Today has been a violent day. . . . Carlton saw it and picked up the phone to call the police. [His father] grabbed it out of his hands and tore it out of the wall and went back to hitting me. Carlton then grabbed a ball bat threatening [him] if he continued to beat me. [He] then hit him, and beat me some more and threw me against the counter in the kitchen. He also knocked the door off the hinges in the den. This has been the worst Carlton has seen, he was extremely upset—threatening to do great harm to [his father.]
This awkward journal entry, dated December 21, 1986, was not written for publication. There would be ten more months of violence before Carlton and I escaped. Many similar episodes had occurred previously in the two decades of my marriage, though the journal does not begin until earlier in 1986.
My story is set in motion in the late 1960s on a picturesque island where I was working as a summer camp counselor. A tall, dark and handsome gentleman visited this Garden of Eden paradise, and two perfect people fell in love, while all rational thoughts and questions were swept away by the Serpent.
Despite red flags and doubts, I accepted his marriage proposal and we married the following summer. After all, in spite of peeping tom incidents and college dismissals, he said he regretted these episodes and was training to be a minister. Everything would work out.
By 1986, his record of serious wrongdoing involved his graduate studies at two seminaries and job firings from Christian institutions: a church, a Bible college, and two book publishers. Besides petty theft and other blatant forms of dishonesty and besides beating me, he had sexually molested a teenage girl. And still I remained in the marriage.
In my book I tell of some twenty years of serious abuse. Why didn’t I just pick up and leave long before 1987?
This is one reason why telling stories is so critical for understanding domestic violence, particularly in situations where male headship in marriage is regarded as biblical law that cannot be infringed upon. Thus the title of the book: Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife.
What would happen to me if I left my minister husband? Of course, I would be humiliated and without financial support, but what about my son? Typical of many abusers, my husband was very charming and articulate.
Until his crimes were discovered at his various jobs, my ex-husband was assumed to be a very honorable Christian gentleman. As such, it was not difficult to find another place of employment. That was a good thing, I reasoned. But it was a very scary thought when I considered leaving him. Indeed, my biggest fear was that he, with all his charm, might convince a judge to grant him joint custody of our son.
So it wasn’t until the fall of 1987, after Carlton had turned thirteen and was able to testify in court, that I sued for separate maintenance. With Carlton’s shocking testimony of his father’s violence, I was granted full custody.
A key ingredient in my story is black and white Bible. My ex-husband repeatedly referenced Ephesians 5 and hissed at me that the passage orders wives to submit to their husbands. Male headship was to be enforced at all costs.
I do not say in the book that husbands who hold to mutuality in marriage never beat their wives. But they have no biblical basis to punish a wife for not obeying, and biblical justification is one rationale for domestic violence. It certainly was in my case.
In Chapter 9, titled “Fifty Shades of Rape,” I discuss one particularly deplorable incident, again based on wives submit. It was “a scene of soiled stinking air—an ugly episode of hateful ‘God-ordained’ domination and supremacy,” one that occurred only weeks before escaping the marriage:
What may have been satisfying to his incensed psyche I will never know. As for me, foul shame penetrated my very soul. I felt dirty and humiliated, utterly defeated. Polluted, that ancient Roman term of judgment seeping through the centuries into my pathetic sniffles.
I slunk to the bathroom, locking the door, not able to turn toward the mirror. In those minutes while the hot water ran in the tub, I vowed that it would never happen again. One flesh had become unalterably severed.
The book also relates a much earlier episode when I learned my then husband had molested our foster daughter. I made certain that she was placed in a different home, but I did not report him. I will always live with the guilt of my complicity in this crime and my inability to in any way make amends due to the tragic way this dear girl’s life ended.
But the book is surely not filled with ugliness only. In the first chapter I relate the story of a man who took very seriously Ephesians 5, that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Dr. Robertson McQuilkin was president of Columbia International University when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Some years later he informed the university board that he would be stepping down because his wife was becoming very agitated when he was not with her. Board members pleaded with him to stay, offering him curtailed hours and all the nursing assistance he would need. His response was straightforward. He had not vowed to the university till death do us part. To his wife he had. His story is powerful and profoundly honest.
The most pleasant aspects of the book, at least from my perspective, relate to my current marriage to John Worst, a long-time music professor at Calvin College. Our lives before we met were in many ways starkly opposite. He brought to our marriage the memories of two dearly departed wives whose lives were taken by ovarian and pancreatic cancer.
Ruth Ann and Myra Jean (who was a friend of mine) are part of our marriage. Their framed photos, smiling candid poses with John cuddled close, sit on the shelving in front of my desk. Through John, I have gained two dear step-daughters, sons-in-law, and three grandchildren. He’s gained an only son and another granddaughter.
In many ways it’s difficult to assess those twenty years of marriage to my ex-husband. Do I regret that I married him? In spite of the terrible violence and crimes, there were actually some good times as well. And through that marriage came a son and granddaughter as well as a path forward that would one day lead me to John, my beloved husband of twelve years.
Find Ruth’s Book on Amazon HERE.
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