Black & White Bible, Black & Blue Wife—A Review

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It isn’t often that I feel compelled to stick a warning label on a book. Having read Dr. Ruth A. Tucker’s memoir, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse, I’m convinced this book needs one—not because the book is a disturbing read (although it is), but because reader reactions can cause us to miss the crucial main point of the book.

It isn’t often that I feel compelled to stick a warning label on a book. This one's different... Click To Tweet

41e-MAlLDsL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_It takes courage to read Tucker’s gut-wrenching account of the horrors of domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her pastor-husband. But courage alone won’t be enough.

Reading this book also requires a willingness to reconsider one’s view of marriage. This is no simple task because her story raises questions regarding deeply held beliefs about marriage roles, male headship, and female submission that many evangelical Christians consider sacred and nonnegotiable. Yet the “silent epidemic” of domestic abuse that concerns Tucker is so dangerous and life-threatening within Christian circles, and so easily concealed, we cannot afford to brush her off and refuse to listen.

Going Behind Closed Doors

Tucker, a highly regarded seminary professor and author, situates her memoir at the intersection between her all-too-real nightmare of domestic abuse and her own preconceptions about Christian marriage. Her training and experience as a seminary professor equip her to tackle the theological issues involved. But she brings a needed perspective to what might otherwise be a theoretical discussion of the theology of marriage. Tucker writes from inside the subject as a survivor of 19 years of spiritual, emotional, sexual, and physical abuse.

In her memoir, she is asking readers to enter into the horrors of domestic abuse with her and, to ask how Christian theology of marriage and gender contributed to her abuse. What this book requires of the reader is complicated by the fact that Tucker’s story of domestic violence is also her journey from traditional complementarian thinking to egalitarianism.

Tucker’s story of domestic violence is also her journey toward egalitarianism. Click To Tweet

Already complementarian reviewers have reacted defensively, insisting that complementarianism has nothing to do with the abuses Tucker suffered and by refusing to recommend her book to readers (e.g., here and here). Thankfully, one of their own, Aimee Byrd, has taken them to task for this and urges her complementarian colleagues to read and fearlessly engage the questions Tucker raises. Byrd writes,

Here’s the problem: the “that’s not complementarianism” critique doesn’t have a leg to stand on when some of its most well-known proponents are quoted in the book teaching devastating applications of complementarianism. And while their teaching doesn’t advocate abuse ostensibly, it doesn’t protect women who are abused—at all. It exposes them to more abuse. And so it is fuel for an abuser. These are devastating quotes that need to be addressed. We must ask—what is being taught in the name of complementarianism? Are all of its teachings biblical? That is a question I have been asking the leaders in the movement for a while now.

Egalitarians, on the other hand, can experience a false sense of complacency, assuming egalitarianism is a cure-all—that abuse is no longer a threat where mutuality in marriage is embraced. Let’s be honest. Domestic abuse happens in egalitarian marriages too. The truth of the matter is that all of us have more work to do.

4 Takeaways from Tucker’s Book

  • We urgently need to prepare young women to spot the warning signs ahead of time and run. The naiveté and mysticism with which many young Christians approach marriage is on full display in Tucker’s story. Early in their relationship Tucker’s prospective husband exhibited controlling behavior towards her. But the power of infatuation tragically enabled Tucker to overlook the red flags. Looking back, she mused, “The most dangerous circumstance in any woman’s life is . . . the heart-pounding thrill of falling in love. Senseless infatuation” (31).
  • Domestic violence can happen to anyone. If a highly educated, professional woman like Dr. Tucker can end up in an abusive marriage and remain stuck there for nearly two decades, it can happen to anyone.
  • Christian leaders need to educate themselves and seek help from experts in addressing abuse situations. As Aimee Byrd describes, some of the most breathtakingly ignorant and dangerous statements in the book come from the lips (or pens) of well-respected Christian leaders—men who, instead of wisely offering safe-haven to abuse victims, make female submission both the problem and the solution, sending desperate women back into harms way to try harder. The tragic truth is that this dangerous pastoral counsel comes from the mouths of some of the most influential evangelical leaders.

  • We must reexamine the connection between domestic violence and complementarianism. Tucker recounts that her husband “repeatedly quoted Scripture to defend his headship and to enforce my unconditional obligation to submit—from ‘the kitchen to the bedroom.’ . . . His rule was absolute and final—most notably during his violent moods” (22). Violence was the response when she failed to submit to his satisfaction.
4 Takeaways from @carolynezer on the book, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. Click To Tweet

A Marriage Revolution

St. Paul’s teaching brings Jesus’ gospel into marriage and constitutes an overthrow of patriarchy. In this regard, I don’t think Tucker takes the discussion of marriage quite far enough. In the end, she maintains some vestige of patriarchal thinking with power shared between husband and wife. At one point she refers to “the beautiful picture of patriarchy” (63).

Here’s the problem: So long as patriarchy is retained, Christian marriage remains stationed on a relational continuum that when taken to extremes opens the door to (if not enables) abuse.

The problem is in thinking patriarchy (albeit a “kinder-gentler” version) is the Bible’s message for marriage, when patriarchy is the backdrop to the Bible’s message. It is not the Bible’s message.

Against that patriarchal backdrop, Paul’s teaching regarding marriage is a radical departure from (not a softening of) 1st Century marriage mores. In that culture, a husband had life and death powers over his wife/wives. Dr. Roy Ciampa’s eye-opening article, “Identity Mapping,” is an excellent resource that belongs in this discussion.

Now Paul calls a believing husband to an entirely new lifestyle—to love his wife as he loves his own body and to lay down his life (a.k.a, live sacrificially) for her.

Try selling that idea in entrenched patriarchal cultures today—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia for example. They’ll tell you this is radical.

Paul’s first century teachings don’t get 21st Century couples off the hook. Instead, his teachings raise the bar for how we take the gospel into our marriages today. His first century example escorts believers into a whole new revolutionary gospel way of relating to one another in marriage—to “put the interests of others ahead of yourself.”

Paul's 1st Century teaching raises the bar for how we take the gospel into our marriages today. Click To Tweet

Consider yourself forewarned. Buckle up and read Tucker’s book!

My Endorsement:

This book could save the lives of women trapped by domestic abuse. By courageously reliving in print years of degrading violence at the hands of her “Christian leader” ex-husband, Professor Ruth A. Tucker exposes a problem of epic proportions that tragically exists unchecked behind closed doors within evangelicalism. Worse yet, she demonstrates how such violence is actually fueled by so-called Christian theology that empowers men with authority and privilege over women and children under the guise of “husbandly headship,” “servant-Leadership,” and calls for “wifely submission.” At great personal cost, Tucker drives a stake in the ground insisting that abusive behavior is both unacceptable and indeed criminal. Tucker’s book is nothing less than a damning indictment of the church’s tendency to justify or turn a blind eye to abuses happening within our own ranks. It is a prophetic call to re-think our theology of male and female. The church belongs on the forefront in the battle to root out and end abuse, to provide safe haven for the abused, and to see that abusers are brought to justice.

For anyone currently in an abusive situation
or sensing red flags:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline
or phone 1-800-799-7233.


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5 responses to “Black & White Bible, Black & Blue Wife—A Review

  1. Carolyn, this article by Natalie Klejwa, about deal breakers in a relationship, is so helpful for thinking through warning signs before getting married. There are abusers who are so skilled at lying and manipulation, they may not tip their hand at all, but this is a good list for those who are naive and romantic and may be setting themselves up for major problems. It’s hard for young people “in love” to see and think clearly. We need each other, and keeping good communication with our children and with singles in the church is really important. Lord willing, we will begin to see less of this as more information is available about these harsh realities.

    1. Thank you Carmon for posting this helpful resource loaded with strong advice for singles and those who care about them. “Time is your ally.” and “Trust your gut. . . .if your gut is telling you that something isn’t quite right, give it more time and begin involving other objective people who will help you figure it out” are on the solid list of “things to look for” advice offered here.

  2. Carolyn, to be clear, you posted that clip of John Piper right after making the point that dangerous pastoral advice comes from many of our most influential leaders. Are you using this clip as an example of dangerous pastoral advice?

    1. In a word, yes.

      That video has over 49,000 views. It is frightening to imagine how many viewers hang on Piper’s every word. His answer leaves a woman in harms way—to endure for a while and possibly get “smacked” again. Really?

      His response reveals an appalling lack of understanding of the seriousness of abuse of any kind. He fails to describe a basic knowledge of approaches to protect the victim and children who may be present. He dismisses “other kinds of abuse” as though they don’t also pose a danger or could escalate to violence. He leaves a woman in a situation where “he is simply hurting her” and she is likely to be “smacked,” without acknowledging that the the so called “smack” could permanently injure her or end her life. He also suggests, both in the video and as quoted in Tucker’s book, that an abused woman should approach her abuser in the most deferential and almost fawning way in an effort to affirm his manhood, headship, leadership. He makes no mention of the criminal nature of abuse or of the need to involve law enforcement. Does he even imagine children may be present in the abusive environment.

      Piper later wrote an article ( in response to criticism. The article contained 7 biblical points in response when, a simple straightforward answer should suffice. If your husband is abusing you, get help immediately! If the church talks to you like Piper in the video or refuses to believe you—call the Domestic Violence Hotline listed above, but don’t give up until you get someone who believes you and will help. Trying to figure out how is submission supposed to look in an abusive situation is to ask and answer the wrong question.

      The church should have a zero-tolerance for abuse of any kind and be the safest place for anyone who reports abuse, be well informed by experts on how to protect and minister to abuse victims and know exactly how law enforcement must be involved.

  3. In a comment on FaceBook, Betty Seifert provided this helpful resource:

    In Lundy’s Book: Why Does He Do That? ( he lists 20 or more concise & succinct red flags in dating to look out for an abusive person. I’ll list them for you here:

    He speaks disrespectfully & condescendingly about past girlfriends & characterizes himself as a victim.

    He is disrespectful towards you or seems to place you on some sort of pedestal as a perfect woman.

    He does favors that you don’t want or puts on a show of generosity which makes you uncomfortable. He attempts to create a sense of indebtedness.

    He is controlling.

    He is possessive.

    Nothing is ever his fault.

    He is self centered.

    He abuses drugs or alcohol.

    He pressures you for sex.

    He gets too serious too quickly.

    He intimidates you when he’s angry.

    He has double standards.

    He has negative attitudes about women.

    He appears to be attracted to vulnerability.

    He retaliates against you for complaining about his behavior.

    It’s never the right time or way to bring anything up with him.

    He denies what he did.

    He justifies his hurtful or frightening acts or says you made him do it.

    He touches you in anger or puts fear in you.

    Are you in any way afraid of him??

    Does he attempt to distance you from your friends?

    Do you feel depressed with him?

    Do you feel like you constantly have to fix the relationship?

    Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?

    Do you feel like the problems are your fault?

    Do you leave arguments feeling like you’ve been messed with but can’t figure out why?

    Does he manifest a tireless sense of entitlement?

    These are warnings which Lundy Bancroft urges women to look out for in any beginning relationship.

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