Reponse to a Reviling Husband
Last weekend Doug Wilson posted an piece on his blog entitled “An Open Letter to an Angry Husband.” This topic seems to cause all kinds confusion on what constitutes an appropriate Biblical response, which I think is because so many people struggle to define it. Is it a marriage problem? Then it falls under all the marriage passages. Is it an anger problem on the part of the husband? Then the response should be stronger. Actually, I think that the behavior depicted so well in the image above would be most accurately described as reviling, and the Bible includes that in its lists of behaviors reserved for the harshest judgement (I Cor. 5:11). Nevertheless, while it was encouraging to see Doug’s post addressing a sticky topic, the post only described step one (I hope it’s only the first step and not the entire response) in what would have to be an ongoing list, and I wanted very much to know what he would do to follow up the strongly worded letter. He is a busy guy and didn’t respond to my questions (he rarely responds to blog comments); but another man named Chuck, who identified himself as basically being “that angry guy,” did respond with his story and what finally turned him around. His comments were quite possibly the most helpful responses I’ve ever seen on a blog, and he has agreed to let me reprint them here.
So, here is Doug’s original article plus the conversation between me and Chuck afterwards. Doug’s article is also used with permission (thanks!)
An Open Letter to an Angry Husband
You were probably expecting this letter, but so there will be no misunderstanding, I still wanted to begin by explaining why I was writing. We have spoken off and on over the years about the problem of anger in your home, and you have consistently said that your wife was simply misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting you. You have described what you do as simply being “firm,” or “stern,” while she has called it anger, sometimes through tears. You have said that your wife must have been affected by feminism or something, and that you were simply trying to exercise a masculine leadership in the home that doesn’t mollycoddle the kids. And because it has always come down to did too/did not, and no external witnesses, the most I could do is exhort you generally.
But having witnessed your outburst at your family last Sunday, I believe I am finally in a position to address the issue with you directly. You were probably expecting to hear from me because of how the outburst started in front of some others at the church picnic, but also, as it happened, I was walking through the parking lot about fifteen minutes later, and though I didn’t hear all of what happened, I know that I heard quite enough. From what I heard, it is manifestly apparent to me that if your wife has been misrepresenting you, it has actually been in the direction of trying to protect your reputation. It is clear to me that everything she has been saying about your anger is true, and then some. The kind of anger on display in what I heard was not a momentary irritation or annoyance, but was rather a manifestation of settled character, and what was manifested there was vile.
And that is why I am writing. This letter is not a substitute for meeting together with me. I simply wanted to describe the situation for you beforehand so that you would have time to reflect, so that our visit afterward can be as fruitful as possible.
Some of what I am going to say will seem hard or harsh to you because for years you have used anger to keep any real criticism far away from you. So while I know it will seem hard, please know that every word here is written with your best interests in mind.
Another way of putting it is that these words will seem hard because they are so late in coming. Angry husbands are a problem to others, to their wives and children particularly. But I want to set everything in its proper context. Angry husbands are a problem to others, but we need to start by remembering that angry husbands have a problem. That problem is that apart from true and genuine repentance they are going to Hell.
“For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col. 3:6–8).
“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:30–31).
The settled habit of mind that I heard on display the other night is utterly inconsistent with inheriting the kingdom of God. The reason is that you are not just dealing with anger, although that is bad enough. When someone gives way to ungodly anger, the sin is destructive and bad. But when it is rationalized, when it is not repented, when the angry person does not humble himself before those he has wounded, sincerely seeking their forgiveness in true humility, the problem is overweening arrogance and pride. The episode of anger is like putting stain on a piece of wood — but refusal to repent in humility is like putting a defiant sealant on it. The pride is the thing that is truly diabolical. And when you have been getting angry for years, as you plainly have, and have never once humbled yourself to your family because of it, and have constantly defended your behavior in repeated conversations with your pastor, then it is apparent that your pride has you by the throat and will not let you go.
In the Colossians passage, it says that the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience. The children of disobedience are identified by their clothing, by what they wear every day. And what they wear every day is bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice, and evil speaking. All of that is plainly characteristic of your heart, your mind, and your mouth, and I need to tell you plainly that you can’t wear that stuff and go to Heaven. And apart from true heartfelt repentance, you are not going to Heaven. The apostle speaks plainly — take those filthy clothes off, and put on Christ.
I used the example of pride as a sealant. The Ephesians passage also speaks of the Holy Spirit as a seal of the day of redemption. Because this is what He is doing it is absolutely necessary for everyone who calls himself a Christians to put away bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these . . . hatred, variance, emulations, wrath . . .envyings . . . and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19–21).
Shall not inherit the kingdom of God. So this is the necessary context for everything I am saying. Your soul is in dire peril. Jesus once said that there is no profit for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. That being the case, how much more of a bad bargain is it for a man to gain everything he is demanding in his world, in his home, through bluster, browbeating and bullying, and to then lose his own soul right there in his own living room? What comes out of your mouth smells like sulfur and damnation.
Now pride cannot be challenged without excuses and rationalizations coming to mind, so I want to briefly touch on a few that are likely to occur to you.
You may want to justify your outbursts of anger at your family because you think they are only the recipients of your anger, not the cause of it. You may blame your boss, or the long commute, or idiotic co-workers. You think you just come home a little “grumpy” because of these other problems, and you expect (and demand) sympathy from your family. When you don’t get it, you flare up at them, and feel entirely justified. They don’t know how hard you work, they don’t know the pressure, they ought to be more understanding. But the people you have to deal with at work display only a fraction of your irrational cruelties. You have scalded your family countless times, and are then “honestly” puzzled by how cautious they are around you.
You might think that your anger episodes are perhaps a “problem,” to be sure, now that I mention it, and that you do need to work on it sometime. But your silences are likely as much trouble as your outbursts. Your family is being forced by you to live on the slopes of a volcano, and it doesn’t have to be erupting all the time for them to be in a state of fear all the time. To change the metaphor, when you blow up you leave a crater that is fifty feet across, lip to lip, and then you make some symbolic pacific gesture (which isvery non-verbal) like throwing an extra carton of ice cream into the shopping basket “for the kids.” This is the equivalent of throwing a couple of spadefuls of dirt at this yawning, smoking crater . . . and even then you miss the crater. Your episodes of anger are not a periodic problem; they are a manifestation of the fact that you are an angry man all the time, and your family is forced to treat your anger as a constant. They treat it as a constant because they are not fools — it is a constant. You are a constant. The problem is not what you occasionally do. The problem is what you are, and you successfully communicate what you are even when you are sitting on the couch saying nothing. You are either exploding like a bomb, or ticking ominously like a bomb. The only way for your family to be restored is for you to humble yourself and repent.
And last, there is a reason why angry men often seek out conservative churches. You want to be able reject “softness,” and you hate the unsound doctrine of “squishy” pop evangelicalism. When you first came to our church, you explicitly told me that you were looking for a church with “standards,” a church that was willing to resist the effeminacy of our age. You were attracted to the fact that we still practice church discipline. As I recall, your first Sunday with us happened to be that day we were disciplining a woman for deserting her husband for another man. You commended me, as I recall, and said that it was refreshing to encounter a church with some discipline. Well, we do practice discipline, but you need to know we discipline for fits of rage, and not just for adultery. We discipline husbands, not just wives.
And speaking of our effeminate age, when it comes to standards, you need to know that angry, bitter, resentful husbands in conservative churches are quite adept at giving liberals one of the few reasonable points they have. That reasonable point is that conservative standards are often abused by hypocrites in order to provide a scriptural veneer for old-fashioned bullying. On this matter, you are not with us — you are working for the other side, confirming as many of their caricatures as you can.
As I said at the beginning, I know that this will be taken by you, at least initially, as sharp, hard, and harsh. And so it is — but you should think of it as a surgeon’s knife. Please know that we love you, and we want you to be free. Not only do we want you to be free, but we want your family to be delivered. You were given to them so that your hardness could be a shield for them. You are called to be hard for them, not hard on them.
Let’s set up a time to talk.
An Open Letter to an Angry Husband © Douglas Wilson 2015, used with permission
Doug, thank you for this post. What would you suggest the pastoral response be towards a husband who fits this description and has done so for several years in an ongoing, unrepentant, and well-documented way? What type of aid do you see the pastor or elders rendering to the wife and children who are suffering daily under the oppression of an angry man?
This blog post is really the prelude to the pastoral response. It is a letter saying, “Come meet with me and I’ll tell you how this is going to work.” The “how this is going to work” is the part I want to know. What kind of parameters for the husband are you envisioning? Often men called out on this type of thing become more angry and combative rather than less so. What practical steps might be taken to help ensure keeping the wife and children remain safe? As the post noted, they live with this volatile man all the time and this seems to be a years-long entrenched issue. Would you recommend separation in such a case?
This type of case does come up, and it might be helpful for the wives to have an idea of what kind of redress or aid in deliverance from the situation they might expect from the church leadership, and it might be equally helpful for the husbands in such situations to have an idea of what sort of correction they might expect to receive. I’m sure there is a range of possibilities, and I would really like to know what you have in mind as a just, Biblical successor to this appropriately strongly-worded letter.
Is there a CREC position on this? Is there any sort of uniformity in teaching? Even the few responses to just my one question on this comment thread have ranged from “Husbands in the NT were tyrants and wives were still required to submit, so what do you think they should be doing here?” to “The letter itself is the response” to your reply above, which is why I’d really like to know how you yourself would handle this.
Several of you have asked how a pastor should handle that problem with an angry man well let me help as I have been that angry man for over 30 years of marriage (today is my 30th anniversary).
1. First go to the wife and talk to her privately..how bad is it? Is it physical ? What would like us (elders) to do. What do you think his reaction will be if we confront him?
2. I would then make an appointment with a witness to see and discuss this issue with him after much prayer. He probably will not see it as a major problem and/or justify his actions like I initially did. If possible have evidence and relate things that you have noticed that cause concern that he has anger issues not just his wife’s accusations.
3. Then the real difficult part is holding him accountable in some way. You cannot leave it up to him to work on it by himself, it won’t work. Trust me on that one! Remember we are dealing with pride here. What I would do is recommend some form of counseling on a weekly basis and someone he can call 24 /7 if he is struggling. Anger is often an outward expression of deeper emotional problems as well as sin. The accountability partner needs to have authority to check in with the wife and children too see how things are going. You can’t go by what the man is saying as he might thinks things are going great because he was only angry twice this week instead of 6 times.
4. Finally you need to let him know that as his pastor you are willing to help him and his family 100 percent but this anger problem must be dealt with and if not then church discipline ,other measures will be instituted as necessary to protect the wife and children. This tough and this where churches really drop the ball I think. You have got to show him you are dead serious about this. The business world and military have no problem making expectations clear, get treatment for your alcohol dependency or lose your job! Hope that helps some, I know it is brief.
Doug’s letter could have been written to me 2 years ago, I was that guy. I was out of the home approx 1 year and have been home 16 months. Anger issues are about gone, nothing like before, but I am dealing with a wife that has a lot of hurt and trust issues that still effect our marriage negatively (can’t blame her ). Hopefully our family can heal. I believe the Lord redeem the years but pastors take this seriously. My children have suffered, several do not believe and a couple have modeled my anger. Thanks for your prayers, we have a ways to go.
Chuck, thank you for posting this. Stories from men who are in the process of changing this mountain-sized problem seem so much rare than the stories from the women who are buckling under the weight of an angry man that it’s sometimes difficult to even remain hopeful for change. Your honesty and humility here are most welcome.
I have a couple of questions for you, but if you feel they are too personal or don’t want to respond, I completely understand. You said that you were out of the house for a year. What did that look like and how did it come about? Was that your decision, her decision (did she kick you out), an elder requirement, or something else (if so, what?)? What changed within you while you were gone, and what helped bring that about (I’m thinking in more practical terms here like counseling or ??? if there was something helpful)? Who determined when it was time for you to return home, and what criteria was that decision based upon? Is there anything else that you’d like to add that has been helpful for you?
Thank you again so much for sharing with us. Happy anniversary, and may the Lord bless you and your wife with many years of peace together. I will be praying for the two of you and for your children.
Sure I would be happy to answer your questions
1. I left the home after an outburst that reached a level close to violence with a teenage daughter who had been disrespectful. My wife felt that someone was going to get hurt and the police called, so we decided that it would be best for me to leave and so I did. I stayed at a friends house and then got my own place,an apt near my house. My best friend, a believer contacted my pastor and he and an elder came to my apt and put me under church discipline both banning me from church and my home. I was angry, hurt and my wife came by two days later with a letter stating conditions for me to return home with no timetable (along with encouragement that she loved me and wanted our marriage to succeed). I was not to come by or contact her except through texting, if violated she would take a restraining order out on me.
2. After about a month of counseling and talking to her I got to see my children. Part of the month long wait was finding a counselor (my wife also wanted a pysch eval too) who could see me. My pastor spoke to me a couple of times also. We went to both couple and individual counseling. One of things that my church should have done I feel is sit down with my children and explain why I was out of the home and under church discipline. Even though my wife explained it to them it would have been better coming from my pastor and elders. This resulted in my children being angry toward the church. Surprisingly my children were quite “loyal” to me even though I had been a difficult dad. To my church’s credit, one of the pastors spent time with my children particularly my son while I was prohibited from seeing them.
3. As far as returning home, it was decided based on my behavior and compliance with going to counseling etc. and my pastor and best friend feeling I was ready to return. Since returning home I go to a men’s group once a week and occasionally meet with my pastor. I also have my friend to call anytime if I am struggling which hasn’t been in a many months.
4. Some other helpful things that come to mind are patience and firmness, I wanted to come home after a couple of months but my wife said no knowing that I wasn’t ready. Secondly, things were tough for awhile and I considered divorce because I felt it wasn’t all my fault, not being able to see my children when I wanted etc but God out of his mercy put a friend in my life who told me that he would side with her in a divorce and see that my wife got every cent of my money that she could. You have to know this brother to understand he was serious. So they need accountability. If I were a pastor I would assign someone to reach out to a person under discipline even if it was just a phone call (he might cuss u out and hang up but it would let him know u cared, that the church cared too). I knew I had messed up, sinned, and it was a struggle with pride.
One other thing, Rachel, is that I did attend another church for the year I was gone. I met with the pastor and explained my situation and all. To his credit he asked to speak with my pastor which I said was fine by me. Unbeknownst to me I later found out that he had contacted that pastor when he was aware in was attending another church, a wise thing to do. For any pastors reading this, I would say please be proactive in confronting this problem especially if you see this going on like Mr. Wilson did in the parking lot, this will not heal on its own very often without intervention! You can save a lot if heartache in the future. Even if the man is not open to help, knowing you know may help mitigate some of his anger at church and maybe a home too. I will even go so far as saying that not attempting to reach out in a firm manner to a known angry man under your leadership is pastoral negligence.
At first, I was prideful, felt ganged up on and misunderstood. Through my best friend in particular and others I did some major introspection and realized to some extent how much anger had hurt my family and dishonored Christ in my family. Most of my wife’s family are not believers and so I have done some major damage there in my testimony. My loneliness drove me into the scriptures along with prayer opened my eyes. I was deceived and also had quenched the Spirit from working.
Throughout my life Christians, including pastors, along with my wife had warned me of the dangers of anger but I never thought it was really that much of a problem. I need to add that I had plenty of good days but overall my persona was that of a smoldering volcano. My children learned to be careful around me, they are just now beginning to show signs of not fearing my wrath even when they do foolish things. It is still a struggle occasionally but I go for a walk or drive now to cool down. I don’t think my wife will give me another opportunity if I have a major incident. Plus I want to please my Lord in this area. My wife and children deserve better and they struggle in their faith because of my action (my children not my wife). My men’s group at church helps too. Angry men need strong accountability partners to help them succeed.
Also I read every book on anger written by godly men. Anger Is a Choice, The Exemplary Husband, and Uprooting Anger were very helpful and some John Piper books and I went to sermon audio and listened to every sermon I could by Paul Washer on being a husband, holiness and regeneration. He pulls no punches. Time in the scriptures, most importantly dealing with walking in the Spirit.
Chuck, your comments here are quite possibly the most helpful things I’ve seen on any blog ever. Thank you so much for taking the time to post them. Would you mind if I reprinted our conversation we’ve been having here on my own blog? I think your story is hugely valuable.
Absolutely if it helps:-)
I thought Chuck’s story was incredibly valuable because it is rarely heard and the things that have helped him are the opposite of the advice that wives usually receive in such a situation. Thank you for sharing, Chuck, and for letting me reprint your comments here.