Mar 28, 2012

John MacArthur discounts the seriousness of abuse.

  1.  He does this subtly but surely, in multiple ways. I’d like to show you how. Here are a couple of quotes from MacArthur
    “If a violence-prone husband becomes agitated and abusive, the wife should remove herself from danger, by leaving the home if necessary. God has promised that He will not test us beyond our ability to endure, but will always make a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sometimes escape is the only way. If you have children and they are in danger, take them someplace where you will be secure until you feel you may safely come back.
    If you are not truly in any physical danger, but are merely a weary wife who is fed up with a cantankerous or disagreeable husband–even if he is an unbeliever who is hostile to the things of God–God’s desire is that you stay and pray and sanctify that husband by your presence as a beloved child of God (1 Corinthians 7:10-16). The Lord will protect you and teach you in the midst of the difficult time.  
    You know, I can’t counsel a mother who says, “What am I going to do? This man has committed incest with my child and he beats me up and etc. or beats up the children and so forth and so on. Do I just sit there and take it? And the chairs on my head, and the stuff he throws at me, and the cigarette burns on my arm, and battered wives and all this stuff? What do I do?” Well, certainly there is nothing in the Bible that says you just stand around until you are just beaten to a pulp. You know, God has built into the human being a certain sense of self-preservation. Right? And it’s normal to separate yourself in that kind of situation. And maybe that’s what Paul is thinking about. There may come circumstances where divorce occurs, but if it isn’t on biblical grounds, that’s it. I mean, you can remain unmarried or be reunited.”
    “But I would say that’s only a possibility in that text. I really feel that if we are obedient to the word of God in that kind of a situation, God would give us the grace to endure a lot more severe things than we think. So, what we do is this; we counsel people this way:if you’re in an abusive situation, there’s not adultery involved, it’s just abusive, cruelty, or something like that–I don’t think alcoholism is necessarily in the same category. But where there’s beatings, where it affects you or the children, there’s nothing to say that you shouldn’t step away, get away to preserve your own health, and your own safety, and your own security. You don’t need to stay there and just be beaten to a pulp. God’s given us a self-defense mechanism. But I don’t think that’s grounds for divorce biblically. I think you have to hang in there and that’s what makes great prayer warriors People who can turn that kind of a thing into a draw nigh unto God kind of relationship. You know, when all your family has forsaken you the Lord will be your family.
    Let me spotlight how MacArthur discounts the seriousness of abuse. 
    ‘“This man has committed incest with my child and he beats me up and etc. or beats up the children and so forth and so on. … And the chairs on my head, and the stuff he throws at me, and the cigarette burns on my arm, and battered wives and all this stuff?”
    To me, the words “and etc, … and so forth and so on… and all this stuff” are a backhanded way of painting the victim as whining, moaning, complaining to the point she bores the pants off everyone she talks to. I can imagine MacArthur thinking "She lays it on too thick! She’s making mountains out of molehills! I wish she’d just be quiet!” So as a victim-survivor, I feel discounted and belittled by MacArthur’s choice of words.
    “… the chairs on my head…” – why did MacArthur choose that example? Yeah, some victims have certainly had chairs thrown at their heads; but I would venture to suggest that it’s one of the less common examples of abuse. I think MacArthur might have chosen that illustration as a way of making victims’ complaints sound exaggerated or ludicrous.
    Then MacArthur portrays an abuser as “a violence-prone husband [who] becomes agitated and abusive…” This minimises the husband’s sin. Calling him ‘violence-prone’ is a way of diminishing the man’s CHOICE to be violent and abusive.
    We say some people are ‘accident-prone’ when they lack the spatial relations or cognitive or mobility skills to avoid accidents. But an abuser doesn’t lack the skills of respectful relating: he possesses those skills in abundance when it comes to enlisting allies in the church. He CHOOSES to relate disrespectfully and abusively to his target victim. So we should call it that, not excuse him with weasel words like ‘violence-prone’.
    “….if you’re in an abusive situation, there’s not adultery involved, it’s just abusive, cruelty, or something like that–…” The word “just” in this sentence is atrociously disrespectful to abuse survivors. It shows MacArthur is clueless. 
    Which would you prefer, Mr MacArthur? Your wife committing adultery on you? Or your wife exercising a relentless pattern of power and control over you till you thought you were going crazy and you lost virtually all sense of yourself? If you were being abused by your wife, would you think it was "just" abuse – a bit of a problem, but not nearly as bad as adultery? But the trouble is, Mr MacArthur, you probably can't imagine being abused in this way by your wife, because you have no idea how much power and privilege you enjoy just from being a man. Women rarely are able to create the kind of electrified, charged atmosphere that leaves a person living in fear and causes them bit by bit to sink into a bottomless black hole. (Yeah, women sometimes are abusers, but much less often than men.) 
    And the icing on the cake, the confirmation of all I’ve said about how MacArthur discounts the seriousness of abuse, is the following:
    “[if you] are merely a weary wife who is fed up with a cantankerous or disagreeable husband–”
    Did you catch that word “merely”? How belittling! Clearly MacArthur doesn’t understand that because abuse is a pattern of conduct designed to exercise power and control over the victim, every victim will inevitably end up feeling incredibly weary and exhausted, and will be fed up. MacArthur never says that weariness and fed up-ness can be red flags for abuse, so victims of abuse who read his words will stay longer in the fog, because they not been helped to identify whether they are Victims of Abuse.
    Lastly, I want to note that a spouse can be cantankerous and disagreeable in order to deliberately exert power and control over his partner. So even (“just”) cantankerousness and disagreeableness can be abuse, IF they are a deliberate pattern designed to maintain power and control. This kind of abuse is often seen in more elderly abusers. They don’t have the violent rages they displayed in their prime, but they can still exercise abuse by maintaining a tiresome cantankerousness and disagreeableness.
    Many survivors have said, “He didn’t hit me often. He didn’t have to. Fear is a powerful weapon.” And others say, “He never hit me. He didn’t have to. Fear is a powerful weapon.”


  1. Good but frankly enraging post, lovely Barb. Are you okay?

    Several parts of it rankled with me, but most particularly words to the effect that God doesn't give us more than we can handle - that, to me suggests that MacArthur thinks wives need to put up with more and worse abuse, even where that runs to incest against their children.

    When he says that you need to stay with a cantankerous or hostile husband, this is akin to saying that emotional/verbal abuse need to be tolerated interminably too. He certainly has no understanding whatsoever of the damage that abuse, including these forms, does.

    It is just so typical of men of MacArthur's ilk to support notions that women exaggerate abuse, because he believes it should be a man's world. He sounds very hostile and extremely patronizing, and I fear for any woman under his pastoral guidance.

    Wrong, wrong wrong on so many levels. I am happy to depths of my soul that you exist to counter this for Christian women living with abuse, Barb xxx

    PS. Also, what if a woman cannot leave the home? This man reminds me of why I am a feminist.

    1. I've copied your comment over to a closely related post at A Cry for Justice.

      Thanks Louise. You've just given a Christian audience a good example of why so many people won't have a bar of Christian stuff. I would like to tell you that the fault is not with the Bible or with God (in my humble opinion) but with the people who so greatly misunderstand the Bible. Thanks for being part of the discussion, Louise!

  2. Yes I'm okay, thanks Louise! Still got my hair on! A little smoke coming out from my ears, but hey, what's new?

  3. My husband and I were just talking about MacArthur last night. Great post, and you are so right. The subtleties are often missed from a conscious level, but our unconscious is quite good at catching those things. So people who dismiss that type of rhetoric as unimportant and being "too sensitive" (which I am often accused of being) is really that we are not sensitive enough to this type of subtle influence. Thanks for posting.

  4. Has he been confronted with these beliefs?

    I know Pastor John M and Pastor Rick Warren do not always see eye to eye...but it seems they do on this matter. Perhaps they both could use some schooling.

  5. EXACTLY! This is just why I feel so betrayed by this pastor. We are supposed to smile, reconcile, and count our beatings as little annoyances. Eleven years after my last beating, I remain visually impaired and living in pain. I am not a whiner and, if I was making the abuse up, I would not have been awarded life-time protection from my abusive husband. Yes, I tried reconciliation. For the remainder of my life, I will pay the high price for that attempt. Perhaps Dr. MacArthur should preach about Christ's expectations for men rather than castigating abused women. MacArthur seems to care more for his rules and control than Jesus. Jesus taught mercy, not legalism.
    And by the way, since when is incest not considered adultery and since when has it become acceptable. That whole idea is infuriating and surreal.
    Barbara, you hit the nail on the head! Stand firm. You are making a difference. Blessings, friend.


    1. Thank you, Terri! We will keep nibbling at the heels of the Big Name Teachers until they hear us. LIfe-time protection is rare. The justice system clearly thought you needed it. It isn't handed out lightly.

  6. Barb, Been through adultery and long term emotional and verbal abuse (no physical abuse toward me). If I had divorced him it would have been for the abuse. Adultery is fleeting. The ongoing daily disrespectful, demeaning, critical controlling atmosphere is deadening, like living in a concentration camp.

    1. Exactly! The concentration camp image is perfect.

  7. I have emailed the Grace To You website which John MacArthur heads up, telling them I have concerns about MacArthur's teaching on domestic abuse, and advising them to read this post for further info. I will post here their reply, if they make one.

  8. As well as being one of those who blindly serve the cause of the abuser, MacAthur is a terrible writer and poor biblical exegete.

  9. As far as I can see there is NO Grace to the Abused women and children in MacArthur's teaching here. Coming from a long term marriage of Emotional, Verbal, physical and sexual abuse I would have to say that Mr. MacArthur has a very limited understanding of what it can be like to be married to an abusive man. Especially one who calls himself a "Christian". The type of abuse that I experienced was very covert.. subtle.. but yet destructive. It took me 17 years to figure out that I was actually in an abusive relationship and another 8 to figure out what I was going to do about it. BY then I was beaten to a pulp, emotionally and spiritually. Once I finally got out.. I suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    God values marriage - However, I believe that God values his children more.
    The Bible says that a man should love his wife as CHRIST loved the church... Show me in the Bible where Christ ever abused his Bride..
    In a perfect world Christians would not divorce.. sadly, we do not live in a perfect world.. Rather than focusing on divorce and trying to discount abuse.. I would like to see Mr. MacArthur focus on teaching men how to love their wives as Christ loved the church. For if all Christian men worked on this aspect of their marriages there would be far fewer instances of divorce due to abuse and adultery. Furthermore, until Mr. MacArthur knows from personal experience what life can be like living with an abusive husband I would like to suggest that he leaves adivising women on what they should do to a more qualified individual.

  10. Thank you, Anonymous. I totally agree.
    And until MacArthur and his ilk take the time to really listen to (and BELIEVE) Christian victims of abuse, hear their stories, and then demonstrate that they genuine understand how subtle and cunning the tactics of domestic abuser are, these men are UNQUALIFIED (in my opinion) to teach husbands how to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Any fellow can teach men "Love your wife as Christ loved the church", but only those who are wise to the ways of wolves in sheep's clothing can convict and persuade men to do this for real, rather than for show.

  11. I have to say that this really doesn't surprise me. What's worse is that it seems like nowadays it's women that are writing and praising this kind of slave attitude. Ever read a book called Liberated through Submission? The woman who wrote it spends more time praising and worshiping her husband than God. When I read parts of it I couldn't possibly ignore the abuse red flags that were popping up everywhere....

  12. I agree completely, because of the spiritual abuse from my husband I'm very sensitive to bring around Christians,I am one myself but I saw and felt so much hypocrisy .God isn't unkind or punishing, He encourages and protects the defenseless, that's so my Good is not a bully or an arrogant controller