Review by John Diacos in The Briefing, November 2009, published by Matthias Media, Sydney Anglican Diocese.
John Diacos is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
After the review came out, Matthias Media published some comments about it on their website.
These comments are reproduced below. [They can also be found on the Matthias Media site by clicking here – scroll to the near the bottom of the page when you've opened the link.]
Here are the comments, followed by my response.
I found your review of Not Under Bondage to be very narrow-minded and sad. Personally I am a Christian, and have been married to a man who professes to be a Christian and who justifies abusing me and our son with biblical references. Should I stay? I have sought wisdom from several (a dozen or so) Christian pastors, counsellors, psychologists, doctors, and so on, and my husband has sought counselling and other doctors, but nothing has changed his abusive attitude. It is not just me; he is abusive to all people around him, but his justification of abuse to me and our son is strengthen by his reading of the Bible. His father and his grandmother have the same interpretation of the Bible. Should one stay when one's life is at risk? Am I now rejected from God, according to your interpretation, because I left to protect my son and myself? I think your review of this book was from the perspective of people who lack understanding of abusive relationships. I heavily suggest that you take time to reconnect with those that you criticize and judge.
NAME WITHHELD (06/01/2010)
Being a wife and living in that sort of bondage for 38 years with a husband who professed to be a Christian when we married, I understand what it is like to be in an abusive marriage. I could not find anywhere in Scripture that gave me the right to leave my husband. The bottom line was “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that persecute you” (Matt 5:44, Luke 27-28). I had made a promise before God to love and obey until death us do part. My husband did die, but not before God was finished using him for good in my life to make me more like Christ.
It wasn't easy, and I was an awful slow learner, but God was faithful, and I can see that God used my husband to bring about the desires of my heart, which was to have a husband who would lead me closer to God. He sure did; it's just that it was from a negative perspective.
With regards to remarriage, I see that in 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul is talking about a partner leaving. If that includes remarriage, then that would be against all that he and Jesus taught.
NAME WITHHELD (06/01/2010)
I think we need to acknowledge the pain of those who have been or continue in abusive marriages, like our two correspondents. As a church community, we need to sympathize with victims and call the perpetrators to repentance—and this is the timely call issued by Not Under Bondage.
My major criticism of Not Under Bondage was that the central argument of the book (that abusive marriages are grounds for divorce) gave inadequate weight to the biblical context. Any advice on divorce should acknowledge that biblical teaching overall argues for the maintenance of marriage, even in the light of the sin that characterizes all relationships. I therefore suggested that this argument was unbalanced and unhelpful, especially for the many couples I counsel in difficult marriages who struggle to find anyone who will encourage them to persevere.
However, I also acknowledged that unrepentant, sinful ways of relating can make continuing in marriage impossible. Divorce can therefore be the painful last resort in some circumstances including in abuse. The critical information we need to be guided by is “What does God say about marriage and divorce?” While there are biblical grounds for divorce, my critique was directed against the particular argument advanced in Not Under Bondage.
JOHN DIACOS OF RESERVOIR, VIC, AUS (01/02/2010)
Comment by Barbara Roberts:
The first letter is typical of the majority of victim/survivors of domestic abuse: the woman found the reviewer to be judgemental and narrow minded, and thought he lacked understanding of abusive relationships.
The second letter is typical of a minority of victim/survivors, and it's a kind of response more often found in the older generation of victims. The victim chose to remain with the abuser and tried to endure the abuse by seeing her suffering as God's will and as character building.
While this is a valid and understandable response to domestic abuse, and I do not judge the woman concerned, I question whether it is really God's will that a person should have to endure domestic abuse for ages. Jesus' instruction “Do good to them that hate you” doesn't mean we must remain with abusers, because that would only be giving them further opportunities to sin against us – which cannot be good for their eternal souls. The writer of this comment clearly has not read my book, and her interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:15 is typical of victims of abuse who labour under the misapprehension that they have no grounds for divorce in that verse, because they have just believed what the standard interpretations say. I find this sad. It is extremely common, and results in much needless suffering.
The final comment by John Diacos is interesting, and is not untypical of male responses to my book. On the one hand Diacos acknowledges the pain of victims; on the other hand he shows that he does not truly understand their pain.
For example: he says, "Most troubling is Roberts' failure to consider the context of the entire Bible; when it comes to divorce and remarriage, shouldn't the first question to ask be “What does the Bible make of marriage?” ... and ..."Any advice on divorce should acknowledge that biblical teaching overall argues for the maintenance of marriage".
In my experience, Christian victims of abuse have diligently sought Christian teaching about marriage. Their ears prick up when they hear a sermon on marriage, hoping to find some pointers about how to make their own marriage more endurable. Their bookshelves are sprinkled with books on how to make your marriage work. (Have you ever noticed how many of these books the Christian community produces, and how most of them are directed to women?) They have often been to courses on marriage improvement, with or without their reluctant husbands. Like the first correspondent above, they have consulted pastors and other 'helping profession' Christians, who will probably have emphasised that Christians should be long-suffering, forgiving, submissive, and love those who mistreat them. They have worked at this more diligently than most married people, because their marriages are so miserable and they are desperate to find ways to make them more viable.
In Not Under Bondage I certainly noted that the overall teaching of the Bible is in favour of the maintenance of marriage (see pp. 41, 44, 123 of NUB) but I didn't spend a lot of time on that point, for two reasons. One, I don't believe I could add anything to the work of the many other writers who have ably shown that the Bible encourages the maintenance of marriage. And two, I know how quickly a restatement of that principle can stifle hope for victims of abuse.
If Not Under Bondage had emphasised the biblical principle that marriages should be maintained, it would have been discouraging and hurtful to victims who are already up to their eyeballs in such teaching, having tried faithfully to apply it to their lives only to find it has intensified their misery and sense of entrapment. This is not to discount those who want to make the best of their bad situations by striving to grow in Christian character in response to abuse. However, I speak from personal experience when I say I know how much one must bury one's misery, calling black white, and white black, to live like that.
Most people who haven't suffered domestic abuse have no comprehension of the depth of the victims' suffering, or how much victims try to 'fix' their marriages and/or endure them, before they disclose the problem to someone else. The last thing victims need is encouragement to persevere in approaches which have brought no solutions.
I echo the first woman's comment above: Diacos, like so many others, needs to take time to reconnect with those he criticises. It is good that he said, at the end of his review, "The issue of how to advise and support those in abusive relationships is important, and I for one would welcome further discussion."
The question is: how willing is he to have that discussion with the people who may know best – the victim/survivors themselves?
*** *** ***
One thing I really appreciate about John Diacos's review is that he engages with my interpretation of the biblical texts. This encourages me to respond in kind.
Diacos says that "wives are not to demand their right to a loving husband" and he (rightly) counterbalances this with "husbands are not to insist that their wives submit". To take up the first point, I never agued that wives should demand their right to a loving husband. I only said they are permitted (not commanded) to take a legitimate stand against abuse, just as leaders in the church ought to take a stand against abuse. I argued that wives have the right to live in emotional and physical safety, which may mean to cease being married to a husband who demonstrates a pattern of persistent, intentional abusive behaviour. This is not saying "I demand that he change!". It is saying "Since he has failed to make genuine and meaningful change, I don't have to remain with him. He is a free agent, and can to choose to continue being abusive if he wishes. I'm not insisting he change, nor can I make him change. But if he doesn't change, I'm not hanging around any more. I will obtain greater safety by ceasing to be married to him. I'm not insisting on the right to a loving husband, I'm insisting on my right to be free from abuse."
These things must be articulated carefully. It's easy for critics to make a straw man of my argument – to portray what I'm saying incorrectly, then shoot it down.
Diacos laments the fact that I did not discuss the downsides of divorce: he asserts 'divorce often causes more problems than it solves'. But he fails to acknowledge that in situations of domestic abuse, divorce is usually a blessed relief. In the long run, divorce bestows freedom from abuse – a blessing which outweighs the potential negatives such as poverty, single parenting, loneliness, etc.
Speaking of downsides of divorce, I hear many stories of the Family Court granting the abuser continuing contact with (or custody of) the children, which can prolong the abuse for years. But even this depressing outcome is usually better than staying in an abusive marriage, since a sole-parent who is not abusive has some chance of giving the children proper nurturing, to counteract the abuser's negative influence – a better chance than she usually had whilst living in the marriage.
Christian victims of abuse are not to be characterised as shrilly demanding their right to a loving husband, or scratching around for flimsy reasons to get out of B-grade marriages, or impulsively running to divorce without having considered the consequences. That's a denigration of the victims, and a gross minimisation of the problem.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse consistently turn marriages into F-grade disasters, and their corrosive evil-heartedness leaves victims exhausted, hurting, grieving and with very little hope. It is vital not to further weary and discourage victims by pointing out biblical principles that, while true, will be of no help to them in their own situations. This is where the generalist Christian leader or teacher needs to have much more understanding.
Diacos does acknowledge there are biblical grounds for divorce, but is critical of the particular argument advanced in Not Under Bondage. In the final footnote of his original review he puts forward an alternative, and I quote:
A superior argument deserving further development is that marriages are destroyed by attacks on both the leaving and cleaving that form its foundation (Gen. 2:24): just as adultery disrupts the exclusiveness of marriage, so desertion and abuse assaults its unity by driving a spouse away.
In NUB (page 17) I did mention the very argument Diacos proposes, indicating I agreed with it – but I went on to say that this argument is often inadequate to calm the hypersensitive conscience of a Bible-loving victim of domestic abuse, and thus better arguments were needed: arguments which showed how each and every divorce passage is in fact harmonious with this overall principle. Diacos seems to have not noticed what I wrote here. Again, I feel he has not listened to the victim's point of view, and needs to spend time getting to know victim/survivors better.
I also said in Not Under Bondage that I was only dealing with the divorce texts, but no other texts relating to domestic abuse. That's why I didn't discuss 1 Peter 3:1-6. In my next book I will be covering all the other biblical passages that relate to domestic abuse, including 1 Peter 3.
Back-story: when I first started writing I was planning one book on domestic abuse and the Bible. It would cover submission and headship, forgiveness, suffering, reconciliation, how to asses the genuineness of an abuser's repentance before reconciling, how the church can help, whether a Christian may take a fellow Christian to court for domestic violence, and the vexed question of divorce. The planned divorce chapter became a book in itself – no wonder, given how contested the doctrine of divorce has been for centuries and how convoluted the arguments have become. Once I began the divorce chapter, my head could not hold any more until it was finished. Hence, the divorce book got written while the rest remained on the back burner (and is still to be completed). It might have been better for my readers if the divorce book had been published second, but that wasn't the way it worked out.
If pastors are counselling couples in difficult (but not abusive) marriages where the couple (both of them, not just one) are struggling to find anyone who will encourage them to persevere, and where both are genuinely and honestly willing to reduce the problems in the marriage, Not Under Bondage isn't the book to use. There are plenty of other Christian books which address these more 'normal' marriage difficulties.
There is even a book which is good for a couple where the husband is an abuser but is willing to truly change (The Man of Her Dreams, The Woman of His, by Joel and Kathy Davisson). Not Under Bondage is primarily for situations of domestic abuse where the abuser will not change, where (despite his phoney pretences or half-hearted efforts) he is not willing to do the hard yards of true reformation.
Not Under Bondage did touch, to a lesser extent, on cases of adultery and straight-forward desertion by an unbeliever, but only because these issues came up in the course of my exegesis of the divorce texts. I never pretended to be writing in depth for all kinds of marriage difficulties. I only sought to interpret the biblical teaching on divorce as it applies to situations where one spouse is an abuser.
Wisdom is needed when hearing about marriage problems. One needs to be open to the possibility that one spouse may really be an abuser and should therefore be held solely responsible for the problem. If this is so, normal couple counselling doesn't apply as it will usually do more harm than good. And any attempt at counselling abusers must bear in mind that they are expert manipulators and are generally able to enlist counsellors as their allies, unless the counsellor is very well trained in domestic abuse.
Privacy: No information submitted to this website is made available to marketing companies.
Maschil is a Hebrew word which is thought to mean "prudent" or "insightful". It occurs in Proverbs and Daniel, and is a subtitle in some of the Psalms.
Maschil Press aims to promote insight into the biblical world view, and to expose and advocate against sub-biblical views which have caused pain and grief to the Christian community and the wider population.
Maschil Press does not accept manuscript submissions or query letters from authors or agents. At this stage no change is envisaged for this submission policy.
Expressions of interest regarding cross-promotional arrangements (such as flyer exchanges) between other publishers and Maschil Press will be considered on their merits.
To enlarge the lettering on your screen, press the Ctrl key while hitting the + key. To reduce the lettering size, press the Ctrl and - Key.