John Piper: “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”
On August 19, 2009, John Piper tackles a question on an abusive husband, and Piper’s answer directs women on how they should take abuse from their husbands. The answer is typical of a complementarian who sees the husband as king and priest and the wife as the follower of her priest-king.
My comments will be below the transcript. I recommend you listen carefully to what Piper says. I think there is a lot to discuss especially his Freudian slip calling the husband “lord.” An edited transcript of the audio is below. To hear John Piper’s actual audio or his video answer click here. It appears that the audio file from John Piper may be permanently removed. Here is a link to a copy of the audio file: Click here.
Here is the transcript:
Part of that answer is clearly going to depend on what kind of abuse we’re dealing with here, how serious this is. Is her life in danger? Or is this verbal unkindness? I’m not sure what the person who asked the question had in mind. So let me just talk about different kinds.
A woman’s submission to her husband is rooted in the word of God, calling her to be—for the Lord’s sake, for the Lord’s sake—submissive to him. Which means she always has a higher allegiance, namely to Christ.
Therefore Christ’s word governs her life. And Christ has many words besides “Be submissive.” “Be submissive” is not an absolute, because her Lord has other things to tell her, so that if the husband tells her something that contradicts what the Lord tells her, then she’s got a crisis of, “To whom do I submit now?” And clearly, she submits to Jesus above her husband. The reason she is submitting to her husband is because of her prior superior submission to the Lord.
So if this man, for example, is calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly (group sex or something really weird, bizarre, harmful, that clearly would be sin), then the way she submits—I really think this is possible, though it’s kind of paradoxical—is that she’s not going to go there. I’m saying, “No, she’s not going to do what Jesus would disapprove even though the husband is asking her to do it.”
She’s going to say, however, something like, “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership. But if you ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can’t go there.”
Now that’s one kind of situation. Just a word on the other kind. 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.
Every time I deal with somebody in this, I find the ultimate solution under God in the church. In other words, this man should be disciplined, and she should have a safe place in a body of Christ where she goes and then the people in the church deal with him. She can’t deal with him by herself.
So the short answer, I think, is that the church is really crucial here to step in, be her strength, say to this man, “You can’t do this. You cannot do this! That’s not what we allow. That’s not what Christ calls you to be.”
I can’t go in to all the details, but I would say to the woman, “Come to a church that you feel safe in. Tell them the case. Let the leaders step in and help you navigate the difficulties.”
(Audio and video of this answer is found at John Piper’s site here.)
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My first thought was why does John Piper keep laughing at questions about women and submission? Might it be a nervous laughter because he is not really sure what to answer? I am not sure but I have listened to other John Piper answers on other subjects, and he wasn’t laughing about those questions.
John Piper qualifies his answer by saying that it would depend on what kind of “abuse” we are dealing with. At one point he calls verbal abuse as verbal “unkindness”. It is also interesting that he equates submission with “allegiance.” Is this the kind of allegiance of a subject to her king? Well, John Piper does say that her Lord has other words for her other than just submission. What if her subjection to the two that are above her conflict? He says that this would produce a crisis of “to whom do I submit now?” It sure sounds like competing lords to me. Then he says “clearly she submits to Jesus above the lord…I mean above Jes….above her husband.”
Then notice that John Piper gets really happy about a way that he has worked it out for a woman to still submit when her husbands asks her to be involved in “group sex.” She submits by answering “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader…it would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership…but I can’t go there.” Honestly I found this answer to be really icky. I do believe in speaking respectfully and speaking the truth in love, but the look on John Piper’s face while he said this and these words which are to be given in response to an invitation to group sex just seemed really bizarre to me. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but for me watching this was kind of like watching a stepford wife rehearsal.
I also noticed the dismissal of her pain by Piper’s saying that if what the husband wants is not requiring her to sin but is “simply” hurting her, she should endure verbal abuse and endure being “smacked” for one night. The “ultimate” solution for the abused wife is in the church. What happened to Jesus and the law who can physically help her? Apparently she is supposed to put her trust in a complementarian church to protect her. He says that they will tell the husband to stop abusing her. But more often than not in a complementarian church, it is the wife who is counseled on how to stop the abuse, not the husband. It is the wife who is told to submit more and he will stop the abuse. How is that kind of complementarian church a safe church to run to for the abused wife? And what if the husband is not a believer? Piper gives no other solution other than the “ultimate” solution of going to the leaders of the church. They are the ones who should “discipline” the husband by telling him that he should not be doing the abuse.