A Domestic Violence Advocate’s Plea to the SBC

A few weeks ago I met with Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to share some concerns I have about all the recent news regarding abuse, Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I had seen several tweets and blogposts from SBC leaders including the Bruce and reached out to him. I knew our time was limited so I printed off a list of nine points I think the SBC must address in order to improve their response to the abuse epidemic that has remained hidden for so long. He was very receptive, seemed to understand and agree with most of my concerns, then asked for permission to share. He and his wife Lauren added their perspective on several points and posted  8 Ways SBC Churches Can Strengthen our Response to Domestic Abuse a few days ago. I shared it on my social media pages; however, I’m getting some backlash from my advocate friends so I thought I’d share the original document (I had already shared on some advocates forums), as well as my thoughts on the Ashford post.

First of all, let me say that I appreciate the fact that Bruce was willing to listen. I can see he has a heart for the abused and that he wants to help the SBC improve their response. So while their perspective on some of the latter points in the post are different than mine, I choose to be thankful that we have a dialogue going and that he is open. Understanding domestic violence is not easy. I have been advocating for victims for over twenty years now and I am constantly learning. I think too many times we as advocates are quick to criticize  without allowing for that. I believe that leaders who are wiling to learn should be commended, and am glad that many important points were shared by someone who has far more followers on social media than I do. He has a voice and influence in places I don’t, so praise God that he shared what he did.

In the meantime, some of you asked for the original document I shared with him, so I’m sharing below.

Improving Our Response to Domestic Violence

“Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.” Al Mohler

To effectively address domestic abuse the SBC should:

  • Recognize the overall nature of domestic violence.It is not always physical or illegal. See attached Power & Control Wheel and “Myths and Realities of Domestic Batterers.” When we fail to recognize the nonphysical tactics used by nearly all perpetrators, we diminish the experience of thousands of victims. We must expand our definition of domestic abuse to include these other well-documented traits.
  • Understand that making blanket statements about what a victim should do is not a good idea. For example, calling the police could actually be harmful to a victim in the long run.
  • Commit to becoming educated.This does not merely mean going to your nearest counselor. Domestic violence is often not covered sufficiently in many counseling programs. Seek out experts on domestic violence and add women’s voices to the conversation. Engage your congregations in a conversation about abuse.
  • Recognize that the theology of many among our ranks has hurt women. There is a whole movement against complementarian theology among DV advocates because it has been so warped. The SBC should strongly denounce authoritarian/ hyper-headship interpretations of scripture. Locally, I heard a pastor preach a sermon in which he pounded his fist on the podium as he said, “Wives, you need to submit to your husbands! I don’t care if he’s good. I don’t care if he’s bad. You need to submit!” This sort of teaching simply reinforces abusive men’s sense of entitlement and keeps victims of abuse in oppression.
  • Recognize that our counseling has hurt victims. Domestic violence does not respond well to marital counseling, but in general marriages have been elevated above lives in our counseling. Much of what has been labeled biblical counseling has resulted in placing responsibility for the abuse on victims. See attached article “Deadly Counseling.”
  • Recognize that our churches have believed abusers far more than their victims. Although statistics show fewer than 10% of abuse claims are false, the overwhelming majority of victims we work with have told us that their pastors believed their husbands rather than them, or if they believed their claims they minimized the severity of the abuse. They were also quick to accept shallow confessions as repentance and force reconciliation before it was safe.
  • Recognize that many victims have felt doubly abused by their churches through church discipline when they decided to leave abusers who were harming them and their children. In more conservative churches this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
  • Recognize the effects of trauma on victims and their children. Most children and victims who live with DV suffer a host of issues including complex PTSD. It is nearly impossible for them to heal when they are being exposed to continual abuse. Therefore, refusing to allow them to separate or forcing reconciliation before healing causes further harm. Children who live with DV (even nonphysical) are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to commit suicide and (especially when the abuser uses scripture as a weapon) more likely to deny the faith.
  • Understand there is a correlation between the recent avalanche of sexual sin being exposed in our ranks and domestic abuse. An overwhelming majority of female victims of abuse report that their husbands are addicted to pornography and have committed adultery (often with multiple partners). The attitude of such men towards women is one of entitlement and objectification.

“Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.”   Pr. 17:15

Repentant Abusers & Hard Hearted Victims?

We don’t often post our videos on this blog, but we’ve received so much feedback on this one, we decided to do it. It’s long but worth your time if you’re a people helper and want to know the common pitfalls helpers (counselors, friends, pastors) often face when dealing with domestic violence and destructive relationships.

Often pastors and counselors who work with victims of domestic violence tell us that even when they see evidence of repentance by abusers, their victims become “hard-hearted” and refuse to consider reconciliation. In many cases this leads to the victims undergoing church discipline, even when there has been a clear pattern of domestic violence. This conversation between Chris Moles (PeaceWorks) and Joy Forrest (Called to Peace Ministries) discusses the faulty assumptions and dangers behind this sort of counsel. WATCH NOW!

I’m CONFIDENT!!

I still see so many people struggling with anxiety, and this popped up in my Facebook Memories today. Still relevant.

JoyfulSurrender.com

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. (Ps.27:3) I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. (Ps. 27:13)

The world teaches us that if we believe in ourselves we can do anything, but I have to say that my self-confidence levels are really not that high. I’ve lived with myself long enough to know that I can utterly blow it in the blink of an eye. Outside of the grace and Spirit of God I don’t trust myself, and I know that without confidence in his great love for me, I would be crippled by fear and anxiety. Even after I became a believer, fear was a constant struggle for me until God graciously used some trying circumstances in my life, and his Word…

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Holding Nothing Back

Trials can take us one of two ways…

JoyfulSurrender.com

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…

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A Biblical Account of the Abusive Personality

One of the ladies in our online group brought up the differences between King Saul and David in our group recently, saying she thought she was getting a David, but got a Saul instead. It reminded me of this post. The interesting thing about Saul and David is that David’s sins were far worse by human standards, yet it was his response to confrontation that made all the difference. He humbled himself and repented (2. Sam. 12:13), but when Saul was confronted he minimized, blamed and made it all about his reputation (1 Sam. 15:15, 20, 30).

JoyfulSurrender.com

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…

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At The Heart of Every Fear

Fear is probably the number one problem I see in counseling. If you are anxious, worried or even panicked He wants to give you His peace. Praying you will rest in His goodness and find strength to defeat fear.

JoyfulSurrender.com

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

The older I get the more I realize that God has a good agenda– even in our suffering. He has used awful circumstances in my life to bring about good that never would have happened without the bad happening first. When Jesus got up…

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Don’t Confess Your Sins to an Abuser!

HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

Last week in our support group for survivors of domestic abuse, one of the participants approached me after class to tell me about a counseling session she had with a biblical counselor at her church a few days earlier. This dear lady is living with a very harsh husband who constantly berates her. He tells her how worthless he thinks she is regularly, so she went to counseling in hopes of finding a way to have peace in the midst of a very destructive marriage. Her counselor rightly told her that the only person she can change is herself, and then began to help her uncover her sins and shortcomings as a wife. The focus was on the marriage, and in the end, my friend left with a popular book on how to be a godly wife. As she relayed the story tears came to her eyes. She explained how she had spent years trying to be a better wife, and looking at her own sin, but that only seemed to worsen her husband’s sense of entitlement.

My friend also told me about the many counseling sessions she and her husband had attended together over the years, and how the counsel in those sessions was nearly always the same. Somehow she was made to feel responsible for her husband’s sin. If she would just be more submissive, more “quiet and gentle,” and more loving maybe her husband would be won without a word. She was always encouraged to look at her own sin, and never to keep a record of the wrongs done to her. For over 2 decades that is what she has done, but things have only gotten worse.

In joint counseling sessions, her husband usually listened very intently to all the instructions the given to her, as well as her confessions of missing the mark in their relationship. It actually seemed those counseling sessions gave him ammunition when they got back home. The counselors had merely confirmed his beliefs about her incompetence as a wife, and proven that he needed to take a stronger hand in leadership. The truth is that their counselors had probably confronted his sin as well, but he simply chose to ignore those parts of the sessions. Besides, he was able to get his wife to freely admit to more than her fair share of the blame, so it was easy to turn the main focus of most sessions to that.

Abusive people are skilled at diverting the focus of counseling to less important issues. They also love to find counselors who will focus on marital roles rather than heart issues. Counselors who encourage wives to submit and yield to their husbands’ leadership can cause great harm. In all my years of working as an advocate, I’ve never seen a situation where submitting to sinful mistreatment saved a marriage. Usually, it has the opposite effect. It only serves to empower and embolden hearts that are filled with pride, while victims are left taking on the burden for the entire relationship.

No matter if the counseling is balanced, and equally focused on both spouses’ sin, an abusive person will only hear instructions aimed at his or her spouse. As a result, even the best marital counselors will find themselves doing more harm than good. They may not see it in a session where the offending spouse is nodding his head in approval, and acting extremely motivated for change. However, things change once the couple gets back home, and the abuser begins to taunt his spouse using the advice of the counselor. When it comes to abusive and destructive relationships, marital counseling just doesn’t work. Instead, it usually makes matters worse– particularly counsel that focuses on the victim’s sin in front of an oppressive spouse.* If you’re living in an abusive relationship (read more here if you’re not sure), I encourage you to steer clear of joint martial counseling, or any counseling that puts the burden of the relationship and the abuse on you.

Let me just say that I am a biblical counselor! I believe in the sufficiency of scripture, and acknowledge that sin is the root cause of the overwhelming majority of problems we see in counseling. However, as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, I’ve seen a very troubling trend when it comes to our counseling strategies in cases of abuse. We’ve been taught that we need to get to the root sin issues with our clients, and rightly so. The problem occurs when we fail to recognize clear patterns of oppression that are nearly always present in cases of abuse. When we put couples in the same room for marital counseling and ask victims to confess their sins to their oppressors, we are arming their abusers. God’s heart is for the weak and afflicted, and he opposes proud oppressors (Zec. 7:10, Ps. 72:4, Ps. 82:3-4). May he give us wisdom to do the same.

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps. 82:2-4

*Of course, victims are not without sin, but when we encourage confession of sin in front of an abuser we merely feed both spouses’ faulty assumptions that the victim’s sin caused the abuse. In my years of counseling, I’d have to say the victims’ sin is rarely what counselors assume– it’s not provoking the abuse! More likely, it is being ruled by “fear of man.” Counsel that puts the burden for the abuse on the victim is not only ineffective, but extremely harmful.

 

Keys to Victorious Christian Living

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