Category Archives: Domestic Violence

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 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 did not incite 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 seems 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 also 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.