not bad advice – I would hope that most churches would be prepared to help and protect a woman in those circumstances. The problem is that that church would have no authority over the husband to discipline him and bring about a proper resolution. And it would still cause serious issues if the husband is church leader well known in the area.

Would the right thing for the woman be to report the matter to the authorities, as Henry suggests? In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 Paul strongly warns believers not to take disputes between them to secular authorities. It would certainly be best if the church could deal with the matter internally, at least unless the case is so serious that the police would expect to be involved. If the church is unwilling or unable to resolve the matter, I think the abused woman would be right to look elsewhere for help. But that implies that the church is seriously failing to live up to its obligations towards its members.

8 thoughts on “Piper: Abused women should seek help from the church

  1. I would not feel safe in a church that even condoned “mild” abuse. What’s “mild” abuse and why is it happening? A relative almost died after an unprovoked attack from her husband who had heretofore only “mildly” abused her.

    The source of abuse is a problem with the abuser and his or her inability to control his or her feelings and actions. That problem will never be solved until the abuser gets help. Abuse is a problem that the abuser has. It is not a problem with the relationship. The church too often treats this as a problem with the relationship.

    I don’t believe that God wants his Church privileging ideals (marriage is for life) over lived-out agape love. There is nothing wrong with the ideal, but we have to be wise, pragmatic adults who understand that sometimes our ideals don’t work out. Not emotional 6 year olds who are behaviuoraly inflexible.

    There is never an excuse to abuse anyone, ever. And the church should not be condoning it.

  2. Pam, I am not suggesting that the church condones even “mild” abuse. Nor is Piper. I think he is wise to advise that a woman endures “being smacked one night”, but should seek help from the church if this becomes a pattern of behaviour. And the church should then tell the man, in Piper’s words, “You can’t do this. You cannot do this. That’s not what we allow. That’s not what Christ calls you to be.”

    Piper doesn’t go into the details of what the church should do but is clear that they should deal with the situation by disciplining the man. I hope that discipline would include some kind of action to change his pattern of behaviour. If that doesn’t work, or if the husband refuses it, then I would suggest that he has shown himself worse than an unbeliever, and that on that basis the woman would be right to divorce him. But here I’m not sure if Piper would agree.

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  4. I went to my minister, who was a director and practising solicitor with his own firm, and explained after praying about it I was going to leave my abusive husband. His immediate response was to tell me I would be in sin if I left and that I should stay with him and pray about it. I was a tad confused especially concidering his chosen profession. I said I didnt believe God would call me to stay with a man who abuses me as I am His child. He said scripture only gives reason to divorce under the grounds of adultery. I said I believed that to be untrue and quoted the passage about husbands should love their wives like Christ loved the chuch. I said we have a difference of opinion, so lets both pray about it, seek the Lord guidance. He flatly refused and said he wouldnt put God to the test as he already knows what God would say on it. So, I had no choice but to leave the church. I was sent to coventry and shunned by the congregation in the street as though they never knew me, when previously for years I welcomed them at the door of the church every week. My now ex-husband continued going to the church getting love and friendship. One day long before our divorce came through, I came home when not expected and ‘felt’ something strange about the house. An inner urging told me to look in the bed as I would find something. I opened the duvet and found a gift wrapped parcel ‘to linda with love from simon xxx’ . It had obviously been put where he hoped she would find it. I rang an elder of the church and asked if simon knew a linda at church…and the reply came back that he sat next to her every week. When I told him what I’d found and he really had a go at me for falsley accusing a lovely woman of adultery and then ranted on about me being sinful and selfish etc before telling me not to ever phone him again. I confronted my then husband with the box and he explained the £200 diamond necklace was a baptism gift. However, realising how pathetic his story was he then moved in with his mistress and lived in adultery with her. Upon moving out he broke everything in the house so there was no heat, no hot water, no washing machine, nothing to cook with, no light in my bedroom, the threat of him tampering with my food as suggestion had been made and living under the threat he could come home at any time. I was unable to leave as over the years he had put everything of value in his own name, house, cars, policies etc and all the debt was in my name. He then stalled the divorce by never answering solicitors mail so I was forced to live like this for over a year. The church never apologised to me for getting it wrong and I dont believe a church are qualified to deal with an abusive man. Just a footnote, I didnt just decide to divorce my husband in a snap humanly decision, it took years of abuse to prompt me to even pray about whether the Lord would be ok with my leaving as I had been bought up as a Christian by these same elders to believe God wouldnt think it ok. But everytime I prayed I believe I was answered with a firm YES LEAVE.

  5. Tracy, thank you for sharing your story. I am sure that you did the right thing. Your former minister should be ashamed of himself. It would be interesting to see what advice Piper would have given to you, if you had gone to his church after leaving the one you describe.

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  7. I appreciate your comment on 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 and at a first glance your conclusion that Paul is strongly warning Christians not to use secular authorities… but it is not in criminal matters Paul is warning believer. Paul is speaking here of civil matters like a business deal gone bad or something sue-worthy. Violence is a criminal matter. Romans 13 is abundantly clear that we are to submit to civil authorities if we have broken a law and “smacking” your wife around as Piper states is a crime. I will go further to say that Piper commits gross malfeasance in his pastoral duties by neglecting to note this passage when referring to violent husbands. Even the evil Laban expressed concern that his daughters would be treated “harshly” if Jacob took them to a far away land. Surely if one as evil as Laban should have compassion on his own daughters should not a pastor in the modern have any less concern for a wife in his own church? Again 1 Peter 2:13 states that we must submit ourselves to every human and government authority. Surely, people, listen and listen very carefully to this next item. Do you really think a man of Piper’s station in life would be unaware of these verses? Really? I believe the omission is representative of a pervasive attitude of male entitlement that breeds neglect of women in the church. He puts the burden for sustaining the marriage on the woman and does not acknowledge her as a victim of extraordinary oppression. Domestic violence is unlike any other oppression in that it comes from a place you would never expect: from your own husband. The impact is far more devastating than other types of oppression one might encounter because if the oppression is coming from another direction you still have your closest companion, your husband, to run to. With domestic violence there is no where to run but to the civil authorities and Piper misses the mark here big time. Instead he places the burden on the woman to tough it out. With any other sin the church says let the sinner feel the consequences of his sin that this may lead to repentance. Not with domestic violence, however. And we know what happens to a sinner when they are allowed to continue on in their sin unchallenged. Yep, that’s right. They become emboldened. And now that wife has an even bigger problem than before. And no one else “from the church” is going to be there to intervene when he has her pinned against the wall with the hot wind of his rage and voice are blowing her into the next county. That is what the police are for. We should all support her in going that route as it is, in fact, God’s law on such matters.

  8. Deborah, I agree with you. I intended to make it clear that the church should not try to deal with criminal matters, where “the case is so serious that the police would expect to be involved”. There will always be debate about exactly where to draw the line. But the church can still play a positive role here in providing safe listening ears for victims of abuse, and practical support including refuge where necessary. However I’m not entirely convinced that Piper’s ideal church would be able to provide this.

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