Category Archives: Counseling Issues

A True Story of Redemption from the Pit of Abuse

A True Story of Escaping Abuse & Dealing with Rejection by the Church

I am posting this link to another blog I follow, because this story sounds all too familiar to me. I’ve lived it, and I’ve heard it from scores of women over the last 20 years. It’s horrible and painful to be trapped in an abusive marriage, but for many women it’s like a double whammy when their churches esteem their marriages more than their lives and put undue pressure on them to stay in an abusive relationship. Some of these marriages can be redeemed, but it requires knowing how to hold the abuser accountable, and it is NOT wise to counsel the couple together until after a prolonged period of separation and individual counseling. See my earlier article on properly dealing with domestic violence (https://joyforrest.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/the-church-and-domestic-violence-a-call-to-action/). Here’s the story of one woman who found freedom.

A Cry For Justice

This is the story of one of our newer readers at ACFJ. She graciously gave us permission to publish it as a means of encouraging and helping others dealing with abuse, including the abuse at the hands of their church. Many blessings in Christ upon her and her family! This is her story.

As you read, just imagine her being given the recent “Catechism for Christian Wives” we so roundly reject. What would it have done to her? You know the answer.

* * *

Hello!  I recently found this blog, and I am so thankful for the work that has been done and is being done. The Lord has used you all so much in my life over the past two weeks! I feel like I have been led to a group that understands where I have been and what I have been through. I feel like there…

View original post 3,019 more words

At the Heart of Every Conflict

Lord, I am simply in awe of how gracious You are. My efforts are small and pathetic, yet You respond in abundant and powerful ways. It blows my mind, and I am forever grateful. My flesh and the world tell me how inadequate I am on a daily basis, but when I get into your presence that condemnation melts away as I bask in your sweet love. It is amazing that my perfect God can embrace such imperfection, and yet in our human condition we rarely extend such grace to others. Instead, we tend to see others’ faults while ignoring our own. We act as though we actually deserve your abundant grace. There is so little humility in this world—even among your people. You called the religious leaders “blind guides” and I would venture to say nothing has changed in 2000 years. I catch myself focusing on the “specks” in the eyes of others while ignoring the blinding “log” in my own (Mt. 7:3-5). I see it in counseling all the time. People come in able to list every single fault of the person who has offended them, but very few are ever willing to look at their own. Lord, forgive the hypocrisy of your people! Help us to see ourselves clearly, and teach us to search our own hearts rather than judging our brothers and sisters. At the heart of every relational conflict we find people standing in judgment over each other. In our imperfection, we determine that someone else is far more imperfect. We set ourselves up in the position of judge—a position that only You deserve. Help me to lead by example, and never take your amazing grace for granted. Help me to remember how flawed and weak I am in my dealings with others, so that I can extend to them the same overwhelming grace You show me daily. If your people would embrace humility and grace, it could completely transform this world. As it is, we simply look like the world. We act as though the Gospel is only meant to save our souls, and forget the impact if should have on our relationships. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to be tenderhearted and to forgive others as You have forgiven us. Help us to be honest with ourselves, and willing to look our own sin before judging others. Forgive us for looking like the world, and rendering the Gospel ineffective for daily life. Amen

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Mt. 7:1-5 NLT

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.                                                                                                

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:1-12 ESV

 

 

When Holiness Seems Mean

I just returned from my first visit to the Holy Land. It was a trip that will change my perspective forever. What a privilege and joy to walk in places that Jesus walked, and to take in the amazing sites. I had no idea of just how beautiful it is there. Even in the barren wilderness, the sites are awe-inspiring and I couldn’t help but think about our amazing Creator. For the most part, the people were kind and receptive to us. In our conversations with them, we found open hearts and minds, but the one exception to that was among the religious. I had several experiences that gave me a greater understanding of what Jesus must have dealt with during his time on earth.

The first of these experiences was actually with a dear family friend. A few years ago he decided to go to Israel on the birthright program in order to get in touch with his Jewish roots. Although his mother is Jewish, she decided to embrace Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah many years ago, and raised him in the church. When he arrived in Israel, he was given a place to stay in a religious school (yeshiva) near the Western Wall. Over time, he came to embrace the teachings of that school and rejected Yeshua as Messiah. I wasn’t sure he would even meet with me, but finally late one night he sent me a message and came to our hostel to see me. He quickly informed me that he was not allowed to enter a Gentile building to talk to me, and asked if I could come out. When I came out, he told me he was not allowed to hug me. Since it was a little cold, I asked if we could go to walk, and he said we could, but I would have to go change into a skirt. I ran up to my 3rd floor room and put on a long skirt so that we could walk together. We walked through Jerusalem for the next 2 ½ hours, and I asked him to tell my why he decided to convert. His whole rationale was about the Law. Since God doesn’t change, and since Gentiles say that it’s okay to eat non-kosher we must be wrong. He informed me that he has found his truth, and that he is happy. The problem is I am sure he’s not. It is as though somebody has sucked the life right out of him. He only smiled once– he used to smile all the time. He was careful to follow the letter of the law, and every bit of the spontaneity I loved so much about him is gone. Second Corinthians 3:6 tells us that the letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life. My friend is case in point, and how it grieves my heart.

The second experience that helped me understand the religious animosity Jesus faced came in the form of a testimony I heard near the end of our trip. In the hostel where we were staying, I met a young volunteer who had run away from her religious family in Jerusalem after they arranged a marriage for her that ended up being extremely abusive. The rabbis in her sect would not allow for divorce, and she managed to get to America to stay with relatives for a while, but her move was clearly unacceptable, and she was basically stalked by the leaders. She had been told that if she ever set foot in a church, she would die, and she became so miserable that she walked into a church one day hoping to do just that. To hear her tell it, she did die, but in a good way. She died to the old way of life and became a believer in Yeshua. He set her free from the bondage of legalism, and now she glows with the love of God. What a contrast between these two young people. One has embraced bondage and the other freedom.

Finally, there was a third experience that seemed to tie everything together for me. We spent a day with our friend who is an American born Israeli citizen. He is an expert in Torah law, but also happens to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah. While at his house, he did a bible study with us from Leviticus 19, which deals with God’s command to Israel regarding holiness. Our friend said that when he thinks of holy, he thinks about meanness. To him the first images that come to mind when considering holiness are hateful religious attitudes. As a Believer in Yeshua, he has faced much persecution for his faith by religious people. The average Israeli would never bother him, but the ones who claim to be holy are the ones who give him the most trouble—much the same as when Jesus walked the earth. The common people embraced him, but the religious did not. Our friend says that the passage in Leviticus on holiness is obviously relating holiness to loving God and others. He said that true holiness flows out of a relationship with God that is only possible by receiving the redemption He offers. Only those who know they are sinful and have accepted the Messiah, who sacrificed himself and took the punishment for theirs sins, can be truly holy. Isaiah 53 says that like sheep we have all gone astray, but that the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all on Him. True holiness is based on receiving this wonderful gift, and not on rigidly holding to a set of rules. The Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.

After returning to the States, I decided to read the Gospels with a new perspective based on my travels. Yesterday I landed in Matthew 7, which starts with “Do not judge.” Certainly mean religious people spend a lot of time judging others. The problem for them is that their own standards come back to haunt them, and they end up in miserable bondage like my friend. It is not just the religious in Israel who have this problem— it is universal. As a Christian, I have both judged and been judged. This happens when we set our standards above our relationships—when we love our ideals more than we love God and people. Judging is basically an act of pride in which the judge sets himself in the place of God. Jesus implied that a judgmental spirit is usually the result of spiritual blindness. When we think we are holier or better than anyone else, we are operating in blindness. Jesus compared it to someone trying to remove a speck in his brother’s eye when there is a log in his own eye. Judgmental attitudes almost always flow from a failure to honestly look at our own hearts. They spring from a focus on rules and regulations rather than heart issues. My trip to Israel really brought this to light, but I know that the American church is just as guilty.

When you find fault in another person, what is your first thought? Is it one of condemnation or love? Do you run to tell others about it (gossip) or share it with others as a “prayer request” (gossip) without loving the person enough to speak first directly to him or her? Do you focus on that person’s issues without evaluating your own heart? Are your motives pure, or are they based on pride? Do you enjoy pointing out others’ mistakes? If so, you probably have a problem with pride. Do you find yourself angry with someone? Do you stew in anger as you imagine the motives behind that person’s actions? If so, you have set yourself up as judge—a place that is reserved for God alone. Jesus’ most harsh words were aimed at religious people. He showed grace and mercy to those who were automatically considered sinful by the scribes and Pharisees. To sum it up in the words of my counseling professor Robert D. Jones, “The only thing worse than being an adulterer or thief (or whatever the sin) is being proud that you aren’t one.” True holiness is not mean like that. It cares for God and others. It is kind and never mean (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Luke 18:9-14 

 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me —a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

     

 

At The Heart of Every Fear

I believe that at the heart of every unhealthy fear there is a question about God’s goodness. 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love expels fear. That is, when we know we are loved, we know we can trust that God has ultimate control, and that He will work all things out for our good (Rom. 8:28). For years, I was crippled by fear, because I did not understand the concept of his sovereignty. I acted as if He wasn’t paying attention, or like the disciples in the storm tossed boat mentioned in Mark 4:38, I thought he might not care that I was sinking.

The older I get the more I realize that God has a good agenda– even in our suffering. He has used awful circumstances in my life to bring about good that never would have happened without the bad happening first. When Jesus got up and calmed the storm for the disciples, he asked them why they were so afraid, and asked why (after all the miracles they had seen) they still had no faith. If you are a child of God, fear should not be status quo for you. It is the opposite of faith, and those are belong to Him are called to live by faith. Yes, the world is a hard place, and fearful things happen almost daily, but those who belong to Him should never give in to fear.

It is a choice that says “even though the storms of life are raging, I know He is in control and I can trust Him with my life. If He does not choose to immediately rescue when bad things to happen, He still has my best interest at heart and will use it for good.” This does not mean we don’t remove ourselves from danger or try to improve circumstances when we have the power to do so. However, it means we do not desperately grasp to control things we cannot control. We will all experience fear in life. The key is to learn to surrender it to God, so that He can replace it with faith. Paul admitted to the Corinthians that his visit to them had been characterized by “weakness and fear.” Yet, he went on to explain that this was so that their faith would be based on the power of God rather than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:3-5). It is in our weakness that God’s power is best displayed (2 Cor. 12:9). This means that fear gives us an opportunity to proclaim His power. When we can say we were afraid, but still moved forward in faith, it shows the world it is His power rather than our own.

Are you struggling with fear? Perhaps you have received bad news from the doctor. Perhaps someone you love has rejected you. Perhaps you fear for a loved-one who is making bad decisions. Perhaps your fear is related to finances. Whatever it is, I urge you to surrender it to the One who loves you most. He knows the situation. It has not caught Him off guard. Even though your circumstances may be the result of sin, and not part of His perfect will for your life, He promises to use all things for your good.

Think about the story of Joseph in Genesis. He was captured by his brothers and sold into slavery, then falsely accused and unfairly imprisoned. He suffered undeserved consequences for decades, but he held on tightly to God. In the end, Joseph told his brothers that even though they intended their actions for harm, God intended them for good (Gen. 50:20). His circumstances were the result of sin, but God ultimately used them for good. In every fearful event of life we are faced with a choice. We will either focus on the goodness of God or we will focus on our negative circumstances . We always have the power to choose. Will you choose to trust in his goodness and love for you, or will you question his goodness and let fear rule you? Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled or afraid (Jn. 14:27), but to believe (Jn. 14:1). Obviously, we can’t just turn off our emotions, but we can choose our response. When fear rolls in, choose to look to God in faith and confidence that his promises are true. Believe that He will use your circumstances for good, and you trust that He always has loving intentions towards you.

Psalm 56 has long been one of my favorites. Notice how the psalmist chooses to deal with his fear. I have recited these word many times as I have made the choice to believe rather than fear. If you are struggling with fear, I hope you will pray this psalm now.

Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? All day they twist my words; All their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, They hide, they mark my steps, When they lie in wait for my life. Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God! You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me. In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, That I may walk before God In the light of the living?    For further study see: Psalms 23, 27, 34 & 46, Isaiah 41:10, 51:12-14, Romans 8:15, Hebrews 13:6

What are you Afraid of?

In my counseling ministry, I would say fear is one of the biggest problems I see. It is at the root of many deep-seated problems like depression and anxiety, and definitely at the heart of many relationship struggles. When I talk to most people, they do not even realize they struggle with fear, but when they are going to great links to control something, it is usually because they are trying to avoid something that makes them afraid. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I believe that is because whatever we fear will control us, and we will do just about anything to control our lives so that the things we fear will not come upon us.

Fear and control are inexorably linked. Are you doing what I call the dance of fear; this is, trying to force circumstances and people to line up with your demands– all to avoid something you fear?  If so, the answer lies in learning to trust the One who loves you most. His perfect love can surely cast out fear, as you let go of the reins and surrender everything to Him, you can experience the peace the passes human comprehension. 

In my own life, fear was a dominant factor until I finally learned to refuse it during one of the greatest trials of my life. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or even relational conflict, fear could very well be at the heart of the problem. When you have time, I have written an article outlining my own battle and victory over fear. It is posted below and will probably take some time to read, so feel free to come back later. I hope  it will be helpful to you. Always feel free to message me with any questions or comments. Many blessings!

 

Replacing Fear with Faith                                                          

 By Joy Forrest

Over my years as a Christian, I have come to realize that my greatest periods of growth have occurred during times of crisis. Yet, in spite of this truth, I had never really learned to face my trials with joy until a few years ago when problems in my marriage became the catalyst for one of the most profound lessons of my spiritual life. A year prior to our crisis, I would have told anyone who asked me that I had a wonderful marriage and family. Even though we have a blended family, we had managed to avoid many of the pitfalls common to these marriages. However, this particular year, a problem with one of the children caused a disagreement that nearly ended our marriage. We were unable to agree and both resorted to sinful patterns from our pasts. He shut down and I went into a panic. Eventually, my husband moved out of the house leaving me stunned and confused.

When I first realized that our marriage was in serious trouble, I responded with pure, unadulterated fear. I spent hours crying to the Lord and begging Him to “fix” us.  Not so coincidentally, I happened to be in the middle of my second year in seminary, and had signed up for a class on crisis counseling. While the class covered specific responses to crisis situations, there seemed to be a few dominant spiritual themes. We were reminded that God is sovereign, and as such, He often allows tragedies to occur in our lives. However, He doesn’t merely allow these unpleasant circumstances; He promises to use them for good.

I was not unaware of either of these truths; however, our professor made a statement that seemed to reverberate in my ears. He said that Christians in crisis situations should ask God what He wanted to teach them through their experience. That was something I had not considered in the midst of my pain. We also learned that sinful patterns within our lives often lead to crisis, and I realized that I needed to examine my own heart. One night, while I was praying I realized that fear had become the driving force in my life. I also recognized that this fear revealed a lack of trust in God. Perhaps it had even been a contributing factor in the failure of my marriage. I asked Him to show me how to overcome fear. Proverbs says that fear of man is a snare, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I realized that my own life did not meet His standards on either count. I needed to figure out how fear had become such a powerful force in my life.

Some of my earliest memories are related to fear. I remember lying awake many nights staring at shadows in the corner of my room. Sometimes I would get up enough nerve to run to my parents’ room and get in bed with them. Other times I would lie awake till morning light poured through my window revealing the source of my imagined fiend to be the shadow from a piece of furniture or a tree outside my window. Even though morning light may have proven a particular fear to be without basis, daylight was also filled with things to dread.

During my early childhood, my father was the pastor of several small town churches. He preached a liberal gospel, and did not believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I once heard him say that a loving God would never send anyone to hell, and since I trusted my dad I accepted this statement without question. I came to believe that God would never punish my sin. Fear of God was a concept I would not grasp for many years. On the other hand, I learned that people were to be feared. My father seemed to worry an awful lot about the deacon boards. They had a great deal of power in his life, and it did not take me long to figure out that keeping up appearances was very important. Eventually, the constant power struggles with these boards resulted in my dad leaving the ministry altogether.

My father stopped attending church with us, and his apparent bitterness towards the church spilled over into my life. Within five years, I was in full-blown rebellion and practicing witchcraft. My life was spinning out of control, and my fears were greatly intensified.Only an encounter with God’s grace could set me free from my all-consuming fear. When I poured out my heart to Him in repentance, I received peace like I had never known. Fear was no longer the defining characteristic of my life. However, something so deeply entrenched would not be so easily conquered. Overcoming fear would be a long-term process for someone in such great bondage, and fear of man would be the greatest challenge.

A few years after my salvation, my father left our family and eventually married a former secretary. This move shook me to the core. Nothing my mother and I could say or do would move him, and our prayers for his return remained unanswered. There was a point when I did not see or hear from my father for over a year, and bitterness began to fill my heart. I eventually forgave my dad, but this period of bitterness left lasting effects on my life. My father did not approve of the young man I had been dating, and so, with all the wisdom of youth, I decided to prove him wrong by marrying the fellow.

Unfortunately, my father’s instincts about him were correct. Within the first month of our marriage, he was waking me in the middle of the night and screaming at me for hours. By the time we reached our thirteenth year of marriage, screams were accompanied by threats and physical violence. I also learned that my husband had been unfaithful numerous times. No amount of counseling was able to fix what was broken in our relationship. Fear was my constant companion as I jumped through hoops to please a man who changed the rules every day. I reached out to pastor after pastor, and got the same response again and again. Maybe if I would be a better wife, keep a cleaner house, or boost his ego more things would improve. Things finally got so violent that I was forced to take our two girls and flee.

I had left for “cooling off” periods many times over the years, but this time was different. My husband went through our house intent on destroying everything I owned. He chopped up and burned most of the beautiful antiques I had inherited from my grandmother. He then bagged up all my clothes and personal items, and took them to the town dumpster. He called my mother to tell her that all my things were going there. We had left home with the only the clothes on our backs, so I set out to retrieve what I could from the dumpster.  Some ladies from my bible study volunteered their husbands to accompany me. It was dusk when I climbed down into the rubbish. So many of my precious belongings were strewn over mounds and mounds of garbage. I recovered antique silver, plates, trays, jewelry, books, my bible, clothes, shoes, and so much more. Some items were in trash bags, so I opened bags as I went and handed items up to the men outside. Some bags contained my things; others just had garbage.

Before long I was ankle deep in dirty diapers and rotten food. Suddenly I heard screaming outside. My husband was back and yelling at the men helping me. It had gotten dark, so I turned off my flashlight and prayed that he would not see me. He didn’t, but began throwing items back into the dumpster. First he threw a lamp, and then a large bag that knocked me over into the filth below. I just sat there and prayed until he left. I found myself saying, “Lord, nobody has ever been through this before! Nobody knows what I’m going through.” No sooner had I uttered those words than it seemed as if Jesus Himself was there right beside me saying, “I have. I know your pain.” Suddenly my heart understood that He really knew the betrayal I was experiencing. He had been betrayed by an intimate friend, and was beaten and shamed by those He loved. Although I had known Him for over twenty years, I had never experienced the depths of His love like I did at that moment. He endured the cross because he knew my sin would cause me to suffer, and He chose to share in my suffering. I never would have chosen such pain.

I often tell people that that day was both the worst and best of my life, because my eyes were opened wider to His great love for me. That day was a huge victory in my battle against fear, because perfect love casts out fear and I saw His perfect love more clearly than ever before. I stood in that dumpster and thanked Him, because I knew that such a great love would never let me go. Paul’s words seemed to sum up my feelings perfectly; “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)

In the years since thatexperience, I have never doubted the Lord’s love and care for me. However, I have still struggled with the fear of what men might do. Even though I know Him to be completely faithful, the experiences I had with my father and my first husband showed me that men are not. Therefore, the fear of being hurt by another man had remained deep inside my heart. I had failed to believe God, and failed to heed Jesus’ command to fear God rather than man (Matt. 10:28.) Hebrews 11:6 says, “…without faith, it is impossible to please Him,” and Romans 14:23 says that “…whatever is not born of faith is sin.” My heart had chosen to fear rather than believe, and that had lead to unbiblical actions within my second marriage.

As I began to examine what had gone wrong in our marriage, I realized that fear had often controlled my behavior. I had never been very good at speaking the truth in love, and knew that I should have done that in every aspect of my marriage; but I didn’t. If something my husband did bothered me, I rarely found the courage to tell him. It was always agonizing for me to speak truth when I disagreed, because something in me cringes at the thought of confrontation. I guess deep down I was afraid that upsetting him might lead to losing him. There were a few issues that we never agreed on, so I decided that withholding information was better than speaking the truth. Basically, this secrecy amounted to nothing more than sanitized lies, and every once and a while I even told “little white lies” to protect my interests. Our Lord desires truth in the innermost being (Ps. 51:6) and my actions fell short of His desire.

Once these sinful actions became ingrained in my life, I was left with a multitude of negative feelings. As I allowed vain imaginations to flourish in my mind, I became depressed and panic-ridden. When I yielded to fear, rather than faith, my emotions became more and more unstable. My actions and reactions were based on emotion rather than truth. I went to great links to try and make circumstances and my husband line up with my desires. Sinful words and lies were the natural result, and these sinful actions only aggravated the problems between us. My intention was to control the situation, but instead I made things worse. In the end, my husband found out about my lies and used them to justify his departure. “The thing I greatly feared [came] upon me.” (Job 3:25) Our marriage came to an abrupt halt, and just like when my father left; nothing I could do or say was enough to change my husband’s heart. I had to decide whether I would respond with fear or faith. The path of fear had been a downward spiral for too long, and I realized that I needed to make some changes.

When I lived in fear, my focus was on myself. I failed to trust God’s sovereignty and tried to take control of my own life. His Spirit convicted my heart of this sin, and I confessed it. I made a decision to turn from my sin, and also asked the Lord to give me wisdom to overcome my fears. Changing my sinful patterns required casting down imaginations, and focusing on Him rather than myself. It also required choosing to focus on things that were true and honorable, and to worship the only One who is worthy to be feared. Each time fear rolled in; I made a conscious decision not to yield to it and I learned that scripture was an effective weapon against fear.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” This passage in Romans (8:15) reminded me that I belonged to Him, and that my heavenly Father was bigger than anything in this world. He had promised to use bad circumstances for my good, and I knew I could trust His promise. I found many scriptures that brought peace to my heart. I even printed out and posted Psalms 27 and 46 in my house. When I was tempted to fear, I read these Psalms out loud. Over the years, I have read Psalm 46 many times, but this time around it seemed to take on new life. “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved…” (Ps. 46:4-5)  I thought of Jesus’ statement: “He who believes in Me… ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:38)  As I thought of these two scriptures, I realized He was in me and nothing could shake Him. No matter what happened, I did not have to be moved. As the world changed around me, I chose not fear but rather to stand behind the One who never changes.

Consistent time in God’s word was also essential in my battle against fear, and prayer was equally important. After I committed myself to deliberately turn from my fears regarding my marriage, a new fear crept into my life. I believed that God has called me into a teaching ministry. Seminary training was not part of my plan for my life, but a few years earlier, I had felt compelled to go and had no peace until I answered the call. However, from the day I signed up for classes, I realized that my divorce could be an obstacle to ministry, in spite of the fact that God had used that experience to teach me so many things: the freeing power of forgiveness, His faithfulness, and surrender to His will. That is why I had become so compelled to minister to others. Still, it was bad enough when I only had one failed marriage to report, and I feared that a second failure would cause most Christians to see me as entirely useless to minister. Quite frankly I was feeling the same way.

I searched God’s word for an answer to my fears concerning ministry, and was encouraged by the story of David’s life. Even after he committed adultery and murder, scripture called him a man after God’s own heart. I prayed that I would be a woman after His heart. However, I remained afraid that people would never allow me to minister. I poured my heart out to Him in prayer, and He faithfully answered my cry. I decided to visit a friend’s church one Sunday, and the pastor’s sermon was on ministry. It seemed like it was written just for me. The pastor said that many times people feel unworthy to minister because of their pasts, and went on to quote Romans 11:29 which states that His gifts and calling are irrevocable. I cried throughout the whole message, because I understood that His grace is sufficient. It was His ministry; not mine. If He wanted me to minister, He would cause it to happen. He was faithful to hear my prayer and answer my fear directly.

The path to overcoming fear was, and is, filled with choices. I had to choose to obey His word and truth, rather than my emotions and fears. I had to reserve fear and reverence for the only One worthy of it. I also had to choose to commit myself to prayer, and to walk in His Spirit rather than my flesh. I presented myself to Him as a living sacrifice, and refused to conform to the ways of the world (Rom 12:1.) It was my choice- I could have focused on my circumstances, but I chose to focus on His goodness. In the past, I had let my mind dwell on the negatives, totally disregarding His sovereignty. However, now I had chosen to trust that He would even use our separation for good. I found joy in knowing that His loving hands would never let me go. Even joy was a choice. Though my heart was grieving, I was able to rejoice in my faithful God. I found that praising Him lifted me out of the mire of self-centeredness. In His presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11.) Worship reminded me of how big He is, and helped me see how small my problems were in comparison. I found that as long as I continued to choose His ways instead of mine, He blessed me with the peace that passes understanding.

Although I had no guarantee of reconciliation with my husband, I realized that I had to do what the Lord required of me and left the outcome in His hands…. I chose to walk His path to abundant life, and did not let my “…heart be troubled, nor letit be fearful.” (John 14:27)  Though things continued to look dismal for several months, I understood that the things that are seen are temporary, but unseen things are eternal. (II Cor. 4:18) I remembered how my eyes fooled me as child looking at shadows in the darkness. When the morning came, the shadows were gone and there was never anything worthy of my fear. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” There is nothing on this earth to compare with the light of His glory, and every shadow of fear will fade in the light of eternity. As I chose to live in that light, God was faithful to heal and restore our marriage. He was faithful to use a horrible situation to help overcome sinful patterns that that had poisoned my marriage, and to deliver me from a lifetime of fear.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
Ps. 34:4-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scripture quotes were taken from the NKJV or NASB versions of the bible.

BIBLICAL HEADSHIP AND SUBMISSION IN EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE MARRIAGES

Several years ago I accepted a position as spokesperson for a local domestic violence shelter, and almost immediately began a campaign to reach out to local churches. I would have to call the campaign a huge failure, because in spite of our many efforts, the overwhelming majority of pastors and church counselors didn’t seem interested in training on spousal abuse. In the meantime, as I did local radio shows, victims began to call in with a common theme. They questioned the wisdom of the counsel they received in their churches. Almost overwhelmingly they were told to submit and to win their husbands with a “quiet and gentle spirit.” They didn’t have to tell me the outcome of heeding such advice, because as a survivor of domestic violence and a counselor, I had seen that far too often it simply serves to worsen the situation. While most Biblical counselors and pastors counsel women not to submit to sinful requests or physical abuse, they still tell them that they must submit to all other requests—even those many would define as emotionally abusive. The problem with such counsel is that it simply serves selfish motives on the part of the abuser. For years, this area was a real struggle for me, and I often found myself at odds with fellow counselors over how to faithfully apply biblical teachings on submission in cases of emotional abuse. Finally, a seminary ethics class seemed to offer the solution to my dilemma as I learned moral decisions are multi-faceted, and involve far more than behavior. There are three aspects to a moral event. In addition to conduct, one must look at the character and goals behind it. In many cases, blind submission is not only wrong, but also damaging to both parties. If the wife desires to glorify God and help her husband grow in godliness, refusing to submit to emotional abuse and malicious control can be the most ethical and beneficial decision.

As a counselor, I’ve heard the charge of emotional abuse far more often than I thought it applied. Our culture seems to encourage the notion of victimization, and abuse often seems to be broadly defined. In her 2006 article in the Journal of Biblical Counseling, “Husbands Who Control,” Becky Larson gave a good description of a domineering and emotionally abusive man. The “controlling [husband] seems almost to “erase” his wife’s personality, replacing her by fiat, if you will, with his own creation.”[1] She further stated that though secular counseling literature has defined and described abusive and controlling behavior, biblical counseling literature has generally not done so. Larson rightly points out that we cannot readily accept worldly counseling models, and while that is true in regards to motivation, etiology and remedy, I think it would be a mistake to discount secular research.

In 1984, common abusive behavioral patterns were identified by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota and recorded in graph called the Power and Control Wheel (see Appendix 1).[2] This widely used chart is based on observation rather than theory, and I have found to be an accurate reflection in the scores of cases I have observed. Since the wheel portrays common characteristics found in domestic violence and our subject here is emotional abuse, it might seem irrelevant. However, one can clearly see that majority of behaviors described on the wheel do not involve physical harm. Basically, domestic violence involves an overall pattern of power and control, which is the basic focus of this paper. There is usually a very fine line between physical and emotional abuse, and the counselor who desires to help in these situations must learn to recognize these general traits.

While there are many controlling men who would never cross the line to violence, it is not uncommon for physical abuse to appear after many years without it. During my time with the shelter, I met a lady whose husband who nearly killed her after over 30 years of marriage. Although he never touched her prior to this incident, he had maintained tight control. In my own case, it took eleven years before physical abuse began, but in that first decade I learned to cower and give in to any and every demand based on fear and my poor interpretation of biblical submission. Over time, my blind obedience allowed sinful patterns in my husband’s life, not only to continue, but also to flourish. In times of crisis, I often reached out to churches and counselors for help, but somehow the burden always landed on me. If I would only meet his demands things would improve. Yet, the more I yielded, the worse matters became. In the end, I believe my blind submission convinced my husband he was entitled to treat me any way he wanted.

A sense of entitlement seems to be a common characteristic among men who control and abuse their wives. The Power and Control Wheel (Appendix 1) identifies eight areas in which this perceived right to control is commonly seen. Basically, abusers seek to dominate nearly every aspect of their partners’ lives—a privilege that should be reserved for God alone. They use a variety of tactics that keep their families in a constant state of turmoil. Women often tell me they prefer physical violence to such emotional cruelty. Abusive men use emotional control techniques because they convince themselves they are entitled. “An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside.”[3] Sadly, within the church, men often use a twisted view of biblical headship as justification for injury against their wives.[4] Pastors and biblical counselors need to be aware of the propensity abusers have to misuse Scripture, and counter it with proper teaching. The Greek term for submission, hupotasso, used in Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, and 1 Peter 3:1 has a variety of interpretations ranging from “yield” to “obey.” Although interpretations vary, “it does generally denote authority by indicating a willingness to yield to, defer, or follow another.”[5] However, it is not as strong as hupakouō, which is used to indicate obedience in the case of children and slaves. A better description would be a voluntary attitude of the heart. This in no way indicates absolute authority, and it is not something that can be forced, or that a husband may demand.[6]

Christian scholars tend to vary in their interpretations of biblical headship. Since I am a complementarian, this paper will focus on common teachings within our ranks. While there is some variety, the most popular viewpoint is that “a wife is to be submissive to her husband in all things unless her husband asks her to sin.”[7] This is the perspective I have encountered countless times over the years. Though some complementarians claim a more moderate position, it is difficult to find anyone who supports non-submission for any reason other than sinful requests. Many are quick to claim that the husband’s headship “is not synonymous with unilateral decision making,” and that there are areas of ambiguity in which it is difficult to determine the correct course of action.[8]

Theology and ethics professor Steven Tracy’s 2006 article entitled “What Does ‘Submit in Everything’ Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission” directly challenges the prevalent complementarian perspective. Tracy gives a comprehensive Biblical analysis of the concept of marital submission, and concludes that besides refusing to submit to sin, there are other limitations to a husband’s authority over his wife. She should not submit to: anything that would require her to “violate a Biblical principle” (not just commands); “compromise her relationship with Christ;” “violate her conscience;” compromise the care and protection of their children; endure “physical, sexual, or emotional abuse;” or anything that would “enable (facilitate) her husband’s sin.”[9] Basically, Tracy is saying there are a multitude of considerations when it comes to submission in emotionally destructive marriages.

In order to truly reflect God’s heart in our application of biblical submission, we must learn to take into consideration the character (or motive) behind the action, the desired goal (or outcome) as well as the conduct. These three parts of morality have been a part of church tradition for centuries.[10] Looking at conduct alone falls far short of God’s standard. Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders are a good example of this. While they stressed the letter of the law, he always esteemed people over rules and institutions (Mk. 2:27, Jn. 8:7). If behavior was the only part of morality, then Rahab should have been condemned for lying to protect the Israelite spies (rather than commended in Hebrews 11), David should have been condemned for killing Goliath, and so on. In his description of the three parts of morality, C.S. Lewis claimed, “There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage, by cheating or bullying.” When individuals try to take advantage of others through misuse of the rules that is bullying of the worst sort.

Scripture is full of admonitions against authorities misusing their God-given authority (Jer. 23:1-4, Ezekiel. 34:1-10, and Jesus indicated that those in authority should not “lord it over” one another (Mt. 20:25-28), but rather serve. God designed headship and submission in marriage to reflect His very nature. The husband’s authority is meant to be a source of protection for his wife rather than injury. Abusive men usurp God’s role by demanding unquestioned obedience and devotion from their wives. In such cases, wives should pray and carefully weigh their responses to selfish demands by considering all aspects of the moral event. As a wife considers the requirement of honoring her abusive husband, she must consider the character or motive behind the action she chooses.

Jesus said the whole Law is summed up in two commandments—loving God and others. Giving blind obedience and allowing a husband to flourish in his sin is clearly not the most loving action, nor the most honoring. A loving refusal could actually be a greater act of love. Most wives in these situations are afraid to stand up to their husbands even when they know they are wrong, because refusing will likely have unpleasant repercussions. Still, the point here is that women in these situations must ask themselves which action is most loving, and figure out a way to stay safe while doing it. Ideally, the church should come along and help in this endeavor.

In addition to being loving, the most moral decision needs to have a proper goal. What is the desired outcome? Which action will result in the highest good? Will the wife’s submission or refusal bring more glory to God? Will continued submission teach her children that they can bully others and get away with it? Will submission to harsh discipline techniques help draw her children into relationship with their Heavenly Father, or push them away? Children in emotionally abusive families usually suffer exposure to harsh treatment themselves, or watch, as their mothers are humiliated on a regular basis. Young boys in “Christian” homes may learn to use Scripture as a weapon rather than recognizing it as the living and active truth of God. None of these outcomes bring glory to God, and for that reason, refusal to submit can be the best moral decision.

In order to effectively help women in emotionally abusive situations glorify God, we must first teach them to fear God more than men. I believe it is unproductive to counsel submission to a man; rather the first order of business should be to teach the wife to yield to God, knowing He has her best interest at heart. Once she is submitted to Him, there may be times when He will lead her to submit to her husband, but in all cases her behavior must flow from a loving character that desires to bring glory to God. She must learn that speaking boldly against sin is more loving than remaining silent. In The Excellent Wife, Martha Peace correctly asserts that women should act out of love rather than fear when approaching their husbands, and that they should appeal to the church according to Matthew 18: 5-18 to confront sinful behavior.[11] Unfortunately, Peace fails to recognize how difficult the nature of abuse can make this, because usually an abusive husband’s public persona in no way reflects what is happening in the privacy of the home. Abusers can be “charming and gifted seducers”[12] in public, and cruel and vicious with their families. Counselors or pastors unfamiliar with the dynamics of abuse may find it easier to believe the husband than the wife, and these men have an uncanny ability to shift the focus of any counseling session from themselves to their wives. Anyone experienced in these matters can tell you, that far too often victims end up getting blamed rather than helped, and church involvement simply serves to anger the husband more. When these women show up in their churches for counseling, and are told that submitting is the answer, it can seem as though the church is backing the abuser. I have actually seen women subjected to church discipline for non-submission, even though the New Testament terms clearly indicate submission should be voluntary and not forced. Interestingly, I have never seen a man considered for church discipline for failing to love his wife as Christ loves the church. Counselors and pastors who are unfamiliar with these dynamics can unwittingly make matters worse, and create a sense of despair in the victim.

This is why it is crucial for those who would help to familiarize themselves with resources such as the Power and Control Wheel, and other materials that describe common traits seen in abusive families. In possibly abusive situations, individual counseling is preferred over joint so that the wife can feel free to be honest without fear of her husband. It is also important to counter faulty views of headship and submission held by both spouses. Husbands must be taught the sacrificial aspects of headship, even as women are taught how to honor their husbands in a loving manner that glorifies God. Sometimes, this may mean non-compliance rather than submission. God’s ordinances are meant to be a reflection of His character and when applied correctly they glorify Him as they benefit people. When neither of these goals is being achieved, it is time to reconsider the action based on all aspects of the moral event. If a wife’s submission is simply serving sinful heart attitudes on the part of her husband, and hurting everyone else in the family, refusing to submit may very well be the most loving and ethical decision.

Appendix 1

power_and_control_wheel

Endnotes

[1] “Husbands Who Control” Larson, Becky. Journal of Biblical Counseling Winter 2006, 29-34.

[2] “Wheel Gallery” http://www.theduluthmodel.org/training/wheels.html. Accessed November 17, 2013.

[3] Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He do That? (New York, Berkley, 2002), 31.

[4] Miles, Al, Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Should Know (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2000), 176.

[5] Tracy, Steven. “What Does ‘Submit in Everything’ Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission. Trinity Journal, 2008.

[6] Mahaney, C.J., “How to Encourage Husbands to Lead” in Pastoral Leadership for Manhood & Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem & Dennis Rainey. (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2002), 204.

[7] Peace Martha, The Excellent Wife, 138.

[8] Piper, John and Wayne Grudem, “Fifty Crucial Questions: Biblical Headship Rightly Understood.” http://cbmw.org/book-reviews/men-book-reviews/fifty-crucial-questions-biblical-headship. Accessed November 12, 2013.

[9] Tracy, 21-24.

[10] Frame, John M., The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ, R&R Publishing, 2008), 36.

[11] Vernick, 219, and Peace, Martha. Becoming a Titus Two Woman (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 1997), 137.

[12] Powlison, David, Paul Tripp, & Edward Welch. “Pastoral Responses to Domestic Violence” in Pastoral Leadership For Manhood and Womanhood. 272.

The Church and Domestic Violence: A Call to Action

For more than fifteen years, it seemed as though my life was a revolving door to crisis. As a victim of domestic violence, I found myself helpless to overcome the physical abuse and intimidation that occurred regularly in my home. Over the years, frequent marital counseling sessions with Christian counselors and pastors failed to stop the violence. In fact, it only continued to escalate in intensity until fleeing for safety became the only option. Unfortunately, my story is not a rarity in our increasingly violent society, and sadly, statistics suggest that the problem is equally prevalent among Christian families.[i] Yet, one need only visit a battered women’s shelter or peruse the current literature to discover that, for the most part, the church has been absent regarding this issue.

Twenty-five year police veteran, Detective Sergeant Don Stewart, has made a career of studying the problem of domestic violence. As a Christian, he laments that far too few pastors take the time to familiarize themselves with this troubling topic. Perhaps many pastors do not recognize the issue, because it thrives in shame and secrecy. In a nationwide survey of pastors, a majority interviewed indicated that they did not believe spousal abuse was happening in their churches, because “no one had ever disclosed an episode of abuse to them. [However] none of these ministers seemed to associate the lack of disclosure with the fact that they had never broached the subject of domestic violence from the pulpit.”[ii]

As former spokesperson for a domestic violence program, I am fully aware of the prevalence of family violence within the church. In my own small corner of the world, I have seen victims wearing wounds to rival those found on battlefields, and children’s faces telling stories of shock and dismay. I have met women who were strangled, stabbed, forced to drink poison, kicked, and punched. I have heard stories of unbelievable intimidation by abusers. One woman watched her husband cut the head off of her dog, and another opened her car door to find her car filled with poisonous snakes. Several perpetrators threatened violence or sexual assault against their own children. Many of these women were Christians, and were doubly grieved because their churches offered little or no support. Some reported that their pastors didn’t believe their stories or seemed to care more about saving their marriages than their lives.

Although, preservation of marriages is the ideal, a thorough examination of scripture might indicate a more important objective for those counseling the abused. While religious leaders insisted on the letter of the law, Jesus always chose individuals over ordinances. When they chastised Him for healing on the Sabbath, He responded by asking, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep!”[iii] Surely, this passage would apply to rescuing hurting women and children from the torment of abuse.

If the church is to be salt and light to an unbelieving world, can we do it by esteeming broken covenants over His hurting children?  Would unbelievers be attracted to a God who expects His children to endure horrific abuses?  Jesus said that even evil earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. Would an earthly father just stand back and watch someone beat his daughter unconscious? I certainly doubt it, but the church’s failure to reach out to victims of domestic violence causes our Lord to seem cruel and distant in the eyes of unbelievers. There are no easy solutions for the problem of domestic violence, but that does not mean the church can remain silent and expect worldly shelters to handle it. Pastors and church leaders must take the initiative to learn how to effectively minister to those held captive by violence.

Understanding the Dynamics of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence occurs within every socioeconomic group and every race. Every year, in America approximately 2000 women are murdered by their spouses, former spouses, or partners. Every year over 700,000 incidents of domestic violence are documented in America, with thousands more going unreported.[iv] Battering by an intimate partner is the number one cause of injury to women.[v] As indicated earlier, the church seems to fare no better than the world when it comes to domestic violence. In fact, many experts have suggested that unbalanced teaching on biblical submission and headship can actually worsen the problem for some women.[vi] George Scipione, director of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship in La Mesa, Calif., has stated that “in our circles, people get beat up with the bible.”[vii] Abusers have a great tendency to take scripture out of context and use it to keep their wives under control.

For the most part, physical abuse is related to a batterer’s desire to control his wife. He may seek to dominate nearly every aspect of his partner’s life, and often uses a variety of methods to maintain power. Experts have identified common behaviors among most abusive men that range from economic abuse, to isolating the victim, to physical battering. [viii] These control mechanisms can be subtle and often involve a great deal of mental deception. He may make her feel sorry for him, make her responsible for all of his problems, or make her feel she deserves the abuse. When mental coercion fails, he often resorts to verbal denigration, threats, or intimidation. He might block her exit from a room, or destroy her property in an effort to get his way. If these tactics do not work, he soon directs his violence towards her.[ix]

Many abusive men are able to maintain control without severe physical assault- grabbing and pushing may get the desired results. Perhaps this is the reason a large number of women in violent relationships do not even identify themselves as battered. Chaplain Miles claims that out of the hundreds of abused women he has seen “almost none of these victims has identified herself as a battered woman.”[x] This dynamic only serves to complicate matters for counselors and pastors. In most violent marriages, the abuse comes in cycles.[xi]  Often, after a particularly violent episode the abuser may show remorse in an attempt to lure his partner back. During this “honeymoon phase,”[xii] many batterers will agree to go for counseling. However, many couples never admit to the physical abuse, and may merely indicate that he has anger issues.

During counseling, victims “may fear that openness will lead to retaliation by the abuser.”[xiii] This is why many experts strongly suggest individual rather than conjoint counseling in such cases.[xiv] Without training in the dynamics of domestic violence, a counselor or pastor might spend several sessions with the couple and never learn their secret. In such instances, it is likely that the abuser will only attend a few sessions to appease the victim, and quickly drop out as the cycle of violence escalates. The challenge for those who would help an abused wife is to get her to tell the truth before serious physical harm is done, remembering that domestic violence escalates over time, and it thrives on secrecy. “All of this adds up to the fact that you may have to overcome a conspiracy of silence in the family that serves to protect the [abuser]… You must be prepared to drag it into the light.”[xv]

A Ministry Plan for Battered Families

Once the issue is exposed, safety for the victim must be the first priority. Detective Sgt. Stewart has suggested that the church has a “biblical mandate” to care for victims of domestic violence. [xvi]  George Scipione put it rather bluntly, “I’m sick and tired of pastors who don’t protect their sheep!”[xvii] People perish for a lack of knowledge, so in order to protect those in the throes of abuse, pastors and counselors must seek to learn how to keep women safe. In most cases, this will involve something that might seem contrary to scripture- separation from the marriage. Perhaps this explains the reluctance of many pastors to deal with domestic violence, and the myriad of complaints by victims that their pastors seemed more concerned about their marriages than their lives.[xviii] Some scholars have suggested that I Corinthians 7 forbids a woman from leaving her husband for any reason. They say that Paul is inferring that “if she does leave,” it would be sinful. However, such interpretation fails to examine the purpose of Paul’s instructions in the first place. They were written because “God has called us to peace.”[xix] A battered woman lives in terror on a daily basis, and many times separation is the only way to achieve peace.

There are multiple positions on the length a separation between abuser and victim should last, but most recommend a minimum of one year. George Scipione has indicated that the couple should not be reconciled until there is some guarantee that the abuser will be held accountable, and the victim feels safe. Regardless of the timeframe, the church needs to be prepared to help provide for the wife’s basic needs of housing, food, and transportation during this time. If it becomes necessary for her to obtain a protective order, or go to court, those helping should recognize how intimidating this may be for her and volunteer to go with her. Statistics reveal that the danger for a woman increases significantly once she leaves the abuser. Women are 75% more likely to be killed by their partners when they leave or report the violence. [xxi] This is particularly true if there is no one to hold him accountable.

If the church is not able to provide for her safety, then a battered women’s shelter may be her only alternative. While many believers are quick to condemn these institutions, they have been on the front lines saving lives for decades while the church has been largely absent. The problem with these programs is that they have historically focused on helping the woman by discouraging reconciliation.[xxii] However, in recent years, more shelters have expanded their service to offer programs for batterers as they have recognized the tendency of victims to return to them. Their main priority is safety, and they are experts in providing it. They assist women with filing protective orders, transportation for job searches, medical treatment, and more. In addition, their experience in the field can help determine the lethality of an abuser.

Anyone interested in beginning a domestic violence ministry could learn a great deal from these centers. Most shelters accept volunteers, and many would appreciate having someone who could provide scriptural counsel their Christian clients (this was certainly the case in the shelter where I worked). A believer’s presence there could provide a powerful witness to women who have given up on churches altogether. Perhaps, rather than completely disregarding these institutions as bastions of feminism, the church should view them as mission fields full of broken women in need of a Savior.

After the victim’s safety is achieved, the next step needed to restore the couple is confrontation of the abuser. This can be particularly challenging since many batterers are masters of manipulation. They can be “charming and gifted seducers” who feign confession and repentance.[xxiii] Counselors must be aware of this, and resist the temptation to encourage the victim to forgive and forget before it is truly safe. Because of the illusive nature of the batterer, many experts have suggested that “group treatment is preferable over individual treatment because, to put it simply, it’s hard to con a con man.”[xxiv] In other words, batterers can fool just about everyone except other batterers.

Biblical counselors, David Powlison, Paul Tripp, and Edward Welch believe that biblical confrontation and accountability is the best way to treat abusive men.[xxv] Since many of these men come from backgrounds of abuse, they must unlearn violent behaviors and replace them with the biblical actions such as servanthood and truthfulness. Galatians 6:1 implores believers to “gently restore” those who are caught in trespasses. In the case of abusers, this may be a challenge, but it is not impossible. Abusers need “radical honesty, accountability, reminders, encouragement, models, daily exposure to the light of day, prayers of intercession.” [xxvi] They need to learn that there will be negative consequences if they choose to abuse.

Throughout the Old Testament, God used consequences to discipline and correct His children. In the same way, abusers “will not acknowledge the problem until they personally experience the painful consequences of their choices.”[xxvii] This is a concept that victims need to learn as well, since most have become skilled in protecting their abusers. Such women live with constant fear of man, and must be taught to replace that fear with a holy fear of the Lord. Once a woman is out of harm’s way, it becomes much easier to teach her this concept. She needs to learn that allowing sinful behavior to continue is not the most loving response to her husband, and that separation could very well be a catalyst to motivate change.[xxviii] This will involve a careful study of scripture to challenge her unhealthy fear of man, and to help correct any misinterpretation of scripture. Like their husbands, most Christian women who live with abuse have distorted interpretations of a godly marriage.[xxix] Many believe God calls them to endure mistreatment in the name of submission.

Offering Hope

If both the victim and the abuser are willing to lay aside their idolatries and make God the center of their lives, their marriage can possibly be redeemed. However, counselors working with these couples must be aware of the high recidivism rate among abusers.* If a wife decides to return to the home, there should be a strict system of accountability for her husband. The counselor should also help the wife devise a safety plan in case the violence returns.[xxx] If the husband repeatedly proves to be a danger to his wife, the church must be willing to confront him according to Matthew 18:15-17, and if necessary put him out of the church as an unbeliever.[xxxi] In such cases the wife would no longer be bound to the marriage.[xxxii]

We serve a Savior who was sent “proclaim release to the captives… recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised…” [xxxiii] He offers hope to the afflicted that the world cannot. As His followers, we are called to share that hope with others. We are to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free…”[xxxiv]  Too many precious lives have been “destroyed for a lack of knowledge.”[xxxv] In order to effectively minister to those held captive by violence, we must make a choice to obtain to the knowledge necessary to set the captives free. It is the church’s calling, and we have left it to the world for far too long.

Note: I wrote this article about 10 years for a counseling class in seminary, and while I agree with the basic concepts, I need to add an extra warning here. For a plan of reconciliation to possibly work, you must include experts who are versed on the dynamics of abuse. Trying to handle this issue with regular counseling is counter productive! Please contact us at Called to Peace Ministries if you need more information on where to turn for help .


[i] Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse (Downers Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press) 20.

[ii]Al Miles, Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know (Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press) 154.

[iii] Matthew 12:11-12 (NASB)

[v]Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse (Downers Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press) 20.

[vi] Carol Adams, Woman Battering (Minneapolis, Fortress Press) 99./ Miles, Domestic Violence. 35./ Kroeger & Nason Clark, No Place For Abuse. 119.

[vii] George Scipione, “Spousal Abuse.” Recorded at To Love & To Cherish Marriage Conference.

[viii]Beth Swagman, Resonding to Domestic Violence: A Resource for Church Leaders (Grand Rapids, MI, Faith Alive Christian Resources) 38.

[ix] Hegstrom, “Battered Families- Help & Hope” Recorded on Focus on the Family.

[x] Miles, Domestic Violence. 22.

[xi] Stewart, Refuge, 44-45.

[xii] Swagman, Responding to Domestic Violence. 31.

[xiii] David Powlison. Paul David Tripp, & Edward Welch, “Pastoral Responses to Domestic Violence” in Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem & Dennis Rainey (Wheaton, Ill., Crossway Press)

[xiv] Hegstrom, “Battered Families.”

[xv] Powlison et al, 273.

[xvi] Stewart, Refuge. 210.

[xvii] Scipione, Spousal Abuse.

[xviii] Miles, Domestic Violence. 34.

[xix] I Corinthians 7:15 (NASB)

[xx] Adams, Woman-Battering. 22.

[xxi] Stewart, Refuge. 58.

[xxii] Hegstrom, “Battered Families.”

[xxiii] Powlison et.al., “Pastoral Responses.” 272.

[xxiv] Swagman, Responding to Domestic Violence. 133.

[xxv] Powlison et. al. “Pastoral Responses.” 275.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Leslie Vernick, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (Colorado Springs. CO, Waterbrook Press)178.

[xxviii] Stewart, Refuge. 202.

[xxix] Clark & Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse. 91-99.

[xxx] Stewart, Refuge. 147-149.

[xxxi] Scipione, “Spousal Abuse.”

[xxxii] I Corinthians 7:15

[xxxiii] Luke 4:18 (ASV)

[xxxiv] Isaiah 58:6 (NKJV)

[xxxv] Hosea 4:6