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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