Category Archives: Domestic Violence

Is My Relationship Abusive? Part 3

Part 3 in a Series. Today’s post will cover three of the 8 tactics abusers use as listed on the Power and Control Wheel. For more on the Wheel, see my previous post.

Coercion and Threats

At the top of the Power and Control Wheel we see that abusers use coercion and threats to maintain control. In the years I have worked with victims of domestic violence, nearly all of them have confirmed that these behaviors were used regularly in their homes. Some abusers threatened to leave their families and not provide for their basic needs, some threatened suicide in order to make sure they got their way, some threatened physical harm, and others just threatened to humiliate their wives somehow. In several cases, I’ve seen abusers go out of their way to make their wives look incompetent. After years of living with control and manipulation, my friend Jill became seriously depressed, and ended up taking anti-depressants. Her husband made sure he let the pastor know how concerned he was about his wife’s erratic behavior, her inability to parent properly, and her dependence on medication. Of course, the church had no idea of what really went on behind closed doors, and Jill knew better than try to tell them. At the same time, Jill’s husband made sure she knew that if she decided to leave the marriage, he would have no trouble having her declared incompetent and getting full custody of the children. For Jill this threat was far more powerful than bodily injury ever could have been. Her husband’s threats were highly effective in promoting his selfish interests.

Using the Children

Abusive people generally aim their threats directly at whatever their victims value most, so that means threats involving children are very common in these situations. In fact, many women stay in horrible situations far too long, because they know if they leave their spouses may harm the children. Such was the case with my friend Amy. She had endured occasional physical violence and relentless threats from the beginning of her marriage. Her husband kept a gun beside their bed, and let her know that if she ever tried to leave him he would use it on her. He even held it to her head on a few occasions. She knew she needed to leave, but was concerned about her children if she did, because he told her if she left he would “still have the children.” She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but knew it wasn’t good. Finally, there came a day when she felt that if she didn’t get out, she would not live parent her children at all, so she mustered up the courage to take them and leave. Shortly after separation, Amy had to go to court to try and get legal custody of the kids. She told the judge her concerns about the children being with their father, but he granted regular, unsupervised visitation to her husband anyway. Amy wanted to believe that her husband wouldn’t make good on those vague threats, and that the court had made the right decision. However, in within a short amount of time, her 3-year-old son came home reporting being locked in a closet and giving descriptions of sexual abuse he and his sister had endured. Amy was finally able to stop the unsupervised visitation, but she learned that the threats against her children were not idle.

Unfortunately, Amy’s story is not an exception when it comes to domestic violence. In my own limited exposure, I have seen abusers intentionally use and misuse their children multiple times in order to punish their spouses. In other cases, it is not unusual for them to attempt to turn the children against their mothers. Basically abusers will do whatever they consider necessary to maintain control, regardless of the consequences to the children. I have seen women frozen in fear, because of these types of threats, but those I have known who decided to leave all tell me they made the right decision—even Amy. She believes things would have been far worse had she stayed. Living in fear of a man will never lead to the life God intends for you. Ask Him to help you devise a plan to leave, and be sure to utilize all the resources available to you. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you devise a safety plan, and connect you to legal resources to help you with custody issues.

Intimidation

Besides using their children to hurt their wives, abusers make regular use of intimidation techniques to instill fear and attain unfettered power in their families. Intimidation can range from a harsh look to extreme physical violence. Most abusive people have conditioned their victims to know when they are about to snap. As a result, a single angry glance can cause wives and children to completely freeze up or change their course of action. If a nasty look doesn’t get the desired result, or if the abuser is feeling particularly grumpy, he may resort to more physical tactics such as throwing and smashing things, destroying her property, or even abusing the household pets. When I was working at the shelter, one of the clients told me that her husband decapitated her dog in front of her and the children, and countless other victims told me that their family pets often received the brunt of the abuser’s wrath. One lady told me that her husband filled her car with poisonous snakes to make sure she didn’t go anywhere.

Intimidation is a highly effective tool for perpetrators of domestic violence, and it usually escalates in intensity if the abuser does not feel his demands are being met. Some of the behaviors often seen in the progression of violence include: blocking her exit from a room, screaming, raising a fist, denying access to prescription medicine, grabbing, jerking, shoving, spitting, pulling hair, and so on. If these methods do not work, then punching, kicking and other methods of inflicting more serious physical harm are likely to follow. An interesting thing to note here is that, even when hitting occurs, many abusers, in an effort to keep the abuse hidden, maintain enough control over themselves to make sure they hurt their victims in way that doesn’t leave obvious bruises.

 

Is My Relationship Abusive? Part 2

Part 2 in a Series.

In order to recognize the signs of domestic violence, most experts rely on a tool called the Power and Control Wheel. This resource was created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota in 1984,[i] and is based on observation of several focus groups of women who had been physically abused. When project personnel began to interview these women, they discovered several patterns of control and manipulation that seemed to exist almost universally within the groups. As they began to document these common behaviors or tactics, the result was a tool that has been used by victims’ advocates for over three decades. The first time I laid eyes on a Power and Control Wheel I cried, as have numerous victims I have shared it with over the years. It’s pretty easy to deny a relationship is abusive until someone puts a detailed description of your life right in front of your eyes!  For years I suffered in silence, thinking that nobody knew what I was going through, but when I picked up the “Wheel,” it seemed as though somebody had been a silent observer in my house over the years. I was also amazed to find that I was not alone, and that an estimated one in four women experience physical abuse from an intimate partner within their lifetimes.[ii]

One thing that stands out to most observers is that the majority of behaviors listed on the Power and Control Wheel do not involve physical harm. I had denied that my relationship qualified as domestic violence simply because physical altercations were somewhat infrequent. However, the tactics described on this chart happened on a daily basis. According to this tool, bodily harm is simply a last resort when all other tactics fail to achieve the desired power and control. Domestic violence is not merely about physical harm, but about abusers establishing patterns of complete domination over their victims. Basically, the motivation is far more telling than the behavior. In his book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse, Pastor and biblical counselor Chris Moles states that abusive behavior “is driven by a heart of pride and self-worship.”[iii] True domestic violence is not merely a reactive pattern of behavior, but one that is intentionally self-serving. A look at the behaviors listed on the Power and Control wheel show just how self-seeking abusive conduct really is.

As we continue this series, my upcoming posts will describe each of the eight characteristics found on the wheel. Stay tuned!

power_and_control_wheel

[i] “Wheel Gallery” http://www.theduluthmodel.org/training/wheels.html. Accessed January 17, 2016.

[ii] Please note that the focus of this work is to highlight the more prevalent issue of male against female violence; however, we do recognize that women can also be abusive.

[iii] Moles, Chris, The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home (Bemidji, MN, Focus Publishing, 2015), 43.

Is My Relationship Abusive? Part 1    

One fine day, in the spring of 1995, I lied to a judge. This happened shortly after taking an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Oddly enough, I didn’t feel even a twinge of guilt, because at the time, I didn’t believe I was lying. I testified to the judge that my marriage of 14 years had not been abusive at all. Rather, some recent stress had caused my husband to snap, and act completely out of character. It was a story I wholeheartedly embraced, because I had been telling it to myself for so many years. Up until that point, there had been numerous incidences of violence, but it didn’t happen on a regular basis. In fact, a few years were completely violence-free. Perhaps another reason I did not think I was abused was the image that I had conjured up in my mind about abuse victims. When I thought about domestic violence, the term that came to my mind was “battered,”, and I was certainly not battered. In the entire length of our relationship, he had never once punched me with his fists. Our rare physical altercations usually began with something like a shove or being jerked by the arm. Once I had my fingers slammed into a drawer and once I was kicked. Oh yes, and there was that time when he held a knife to my throat, but no I wasn’t battered.

Perhaps believing lies was my way of trying to convince myself that things really weren’t that bad, so when I finally did have to admit I had been in abusive relationship, I felt like a complete fool. I had always considered myself pretty bright, and facing the truth challenged that belief. Another thing the truth challenged was my idealistic concept of my husband’s opinion of me. I thought that my ability to elicit such great emotion from him meant that he truly loved me. It didn’t matter that his actions towards me were the exact opposite of the biblical description of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. [i]

Whenever I came across this passage in my quiet times, I couldn’t help but notice that my husband’s actions towards me were most often the reverse. It didn’t take much for him to lose his patience with me, and within my first month of knowing him, jealously reared its ugly head several times. I can’t tell you how many times he embarrassed me in public by making rude comments towards others, the kids or me. I felt so vulnerable and unprotected when I was with him—certainly not protected. It was his way or no way, and lies were the foundation of our relationship. However, the most blatant contrast between godly love and my relationship was found in verse 5, which states that “love is not easily angered.” There were times when I couldn’t believe how seemingly insignificant details could enrage my husband, and over the years I’ve heard countless stories from other victims of abuse who suddenly found themselves the object of wrath when a small detail in the course of the day set off a reaction of atomic proportions.

One dear lady told me that she received a horrible beating simply because she left hamburger meat in the sink to thaw, another was belittled to the point of tears in front of her children because she failed to fold and stack her towels in the “correct” manner. Another relayed that her husband tore apart the entire house (throwing things against the walls, and clearing counters of their contents as he went through each room) after one of the children moved his hairbrush from its prescribed resting place in the bathroom. In recent years, a counselee told me that just leaving one cup in the kitchen sink would send her husband into a rage. I would call that being “easily angered,” and it took me years to realize that true love does not act that way.

Perhaps one reason victims tend to lie to themselves is because admitting the truth is almost more painful than the abuse. It means admitting that their husbands’ actions do not equate to love at all. So most convince themselves that wounds from the past (or mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, etc.)  just make it harder for their husbands to deal with life, and that they don’t really choose those angry actions. I truly thought my husband was out of control when he blew up, and that I needed to try to hold things together so that he wouldn’t have a reason to lose it. I thought he needed me, and so I built my life around making things go as smoothly as possible for him. I realize this is probably contrary to the average stereotype about domestic violence. People who are unfamiliar with it, including many pastors and counselors, believe that domestic abuse is the result of heated arguments that could have been started by either party. Certainly no man would physically harm his wife unless she had done something to provoke him, right? It seems to be a logical conclusion, but the problem is, that in the vast majority of cases, it’s a faulty one.

Most abusive people are self-seeking, easily angered, impatient, along with all the other contradictions to God’s love listed in 1 Corinthians 13, and most victims have a hard time facing the fact that their abusers are choosing to treat them with contempt rather than love. In his book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft states that “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.”[ii] After working with victims and abusers for nearly two decades, I’d have to say that this assessment is spot-on. Unfortunately, it is not something that most victims would like to admit. It was so much easier for me to believe my husband was abusing me because he was wounded inside, or that he lacked coping skills, than to admit he was making a choice to hurt me. Coming to terms with the truth was almost too much to bear, so I lied to myself until the day somebody placed a tool called the Power and Control Wheel into my hands.

This is part one in a series.  

[i] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, New International Version

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

The Worst Kind of Counselor

Recently, I began reading the book of Job in my quiet time. I love so much about this book, but I always find myself wanting to fast forward all the well-meaning advice from Job’s friends.  Their counsel seems all too familiar to one who has lived through, and helped others escape, the horrors of domestic violence. It is so easy for one who has never suffered intensely to come up with godly sounding advice, and even to misapply perfectly good scripture in a way that implies the victim surely must have done something to bring on the trouble.

In his book Domestic Abuse, pastor and biblical counselor Chris Moles mentioned his experience of being invited to speak to a group of Christian women in a support group for domestic violence survivors. The thing that stood out to Chris as he listened to these ladies share their experiences was that nearly everyone of them had reached out to their churches for help after enduring years of controlling and violent behavior, and the result in the majority of cases was that the church counsel had eventually turned against them. 

This common scenario usually goes something like this. A woman musters up the courage to reach out to her pastor for help. Sometimes he believes her (although he thinks she’s probably exaggerating the severity), but often he doubts her story. After all, he knows her husband to be a godly man. He then goes to the husband to ask about his wife’s allegations. The abuser explains to the pastor just how absurd that is. He indicates that has tried to encourage his wife, but she is clearly unstable and responds to his support with disrespect.

Afterwards, this man goes home and scolds or threatens his wife for talking to the pastor. In some cases, the result might be physical harm. When the couple goes back to the pastor later for counseling, the wife is strangely silent or perhaps too emotional. When the pastor asks her to voice her concerns, she gives a briefer, sanitized version of her earlier account, or defers to her husband. The pastor then gives some advice about how they can improve their marriage, assigns some helpful reading, and closes with a prayer. The husband approves, thanks him for his time and assures him they will work on things. The wife leaves feeling completely dejected. Even though she is clearly a victim behind closed doors, the counseling session put equal or even more of the burden on her to change the situation. Hopelessness begins to set in. Like Job she knows that the counsel they received completely missed the heart of the problem.

Over the course of time, counsel like this ends up harming rather than helping to restore abusive marriages. No matter how much scripture is quoted or how much this wife works on herself, things will likely go from bad to worse. That is because the true problem is hidden. In Job’s case, nobody involved knew the interchange that had occurred between Satan and God. His friends, being good students of wisdom, naturally assumed that Job must bear some of the responsibility. Even though there was truth in their words, they did not see the whole picture, and unfairly accused him. In the end, God was angered with their charges against Job.

In my 18 years of working with abuse victims, I have witnessed modern versions of Job’s counselors multiple times. In fact, I’ve been one myself. Before my marriage failed, I operated under the faulty assumption that marriages failed because people didn’t try hard enough. When two of my own family members experienced divorce because of abuse, I secretly judged them in my heart. Surely, they could have done something to make it work. I was far more concerned for their marriages than their well-being. In the end, I applied the same sort of counsel to myself, and ended up working on my marriage until I nearly lost my life. One day as I was crying out to God and studying his Word, I realized he cared more about me that that that broken covenant. I understood that there’s no way one person can make a marriage work if the other isn’t willing. Like the Pharisees, I had elevated an institution over the people it was intended to bless. While they missed the point about the Sabbath, I missed it about marriage. I failed to understand the true source of the problem, and consequently did more harm than good.

The church is filled with well-intentioned counselors who are doing the same thing to victims of abuse. Women in these situations have come to me baffled and hurt when the tables have turned on them. Rather than getting help they got blamed. I fully understand why God aimed his wrath at Job’s friends. They assumed too much, blamed too quickly, and refused to believe Job’s pleas of innocence- even when their previous interactions with him supported his claims. They even used their knowledge of God against Job. Rather than trying to understand the whole story, they arrogantly assumed and placed the blame where it did not belong. They were in a position to love and support, but instead added insult to injury, and as a result became the worst kind of counselors.

 

The Trouble with Victims

I lived over twenty five years my life as a victim. From the time I was 14 until I was nearly 40 I was involved in an abusive relationship, and breaking free was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. During those tumultuous years, I lost nearly everything I owned and barely escaped with my life and my two girls. In the years that followed, I faced great financial loss, angry children, and continued threats on my life. I had nightmares, and found myself freaking out at things that had nothing to do with me. When I heard people around me complain about everyday struggles I wanted to laugh in their faces and say, “Are you kidding me?! That’s nothing!” I wanted the world to know that I had been wronged, and somehow come and make it right.

The odd thing is the more I complained, the less people wanted to listen. They seemed to alienate themselves from me, which made my situation even more miserable. I could have stayed in that pattern forever, but as I cried out to God I began to realize I would never be an overcomer until I dropped my victim mentality. I realized that people did not know how to handle the severity of my losses. I am sure it made them uncomfortable—perhaps even guilty that they had been blessed with an easier life. I realized that I needed to stop making my unfortunate past my identity, and made a decision to pour my complaints out to God rather than people. I chose to believe his promises towards me rather than my feelings. Although that decision did not immediately change my circumstances, it did make all the difference in the world. Today I am a victor rather than a victim, because I decided to believe him.

In the years since I transitioned from victim to victor, I have many opportunities to work with other victims. I have seen some apply themselves to the truths of God’s Word, and basically blossom before my very eyes. In those cases, it has truly been like watching butterflies come out of their cocoons. From all outward appearances their situations have seemed hopeless, but God has performed miracles for those who have learned to trust him. Trust like this involves a decision to believe God rather than emotions and past experience. I have never seen God disappoint those who have chosen to really trust him. The outcome has always been beautiful.

On the other hand, some of the women I have tried to help have refused to let go of that victim mentality. When I direct them to God’s promises, they give me a thousand reasons not to believe them. Their attitude reminds me of the man Jesus healed at the pool in Bethesda in John 5. Even though he stationed himself in the place where the angel stirred the water to be healed, he basically told Jesus it was impossible, because somebody always beat him to the water. He was full of bitterness and excuses. When Jesus healed him in spite of his negativity, he showed no joy, nor did he stop to thank Jesus. Instead, when the religious leaders rebuked him for carrying his pallet, he blamed Jesus. Jesus knew his heart and came to him later with a warning, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14).  But he simply went out and reported Jesus to the leaders. Jesus set him free, but he chose to remain bitter.

That’s the problem with so many victims, they fail to see and appreciate God’s provision in their lives. Instead, they choose to remain bitter, and make excuses for hanging on to their anger. They basically cut themselves off from God’s blessings and blame everyone around them (even God) for their negative circumstances. I love to contrast the story of the man at the pool with the healing of the man born blind in John 9. When Jesus healed him his life was changed immediately. He became a believer, and was willing to profess his faith in spite of harsh opposition. As far as outward circumstances go, he probably fared worse than the man healed at the pool. Yet, he was filled with joy over what Jesus had done for him. Like King David (who spent years running for his life) he chose to praise God in the presence of his enemies rather than cling to bitterness.

The truth is that bad things happen in this world. Many of us end up at victims at some point, and it grieves God’s heart. We suffer unjustly and it isn’t fair, but God knows exactly how that feels (Heb. 4:15). Our God is a redeemer, and nothing is wasted when we know him. He can turn our mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11), and use tribulation to mold us into the image of his son (Rom. 8:29). But in the midst of our troubles we must choose to trust him. We must choose to let go of the bitterness that poisons every relationship in our lives and keeps us in bondage (Heb. 12:15). The problem with victims is they are often not willing to make this choice. Instead, they hold tenaciously to their right to be miserable and angry, and unwittingly finish the job their enemies began.

A Biblical Account of the Abusive Personality

People often ask me for specific biblical counsel on domestic violence, and though there is not a specific case of blatant spousal abuse in scripture, there are numerous accounts of abuse. The very first example of family violence came very early in the history of mankind when Cain killed Abel. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their wickedness, which apparently included blatant sexual abuse on a regular basis. Joseph was abused by his brothers. The Levite in Judges 19 casually threw his concubine out to a mob to be raped, and when she died as a result of her injuries he cut her into pieces to show Israel how his property had been destroyed. Family violence touched king David’s household when Amnon raped Tamar and later Absalom killed him. If I were a betting woman, I would bet that Abigail’s husband Nabal was abusive towards her. Scripture tells us he “was harsh and evil in his dealings” (1 Sam. 25:3), and as a former victim I can relate to the ways she tried to make up for her husband’s foolishness. The Old Testament is filled with violence, and God’s prophets regularly preached against it. In the New Testament, we see God in the flesh enduring abuse at the hands of his own children. He came to earth and took on the worst abuse imaginable in order to redeem his fallen creation. What amazing love! We have a God who cares about abuse, and we have a bible that is by no means silent on the subject.

Although scripture is filled with examples of violence and abuse, one of my biggest frustrations with churches over the years has been a severe lack of knowledge when it comes to the dynamics of domestic abuse. Scripture indicates that a lack of knowledge causes people to perish, and nothing is truer when it comes to abuse. I have had some limited success in sharing secular resources that describe the characteristics of abuse in church and seminary trainings, and even though they are based on observation I feel sure pastors and counselors would prefer to use scripture as their guide. For decades, each time I have read the story of Saul and David I have recognized the dynamics of abuse in play. Saul seems to be the embodiment of just about every abuser I have ever known. And while this is not an account that deals with intimate partner violence, I believe it is very applicable. Abuse usually just boils down to one person asserting malicious control over another, and that is exactly what we see here. We also see Saul abuse his position of authority over David, which is often the case in spousal abuse, particularly for more conservative Christians.

Recently my yearly bible reading plan brought me to the story of Saul and David in 1 Samuel, so I decided to make a list of the common abusive traits I recognized in Saul. Abusers tend to become attached to their victims very quickly, and we see in the same was true in this account. David was hired to play the harp for Saul, and it said that “Saul loved him greatly” (16:21). Obviously, this love was based on what David could offer Saul. Another trait that is very common with abusive personalities is the tendency to be insecure and jealous. Although the jealousy here is a little different that in an intimate relationship where the abuser fears losing the affection of the victim, the root is still the same. In this story, Saul was afraid of losing the affection of the people to David. Fear and insecurity are very common attributes of abusers. It is what drives them to control, and Saul was often consumed with fear.

Those of us who have lived with abuse know all too well that abusers are prone to sudden mood swings for no apparent reason, and that was certainly true of King Saul. One day, as David was ministering to him with music, Saul suddenly hurled a spear at him. Most people believe that abuse is provoked, but nothing could be further from the truth. During my time at the domestic violence shelter, I met scores of women who shared their stories of unprovoked abuse. It seems that little things could set off their abusers, from folding towels the wrong way to putting something on the wrong shelf in the refrigerator. Sometimes, like Saul, their abusers would be in a good mood and suddenly turn on them.

While many people assume abuse is born out of passion and a lack of self-control, the story of King Saul and David shows is it is far more insidious. Even when Saul was not in a rage, he made efforts to hurt David. His decision to give his daughter to David in marriage was so that she would ‘be a snare for him” (18:21). I have seen this seen this characteristic show up often in counseling situations within the church. Abusers have a talent for making malicious decisions look generous and kind to the outside world, while only their partners know the cruel intentions behind them. In one situation, church counselors told the husband to do something tangible to bless his wife. The action he chose was to offer her something he knew she hated and when she declined his invitation, he went back to the church and reported that she refused him. He made it seem as though he was doing everything in his power to make it work, and she was flatly denying him. He was much more vocal than she was in counseling sessions, so the outcome in this particular case was that the wife was labeled as antagonistic and resistant to her husband’s leadership. It seemed as though he was the victim rather than she.

Most abusers do see themselves as the victim, and Saul was no exception. When the priests at Nob aided David and his men, Saul lamented that everyone seemed to be conspiring against him, and that no one was sorry for him (22:8). When the Ziphites reported David’s whereabouts to Saul, he thanked them for having compassion on him (23:21) as though he was the underdog in the situation. David was hiding out in caves in an effort to preserve his life, yet Saul still saw himself as the victim. This is such a common trait among abusers. They are masters at turning truth upside down and making their victims seem to be the perpetrators. To outsiders it can certainly appear that way. Abusers love to influence the perception of others by causing them to think their victims are equally responsible for the violence.

While public perception often tends to place blame on victims, the vast majority I have known have done everything in their power to avoid the violence in their marriages. Many women (like I once did) have strict understanding of biblical headship and submission. They are told in their counseling sessions that they should submit and win him without a word. Then if he does wrong, then God will surely deal with him. However, the case of David and Saul shows us that submission and honor do not necessarily result in stopping the abuse. David never did anything to intentionally provoke Saul—like most victims he was completely baffled by the abuse (20:1). In fact, Saul’s violence often occurred when David was ministering to him (18:10, 19:9). While abusive people seem to truly believe their victims are provoking them, in most instances that simply is not the case.

Those who desire to help families affected by domestic violence must learn to recognize common abusive traits, such as these found in the story of Saul and David, and realize that victims do not cause the abuse. Absolutely, I have seen situations where the victim has learned to be angry (Pr. 22:24-25), and perhaps seemed equally violent. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases I have observed within the church, this has not been the case. (And even if it had been, abuse is never justified!) My experience in conservative, bible-believing churches has been that Christian women who tend to be victims can tend to be very passive. I tell people I once subscribed to “doormat theology;” meaning I truly believed if I submitted and showered my abuser with kindness he would certainly change his ways. Unfortunately, somewhere in that process I inadvertently enabled his sin. Of course there were times when I tried to break out and went to the church for help, but most of them failed to recognize the dynamics of abuse. The result was that they too unintentionally enabled him through their counsel. Even those who were wise enough to help me take a stand against the violence missed the boat when it came to reconciliation, because they did not understand the propensity for abusers to feign repentance. In the end, I always reconciled too soon, because I believed he was sorry, and I thought that forgiveness meant I had to trust him again.

In the story of Saul and David, it is clear that Saul never truly repented. Sure he confessed, he cried and he acted broken over his sin (24:16-17, 26:21), but David knew he still could not be trusted. True repentance involves a change in behavior over a course of time. Saul “repented” in chapter 24, but by chapter 26 he was seeking to kill David again. Domestic violence can easily turn deadly, and churches need to wake up to this fact. Too often our counsel is so anti-divorce that it ends up sending women and children back into harmful situations. Encouraging reconciliation without true repentance, and without someone helping the wife hold her husband accountable is just plain dangerous! In the past year alone, in my small county, I have had personal ties to 2 women who were killed as a result of domestic violence. They were both Believers and part of local churches, yet when I reach out to churches to offer training on domestic violence, most pastors indicate that they do not believe it is a problem in their congregations.

Statistics indicate that as many as 1 in 3 women will be physically abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, and these numbers are no better for women within the walls of our churches. Domestic abuse thrives in secrecy, and victims go to great links to protect their abusers from exposure, so whether you are aware or not, it is happening in your church. The question is whether or not you will educate yourself enough to help rather than hurt when someone finally musters up the courage to let you in on their family secret. Recognizing the characteristics is one of the first steps in learning to help rather perpetuate the problem. Scripture is not silent on the subject, and this story of the first two kings of Israel can help you better understand the dynamics of abuse. My prayer is that God’s people will rise up, and decide to be part of the solution when is comes to overcoming this hidden epidemic.

 

Called to Peace Ministries Radio Interview 9/6/15

Recently, I was interviewed about Called to Peace Ministries on The Spirit of Business radio show on GospelisGolden.com. Please CLICK HERE TO LISTEN. Thanks to Sheyenne Kreamer for giving us the chance to share our vision to help families affected by domestic violence. #calledtopeace

The Blessing of Blessing Others: God’s Heart for Widows & Orphans

Let’s be honest, most of us spend a great deal of time focusing on how to improve our lot in life. We think about how we can increase our income, improve our health, and find satisfaction in our relationships. It’s rare that we meditate as much on how we can bless others. Yet, in the passage I read this morning God tells us that blessing others is one of the keys to being blessed.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Dt. 14:28-29)

I love how God highlights helping the “fatherless and the widows.” Besides traditional widows, in modern terms, we have many single moms and children who no longer have full time fathers in their lives. I believe the church has greatly failed to answer his call to these assist the “least of these” among us. This is a theme that runs throughout the bible; yet it certainly doesn’t seem to be much of a focus in many of our churches today. In my counseling ministry I have seen many single women and their children struggling with poverty. Women who chose to stay at home with their children have suddenly been forced back into the work force after a divorce. Many face constant court battles just to get a small fraction of their previous income in spousal and child support. It can take months to years to get these issues finalized, and I have seen many women give up because the system seems so unfair.

Rather than seeing churches reaching out to assist these modern widows and orphans, too often I have heard the women complain that they feel like second-class citizens because they were unable to save their marriages. Most of the women I have seen in these situations were stay-at-home moms, and did not want divorce. This is not to say the all the fault lies with husbands, but that when these situations occur the women and children are often more negatively impacted financially. In cases of abuse, abusers are masters at using finances to keep their wives at a disadvantage, and in cases of abuse we should be more concerned about the welfare of the individuals than saving a broken covenant. Too often our counsel seems reminiscent of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time who elevated rules over individuals. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen women counseled to return to abusive situations and to try to win their husbands with a quiet and gentle spirit. Unfortunately, such counsel leaves women and children in danger. Regardless of how it occurs, the bottom line is that there are children and mothers who are suffering, and the church needs to come along beside them rather than stand over them in judgment. Sadly, over the years, I have watched scores of women and children move from plenty to needy with very little help from God’s people. They are forced to seek government assistance, which is usually far from adequate. How it breaks my heart!

James 1:27 says that caring for widows and orphans is pure and undefiled religion. It is the sort of religion God accepts and desires. Perhaps we don’t get involved, because the task seems overwhelming. Yet, there are people out there in the trenches, and they tell me fundraising is extremely difficult. How difficult could it be to give a few dollars to ministries who are helping? It seems most Christians prefer to turn a blind eye to this type of need. According to this verse, refusing to see the need will not only hurt the women and children in need, but it will withhold blessings from the church as well. Until his people begin to obey his command to care for widows and orphans, I doubt we will see the revival so many of us say we want. Until we learn to care for those who are suffering and needy, we will not be the church he desires. God’s heart is for justice, and caring for the needs of others. When we rise up and answer that call, we will finally be acting like his people, and then we will bring blessings on ourselves.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Is. 58:5-12)

 Lord, help you church rise up to become repairers of broken walls and restorers. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, but with you all things are possible. Open our eyes and show us how to minister most effectively. Lead us and we will follow. Lord, please wake up your slumbering church to the needs of the fatherless and widows in their midst. Amen

Holding Nothing Back

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” Ps. 22:14

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. Is. 53:12

 There are days when I think I have nothing left to give. I become so exhausted by the demands and tugs of world that I nearly shut down. Usually I try to figure out a way to pamper myself so that I can recharge, but when I think about it nothing I have faced has ever required everything I have. Even when I was experiencing the worst abuse, I was holding on to every vestige of control I could muster. When it seemed utterly hopeless, I cried out to God for help, and the comfort I received was that he completely understood what I was experiencing. He assured me that he knew what it was like to be betrayed, abandoned and abused. The thing that struck me in that moment was that he chose it! I certainly would have done anything to avoid it, but in his great love for us, he completely emptied himself (Phil. 2:7) to the point of death. He held nothing back.

In counseling it’s not uncommon to find people who are upset with God. They are angry that he is allowing them to suffer unjustly, or that he didn’t stop the latest affliction in their lives. Many have faced one horrible experience after another to the point I become heartbroken, and find myself joining them in asking God why he allowed so much misery. Yet, we often forget that our God did not merely leave us here to suffer alone. He came and entered into our suffering to the fullest extent possible. Sometimes knowing that is all we need to know, because there is great comfort in the “fellowship of his suffering” (Phil. 3:10). That is why support groups are often so helpful, because we know we are not alone in our pain. We do not have a God who abandons us and watches indifferently from heaven, but a God who loved us enough to sacrifice everything because of his love for us. When he poured himself out in pain, he was simultaneously pouring his great love onto us. Choosing gratitude for his sacrifice during difficult times can help us overcome the urge to question why and see God as unfair.

In this fallen world, there are no easy answers, and I’ve learned that going down the “why” trail can be very dangerous. It will lead us to bitterness and hopelessness. The better question to ask is “What would you have me learn in this Lord, and how would you like to use this situation for good?” We may never understand why some things have happened on this side of eternity, but we can be sure that He has a redemptive purpose. Even as Jesus endured the shame of the cross, because of the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2), we can endure knowing that he will work everything together for good, and that his plans for us are good (Rom. 8:28, Jer. 29:11). We know that we have a God who specializes in redemption. There is no pit so deep that he cannot redeem. There is nothing he cannot use for good.

After Hurricane Katrina, I went down to the Gulf on 2 separate mission trips to help with the clean up efforts. I met people who had been traumatized beyond words. Some had lost family members, and all of their worldly possessions. Their homeowners insurance did not cover their losses, because they did not have flood insurance. I went because my heart had been broken as I watched the sheer anguish of it all on television after the storm. When I arrived, I saw multitudes of children dealing with PTSD and was even more broken. Yet, over the course of that week as God’s people came in by the hundreds, I saw God’s redemption at work. Children who would have grown up in violent, poverty stricken neighborhoods were relocated to better areas. Churches adopted and helped whole families get a fresh start in life. I saw multitudes of volunteers showering traumatized children with healing love, and some of them were eternally changed as a result of that awful storm.

That is the power of our God. He can take the most horrible situations and use them for good, and the ultimate example of that is the cross. His great sacrifice on our behalf reconciled us to God when we were hopelessly alienated. Not only that, as he willingly emptied himself he experienced the worst of human suffering. The penalty for our rebellion was poured on him, and though we continue to live in a fallen world, we do not live without hope. Knowing that our creator would come down, take on vulnerable flesh and then fully pour himself out for us should change our hearts. Our response should be to surrender our all to the One who gave his all for us. It should fill us with gratitude and comfort to know that we are fully loved, and that even though we will suffer in this world, he has overcome it, so that whatever we experience here is only a shadow preparing us for his eternal joy.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

Answering the Call

Ministry Update

The Vision

I think it is true that when you know God no experience is ever wasted. When I look back on my life, I can see where I knowingly rebelled against his best for my life, and in my mind now it seems a complete waste. Yet, God has managed to use the suffering born out my sinful choices to bring me into a deeper relationship with him. Even my stubborn heart attitudes have become valuable teaching experiences, and I have been able to use those lessons when counseling others. I have lived through a lot: abuse, infidelity, divorce, wayward children, sudden financial ruin, deaths of loved ones, and a host of other painful experiences. In the end, it seems as though each miserable event has resulted in a spiritual triumph as I have learned to cast my cares on Him. That is the key. For years, I tried to force God into yielding to my plan, rather than yielding to Him. True victory comes in complete surrender. How contrary to human thinking! The truth is we are all surrendered to something—whether it be it power, wealth, relationships, addictions, or whatever we seek for satisfaction. The problem is that these other things bring heartache while surrender to God results in freedom, along with satisfaction, peace and joy.

Since it took me so long to surrender all to God, I prolonged the misery in my life. (Still not wasted—I’m just a slow learner.) The result is that I now have a passion to help people move past destructive choices and decisions that leave them in misery. I feel like Harriet Tubman. Now that I am free, I want to start another underground railroad to freedom! There are so many issues that stay underground and unaddressed in our churches. God continues to prick my heart about starting a ministry to help those struggling as the result of destructive lifestyle choices. Sometimes people struggle because of the sinful choices of others, yet I find that even in those situations, victims often make things worse by the way they respond. However, nobody is hopeless when they have God and the freedom He offers through Jesus. Redemption is not a one-time event; it should permeate our lives and our relationships. He offers hope and deliverance!

 Providing Support to Local Churches

Yes, churches do proclaim deliverance through Jesus, but sometimes in order for people to find true freedom they need intensive help that many churches may not be able to provide. When I left my abusive husband 18 years ago, I had no money, no place to stay, and it seemed as though nobody I talked to understood how to help. I didn’t want to go to a secular shelter, because I didn’t think they would support my biblical conviction to try and save my marriage. How I wish there had been a Christian place I could have gone with my two children. I have seen many other women struggle with this over the years, and I have also seen women return to abusive situations, because there were no resources for them. Even the secular shelters only allow them to stay for 3 months. What if there was a place that would provide free or low cost housing, temporary childcare, career training, and other practical needs to help women get on their feet for up to 2 years? What if there was a place that would provide free biblical counseling for families caught in the midst of crisis as the result of sinful choices? What if?

As I write this, I am thinking that this dream is just too big, but for some reason I can’t seem to let it go, and I know that nothing is impossible with God. I know that there are many others out there who have struggled through life crises and have seen the need for such a place. While I envision it being a haven for those coming out of abuse, I also know there are many other situations that could benefit from such a ministry. In addition, I see education as a huge component to this ministry, particularly helping churches learn how to deal with domestic violence more effectively. So here it is. Would you pray that God would make a way, and if you are interested in joining in this ministry, would you please let me know? I am especially looking for folks in the Raleigh, NC area to help establish a local ministry, but would welcome input from anyone. I cannot stress how much I need your prayers, because it is never easy to step out and respond to a call that seems impossible by human standards. Still, I know that all things are possible with God so I am moving forward.

 

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…

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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 texts regarding gender roles in marriage. While egalitarians do not recognize differences in roles, those who advocate complementarity believe that husbands and wives have unique roles within the marriage based on passages such as Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. In this viewpoint, men are the delegated leaders in their homes, and wives are expected to submit to their husbands’ leadership.  This paper will focus on common teachings within complementarian 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. According to complementarians, God designed headship and submission in marriage is meant to reflect His very nature. If that is the case, then 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