In 2009 Bruce Ware spoke at a conference held by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). His talk concerned what he thinks the Bible requires from men and woman, particularly in the context of marriage and what happens when a woman threatens her husband’s authority by failing to obey him:
“And husbands on their parts, because they’re sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged … .”
“He will have to rule, and because he’s a sinner, this can happen in one of two ways. It can happen … through ruling that is abusive and oppressive – and of course we all know the horrors of that and the ugliness of that – … .”
These two quotes from the conference are taken from a post on Kathryn Joyce’s blog, where she concluded:
Ware said that women victims of domestic violence were often to blame for their own abuse because they were failing to submit to their husbands’ authority. (Kathryn Joyce, “Biblical Manhood” Conference Espouses Male Authority.)
The conference was held over seven years ago, so why bring it up now? Because Ware was given the opportunity this week to repudiate or at least back away from his 2009 presentation and refused to do so.
Given a Chance, but Can’t Recant
It came up on Aimee Byrd’s review of Ruth Tucker’s book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, where Tucker had relied on Joyce’s blog post. Ware contacted Byrd to point out Joyce’s conclusion about his comments were her words, not his. Byrd agreed, and then asked him about the quotes themselves.
I did ask Ware if he would repudiate those statements, as the inference is clearly one that a man’s abuse is the result or effect of the woman challenging his authority by not submitting. He denies that is the inference. He also said that men bear full responsibility for the sin of abuse. (Aimee Byrd, Black and White Reviews, Black and Blue Complementarianism.)
This response from Ware is chilling. He refuses to acknowledge that a reasonable reading of the quotes is:
Wives, your husband wouldn’t have abused you if you hadn’t disobeyed him in the first place.
The False Premises of Patriarchal Teaching on Abuse
There are two false premises in his quotes. One is that women are to obey their husbands because the Bible says they have to. It doesn’t. (See Don’t Lose Your Head Over Doctrine.)
The second false premise is that one spouse’s threat to the other spouse’s authority (whatever that means) is the cause of the other spouse’s abusive actions. It’s not.
Ware makes these mistakes because he is actually close to the truth and doesn’t know it. The truth is that when one person’s “authority is threatened” (as Ware puts it) the threat is often met by an assertion of power. That’s how abuse arises. It is about power and control. Pose a threat and the power and control become more overt. Pose enough of a threat and the response by the oppressor might be to seek to eliminate the threat altogether. That means exactly what you think it means.
He also makes these mistakes because CBMW has an agenda. Leaders at CBMW have taught that all women must submit to all men whether they are married to them or not. They think this is what the Bible requires. They’re wrong, but it’s what they think. (See Ben Irwin’s This is what the tortured, twisted logic of patriarchy looks like.)
Ware’s words mean what they say: Women, if you want your husband to stop abusing you then stop disobeying him and threatening his authority over you. That’s what led to the abuse in the first place.
Yes, I characterized his words from his quotes above. But it’s a fair reading of what Mr. Ware said about cause and effect. As Aimee Byrd put it, “the inference is clearly one that a man’s abuse is the result or effect of the woman challenging his authority by not submitting.”