Wednesday, December 26, 2012

John Piper and the Church on Domestic Violence

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
    ensure justice for those being crushed.

Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,

    and see that they get justice.
Proverbs 31:8-9

In an earlier post, Domestic Violence:  Do Pastors Know Best?, I posted a video of a question and answer session in which John Piper was asked about domestic violence.  The video is several years old, but his words created quite a storm.  Here were some of the troubling words:

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.   
~John Piper

Enduring abuse "one night" could be a woman's last night in the hands of a violent husband.  This was not the correct response.  These words were not appropriate from a very popular celebrity pastor who leads a large church and whose words people respond to and respect.  His response in the video gives a free pass for an abuser to continue destructive abuse and keeps a woman and her children in harm's way without acknowledging that some abuse is a crime and must be reported to civil authorities.  A wife enduring abuse is not always in the best position to make appropriate decisions.  They need help from clear-minded individuals who are looking out for their safety.  John Piper failed to protect her and possibly many others who listened to his response.  

Last week, Piper released a response to this video and so I wanted to let you know about this recent statement.  He's a few years late in responding, in my opinion:  Clarifying Words on Wife Abuse.  Although Piper is now clear that calling civil authorities is appropriate in cases of crime, there is one thing glaringly missing from this clarification - an apology - especially an apology to those women who heeded his instructions to "endure perhaps being smacked for one night."  This was abhorrent advice.  I wonder how many women endured one more night of abuse based on this video?  They trusted this man of God and his words.  

Dee and Deb,  of the Wartburg Watch blog and I sometimes accidentally and/or intentionally piggy back on similar stories.  I found out today that we did it again.   We share the same heart for victims of abuse.  Please do read Dee's excellent article:  Domestic Violence, Christmas, John Piper, SGM, and TGC.  She takes a closer look at a number of questionable phrases from Piper's article.  It's a very informative article.  

I do not think the timing of Piper's article coming out is coincidental.  A number of bloggers have done articles on this obnoxious video and his teachings on divorce/abuse (Cry for Justice, Wartburg Watch, BGBC Survivors, From Bitter Waters, Under Much Grace, Galations 4, Free Jinger, Reformed Traveler, Emotional Abuse and Your Faith, etc).  What I believe is happening is that bloggers are highlighting this behavior and readers/people are responding.  They are responding in comments on blogs like mine, on the blogs of leaders, they are sending e-mails and challenging leaders on these topics.  Thank YOU if you have done this.  

Jeff Crippen has come out strongly against domestic abuse in an open letter to pastors: 

In November, I wrote a post (Complementarians Speak out about Violence Against Womenabout the many church leaders and pastors who wrote articles against domestic violence coinciding with the: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

All of this recent focus on abuse is no coincidence.  It makes sense in light of the Sovereign Grace Lawsuit that surely looms in the heads of friends  Sovereign Grace pastors and leaders, especially president of SGM, CJ Mahaney, who is named in the lawsuit.  I would like to highlight an earlier blog post featuring a video by attorney Gilion Dumas: A Word of Encouragement to Abuse Victims Who Use Civil Litigation.  In cases of overlooked abuse and failure to respond or report crimes, pastors are also crossing the lines in the civil government.  They have a moral responsibility to society to report crimes.  

Based on the many comments and stories I have read of domestic violence in Sovereign Grace Ministries churches, it would not be surprising to see the current class action lawsuit revised to include additional cases of abuse, including domestic violence.  Even if it doesn't, the Sovereign Grace Ministries lawsuit is the lawsuit to watch among church leaders.     

The purpose of this blog is to highlight spiritual abuse.  When pastors and church leaders fail to address ANY abuse appropriately in the context of church, they become complicit with the abuse.  A failure to address abuse is a choice to remain silent.  Church leaders will have to answer to God for this non-response.  Remaining silent is the wrong response and leads to secondary abuse:  spiritual abuse.  Let's continue to be the squeaky wheel on behalf of victims who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9).  

photo credit: United Nations Photo via photopin cc


  1. Oh man I saw Piper's latest article on DV in response to this hoopla, right after I posted on Challies blog about it a couple weeks ago. It seems like the church is finally noticing the terrible reputation they have on DV, and trying to get together an appropriate response that doesn't sound like they belong on Al Jazeera/Taliban TV. I respect Piper's "clarifications" on this.. but there are still a couple of points to pound on!
    First: How are women supposed to "respect a husband as her spiritual head if he is threatening or beating her?" - as Nancy DeMoss has stated. What exactly (in concrete terms please) does that look like? and is it even scriptural??
    Second: if a husband is a repeat offender and clearly is not going to change his abusive ways, why is divorce still forbidden. Are we to believe that Jesus allows divorce over a sexual affair, but if a man beats his wife our father in heaven says "oops no dice. no divorce for you"???

    just more to debate and chew over. I'm glad they are finally acknowledging this at least!!

    1. Yes, I think Piper and recently, the Gospel Coalition big dogs are trying to clean up their image on this subject, especially in light of the SGM class action lawsuit.

      Your first question is very good. On Jeff Crippen's blog, he asks the tough question: you have to question whether someone who abuses his wife is really a Christian. I don't have the exact wording, but someone who inflicts violence on someone in an attempt to control - there is something so ungodly about that disgusting behavior.

      And the 2nd question is another that Pastor Crippen also questions. Why is it the victim is deemed to stay married to an abuser and in a life of misery? Where are the consequences to the husband? What kind of godly marriage does this model to children and to the world?

      Great questions, Katy. Thank you!

    2. oh YES that is a good question re: Jeff Crippen. I came to the conclusion that my husband was a fake Christian and not really saved because I figured there was no way that a man could have God in his heart and at the same time hurt/terrorize/threaten his wife. repeatedly.

      i would love for a theologian to explore this idea.

    3. Katy - Do you read Jeff's blog? I highly recommend you do. He might provide more clarity for you in some of these issues. A Cry for Justice

      PS - BTW - totally unrelated - I checked out your blog and saw the pallet wall - very cool. My 15-yr old made me the most awesome coffee table out of pallets. I think I'll tweet it :)

  2. Beaten to submissionDecember 26, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    I endured seventeen years of severe physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse from my ex husband. I had no support. Of course I had non-believing friends who questioned why I stayed, but the nature of my ex's far reaching abusive control also meant that anytime he even suspected someone knew he cut off all contact with them in my life. During my second pregnancy it became much harder to hide due to the constant injuries and trips to the hospital. My pastor refused to talk to me about it. Because of his strict rule against meeting with female parishioners alone and my husbands sporadic attendance at church it was never possible to meet WITH my husband. This also would have put me and my other child at severe risk for our lives. But he also forbade me to talk to other church members as he felt this would be gossip. This pastor also was strongly against me having relationships outside the church. So I was enduring this with little to no support system. To top everything else off, this pastor was very vehemently opposed to any type of counseling, including christian counseling. When my ex pulled one of his disappearing acts (meant to punish me and usually effective at getting me back in line) I got a restraining order. At this point the pastor and elders came to my house and told me God was removing my husband from my life because I was in sin and had placed my husband before God because I was scared to not please him (which inevitably resulted in beatings). He explained God is a jealous god and wouldn't tolerate this sin of mine. I was broken, scared, and confused. Getting the legal system involved initiated a grand jury which resulted in felony abuse charges being filed against my husband. During the following two years of hearings and two trials, I asked the pastor to go to court with me for the felony trial and was told that it was scheduled on his day off, so no. Ironically enough, a lutheran pastor from my distant past traveled to Portland to sit with me for the 10 hour trial and to pray with me. When the divorce was final, I was still never allowed to discuss with anyone at church and my status changed - not subtly - to a scarlet D.
    I'm sure my story is not an isolated one, but I'm curious if anyone on this blog can recognize my pastor...

    1. Your story is familiar to me. And it is heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing your story - it is tragic.

    2. Not only the pastor but your story as well.

  3. no, i will check out his blog because everything I've been reading online seems to fall too much into the Piper territory. Or in other words: miserably disheartening.

    @beaten Into submission:

    I had never heard of sovereign grace church and my experience was in the 2000's in a Southern Baptist church...first one in Ohio and then one in Texas. They all had similar attitudes. The pastor who married us was very harsh about submission, he practically sneered at me during the premarital counseling, and then he turned my wedding ceremony into a 30 minute diatribe on wifely submission against my wishes.

    Now I go to a Reformed Presbyterian church. I was hoping their attitudes would be more educated but after reading the material from Piper and various Reformed, I realize that "Complementarian" means the same thing everywhere. :(

    1. No, Jeff is clearly against Piper's stance on divorce. He is a Reformed pastor who identifies himself as complementarian. It's important to keep in mind that even people in the strong complementarian camps cannot define the word very well. Wayne Grudem's rules on women's roles was laughable. You really have to do some digging to find out what people really believe. Comparing Jeff's view of complementarianism and Piper's is like night and day.

    2. see that is news to me, I visited Jeff's site and I will be reading more there when i have time.
      I was thinking today - you know what would be amazing, new & different? If the Christian publishing houses started pumping out books for men on how to love your wife like Christ loves the church. We have a literal slew of books from the women of the church instructing us on how to be proverbs 31 women, how to submit, how to be a righteous wife etc. It would be nice if the men felt the same urgent need of instruction on love.

    3. Maybe they think if they are truly loving, they might have to give up their position as head of home?

      All that said, I do know complementarian couples and in those marriages in which the husband is loving wife as Christ loves the church, it works for them - and some of them beautifully.

  4. Hi Julie Anne,

    Great post and I agree that any pastor who condones violence against their spouses is shameful and drags the Lord Jesus Christ thru the mud in the worlds eyes. I also don't think that abuse is only limited to what men do to their wives. I happen to know a guy who's wife had an affair for around 9 years. Knowing this gentleman, he's the kind of person who I think thought that, if he just closed his eyes to the matter, it would eventually go away, a mistake on his part. Needless to say it just got worse until a point where he finally left the house. I know this guy and believe me, there wasn't any violence from him. Our sons used to be friends and I called there one day to ask a question about something, I can't remember what, and talked with her on the phone. I remember when I was on the phone with his wife, feeling very uncomfortable with the conversation, and mentioned to my wife how odd the whole call was. Shortly there after, they were separated and eventually divorced. He came over one day to see his kids, but his wife, who by now had her "mate" move in, got into an argument with her ex-husband and assaulted him thru a window in his car in the driveway. He never even got out of his car!! She called the police and almost had him arrested, but he left the property. He still was attending the same church they both went to, so one Sunday he showed up for church and was told he had to leave and that he was not welcome there anymore. My point in all this is that it's not always the guy who is the abuser. Women can be just as abusive. This is probably the worst case I know, of but there are other guy's I know who have been through similar situations. The bottom line is, men and women are both guilty of abuse. I believe the church has traded the true Gospel of Jesus Christ for man-centered psycho gobbledygook. I love my wife completely and she does me. We have our days, they don't happen very often, but when they do, we both know who we need to submit to. That would be the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. The New Testament is very clear about how we are supposed to treat our spouses, and that needs to be taught in our churches.

    1. You are absolutely right, Rocky, domestic violence/abuse is not limited to husbands. Wives can also emotionally and verbally abuse. I certainly don't want to imply that all abuse is from the husband. Thanks for letting me clear that up and also thanks for your comment.

      It's interesting I've been noticing a lot of talk against gay marriages and the politics of that, even from the pulpit, but very little time on in-home maintenance of husbands/wives and how to build marriages strong. I think we need more emphasis on exactly what you said: how we are supposed to treat our spouses! Great point!

    2. Hi again Julie,

      I just want to say it's heartbreaking about John Piper in all of this. I am just finishing up a book by him called "Finally Alive" and I thought it was a great book. When my wife and I were looking for a church to attend, we considered Bethlehem Baptist because I heard many good things about Pastor Piper and did not know about any of this. Good churches are hard to find, at least in my part of Minnesota, so it's pretty sad to hear of this.

    3. Hi Rocky: If you get a chance, be sure to read in the comments of the Wartburg Watch blog post I mentioned in the post: Wartburg Watch post on Piper. If you were wavering on Piper's ideas, this might cement it for you. What's helpful about Piper is that he has a very public ministry and you can find pretty much all you need to know about him and his teachings on the internet to make a rational decision.

  5. When I read something like Piper wrote I look for the little "disclaimer" words that get put in. Im this case it's the word "perhaps". Its quite disconcerting.

    "Perhaps being smacked one night"????

    He gives himself a way out, softens his stand. Also his use of the word "smacked" is worthy of derision. What? Smacked with loving discipline like a child?

    Coming from Piper this is pathetic. If he really believed this could he not just have said "You must tolerate abuse till you get beaten one night"?

    Where is the Biblical mandate for congregational leadership to ignore domestically violent situations, even potential ones untill offences actually occur??

    Piper is not doing his job well at the moment

    1. Andrew - You are very insightful at picking up clues in Piper's language. Feel free to send me your e-mail so I can "use" you - haha :)

      I do have one little issue with your comment. The last 3 words were not necessary. I'm not very happy with his stance on women, period.

  6. Yes Julie, I'm hearing you. I included "at the moment" in an effort to distinguish this strange opinion of John Piper from the majority of what he has spent his life doing; acurately expositing the word of God. Not that this is the only time he has publically "got it wrong" His opinion on the so called "Toronto blessing" and his refusal to take to task Mark Driscoll when he had the opportunity are also examples of this very influential pastor being very publically wrong about things that aren't particularly hard to determine.


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