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Dear Jack,

I pray this letter finds you in good health, sound mind, and quiet heart.

I’m writing on behalf of your wife, Jill, the elders, and all your brothers and sisters in the church family. We are all greatly concerned about your abuse and mistreatment of Jill. And I would like to take this opportunity to address you as a pastor, a man, and a father.

As a pastor, I want to lovingly communicate to you two messages. First, stop abusing Jill. As you know, our church family takes a “zero tolerance” approach to marital abuse. Your hands were not made for battering your wife, but for beautifying her. It’s never permissible under any circumstance for you to raise your hand toward your wife in anger or abuse or in any way other than to caress her in love or help her in strength. Never. Under any circumstance. You must commit to no longer battering Jill, who is made in God’s image, who was purchased by Christ’s blood, and who is your sister in Christ. Continuing to sin against your wife in this way will result in further police involvement (I have already counseled Jill to file a police report) and the church pursuing corrective love. A better result would be a clear and tangible commitment on your part to stop abusing Jill.

Second, get help in learning to love Jill. As a church, we are committed to fighting for every marriage in our congregation. We are prepared to do whatever it takes to help the two of you enjoy a reconciled and fully loving marriage as Christ intends. We’re prepared to do that over the long haul. With Jill, we have taken steps to make a safe place available for her to live. Her safety is our first priority, but it’s not our only priority. We hope also to support you both in experiencing the healing and wholeness Christ provides. So, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to meet with me, any elder, or any one of the trained counselors in the church who have from time-to-time helped others through this pattern of sin, anger, and control. If we need additional resources beyond the local church, we’re prepared to locate and provide them. We’ll put everything the church has behind you and Jill if you’ll commit to getting some help. If you’re abusing your wife, brother, you’re not well. You need to locate the root of the difficulty in your own heart and learn to live in the grace and power that God provides. We want to help you do that. Will you allow us?

Can I also say just a couple words as a father of two beautiful daughters? If Jill were my daughter, I’m afraid I’d be writing this letter from my prison to your hospital room. I know: pastors aren’t supposed to say stuff like that. But I can’t think of a better way to communicate how horrible and dark your treatment of Jill has been, and how sudden and violent God’s judgment would be as He looks on Jill, His daughter, and considers your abuse of her. I know my anger would be a pale and sinful picture of God’s. But that’s what’s most frightening: God’s anger would be perfect, just, and omnipotent. I fear that for you just as I fear the welfare of someone who would harm my girls. My girls are 14 and 12. They’re bright, energetic, funny, quick to serve, curious and outgoing. I imagine those are some of the things you’ve admired in Jill. As a father, I want my girls to be with a man who multiplies and nourishes those qualities in them. To do otherwise would be to slowly tread these beautiful creatures under foot, it would be to kill them slowly. The husband who does that is a gardener who tramples his rose bed with heavy work boots. I wouldn’t want such a husband for my daughters, and God doesn’t want that for His.

Finally, I also want to speak to you as a fellow man, a brother in the Lord and fellow traveler in this journey called “manhood.” I find being a man just about the most difficult and high-pressured thing in life. I feel like I’m often one-step behind or one wrong decision from completely ruining everything. It seems to me that a lot of us live with a seething undercurrent of fear and anger. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but no temptation has befallen you that isn’t common to others of us. You’re not a monster, and you’re not alone.

But feelings of anger, control, and frustration express themselves in a number of ways: from abdicating responsibility to fleeing the relationship to abusing others. People often take out their frustrations and fears on those closest at hand–for husbands that can be the wife. We have to find a way to be sober, self-controlled, temperate, and respectable. That’s really at the heart of what it means for us to be men.

Let me say something to you that you may fear hearing: As a fellow man, while I can identify with some of the pressure, anger, and frustration you may be feeling, I do not respect your abuse of your wife. The abuse misrepresents Jesus, misrepresents husbands, and misrepresents marriage. In saying I don’t respect your abuse as a man, I’m not trying to discourage you further. I’m trying to bring to light what you must surely be feeling about yourself. How can you respect yourself as a man if you’re resorting to beating the woman that loves you? Surely you can’t. And it’s pretending that you do respect yourself or demanding that others should respect you that will keep you locked in the entangling sins of anger and abuse. The pretending is a heavy blanket of self-deception. So, as a fellow man, I’m offering you a way to admit your struggles to one who shares some of them and to be free from the pretending that keeps us trapped. There’s nothing worse than pretending to be a man that has it all together while feeling inside everything is coming apart. One man to another: here’s a way out. Take it.

Know, Jack, that we stand ready to help you and Jill. We will stand with Jill to keep her safe, connected to the church family, and full of hope for her future with you. We will stand with you to live as the man of God He calls you to be, to repair your marriage, and to be free of the things that have led to this painful time. We serve a God for whom nothing is too hard. Let us walk by faith, obeying His word, and expecting His grace. Please do be in touch right away.

With hope and with Christ,

Pastor T-

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20 thoughts on “Dear Jack: A Letter to an Abusive Husband”

  1. LJ says:

    Proof that the TGC has no idea how abuse works and what is at stake. I find it horrendously disgusting that they would try and “fix” their marriage over getting the wife OUT and SAFE. The woman’s health and safety is not priority for TGC at all. That is why all of these articles on abuse are almost comical. At the end of the day, they are not willing to help a woman who is being abused. They have no idea how abuse works. They have no idea how it manifests itself in a relationship. They are not aware that a relationship can not become UN-abusive. Even if the specific actions they condemn stop, they have no idea what kind of damage living under the authority of someone who has abused you does to your health and psyche. They have no idea how the authority of the husband makes the situation worse INHERENTLY when abuse exists because of how abuse manifests itself. Shame on everyone who truly believes this letter can aid any suffering woman.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear LJ

      Thank you for your passionate and helpful comment. I share your zeal for this issue, though not all of the conclusions you reach.

      I could not agree with you more that getting the wife out and safe is job #1. In the letter I allude to that in this way: “With Jill, we have taken steps to make a safe place available for her to live. Her safety is our first priority, but it’s not our only priority.”

      I suppose it’s that last phrase (“it’s not our only priority”) that we perhaps see differently. As a pastor and a minister of the gospel of our Lord, all of my ministry must be redemptive. Our aim is to reconcile sinners to Jesus Christ, and we believe in the utterly transforming power of the Lord to do things we humanly cannot. And for me, someone who deals with this in the church, that’s the rub. There’s a constant tension between the realistic appraisal of abuse and abuser and the spiritual reality of Christ’s power to change. That’s why step 1 is making sure the wife (and sometimes children) are safe, but there must a step 3, 4, 5 and so on that pursues redemption.

      It’s simply not true that a relationship cannot become “UN-abusive” as you put it. I could point you to several couples in our church who have survived abuse, had hearts changed, and who thrive in love for one another. You’re correct–I for one don’t know how abuse works, as though I’m some expert. But I know that the Savior works, and I’ve seen it too many times to not fight both for the safety of the abused wife, separating her from the home and the abuser (and to be quite honest, often I’m the one trying to convince her that’s necessary because of the way abusers create dependency, isolation, and self-blame),and the restoration of the marriage, usually over a long period of time with lots of counsel and accountability.

      I’m sorry you don’t find the letter helpful, but I suspect the deeper problem is that you may not find the Lord helpful in cases of abuse. So, while I share your passion for the dignity, freedom, beauty, safety and flourishing of women, I do not share your sense that nothing can be done. With God’s help, all things are not only possible but very often achieved before our eyes. We have to fight this battle with hope in God, who can heal the abused and the abuser.

      Praying the Lord would show us all grace,

      1. LJ says:

        Absolutely not. The fact that you cite restoring the marriage as a priority is in direct conflict with protecting the victim. The fact that the husband and abuser is the head of the household is an inherent obstacle to the well being of an abuse victim. Your admittance that you are no expert is precisely why I am commenting so strongly. It is obvious you are no expert. I am tired of watching Churches put their specific faith above the systematic safety of their women. To put it simply, if you did understand abuse you would never even think of making the claims you are making. They are in direct conflict with each other in a way that is ridiculously obvious to anyone who is not obsessed with the idea of restoring marriage. They simply cannot both be a priority. Asking abuse victims to dedicate the rest of their life to making their own life work with their abuser is sick, it is oppressive, enslaving and an embarrassment.

        I doubt the exceptions you claim to see are actually void of abuse. You do not live with them. You do not see what happens. You do not see the subtleties of how abuse manifests itself. In fact the very concept of a person continuing to live with, have sex with, and submit to someone who systematically abused them is the biggest sign that the person is still held captive. Regardless if they fit your little mold of a happy thriving marriage. You have no idea of how much unnecessary pain, stockholm syndrome and abuse you are defending and perpetuating with the theology displayed here. Its maddening really.

        Others on here are right. I have known a great deal of abuse victims many of whom did not get out just because of doctrine like that of the TGC. You have no idea…..

        To the comment below me, you are right redemption and forgiveness is possible when it comes to abuse. However, it is ridiculous to assume that those things require an abuse victim to submit to, have sex with, and live with that person for the rest of their life.

        Your prioritization implies that you have no idea of the complexities of abuse and how contact with an abuser (even AFTER it ceases) effects the psyche of an individual. Shame on you all.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Dear LJ,

          Thanks again for your comment. Again, I find myself appreciating so much of what you’ve said, even if it’s difficult to cut through how you’re saying it. But I trust your tone stems from your passion for women and their safety–a passion I assure you I share.

          At this point, perhaps it’s helpful to remind everyone of the aim of this exercise. This post is not meant to be a treatise on abuse or a manual on handling abuse cases. Those materials are critically helpful to addressing situations well. But my task here was to write as a complementarian a pastoral letter to a fictional abuser. I’m certain the letter is no flawless example even of a pastoral letter, but the aim was never to say everything we’d want to say on the topic.

          I’m sorry you doubt my experience and the experiences of those who have been helped. That’s sad to me because it means you’re not being open to considering all the data or open to seeing the possibility for healing unless it fits your notion of what’s right. In my pastoral practice, I’ve had the privilege of helping women escape situations that showed no sign of ever improving. And I’ve been thrilled and humbled that the Lord would allow us to care for a woman in such need and danger. And, I’ve also had the privilege of seeing toxic relationships turn sweet and healthy. Were you here I’m sure those couples would delight to tell you their stories. But it’s their story to tell, not mine. And it’s their life to judge, not yours. Your dismissal of their lives and their battle to be well individually and subsequently together saddens me. You have no idea how hard those couples worked to be better individuals for themselves and for each other.

          It’s obvious that we don’t see the situation the same way. I’m opposed to abuse of any kind and would happily set aside marital roles in abusive situations. You seem to me to be not only opposed to abuse but also to marital roles and marital survival. Perhaps that’s where we differ most.

          I respect your opinion. I share your goal and I suspect that our efforts to keep women safe may vary mostly in degree rather than kind. But I do believe the Lord can heal deeply troubled marriages and I have seen Him do it. I pray that you will see more of that too.

          Thanks for your comments,

          1. LJ says:

            I think that your inability to see the fundamental wrong with encouraging people to have sex with and submit to people whom systematically abused them is perverse. Truly.

            Your exceptions and sweet stories is absolutely no justification to encourage that on a systematic and cultural level. That is what you refuse to understand. Your miracle success stories are not enough to justify the systematic oppression you are advocating for.

            In doing so you openly admit that well being is not a goal. It is of utmost importance for you to uphold a structure you have faith in no matter who suffers. It is obvious. You then cite exceptions to act as a blanket defense for how the TGC operates in dealing with abuse.

            “And it’s their life to judge, not yours. ”
            I am not judging them. I am judging the culture of violence which you create, perpetuate and actively encourage. When those couples you cite start to do the same, THAT is when I have a problem with them. You are the preacher. My problem lies with you.

            1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Dear LJ,

              Just to be absolutely clear:

              1. Nothing I have written states or remotely implies encouraging abused women to have sex with and submit to their abusers. Nothing. You’ve supplied that, and I’ve never in my life counseled it.

              2. Nothing I have written here or elsewhere, said or counseled could legitimately be construed as encouraging the systematic oppression of women. Key word: “Legitimately.” I find your statement a gross misrepresentation of the post, of my practice, and likely of a host of others trying to serve women as best they can.

              3. Nothing I have written here admits–explicitly or tacitly–that well-being is not a goal. It is THE goal. And yet, well-being–as you should know–isn’t achieved simply with the absence of abuse/abuser and the removal of the abused. Well-being–true well-being–will take a lot of work and a lot of time–whether or not the marriage/relationship is restored.

              4. You keep referring to “TGC” and how “TGC operates in dealing with abuse.” TGC is not a local church. TGC does not operate shelters. TGC does not offer a defense of abuse or abusers. Your comments here are misapplied and slanderous.

              5. I challenge you to find any shred of video, audio, or writing where you think I’ve encouraged a “culture of violence” against women. A shred. It’s one thing to allege that the post fails to address a key issue or another. It’s altogether another thing to claim I’m actively creating, perpetuating and encouraging a culture of violence.

              Your problem isn’t with me. Your problem is with your own heart. As someone with heart problems of my own, I’ll pray for me and pray for you.

              With this comment, I think it best we stop here. We’re probably 2-3 exchanges beyond an edifying and profitable exchange. And that’s a real shame because a vitally important issue has gotten lost. Perhaps another day will allow us to bring more light and less heat to the situation. That will be to the benefit of the women we say we care about.

              The Lord give grace to us all.
              Your servant,

    2. Steve Ross says:


      I have prayed for you. Im not a prophet or the son of a prophet nor am I big on assumption or presumption, but the tone of your comment led me to believe that you’ve been too close for comfort to an abusive relationship; thus I’ve carried you and the burden you have re: this subject to the Father. As Thabiti just alluded to in his reply, redemption and reconciliation are always possible through the blood.

      I pray that you would not allow bitterness to creep in and hold you back from the beauty and wonder of bending the lateral gift of forgiveness down horizontally toward your brothers, sisters, neighbors…. and enemies.


  2. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    Pastor T – What I like most about your letter is that you are willing to counsel involving the law and that you are making the victim’s safety your top priority. But I also commend you for offering hope to the man. Abusers are people too and they need the help of the church.

    Commenter LJ probably puts it too strongly when he says that a relationship cannot become “un-abusive.” But it is rare for one to do so. Abuse usually escalates. Patience and self-sacrifice on the part of the victim does not change an abuser. If you have not educated yourself thoroughly on this issue, please let me encourage you to do so. From your comments, I would think you understand some of the patterns, but unless you have studied deeply and walked closely with survivors of domestic violence, it can be very difficult to grasp the common dynamics of these relationships. And if my voice is not helpful with that encouragement, please listen to a brother pastor.

    While we are all sinners and all in need of grace, counseling a couple in a marriage that includes abusive patterns is different from counseling a couple who are experiencing some difficulties in a basically healthy relationship.

    God does redeem and restore – but he doesn’t always do that in the way we expect. Not all Christian marriages are restored. But there is one Bridegroom who will never fail his bride. The brokenness we experience in this life may go far deeper than other Christians are comfortable with discussing. Bandaids don’t work and healing can be very messy. Churches fail abuse victims regularly – often because we love the “victory” story of the transformed marriage – but we don’t know how to walk out the pain of the failed marriage with equal redemptive grace.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Thanks for the link. I’m happy to learn from you, and from anyone. I’m grateful for the contributions you’ve made to me and this forum for quite some time now. I hope you won’t stop.

      Grace and peace,

  3. Stephen Gonzalez says:

    I tremble at the thought of walking through something like this and like Thabiti said he’s no expert but man I have a deep conviction that Jesus can heal and renew the worst situation. I mean he beat death, he absorbed the wrath of God, he can cast out a legion of demons in a man. Is anything too hard? Difficult absolutely, but not impossible.

    I think I will check that Link you sent out EMSoliDeoGloria.

    1. LJ says:

      The problem is you assume that Jesus’s mode of healing is through saving abusive marriages. Your litmus test for whether Jesus has reached peoples hearts is whether the marriage continues or not. That is why I think you all live in a fantasy world where the real pain of the abused is not heard and what they truly need is not met. You are pushing this specific angle of marriage at the expense of people’s lives and dignity. You get to go home and not witness the outcome. You get to see these couples smiling when you see them on Sunday then sleep at night assuming all is good and well.

      You feed people to the dogs so that you can live in the comfort of your hope for the “possibility” and “hope” for a successful marriage to be the result. You scold and you counsel these men then go home thinking you have made an impact on the life of the abused, never realizing that even prioritizing the continuance of abusive marriages will do more harm than ANYTHING you do to combat abuse.

      It is like watching people blow air onto fire making it bigger and impossible to combat while sprinkling drops onto it, then labeling it a solid and comprehensive effort to stopping it and doing whats best for what it is burning.

      Please come to reality. The lives of my friends sort of depend on it.

  4. Julie Anne says:

    Pastor T:

    This sentence right here reveals a lot to me: I have already counseled Jill to file a police report.

    People who work with victims know that the abused are very weak and vulnerable. They get confused, minimize, justify, rationalize and even deny abuse. Please, if you hear or know of a woman who is abused, please escort her to the police station. Do not simply counsel her to go file a report, get another brother and drive her yourself. Her life may depend on it.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Julie Ann,

      Thank you for taking the time to visit the blog, read the post, and engage with this helpful comment. I’m grateful for each investment you’ve made.

      I think we’re in substantive agreement as to aim. But we might be about a tad bit apart in execution. It’s been my experience that working to restore a woman’s “voice” and sense of self-control is actually quite critical to helping her gain independence and strength necessary to her protection and well-being. So, the language of “counseled Jill to file a police report” may sound soft to you. But keep in mind several things:

      1. We’re not trying to move her from one controlling relationship to another, though for some time Jill may need strong encouragement to protect herself;

      2. Very often abused women return to the abuser and sometimes with a hardened heart toward their counselors if they’ve been convinced by the abuser that “everyone is against them.” That makes the woman twice as vulnerable since she’s not only back with the abuser but now more deeply isolated from help. But if the decision to file a report, leave, etc. is owned by the woman, it’s more difficult for that to happen. The language/approach simply reflects something I learned years ago as a potential first responder to rape victims of college campuses; and,

      3. The woman’s long-term well-being will be helped if as much as possible from the beginning she rebuilds her life with even small steps of autonomy (which doesn’t preclude my working on her behalf to do things she may not be ready to do for herself).

      But please don’t mistake the “soft” language for a soft approach. Just this past week, the church worked to help an abused woman leave the island to escape an abusive spouse. That situation (and others) involved escorting her to the police station, getting her to the U.S. Consulate because her passport had been taken, arranging a safe place to leave, and providing whatever else was necessary to helping her leave the island. I don’t think any woman I’ve ever counseled would say to you that I encouraged her to remain in an abusive situation. It’s never happened. It won’t happen.

      I think everyone needs to keep in mind that this was an exercise in addressing the abusive husband. It’s a fictional letter. It’s not anywhere near what needs to be said about the dynamics of abuse, about church/organization policy, and so on. Simply consider the exercise for what it is, not one of the many article or book-length treatments necessary for addressing the topic adequately.

      Again, I’m thankful for your tone and your contribution to this very important topic. The Lord bless you and keep you,

  5. LJ says:

    In a nutshell.

    Anyone who can defend this video in any shape or form. Anyone. Is supporting systematic abuse, perpetuating violence against women and has no business giving advice to any abuse victim. As long as the TGC supports those like this man, and supports messages and words like this it has no business claiming to care for the victims of domestic abuse. End of story.

    I know exactly what Piper means theologically, and I know exactly where he is coming from and his line of thinking. It is madness. I literally cannot believe the hypocrisy of this website.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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