Thursday, October 22, 2009

Authors of Fireproof Seem to Claim Forgiveness Would Save Abusive Marriages

Another comment by the Kendrick brothers, that Catherine’s “bitterness” is the result of her failure to forgive Caleb on a daily basis, seems to suggest that the marriage of Caleb and Catherine would not have degenerated if Catherine had forgiven her husband daily. This belief is frequently voiced in the Christian community and needs to be examined. Does a spouse’s forgiveness stop her abuser from escalating his abuse as is commonly believed? Many people quote Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” Is this verse always the case?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think forgiveness is great and necessary, and a soft answer does turn away wrath in many cases. But is this true in abusive marriages?

To find out, I want to follow through on what their reasoning would produce. Remember, I personally have been abused and for years did my best to forgive and believe the best of my husband and also responded with a soft answer. Other abused women report experiences similar to mine. Yet none of us claim to be perfect. Thus, I want to imagine what the results would be if a wife WAS able to forgive her abusive husband every day.

Let’s start with Caleb saying he wants to withhold a third of his income to save for his boat and that he pressures Catherine into agreeing to this. According to Brothers Kendrick, Catherine should forgive him for being so self-centered and for not seeing her needs. So let’s say Catherine sacrifices her needs and even tries to help him save for his boat. She forgives him, loves and serves him, while she sees him in the best possible light as an unselfish man.

Caleb sees her love, service and forgiveness as his due, and takes his 2 days off doing whatever brings him pleasure. (This has been his pattern for 6 years of marriage, according to the writing of the Kendrick brothers.)

Catherine comes home from work on his second day off, picks up Caleb’s mess, buys groceries, cooks his dinner, dares to take his clothes to the dry cleaners while the food cooks, all the while thanking God that she has such a wonderful husband and again forgiving him for leaving all the work to her. At the dinner table, Caleb complains that the roast is tough and the lettuce hasn’t been cut fine enough. Catherine forgives him, and brings out the dessert, which he tells her is not to his liking, either. After dinner, she struggles with resentment, but chooses to forgive him. She sweetly gives herself to him that night, and he uses her, giving nothing in return. Catherine cries herself to sleep, and when she wakes in the morning, again chooses to forgive her husband and love him unconditionally.

This becomes a normal part of Catherine’s life. Her husband puts her down and expects special service every day, justifying his behavior by emphasizing how much he contributes with his pay check and with saving people’s lives. Catherine forgives him, and acts like a normal wife would by telling him how her dad has to work so hard to help her mom because the wheel chair and bed are not right for her mom, but Caleb dismisses Catherine’s concern, saying it is their problem, so Catherine drops the issue as a good Christian wife is taught to do.

Catherine tries to do all the little things to encourage her husband, to raise his self-esteem, and he continues to get nastier. (Bruce Ware and followers would blame Caleb’s nastiness on Catherine because she is not submissive enough, but in real life once abusers get what they want, they soon raise the bar and increase their demands. This seems to be caused by a mix of believing they are entitled to get special service and special privileges that their wives do not have and by a desire to feel a sense of power over their wives.)

After a year goes by, Catherine is secretly crying herself to sleep every night, while Caleb is getting everything he wants, and becoming discontented that he doesn’t have more or get even more service from his wife. He would like her to stay at home so she can do more for him—especially on his days off, but he also wants her to continue bringing in her paycheck, so he can buy his boat sooner. He asks her to cook meals for him to eat while she is at work, and she complies with that request, too.

Catherine keeps forgiving her husband, and doesn’t keep a record of all the things he does to hurt her every day, yet her inner pain keeps growing. She makes a bigger effort to forgive him, thinking that is her problem, but she ends up bursting into tears at work. She tries to control and hide her tendency to cry, but it slips out at times.

When Gavin makes his overture at work, she tells him how wonderful her husband is, which results in Gavin leaving her alone. Everyone thinks Caleb and Catherine have a wonderful marriage.

After another year, Catherine stops going to sleep after being intimate with Caleb, but instead gets up to finish all the tasks she is expected to do, trying to be as quiet as possible so her beloved husband can sleep soundly. She uses this time to pray for her husband, focusing on seeing him in the best possible light. These extra hours of work result in her getting fewer and fewer hours of sleep. Less sleep plus the stress of being continually trampled on by her husband makes her prone to “catching” every cold and flu that goes around, and she develops physical diseases as well. (In a recent study women who had suffered recent domestic abuse were more likely to have been diagnosed with a wide range of diseases and disorders:
The women who reported violence were nearly six times as likely to have been diagnosed with substance use disorders, the researchers found, while they were at nearly five-fold greater risk of "family and social problems." Their risk of depression was more than tripled, while anxiety diagnoses were nearly three times as common among these women.
Other diagnoses that were more common among recently abused women included low back and neck pain; sprains and strains; sexually transmitted diseases; lacerations, bruises and scrapes; urinary tract infections; chest pain; and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

to read the entire article.) She goes to the doctor for her many maladies, and the doctor recognizes symptoms of depression and prescribes anti-depressants.

Caleb thinks the anti-depressants are not necessary and refuses to pay for them, which leaves Catherine with yet another expense she can ill-afford. She tries to cook more from scratch to save at the grocery store, but time is an issue, so she tries buying cheaper cuts of meat so she’ll have funds to buy some precooked meals. Caleb complains about the cheap meat, so she is forced to skimp on clothing for herself, wearing them until they are noticeably worn out, and getting fewer haircuts. Caleb gripes that she is letting herself “go to seed,” so she tries to find other ways to stretch her income.

There never is a solution. Catherine is always viewed as the problem, and over time she also believes if she could be more perfect, Caleb would be happy with her.

The prescription doesn’t help. One day when Catherine’s heart is breaking because of her husband’s recent “verbal unkindness,” (John Piper’s term) she focuses so hard on trying not to cry and on trying to get rid of her anxiety and the fear she still feels because Caleb overwhelmed her by threatening her with his fists and screaming in her face that she steps in the street without thinking and a car hits her and kills her. Everyone thinks it was an accident. No one suspects suicide, since they believe her marriage to Caleb is so happy. A few blame the anti-depressants. But no matter, Catherine is dead and everyone feels so sorry for her husband who “adored” her.

A second possible ending is that one day threatening her with his fists wasn’t enough, and Caleb gets his bat and hits her with the same viciousness he used on the garbage can. Caleb either breaks her jaw and fractures her eye socket, or hits Catherine so hard she falls and hits her head on the counter, killing her or putting her in the hospital for a long time.

The point I’m making is that in both Fireproof and in the Love Dare and in the Kendrick Brother's commentary there is a complete lack of teaching about a wife confronting her husband and holding him accountable for sin. Instead they say when Catherine confronted Caleb she may have been disrespectful. In other words, they suggest wives shouldn't express anger or disgust to their husbands concerning their behavior. With their repeated comments about Catherine's “bitterness” and lack of forgiveness and trust, they apparently would have us believe an abusive marriage will become healthy if the abused wife will just forgive and love unconditionally. If she will get rid of her bitterness and completely die to self. But they picture Caleb being REJECTED when he "dies to self," not TRAMPLED on, screamed at, threatened, punished, and assaulted—perhaps even killed.

Indeed, it appears to me the life they picture for abused wives is a life-time of degrading slavery and cruel punishments, neglect, overwork, and imprisonment, coupled with a spirit of forgiveness and service on the part of the abused wife which amounts to voluntary self-degradation. The Kendrick Brothers compound this by neglecting to clarify that it is the abuser who must use the Love Dare.

Once again, the focus is on finding yet another way to condemn the abused wife. When are Christians going to hold abusers accountable, instead of transferring that accountability onto abused wives?

Think about it: Does forgiveness stop emotional pain? Does forgiveness heal a person who is a paraplegic because of being hit by a drunk driver? Does a victim's forgiveness stop an abuser from abusing? Are marriages that end in assault and murder (till death do us part) more righteous and godly than those that end in divorce to avoid assault and murder? Is divorce a bigger sin than murder and spousal abuse?

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. Another great post, Waneta. Thanks!

  2. Don't have time to register, but wanted to stand up and say THANK YOU for your gutsy, truthful, Biblical blog! And thank you again for these wonderful posts!

    I **will** be back to read your blog! Never mind what the naysayers are thinking--this is **honestly biblical and accurate stuff.** You've put your finger on one of the major wounds plaguing the domestic body of Christ: gender-based tyranny disguised as "obedience" to God but in reality is husbandolatry.

  3. Welcome to my blog, Anonymous! I do appreciate your comments. The term "husbandolatry" says it so well. You are right, the emphasis on wife submission is actually teaching wives to make their husbands into their idols, to even consider the husband's demands as more important than God's commands in other areas. If wives refuse to practice husbandolatry, they are accused of non-obedience to God.

    John Piper claims to put God's commands first, by saying a wife should refuse to DO something that is clearly sin. But he fails to realize that a wife who hears her husband revile her again and again, will eventually agree with him in her heart and believe she is worthless as her husband has said instead of righteous, justified, and loved by God, as God says. Thus, the verbally abused wife begins to sin by believing a lie. Even a woman who consciously believes she is very valuable, will find deep down her belief in her husband's lie is so strong it is effecting her health, her knee-jerk responses, her decison-making, and her behavior. That is indeed husbandolatry.

    She has to be "transformed by the renewing of (her) mind," (Romans 12) in order to stop putting her husband above God.