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Thursday, February 22, 2007

William Carey

There have been so many posts recently that I wish to link to but this is the most recent so here it goes. Justin Taylor always has informative posts. Here is an excerpt from yesterday's.

    It is no small lesson that that the great missionary, William Carey, who labored to bring the Gospel to India, who translated the Bible into three languages over 40 furlough-less years, and portions of the Bible into some 30 dialects, also labored to end child-killing in India. The prolife legislation that finally outlawed the practice of throwing babies into the Ganges River to be eaten by alligators is called Carey’s Edict. The Gospel saves the innocent and proclaims good news to the guilty. They are not at odds with each other or Christ would not have pointed to the Samaritan and said, “Go and do likewise.” When we preach Christ and him crucified, we are proclaiming the extreme end to which God proves his love of human life; body and soul.
This made me sad because I had just finished reading a book written by a contemporary bible translator - a good book, I might add, full of references to people and professors that I knew well. I should have enjoyed this book and I did. But suddenly near the end I had the strangest feeling that I had possibly just witnessed a real life crime. With reference to a conversation the author and bible translator had with a young woman (referred to by the author as his sister) who had run away from her husband repeatedly, this is what was written,

    I told them I was working on Titus 2:5 where wives are instructed to be "good housewives [and] submit to their husbands". I asked my sister if she lived this way; her response was a mumbled negative. I turned to my brother-in-law and communicated the idea of verse 6, "urge the young men to be self-controlled". This young man had a violent temper and the verse grabbed his attention. I then encouraged both of them to act in a manner that would not allow others to criticize their behaviour, prayed with them and extracted a promise to return to their village and work on their relationship.
I shut the book ill with the realization that the author, the proof-readers, the editors and publishers had not been aware that they were in all liklihood witness to a tale of violence, of a missionary and bible translator sitting by and counselling someone to suffer violence without reprieve.

There is a great deal of rant about not conceding to culture, but thanks partially to the influence of feminism, now the state presses charges against the violent spouse these days, not the indidvidual. However, I sat and listened today as a lawyer friend recounted to me the situation of a woman who just this past Christmas, in this city, was duct-taped wrists, ankles and mouth by her husband. On her rescue she began writing her statement to the police when she put down her pen and refused to continue. The police will not be able to press charges.

This incident will not be mentioned in the statistics. This particular husband was not a Christian, but an article in the Vancouver Sun last month refered to the fact that the Mennonites found that even within their ostensibly pacifist community, spousal abuse occurs at the same rate as among non-Christians.

Are ministers and missionaries aware that preaching submission means that some women are carefully monitored by their husbands, phone calls listened to, friendships limited, income restricted, authority over children denied and confidence undermined at every turn. The pattern of submission puts these women in a position where they will not tell others of physical abuse because they know that then they will have to leave abruptly and they lack the confidence to do that. They do not have the confidence to reconstruct a life in which they may not have adequate training, a job, a car, a credit rating, a bank account, a name of their own, and a pattern of self-sufficiency. The church may never know how many lives are ruined by the preaching of submission because it is usually beneath the dignity of either partner to reveal this information.

I have read William Carey's autobiography many times with great interest. Let's remember this tribute,
    His prolonged efforts for social reform led to the passage of laws prohibiting the heathen practice of infanticide, disposing of children for religious or economic motives; and abolishing the suttee rite of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Carey, who was a century ahead of his day in insights into co-operative Christianity, is beyond doubt "the greatest and most versatile Christian missionary sent out in modern times.
This is the legacy of William Carey. What will be the legacy of this generation of bible translators?


At Thu Feb 22, 06:37:00 AM, Blogger David Lang said...


Beyond William Carey's social reforms in defense of children and widows, I'm not sure I see the connection here with your argument that preaching submission encourages spousal abuse. In his translations into multiple languages, did Carey translate the various "submission" passages using language which does not imply some form of subordination? If Carey did use the language of "submission," that would seem to undercut your argument somewhat.

Another question I have relates to the unfortunate study you cited about spousal abuse being as prevalent among Mennonites as among non-Christians. By the way, I doubt we can pick on the Mennonites here, as this statistic is likely true of most other Christian denominations as well (to our very great shame). The question I have, however, is that if there is no statistical difference between a Christian community which "preaches submission" and a non-Christian community which does not, can we legitimately conclude that preaching submission leads to spousal abuse? Perhaps something more universal, like our pervasively sinful nature, is to blame.

At Thu Feb 22, 07:46:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


The book that I quoted was published in 1988, and the author had been the student of one of my own professors. The woman he counselled likely returned to a physically abusive situation. We know that this happens.

The author believed that this counsel was an example of living out the faith of the Bible. A Bible translator may translate the passages on slavery at face value, but would he or she then recommend slavery? The example in the book, and the comment on Carey was about how translators act out their faith, not about how they translate.

There is statistical evidence for a connection between the preaching of submission and the longevity of an abusive relationship. Sadly, when I asked the minister of our very large church if he had informed himself on this evidence before preaching submission he looked bewildered.

This post is about issues of social justice and the gospel, as was Justin's.

At Thu Feb 22, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Sean LeRoy said...

I'm not sure I see the connection, Suzanne.
Can you clarify?

At Thu Feb 22, 08:38:00 AM, Blogger Eddie said...

Excellent post, Suzanne. Thank You.

At Thu Feb 22, 08:47:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The author of the book I quoted wrote,

Throughout the translation project, we are a living demonstration of gospel relevance. If we are perceicved as relevant then the scriptures we produce may also be viewed that way. The knowledge that we have a message designated by God to meet human needs serves as an encouragement to codify it into a culturally relevant form. This form, be it a culturally sensitive devotion to ministry, or God's Word itself, can be used by the Holy Spirit to meet human needs.

This author, writing in 1988 was sincere. I had hoped to and may some day refer to this book. I like this book. But I reject his hypothesis, that he engaged in a culturally appropriate counselling task that met a human need - whose need?

I know another missionary who wondered why a group of women came and sat on his doorstep every Sat. evening. Finally he figured it out. He did not preach submission and send them all home.

At Thu Feb 22, 09:32:00 AM, Blogger Sean LeRoy said...

There are appropriate times for a woman (or a man, for that matter) to return to the household and there are times when that's not appropriate. Not being familiar with the book and the exact details of the situation, I can't comment.
However, I can say I don't think cultural relevancy should be the primary driving force in either the translation process or Biblical counseling...faithfulness should be. I'm thinking here of the author's statement, "If we are perceived as relevant" and "This form, be it a culturally sensitive devotion to ministry"...

At Thu Feb 22, 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I agree that cultural relevancy should not be the driving force. I think that no matter how relevant subjugation of one individual to another might be in a society, we should stand against that.

At Thu Feb 22, 10:44:00 AM, Blogger David Lang said...


I don't mean to pick nits. I know this is just a blog post and not a careful treatise. I also know that you are perfectly capable of writing careful treatises. That's why I think it unfortunate when you resort to innuendo and loosely connected anecdotes to push an agenda. It's the very thing you so skillfully call many "complementarian" writers on the carpet for.

Your mention of the Mennonite study implied that in spite of pacifist preaching, Mennonite men abuse their wives with roughly the same frequency as the rest of the population. This bit of statistical evidence said nothing about a correlation between longevity of abuse in churches which "preach submission."

I am perfectly willing to accept that if you "preach submission" (or at least, a certain brand of it) to a victim of abuse that woman is more likely to remain in the abusive situation for a longer period of time. The case of the ballet dancer you linked to is a tragic example of this. I believe women in abusive situations must be counseled to look to their own safety and the safety of their children above everything else. At times separation is the only recourse, not only for safety's sake but also for the sake of showing the abuser his need to repent.

Women remain in abusive situations for a complex variety of reasons, some of which you listed in your post. Egalitarian women, professional women, non-Christian women, even fiercely independent women have all chosen to stay with men who abuse and belittle them. The fact that the Biblical teaching about submission is often misused, misunderstood, and misapplied does not mean that if it were jettisoned altogether abusive and enabling behavior would stop.

Thus, I don't think it follows from your anecdotes that we should stop "preaching submission." Rather, I think it underscores the importance of preaching it rightly, and never without the balancing command to husbands to love and lay down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church.

At Thu Feb 22, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I do have studies and books that I can quote but I am not a sociologist so I am just going to let this stand as an opinion post.

I know several women whose situation was worsened by this kind of preaching and others who were abused for other reasons.

Personally I feel that submission of women is equivalent to slavery, and that we should not preach something for others we have not suffered ourselves. This is my opinion and I feel strongly about it. It would take considerably more time if I were to reference any of the books on the topic.

The sheer indignity of being told that what one wants to do as a wife is not as important as what the husband wants to do can be unbearable. Think about it. The husband wants a career and the woman goes out to work to support his studies so she can .... what exactly, have a well-educated husband? Don't forget children are only a part of life - not the whole thing.

If both are struggling financially - fine, that is life, but if one takes advantage of the other, either way, what is that?

At Thu Feb 22, 07:36:00 PM, Blogger David Lang said...


It's responses like this that give me the impression that your egalitarianism is less about careful exegesis and more about reacting to specific injustices. You equate submission to "slavery," and then list situations where men took advantage of their wives. I wonder if you've ever seen a "complementarian" relationship that you felt was healthy and Christ-exalting.

Personally, I have seen men use the Biblical instruction about submission like a club. I've seen professing Christians abuse their wives and molest their children. Yet I have also seen women who embrace submission as empowering and liberating, and men who take seriously their role of loving their wives as Christ loved the church. If, in my experience, a complementarian view of marriage inevitably led to abuse and indignity, I might be more inclined to feel as you do; but I have seen what you regard as "slavery" leading to freedom and joy in countless marriages. I must therefore conclude that the problem is not with what the Bible teaches, but with how in our sinfulness we sometimes distort what the Bible teaches.

At Thu Feb 22, 08:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I wonder if you've ever seen a "complementarian" relationship that you felt was healthy and Christ-exalting.

Nope! I do see that many couples have marriages which they call 'complementarian' in some way, but it is only semantics and they just carry on as people. They are saved by common sense. But the submission of one person's individuality to another as healthy. Never.

If a woman has a career that her husband supports, can you twist this around into a complementarian scenario? If the woman earns the money because the man is sick and she makes financial decisions, and she makes a public fuss about supporting submission, it is just semantics. IMO

But for the woman who wants a career and the husband won't support it, she is stuck not being who she was intended to be by God, not because she can't afford it but because she is not to seek her own good, to pursue her own muse, and this is even if the children are grown and the couple can afford it. She, the wife, must be seen to defer to her husband, she must play second fiddle. Even if she has a talent to offer society. She can only do so if her husband allows her to do so. But the husband can do this no matter what.

At Thu Feb 22, 08:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yet I have also seen women who embrace submission

A lot of women, like a lot of men, wish to be pleasers. They don't want to make a fuss. They want to be 'good'.

Me, I don't mind making a fuss. ;-)

At Thu Feb 22, 08:39:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Suzanne, I understand your dismay and share it. A school friend and her husband were missionaries for a number of years to Papua New Guinea and during the time they engaged in intensive language study, living among a tribe who had no written language, they were truly the only "bible" that group of people had ever experienced. They had almost daily revelations early in their years there, of the difference between what they did because they were Americans and what they did because they were Christians. And while spousal abuse did not enter into any of the stories my friend told me (she said that violence was reserved for tribal enemies and they were quite affectionate to one another), lots of other cultural practices were carefully scrutinized. She acknowledged that, based purely on what the tribe saw of her, her husband, and their children, they had plenty of reason in those early years to believe there wasn't much of value to the Christian faith. They had to earn the trust and respect of the tribe, and it wasn't easy. One of the things that won over a few of the people was the fact that they did not merely tell them to do this and do that. They took the time to get to know the people, live among them, and as much as they could with integrity and safety for their children, engave in their social activities. They gained credibility as they learned how to express love for this people in ways that were socially acceptable to them. In fact, it was a profound, silent gospel message. No one had ever come from "outside" and shown them both respect and love before. Their words meant relatively little to these people; their actions, however, changed the tribe's entire worldview. If they could accept a family into their midst and accept love from them, they could learn to accept the presence and love of God.

If I've understood you correctly, your concern is partly that Carey's words were contrary to the gospel. It is NOT good news to a wife to be told that she must accept her husband's violence toward her. It is a cheap grace to tell a husband that merely working on the relationship by trying harder to control his temper, is sufficient to please God. Also, as I see it, Carey's cultural understanding of proper wifely behavior was superimposed onto the scriptural concept of wifely submission. I've observed for quite some time now that Christians tend to divorce a wife's submission from the requirement that we all as Christians must submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, negating or minimizing that requirement on the part of husbands while making it supremely important on the part of wives. Yet what they call submission, so often is not. Telling a young wife who tried repeatedly to escape from a violent husband that she must return to him, is not a call for Christian submission, especially when the husband is not told that he, too, must submit himself to his wife because they both belong to Christ. Telling her to submit to him and telling him to control his temper, is not conveying what Titus 2:5-6 means. For both, it's little better than "more of the same."

I think we're living with the consequences of such widespread flawed teachings about Christian marriage right now. They're very popular in many Christian circles. Some of the translators who insist on an accurate translation despite what tradition may cherish, are taking heat from those who don't wish to dig deeper into what the text really says. But as long as wives' "submission" is still considered synonymous with "obedience" and "subordination," it's obvious that there's a need for people to pay attention to good translations and engage in better study. The better translations are out there; it's a matter of Christians being willing to value the truth over (sometimes badly flawed) traditional understandings of Scripture.

At Thu Feb 22, 09:04:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Psalmist, I appreciate your comments very much, for a number of reasons, not the least being that I grew up in a family where my mother had traveled far from home to be a missionary and married one of the men where she went. She had been warned that he had a bad temper, but he seemed to her to have it under control (at least during the few months he was courting her). A few years after they were married the abuse started. It was terrible. Our pastors only preached that wives must submit to their husbands. I think my mother told me once that she had talked to a pastor about the problem but that he had said she needed to go home, be a good wife, and submit. I'm not sure he really knew how bad the abuse was. I knew because I observed it. And I got it also, terrible abuse, of all kinds except sexual. I have had to be in Christian counseling for a number of years to deal with my fear of people, panic attacks, work addiction to cover up the pain, etc. I just wanted to be a "good" missionary Bible translator, but God wanted me to experience the good news that Jesus came to preach freedom for the captives, so I could share it with others also. It was difficult but we broke the generational sin of rage and abuse and each of our children has a healthy marriage.

My heart cries for the many children and spouses who suffer, even in strongly religious families, as mine was, where outsiders thought we were the best family in town. But when others were not watching we were prisoners of something terrible.

I am so glad that more ministers are better trained to help today when a spouse or child has the courage to reach out for help. I never could. I didn't even think of it. I just tried to survive.

I continue to observe husbands (including some who are missionaries) who might think they are treating their wives properly, but who are actually abusing them, not respecting them, not acknowledging the gifts God has given them, not allowing them to voice opinions. I agree with you that we need to preach about mutual submission. The Bible explicitly teaches that members of the Body are to submit to each other. There is no exception made for husbands. Every husband needs to understand what it means to honor his wife. This does *not* mean that a husband is to shirk being the biblical head of his wife. It does mean that he is to sacrificially love her and must act in all the ways that the Bible teaches a biblical head must act toward the one with whom he has the headship relationship.

Finally, I'd like to ask you a question which has been on my mind for several years, as a Bible translator myself. Do you think there are any ways that Bibles can be translated more accurately and/or more clearly about husband-wife relationships, so that God's desires for those relationships are understood better and there is less abuse based on an inadequate understanding of what it means for a wife to "submit" to her biblical "head"?

At Thu Feb 22, 09:16:00 PM, Blogger Sean LeRoy said...

Suzanne and Psalm ~
Don't let cavemen who tell wives to return home to be a punching bag, nor (American) cultural buzwords like 'careers' and 'individuality' guide the interpretation and application of what the Bible clearly teaches - mutual submission in the fear of God and submission of a wife to her husband (not women in general, but wives in particular).
It seems to me this (what the Bible actually says) has been missed in the post and comments, save a few. Scriptural submission has never and will never mean being a 'doormat' fact in Eph 5 if anyone is called to be a doormat, its the husband, since he is to love thru the path of death! As a married man w/ a kids, this is a duty I gladly accept - when I don't like it, or think its unfair, by God's grace, I choose to submit to it.

At Thu Feb 22, 10:06:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

First, let me explain that my second quote was not from Carey but from a contemporary bible translator - Daniel Shaw.

Next, Sean you wrote, "submission of a wife to her husband". Who is going to be the refereee when things get bad, may I ask? The husband?

At Fri Feb 23, 09:52:00 AM, Blogger Sean LeRoy said...

SM -
What do you mean exactly by 'when things get bad'?

At Sat Feb 24, 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

This was taught in a women's bible study I attended. The man on the DVD, a popular author at the time, said, "The Bible tells the wife the same thing in every verse when it talks about her role in marriage. She is to submit." He then related how he behaved badly one night, but that his wife's quite submission won him over. Sadly, those of us in healthy relationships don't hear the "women submit" message the way men and women in unhealthy relationships hear the same message. I hear, "get up early and when you fix pancakes warm up the syrup too." A woman in an abusive relationship hears, "Play dead and he will quit yelling at or beating on you. And since you've got a really big problem on your hands, you need to submit even more. Do this and God will change your husband." Basically, this teaching advocates a form of witchcraft, IMO.

The week that message was given I heard of one woman who felt that she should submit to her husband's wishes that she look at pornography. Another confided to me that her husband became angry with her when she questioned him about their overdrawn checking account. He did not feel it was her place to question his authority in the home.

In this particular Bible Study, the woman set up a straw man argument by constantly comparing a heirarchical marriage to a democratic marriage. But I've found the egalitarian view of marriage to put just as much emphasis on submission as the complementarians, but with the added caveat that the man has responsibilities in the submission area as well.


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