On this Resurrection Sunday, I wrote a sad but redemptive column for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. I wrote it because of the Resurrection of Jesus — to show that even when life is bad there is ultimately hope. Were it not for my belief in the Resurrection, the singular, momentous event in in all of human history, I can imagine being a cynical person who lived in total despair. But thank God, “He is Risen; He is Risen indeed!”
As I reflected on the events of Holy Week, the gravity of the events that led to Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus was heightened as I read a new book by Dr. Ruth A. Tucker – “black and white bible, black and blue wife – my story of finding hope after domestic abuse” (Zondervan, 2016).
Ironically, Tucker is a former professor at the well-regarded Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. Twenty-five years ago Tucker’s book “Women in the Maze” helped me crystallize my views of women in church leadership and why I think women should enter the ministry and seek ordination. Tucker drew me in with her logic, Biblical analysis, penetrating questions and self-confidence.
So you can imagine my surprise as I read Tucker’s frank and transparent memoir. Now 70 years old, Tucker tells of being a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a bright, charming husband – a pastor. Her abuse spanned most of their 19-year marriage.
Thinking back to the late 1960s, Tucker recounts falling head over heels for a charismatic preacher at a summer Bible camp in the Adirondacks of upper New York State. She writes: “Here I was, an unsophisticated farm girl from northern Wisconsin, being held in the arms of a debonair gentleman from New York City. We were in the paradise of the Adirondack Mountains. It was the Garden of Eden.”
When the two married in August 1968, Tucker already was in graduate school. Her call to biblical scholarship was part of what convinced her that the role of women in the church should be open to those traditionally held by men. Her husband, on the other hand, became further entrenched with the idea of biblical male headship in the marriage and in church.
By choosing at age 70 to tell her story of domestic abuse, Tucker hopes she might give courage to other women experiencing verbal and physical abuse. Sadly, it turns out, her husband was not the upstanding church pastor people thought.
One of his favorite ploys was to walk into her home office on a Sunday afternoon as she prepared for seminary classes for the coming week. With Bible in hand, he would bring up biblical male headship while taunting her with his questions and favorite verses. Often he would grab her arms, overpower her and throw her to the floor. On numerous occasions Tucker would were long-sleeved sweaters with turtle-neck collars to cover her bruises from her seminary students and colleagues.
“Why didn’t I report the abuse to law enforcement and contact an attorney? More than anything else, I feared he would do what he had threatened to do – kill me.” She lived with the anxiety that her 6-foot-two-inch muscular husband would fly into a rage and pummel her while ranting about her unwillingness to embrace his view of biblical male headship.
Finally in 1987 Tucker escaped with her junior-high aged son. She sued for separate maintenance and full child custody. Tucker and her husband divorced shortly thereafter. Her ex-husband soon disappeared entirely. In fact her son did not hear from or see his father for nearly 20 years.
Tucker has authored 18 books and numerous papers, but until now she has resisted writing her story of domestic abuse. She is clear that her reticence was more than the utter humiliation she felt. “Few can comprehend the depth of shame that still lingers. And not just the shame of being married to an abusive minister, but also the awful acknowledgment of my own complicity – the failure to report my husband to law enforcement when his crimes involved an innocent foster child.”
In her sad story Tucker says that she was far from perfect in her 19-year marriage. She concedes provoking her ex-husband many times. Still, I’m not convinced it always takes two to tango. Who of us can ever really know the depths of our own brokenness? And who of us ever really knows what goes on behind closed doors?
Indeed, I am thankful to Zondervan Publishers, the well-regarded Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Christian publisher, for having the courage to print Tucker’s book.
After raising her son and remaining single for many years, Tucker now has been happily remarried for more than 10 years. She enjoys the company of her husband, her adult son and a college-aged grandchild. We can only imagine the pain Tucker endured and the agony of domestic abuse that too many women still bear, some of them wives of pastors.
In countless sessions with pastors, I have heard enough stories to realize there is way more to most stories than you’ll ever know. Thankfully, on this Easter Sunday my temptation to despair gives way to hope. It is a hope that one day all will be made new. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation,” says the Apostle Paul.
Today the faithful proclaim once again: “He is risen; He is risen indeed.” That proclamation is confirmation that every person, however broken, is loved, valued and of more intrinsic worth than any of us will ever know.