I had been with Christian Focus Publications for a year or two when I pulled into the leafy campus of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts in late Autumn 2002. Coming from the Highlands of Scotland I was something of an innocent when it came to understanding the intricacies of the different tribes of US Evangelicalism. I knew what CFP stood for but was in the process of discovering where we fitted.
Some weeks prior to my visit I had contacted the faculty secretary letting her know I was on campus so she could inform the faculty in case anyone wanted to discuss publishing. One such appointment was Catherine Clark Kroeger. I ambled into her office to meet a slim and sharp lady, with short grey hair and sparkling eyes. As I sat down, she opened with ‘You won’t want to publish me, much of your market would consider me a heretic!’. She explained that she was egalitarian – which holds amongst other things that Scripture permits women to hold the full range of Pastoral offices. I went on to realise that she was a widely published author on the issue and was the founder of the Council of Biblical Equality. Along with CFP, I would sit on the other side of that discussion – complementarian: women and men are equal before God but the Bible teaches they have differing, complementary roles.
I rocked back on my heels and protested that her opening line wasn’t strictly true, CFP had published Roger Nicole and Walter Kaiser who were egalitarian, but she wasn’t waiting for my excuses. She handed me a Doctor of Ministry Dissertation from a Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) student. She said that the church needed to get better at addressing the issue of domestic abuse: she had written on the topic for egalitarians, but she said that complementarians needed to write on the issue for their churches too, and that this thesis from a complementarian could become a book which would do just that.
We went on to have a very engaging discussion about how abusers were able to exploit the naivety of church leaders and their reluctance to intrude into domestic issues, a conversation which continued when she invited me to her house in Cape Cod to lunch with herself and her husband. I left with the impression that, perhaps in contrast to some voices today, she saw this not as a stick with which to beat complementarianism, but acknowledged that churches of all stripes had failed to handle this issue well and her chief concern was to ensure that women & children (and yes, men too) would be better protected as part of Christ’s church.
When I returned to the office, I tried to contact the author of the thesis – Peter Francis Rutledge. Peter was a 48–year–old New Zealander, a pastor of a Baptist church in Western Australia who had graduated from RTS Orlando in 2002. The graduation was bittersweet, as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had a matter of weeks to live. By the time I tracked down a contact email Peter had passed away, and his widow Janine understandably did not feel able to make the necessary changes from dissertation to published book.
It left me somewhat perplexed: I felt the need for a book like this, it seemed to be providentially directed but the path had led to a stalemate. With the dissertation option closed I resolved to find someone else to take this project on. There followed an 18–year journey, with numerous false starts. Everyone I spoke to acknowledged the need of such a book, most felt poorly equipped to take the project on, some winced as they remembered domestic abuse cases in their past that in retrospect were not handled well. Several potential authors expressed an interest and gave it serious consideration only to withdraw at a later stage. As the years went by I myself saw cases being mishandled in well–intentioned and otherwise very competent churches and it was exasperating to consider how a book on this topic may have helped avoid a lot of damage.
Thus, when I sat down with Jeremy Pierre in 2013 to pitch the idea, I was a little battle weary and feared it was going to be another disappointment. Our first meeting was not hopeful, but when we re–connected a year or so later Jeremy seemed much more committed. Life had taken a turn where this issue struck closer than it had done on our first meeting. He went on to bring Greg Wilson on board with his extensive professional experience in trying to equip churches to meet this challenge.
When in 2021 I held the resulting book – When Home Hurts – A Guide to Responding Wisely to Domestic Abuse in Your Church – my mind went to those who started the ball rolling.
Firstly, Catherine Clark Kroeger: she passed away in February 2011 just 3 months after her husband Richard Clark Kroeger. Her kindness & hospitality to young complementarian Scot left a lingering impression and her enthusiasm in pushing a dissertation from a different institution which held differing views on gender roles was highly unusual in my experience. I hope she would have given her endorsement for this book had she lived to see it published and I hope that When Home Hurts will further her desire that all churches, complementarian and egalitarian alike, would be safe places for all.
Secondly, and chiefly Peter Rutledge. When I tracked down his widow Janine in August 2021 she relayed how Peter had battled cancer for some time, travelling from Perth, Western Australia to Orlando, Florida to graduate from RTS shortly after major cancer surgery. A few weeks before he died Peter had in discussion with Janine said ‘I don’t understand why I’m being taken now there’s interest by many in the plight of women in abusive Christian marriages; my hope was always to be of help and service to these women.’ Janine didn’t know why then and we don’t know why now, but we do know that God is working out His purposes.
Anyone who spends a life in Gospel ministry will encounter cases of domestic abuse and other cases will not even be brought into the light if the Church is not pro–actively seeking to address this issue. For complementarians domestic abuse should be particularly appalling, given its inversion of the role of husband as protector and self–sacrificial leader. Books such as When Home Hurts need to be read and absorbed by every pastor so that our churches would become models of how to address this painful issue, offering wise and firm guidance, practical protection and ultimately redemption.
Janine has very kindly given us permission to share Peter’s thesis – it can be freely downloaded here. I’m sorry that I never met Peter. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to turn his dissertation into a book. I’m sorry that it has taken me almost 20 years to develop something similar. I am grateful that God worked His plan in leading me into that office at Gordon Conwell, and I hope that the book which, in a twisting and roundabout way resulted from that visit, will go far and wide and help the Church be what it ought to be. God has His plan, His timing is the best, we can trust that He does all things well.