Guest Post - This is the Face of Domestic Violence

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by a PeaceWorks University member who would like to remain anonymous. The post first appeared on Called to Peace

“You need to leave…go to another state…get out with the baby…don’t tell your husband…go…!” I heard urgency in her voice. It was my first counseling appointment with someone outside the church after over 3 years in an abusive marriage. It was November 2017. Suicide was in my thoughts. Were it not for my infant son, I think I would have acted on such thoughts.

I married in the fall of 2014. I had no idea I was in for a ride of the worst sort.

Literally the day after our wedding, the daily abuse began, to my utter shock and confusion. He’d been so committed, it had seemed, to the Lord during dating. He got baptized, was going to church, doing Bible study, reading the Word, and would pray with me at the end of each phone call. Now we were married and the battering began. It started with verbal abuse – swearing, yelling at me, and threats of divorcing me.

For career reasons, roughly 6 weeks after marrying, we moved to California. The drive together across the country was torture, and I was the target. One night on our drive, he was falling asleep at the wheel but refused to stop for a hotel despite my pleas. It was the first time I called 911. I feared for my life.

Once in California, we found a church and began marriage counseling. Two years of marriage counseling commenced with our pastor. The pastor gave some of the best, deepest expository sermons in church that I’d ever heard, so I respected him, and he was someone my husband was willing to attend counseling with, so I wanted to make it work – even when it meant submitting to things I disagreed with.

The pastor was one of the only people I told everything to, often texting him amidst “events” as they happened. He told me not to tell other people about my marriage, because that made my husband feel disrespected. He told me I was angry, too, like my husband, it’s just that I didn’t demonstrate it outwardly; I needed to work on my anger. I needed to serve, just not be a doormat (how does that work with an abuser

who won’t honor boundaries?) He told me to say I was sorry to my husband, even if it wasn’t my fault, to regain peace. He told me to go back to my husband (after a brief separation, for example), and questioned me about calling the cops.

Once I called 911, about 6 months after marrying, to get police to just supervise my attempt to depart, since my husband was had grabbed both my wrists preventing me from leaving when I was trying to physically separate from his verbal attack. The pastor from then on questioned me, messing with my mind about engaging law enforcement aid in the future. “Why are you calling the cops? Has he physically hurt you? If not, why are you calling them? Your husband says he won’t physically hurt you.”

So, I stopped calling the cops. I greatly reduced my talking to others outside of the pastor and his wife.

About a year and half into counseling, my husband seemed to be changing - the abuse less daily and more infrequent. The pastor approved of our trying for a child. I got pregnant almost right away.

Once the baby came, it was not long, however, before the same violent man emerged with a new vengeance. Property damage to my stuff. Packing up with dramatic flair to “leave me.” Daily swearing in front of the baby. Yelling at the baby. Shaking the surface where the baby was sitting, causing the baby anxiety and fear.

And as a new mom, I was expected to still do it all – all the housework, help him search for jobs late at night, work full time at a high stress job, care for our son, iron his clothes, prepare his meals. And if my reading the Bible interfered with his plans, he tormented me enough that I could not read it in his presence. My marriage was a nightmare but I still didn’t understand why.

By November of last year, I started reaching out outside the church for help, and started to hear more than one counselor use the word “separate.” An in-home Christian nanny saw enough of the rising tensions to decide she wanted to inform me of something important: my husband was a narcissist. I found Leslie Vernick, and watched one of her webinars. That scared me, because I realized I was in the situation she was describing.

It was domestic violence and it had not been addressed as such. It was if a hidden, lurking monster suddenly loomed in front of me, saying, “Bahaha! You found me! I’m the root of all the confusion and chaos in your marriage!” Suddenly, the dots all connected and the weird seemingly unassociated behaviors made sense.

Fast forward to this summer, and between my son being older and some other logistical changes that made leaving more doable, an incident occurred with my husband that led to my separating back to the east coast.

It’s been nearly 8 weeks now. More clarity has come upon my departure. I understand how mind control and coercion are real. I could not even see the situation fully until I was out.

A pastor referred me to Joy Forrest Brown, who quickly connected me with a local domestic violence trained counselor. I found a local domestic violence organization and started receiving support. I applied for and was confirmed to receive welfare benefits. I wanted to cry showing up for charity food or sitting in the domestic violence building waiting for help. It’s been a low place, my place.

I went from working at a high paying job to leaning on charity and government programs. I was so ashamed, I didn’t want to tell friends or family I was back and why. It all seemed so surreal, so sudden, so unexpected. I hadn’t planned for it to really come to this. I always tried to keep believing the best, hoping the best, praying for my husband, forgiving and forgetting. But my husband wasn’t changing and leaving became necessary.

I’m still very much in the process of seeking stability in my situation, but for any out there in a similar spot, I want to encourage you with some things God has been ministering to me. First, he sees you – he sees the abused one. Just like Hagar who was cast out with her son. Sarah told Abraham to force her to leave, and God told Abraham to listen to Sarah. What?! God told Abraham to proceed? Yup. And sometimes the next step in God’s plan is not the one we wanted. But God showed up to Hagar in the wilderness as her provision ran out and she’d overnight become a single mom. He “heard the lad crying” and promised to also make her son a great nation. God took care of them when her earthly provision had come to an end. (Genesis 21:8-21)

And so God is doing for me, and will do for you as you wait upon Him. He’s encouraging me that my role is to rest in Him, trust Him, wait on Him (Psalm 37). Of course, I am to do my part to take actions to seek stability, but it’s up to Him to provide for my needs. He is – even albeit through unexpected means at times! – and He will do so for all who call upon and wait for Him.

How Can I Forgive Myself

Today's post is from my friend Joy.  The original post can be found on her blog at Called to Peace Ministries.

“How can I ever forgive myself?” It’s a question I’ve heard many times in my years of counseling. In fact, I get it! I know very well how it is to be plagued with guilt and remorse over a bad decision. When I finally broke free from a 23 year abusive relationship, I lived with regret on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to believe the lies  that had kept me bound up for so long, and couldn’t believe how I had foolishly disregarded the harmful impact on my children. As much as I tried to tell myself that I did the best I could at the time, I was overwhelmed with remorse. The fact that I was still living with the consequences of my failures seemed to make it even harder to let myself off the hook.

As with the many other struggles I faced as a survivor of abuse, I went to scripture to find the answer to overcoming the guilt and shame I carried. First of all, I found nothing there that spoke to a need to forgive myself. The Bible urges us to forgive one another, and to receive God’s forgiveness, but never once does it tell us to forgive ourselves. Rather, it reminds us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). It also lets us know that if we confess our sin He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). My study of scripture led me to the conclusion that rather than focusing on myself, I needed to focus on His finished work on the cross. I needed to accept what He had done for me– anything less would be the equivalent of saying His work on the cross was not effective for my sin. It was also choosing to walk in condemnation even though He had set me free from it.

Although I finally realized I had no right to continue to condemn myself, I was still overwhelmed with sorrow about the consequences of my choices earlier in life. For many years after I left the abuse, I continued to watch my children struggle as a result of their tumultuous upbringing– and my failures as a parent. Over time, I finally learned to establish boundaries with them, but it seemed to be too little too late. In the long run, all I could do was surrender them to His loving hands. All my fear-motivated attempts to control them seemed to push them further away. One day as I was crying out to God about it, I sensed in my spirit that He was not done with them yet, and that He was even sovereign over my mistakes and failures. I realized that just as He was using my pain and suffering for His good purposes, He could do the same with my kids. It took many years to see things turn around, but as I surrendered them to His loving hands He worked in amazing ways.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the weight of guilt from your past, there are two truths that will set you free –if you apply them. First, you must choose to believe God’s proclamation that you have been set free from condemnation by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He took the penalty for all your failures, and took the shame on Himself. If you have received Him, you are free from sin, guilt and condemnation. Telling yourself otherwise is to believe the lie that His sacrifice was not good enough. Second, you must trust God’s sovereignty. This means that He will somehow use the pain and sorrow you experienced for His good purposes (Rom. 8:28). Believing He is sovereign is worthless if you do not believe He is good, so if you doubt His goodness you must start by remedying that problem. Scripture is filled with proclamations of His lovingkindness, and suffering does not diminish His character!

He specializes in turning ashes into beauty (Is. 61:3). As you choose to embrace Him in your pain you will experience the reality of this truth. Full surrender to our good God will never disappoint, but holding on shame and self-condemnation will keep you in bondage. Freedom is a choice, and you will find it as you shift your focus from yourself (and your mistakes) to His abundantly sufficient grace.

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Joy Forrest has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence since 1997. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and held the position of Community Educator for Safe Space Domestic Violence Services in Louisburg, NC from 2000-2001. She has served as a biblical counselor in church settings since 2004. Her own experiences as a former victim of domestic abuse, along with her involvement with Safe Space and church counseling, caused her to see a major need for churches to become better equipped to help families affected by DV. In January 2015, she helped establish Called to Peace Ministries to promote domestic violence awareness, particularly within the faith community. Joy is also a Certified Advocate with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Learn more about Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Guest Post - How to Get Your Wife Back

This week we would like to introduce a new blog series consisting of submissions by our very own
PeaceWorks University members. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not necessarily represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by PeaceWorks University member, Rosanna Brubacker, and originally appeared on her blog, Thyme on My Path.

https://thymeonmypathblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/how-to-get-your-wife-back/

Here you are, abandoned and alone…wondering how you messed up your life so badly and wishing you could somehow miraculously undo the results of your actions.  You wanted a hint of hope, so you asked me.  I don’t know your story, but this is my answer.  I’m warning you.  It will be the hardest thing you ever did.  You will be beginning your life all over again and becoming a different person.  If you succeed, you will be a hero.  Here is how to get your wife back.

  1. Never say a bad word about your wife. Don’t shred her character. This is the most important step. Sure, you will be able to recall things about her or things she did that were wrong, but remember this: she can do the exact same thing about you. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

  2. Respect and honor her. If she felt disappointed and betrayed enough to leave you, work on this. Do not treat her like a wife, treat her like a potential girlfriend. Win her like you would a woman you never met before.  There is no place in your life in which you have a right to talk to her about her place in the home, her role in the home or her responsibilities to you as a wife.  She probably knows everything about that and if she does not, it is the role of a woman to teach her how to be a good wife.  Your job is to be the man she enjoys being around.

  3. Apologize and repent. If, and when she brings things up again, apologize and repent again.  “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.”  It goes a long way.  Do this every time.  Yes, it may be often.

  4. Don’t minimize your offenses. In fact, go into detail about why your offenses were wrong. That way she believes you really mean it. If you don’t know why you were wrong, find out and whatever you do, don’t deny it. If an action of yours made her feel unsafe or violated, you had better find out how not to repeat it.  Your job is to protect your woman, not to dictate to her or to make her feel unsafe or uncared for. You are the leader.  Lead out by exemplifying the kind of person you wish she was.  Go ahead, be her hero.  Make her feel safe, valued, important, honored and loved.

  5. Be humble. Don’t talk about spiritual things, right now. Right now, you are not a leader. The woman who followed you started running the opposite direction because you made her feel threatened.  She knows all your faults.  That time you started belittling how she parented?  She remembers that.  That time you started shaming her for the way she talked to someone?  She thinks about that every time she sees that individual.  She’s trying to forget the pain your actions caused her.  She knows your faults.  Walk in humility and grow into your place.  Acting holier than her will not work.  She knows how holy you really are.

  6. Build your relationship with Christ. This could have been my first point, but I chose to put it under the point about humility which goes along with pretending to be holy. God knows you.  He knows your weaknesses and where you went wrong.  He wants you to love him more than you love your wife and he longs to build an intimate relationship with you, just like you long to build an intimate relationship with your wife.  Do not fail to seek him with all your heart.  He is the healing for your pain, the source of your joy, the intimate lover of your heart, the balm for your wound.  He is the ultimate leader who laid down his very life for his often way-ward bride.  Do you love your wife like that?  Would you die for her?

  7. Limit your contact with other women. You have no business building a relationship with other women. Be loyal to your wife. If you find yourself longing for a woman’s approval, remember you once had hers.  She once loved you enough to marry you.  She once trusted you.  Another woman has no place in your heart and God calls that adultery.

  8. Be accountable. When you are sweating out the loneliness and the gut-wrenching hard work of allowing God to reveal your sin and to learn new principles of how to live, you’ll need a good man or two or three in your life that will treat you like a son. They can teach you how to honor your wife and be loyal to her. You can go to them when you are angry and they can walk you through the repentance and the sorrow and get you back to being willing to climb the next mountain and scale the next wall.

  9. Don’t compliment other women. You have a wife to compliment. One day you saw that girl and thought, “She’s sweet and beautiful and I want to marry her.”  She’s still sweet and beautiful.  That girl is still there.  Date her when she begins trusting you enough to date again.  Compliment her.

  10. Get counseling. “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Solomon 2:15). It’s the little things that lead up to the destruction of the marriage.  It’s the bad habits that creep in and run about unobstructed. When the habits grow up into full-fledged monsters, it has gone way too far. I do not advise couples counseling for deeply entrenched habits such as abusive relationships.  Individual counseling helps you deal with the things that come up in your life.  When you can handle your own personal issues, and deal with them wisely with knowledge and integrity, then you can handle your side of a relationship.  When your wife sees you working on the issues in your life, she can see that you are actually changing and becoming the man she knew you were behind the bluff you were putting on.  Go find the humble, kind, godly man you once were.  If you never were humble and kind, go find Jesus.  He will teach you how to be like him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Blessings, my friend, as you become your wife’s hero.

 

PEACEWORKS UNIVERSITY

PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home.  PeaceWorks University is a perfect coaching option for pastors, ministry leaders, biblical counselors, and people helpers. 

Telling the Truth to Yourself

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

So often when I ask men to share with me how they came to be in a batterer intervention group I find they are eager to “set the record straight.” Generally speaking, most of the men I have worked with put forth a great deal of effort to convince me that they are in fact victims. Some will vacillate back and forth between excuses ranging from unfortunate circumstances to a feminist agenda bent on destroying families. Regardless of the rationale one truth remains consistent, they are being treated unfairly. The temptation for these men is to deny their own responsibility, usually by highlighting their partner’s problems. Many will insist she needs the class far more than they. Sometimes it may seem like I’m out to get them or that I’m unwilling to listen to their side of the story. The reality is that change will not happen in our own hearts as long as we continue to defend our own pride with lies or half-truths.

Put off Denial

Our pride convinces us that wicked behavior is sometimes necessary to maintain control or that malicious intent is justified when we feel wronged. This attitude may have led you to physically harm your partner or to call her ugly names. Perhaps you’ve thrown things across the room or punched holes in the walls to communicate you’re not pleased with her choices. If any of this is true than you may also find it necessary to hide certain details, bend certain truths to minimize your behavior while emphasizing the ways in which you’ve been wronged. This tendency toward denial is not going to help produce the change you really need. It’s a trap so devastating that it will not only destroy your relationship but will also ensnare your heart. I’m pleading with you to accept responsibility for your actions. Acknowledge the abusive behavior and the impact it has had on your partner.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”  James 4:8-10

Change is a difficult and often times a lengthy process that requires, among other things, taking responsibility. You must acknowledge the truth about yourself and put off the denial. Would you be willing to speak truth to yourself today?

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”  Ephesians 4:25

Final Thought

If I were to ask you about your abusive behavior what would say? Would your story include statements like these?

“I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“She knows how to push my buttons.”

“This is all blown out of proportion.”

Let me encourage you to recount the story again, but this time only focus on your actions. Fight the temptation to justify them, excuse them away or gloss over them. Make a list of the ways in which you harmed your partner. Have you physically harmed her? Have you called her ugly names? Have you damaged her reputation with lies? Telling the truth will not fix everything that seems wrong in your life right now, but it is a far better choice than lying to yourself and others.

THE BEAUTY OF CONFRONTATION

Today's post is by my friend Beverly Moore. 

Many people cringe when they hear the word “confrontation.” Some say they prefer surgery to having to confront someone. You also have the other end of the spectrum—someone always ready to sniff out sin and get in someone’s face about it. As Christians, it’s very important to have a biblical view of confrontation.

A Biblical Definition of Confrontation

A biblical definition of confrontation is having a face-to-face encounter with someone in order to bring biblical truth to bear on an area of concern. This is to be done with humility and motivated by love for God and love for the person confronted. We are to speak the truth in love to glorify God and benefit the person.

Why Should We Confront?

We all fall short of the glory of God, and many times we don’t even see the sin that has us trapped (1 John 1:8). The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

These verses make it clear that rebuking and correcting are to be taken seriously, practiced regularly, and to be done for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.

When we confront, we’re demonstrating love for God and obedience to Him. We’re also demonstrating love for the person. We’re more concerned about honoring God and the spiritual well-being of the other person than we are about our own comfort. When we’re reluctant to confront we sometimes rationalize and justify with thoughts like: What if she gets mad? What if I hurt his feelings? What if she doesn’t like me anymore? This reveals what we’re truly worshiping—the love and acceptance of others. When we confront, we have to be willing to risk the person’s rejection or anger for the sake of God’s honor.

How We Should We Confront

Our goal should not be to inflict pain or seek revenge. Our goal is to honor God in everything we say and do, including confronting someone. Start by praying diligently for your own heart as well as the other person’s heart before confronting, and pray diligently after. Trust God to help you, knowing He will give you the grace you need to obey Him. Trust also that He will work in the heart of the other person.

Galatians 6:1 says that if we see a brother or sister who is caught in a sin, we should restore him or her gently. Restoration starts with loving confrontation. We need to be willing to go to this person and show him his fault (Matthew 18:15). I’m not advocating becoming this person’s personal conscience or play the junior Holy Spirit. But sin that is damaging the person’s testimony as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is clearly in violation of God’s Word, should be confronted firmly but with gentleness and respect.

Start by asking questions rather than assuming you know exactly what’s going on. Proverbs 18:13 tells us to listen first, then answer. If you’re concerned about something you see in a person’s life, explain what you see and ask for help to understand what’s happening. Do this with humility, not with a self-righteous, judgmental attitude. When we go with a humble attitude, we’re demonstrating we’re fully aware we don’t have it all together either and we need help just as much as them. We’re just one unworthy servant trying to help another unworthy servant glorify God.

Confronting an unbeliever of sin affords this person an opportunity to seek God’s forgiveness. In the case of child sexual abuse, confronting the perpetrator can bring reconciliation—with God and the one sinned against. (If this is the situation, please seek wise counsel on confronting a perpetrator.) View this as a golden opportunity to share the gospel with them. Explain how you’ve experienced God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and how you desire that for them too. We can’t personally rescue people from hell, but we can point them to One who makes forgiveness and salvation possible.

Points to Consider When Confronting

If we haven’t made it a habit to speak truthfully and lovingly to the people in our lives, practicing transparency and approachability, confrontation could seem very fearful. It’s important to focus on pleasing God rather than our feelings of fear. We have to set our hearts and minds on the things above rather than on the things of this earth (like our own comfort or ease).

The goal is to obey God by following His commands. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love, and Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to speak words that build up, not tear down. Our words should benefit the one listening. This doesn’t mean we should skirt around the issue to be confronted, avoiding calling sin sin. But it does mean that we speak the truth without compromise while at the same time not attacking the person.

Responses

Be prepared for unexpected responses. We have to keep our expectations in check. How we hope the person will respond can’t be the goal. We should be prepared for a response of anger or denial. We have to leave the results up to God. A person’s initial response may be one of anger or hurt, but allow time for the Holy Spirit to work in his or her heart.

Confronting others is not always easy and can seem unkind. Yet in reality it’s a loving thing to do. We can follow Jesus’ example as He demonstrated honor for His Father when He confronted while on earth. Lovingly confronting, rebuking, and correcting demonstrates we are living for the King and the Kingdom. In all things, may God be glorified!

 

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Bev Moore (M.A.B.C.) is on the counseling staff at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN. She is married to George and they have two grown sons. She co-authored In the Aftermath: Past the Pain of Childhood Sexual Abuse. 

A Word To Men Who Abuse

There is a section of the West Point cadet prayer that I recite in our classes occasionally and perhaps it will be a help to you today, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.” I know you want me to understand your point of view. I’m sure you’re desperate to have someone hear ‘your’ side of the story, but I want to challenge you to slow down for a few moments, to listen and choose the more difficult but rewarding road of responsibility. If you’ve been confronted for your behavior I know the temptation is to throw out the thousand and one excuses for what you’ve done, but that’s not going to help you and only adds to your partner’s suffering. I want to challenge you to take a break from defending your position and acknowledge a simple truth. Your behavior, attitude, words, and/or motives have hurt your spouse. True transformation requires accepting responsibility for you alone without the clutter of excuses, or justifications. Let’s begin by putting aside the tactics that tend to trap us in the way of easy wrongs. This may be hard to hear and you may find it difficult or painful to look in the mirror, but if you stick with it and take these words to heart there is hope. No, taking responsibility will not fully restore what’s been broken, it will not get you what you want and may in fact be painful, but it can be a step in restoring your soul, and possibly your relationship with God.

Final Thought:

After David’s sexual assault of Bathsheba and subsequent murder of Uriah it was the sharp words of a friend who was willing to say, “Thou art the man!” that pointed David down the difficult road of admitting his sin, the harsh reality of the consequences he’d created and finally a spirit of humility. It was in that spirit that he penned these words in response, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” I pray you’ll choose the more difficult right today by accepting responsibility.

Peace, Chris

Sexual Abuse in Marriage Part Three with Darby Strickland

When God places women in our care who have been sexually abused in marriage, he is entrusting us with a tender and clear mission. These women face tremendous suffering and need us to care for them with gentle wisdom. They also need us to be strong—calling evil acts what they are—evil. This is not a comfortable calling, but it is a critical calling, one after Jesus’ own heart (Luke 4:18-19). Often it means we, ourselves, need to acquire additional wisdom and learn what it means to embody Jesus to these dear sufferers. The last thing we want to do is to inadvertently hurt them when we try to help. So, let’s start with the basics. We know we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), especially when someone is facing evil (Rom. 12:9-12). We are to be compassionate, gentle, and patient in our care (Eph. 4:21 Pet. 3:8). In addition to these basics, here are some practical ways to walk alongside and minister to these women.

1. Ask. Sexual abuse in marriage is frightening to reveal. Sadly, a large percentage of my counselees who experience physical and verbal cruelty are also experiencing sexual abuse. It is not something that women usually disclose because shame, stigma, and confusion contribute to silence. But speaking about it and receiving support is crucial to safety and healing. One way to help victims is to bring up the topic. I usually say something like: “More than half of the women I see in oppressive marriages experience hard and difficult things in their sexual relationship. Are there ways that you struggle with physical intimacy? Things that make you uncomfortable? Do you experience any unwanted sexual activity? Do you ever feel pressured?”

Sometimes victims are only ready to say “yes” to these questions but are not comfortable discussing the violations themselves. Do not press, just periodically check in asking them if they are ready to talk or have questions.

Consider, especially in a church setting, inviting a woman to bring a female friend and supporter with her to counseling. It can be overwhelming to discuss such abuses with a pastor or other church leader and the tangible comfort provided by such a person will reduce her sense of isolation and vulnerability.

2. Listen. Abuse is not something you can solve with words; there are complexities and evils that our words are inadequate for. Do not feel that you need to say something to make it better—you can’t. Sit with the suffering. Your presence alone is powerful, lifting shame. Keep in mind it is good and right for the victimized to feel hurt, fearful, and angry. Do not sanitize their speech but trust that, in time, God will shape their lament. Right now, the important thing is for them to tell their story. No matter what it sounds like, they are bringing the terrible secrets of their life into the light which is a beautiful act of trust and faith.  Continue reading at CCEF

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Darby Stickland joined Pastor Chris for a PeaceWorks University MasterClass discussion on sexual abuse in marriage. PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home.  Learn more about PeaceWorks University hereand here

 

 

Sexual Abuse in Marriage Part Two with Darby Strickland

Over the years, I have had hundreds of conversations with women who are being sexually abused by their husbands but do not realize it. They know something is wrong but do not know what it is. In fact, most of these women come to me seeking help for something else, usually anxiety, depression, or even a desire to foster a richer marital relationship. As I sit with them and learn more about their marriage, it’s often plain to me that they are being grossly mistreated. But they are confused, and often struggle to call the things they endure abusive or sinful—let alone evil. They worry they are exaggerating, believe they are responsible for what is happening, and doubt their own memory when recounting an abusive episode.

These women need us to help them understand the reality of their situation, but the fact that they do not perceive or portray it accurately can be a barrier to that. If you follow their lead, you will miss the larger abuses that might be taking place and focus on the personal problems they present. It is important that we work to cut through their confusion and see what lies behind it. If you suspect that abuse is occurring, continue to ask questions. If you discover sexual abuse, then great care must be taken to explain how these violations go against God’s design for marriage. Continue reading at CCEF

Darby Stickland joined Pastor Chris for a PeaceWorks University MasterClass discussion on sexual abuse in marriage. PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home.  Learn more about PeaceWorks University here and here

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Sexual Abuse in Marriage Part One with Darby Strickland

This is the first in a series of three blogs by counselor Darby Strickland on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. This post first appeared on the blog of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.  CCEF's mission is to equip the church to be this kind of transforming community. We see ourselves as an extension of the local church, and we want to serve and promote its ministry. The good news of the gospel is meant to be preached, taught, and counseled with relevance to individual people. Equipping Christians to live, love, and counsel is our goal. You can learn more about CCEF here. 

God created marriage to be something beautiful and sacrificial in which the hearts and bodies of a man and woman are united as one. Sex is supposed to be a culmination of this emotional and spiritual relationship expressing unity, peace, and love (Gen. 2:24; Prov. 5:18-19; Song. 7:6-12). Given this foundation, the possibility that marriage could be a place where sexual abuse or violence occurs is almost unthinkable. But sadly, it does happen—and with surprising frequency.

Though the recent #metoo movement has revealed the prevalence with which people are violated sexually, my heart remains heavy for wives who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Their stories remain untold, and I am concerned that many pastors and counselors are unaware of its occurrence. I hear many stories (too many stories) of women being abused, violated or even raped by their husbands. It is a frightening reality for these women—one that they usually endure in isolation. The Lord is not silent on such horrors, nor should we be. My goal, therefore, is to identify what sexual abuse in marriage looks like so it can be recognized more readily and these women can get the help they need.

Sexual abuse in marriage occurs when husbands make demands on their wives that are not based on love. These demands for sex are not sanctioned by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, though the passage is often used as a goad to require a wife’s compliance. To be clear, the men who do this are troubled themselves. They usually have deep-seated problems including a weak or non-existent relationship with God and an inflated sense of entitlement. They believe that other people (including their wives) exist for them—for their comfort and to meet their needs, including sexual ones. When their wives fail to respond as desired, it often results in a pattern of coercive and punishing behaviors designed to force their compliance.

Sexual desire perverted by entitlement damages a couple’s sexual relationship in many ways. Here are a few examples of what it looks like:

Continue reading at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation blog.

 

How Abuse Affects You as a Mother

I have the privilege of speaking at a Church camp this week so I will not be offering new content on the blog, but I did want to re-post this piece by my friend Darby Strickland. You can read more of Darby's content at www.darbystrickland.com

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There are few things more precious to you than your children. They’re a gift from the Lord that we’re meant to delight in. That’s not to say that parenting is easy. It is as demanding as it is rewarding. Everyday stress, like demanding schedules and the never-ending nature of housework, affect all our abilities to engage well with the many parenting challenges we face.

However, when you’re in an oppressive marriage, the attacks on your person-hood are pervasive and unrelenting. On any given day you can hear controlling or cutting criticisms from your spouse. Crushing words, some that might cause self-doubt others that create unbearable tension. The stresses you deal with in your marriage are intense. It is likely that you don’t have help from your spouse, even worse, they might be working against you and your parenting goals. All these factors can be compounding and can affect your parenting in ways that you might not even be aware of.... Continue Reading Here 

What I Wish My Pastor Had Known When I Was Looking For Help.

I'm re-posting a past entry from my friend Julie Owens. Considering the current climate within the church and the topic of domestic violence I thought these reminders may prove helpful. With that said I also want to encourage you to join me in praying for our friends in the Southern Baptist Convention as they hold their annual meeting this week which will include discussions regarding domestic abuse and sexual assault. May God grant wisdom and clarity for all involved and may we see the church become a safer place. 

What I wish Pastors had known when I was looking for help.

  1. What domestic violence IS – “A pattern of coercive, controlling behavior, exercised by one intimate partner over the other”; a belief in the right to absolute power and control; not just physical abuse, hitting, etc. Anyone can be a victim. Usually women are the victims, but men can be victims, too.
  2. What domestic violence IS NOT – not a “marriage problem” or “communication problem”, it’s not caused by anger, stress, alcohol/drugs or sickness (mental illness)
  3. How to screen/assess for DV signs – in pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, all interactions with couples. Possible signs: He won’t let her talk in counseling; he tries to control where she goes and what she does, he always wants to be with her; she may cancel counseling appointments if he can’t come too; He may “bash”/badmouth her to you, try to convince you she is the one with the problems, he may threaten to take the children from her; she may have bruises or unexplained injuries; she may seem depressed; she may use drugs or alcohol to cope.
  4. To assume that victims are telling the truth - because usually they don’t talk, and when they do, they minimize (not exaggerate). There is usually no value in lying, because she is usually blamed when she does tell the truth; Even if she is the one that’s been arrested, don’t assume she’s not the victim!
  5. To NAME the abuse - to call it what it is, educate her and not minimize.

  6. To maintain her confidentiality - to not confront or involve the abuser without her        clear permission or without warning her

  7. To maintain safety as the highest priority – to make sure she has a safety plan in place and knows about all of the local resources for abuse victims; to put her in touch with other victims and survivors who can provide support; to encourage the use of safe shelters vs. family homes if the danger is escalating.

  8. To avoid marriage counseling if abuse is occurring – marriage counseling assumes equality & safety; it assumes that this is a mutual “relationship problem” which can be fixed by both persons working on it, rather than one person’s abuse/violence problem; victims may be beaten for telling the truth; marriage counseling may keep the couple stuck in the tension–building phase of the “cycle of violence” for longer, but will not prevent the next (worse) episode. 

  9. To not assume that because there has been no overt physical violence yet, that it is not likely – the worse abuse & most murders occur at or after a separation. 

  10. To validate her feelings, respect her wishes & support her decisions – even if you don’t agree with her; she will come back to you later for help if you are non-blaming.

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Julie Owens is a survivor of domestic violence who has worked in the field of violence against women and women's empowerment since 1989. She has founded a hospital DV crisis response team, a transitional shelter, advocacy groups and training programs. She has worked with trauma survivors and addicted survivors, and was a research co-investigator, project director and trauma therapist on studies at the National Center for PTSD. Learn more about Julie at www.domesticviolenceexpert.org

 

Why Your Church Needs a Domestic Abuse Policy

Today's post is by my friend, and skilled Biblical counselor, Greg Wilson. Greg has been working to develop and implement policies and procedures for domestic violence prevention in the local church. 

Most churches have a child protection policy in place. If not, your church definitely should implement such a policy for the protection of your most vulnerable attenders and members – the children of your church. But there is another type of wickedness that afflicts many vulnerable children (as well as spouses and intimate partners) within the church, and far fewer churches have policies in place to protect them from it. This evil is known as domestic abuse, domestic violence, intimate partner abuse, or intimate partner violence, and it is rampant in our society. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience it in their lifetime, and 1 in 15 children are exposed to it each year (90% of those are eyewitnesses). While child and student ministry resource organizations have labored tirelessly to help churches understand the need to make child protection policies and procedures like volunteer applications and screenings, check-in systems, two-volunteer rules, and visibility guidelines standard practice, there are very few who are arguing for similar policies and protocols for responding to the disclosure or discovery of emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, psychological, or physical abuse between spouses or intimate partners. Yet this type of abuse is prevalent within society and within the church and is often also bolstered by systemic factors unique to and highly valued by Christian churches, such as our high view of marriage, our theology of suffering, and the belief held by many that God has designed men and women to function differently in the home and the church. To fully protect the families in your church from oppression, your church needs a domestic abuse policy as well as a child protection policy. A domestic abuse policy is going to help your leaders protect families in your church by answering two questions: “What is domestic abuse?” and “How do I respond to a disclosure or discovery of domestic abuse?”.

Recognizing Abuse. The reason that many churches do not respond well to domestic abuse is because most church leaders don’t know what it is. Your church’s domestic abuse policy must define domestic abuse in such a way that your volunteer and staff church leaders know how to recognize it. While it isn’t always easy to spot initially, Chris Moles, Leslie Vernick, John Henderson, Steven Tracy, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, and Diane Langberg, among others, have offered up definitions and characteristics to help church leaders discern when abuse is taking place in a relationship. There are very consistent elements to each of these definitions: a pattern of behavior, selfish intent, the misuse of power and control, and a wide variety of manifestations: economic, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, physical, and verbal. Your policy needs to clearly spell out what abuse is, and also what abuse isn’t (a marriage problem, an anger problem, a legal problem, the other spouses’ problem, etc.). You want those who read your policy – members, lay leaders, elders, deacons, staff – to know clearly what meets the requirements for domestic abuse and to be able to recognize perpetrators and victims in their midst.

Responding to Abuse. It’s not enough that your church be able to spot domestic abuse. They must also know how to respond appropriately. Your members and leaders must know, for example, that the safety of the victim takes precedence in the immediate wake of a disclosure or discovery of abuse. Who should be notified? Are there confidential means for victims to notify church leaders that they need help? Whose responsibility is it to come alongside and care for identified victims of abuse? What resources in your church and community are available to assist victims? What is a safety plan and how can one be developed and implemented? Your policy must also spell out when and how abusers are to be confronted. The general rule of thumb here is that a perpetrator should only be confronted after the safety of the victim has been assessed and reasonably secured, and only with the victim’s advice and consent. Whose responsibility is it to confront an abusive man? How would such a confrontation take place. (This is one of the most dangerous times for victims.) What church and community resources exist for perpetrators of abuse? How is the church discipline policy engaged? How is repentance discerned? Finally, your policy will need to address marriage reconciliation. You will want your members to understand that a perpetrator’s reconciliation to the Lord must precede their reconciliation to their spouse. Your policy should clearly state that individual counseling for both the victim and the perpetrator is advisable initially, and that couples counseling should only be attempted when both counselors and both partners are in agreement that the time is right. Your policy will also want to be clear about how the church will minister to both partners (assuming that both are members and both remain under the care of the church) in the event of a prolonged separation, and you will also want to be clear about your church’s policy on divorce in the event of unrepentant domestic abuse.

Caring for the Oppressed, Correcting Oppressors. “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Prov 31:8-9) A well-written, well-executed domestic abuse policy and protocol tells your community and your members that your church is serious about the mandate God gives us to care for the oppressed and to lovingly and humbly confront and correct oppressors. It can make your church a safer place for the vulnerable, and a place where abusive people will not be allowed to continue their abuse.

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Greg Wilson (MA, LPC-S) is currently completing his Doctor of educational ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Greg has a full-time clinical practice, specializing in working with families, couples, adolescents and men. His experience working with families includes pre-marital and marital counseling for couples, as well as work with parents and teens. His practice includes work with male perpetrators of abuse/domestic violence, sexual addictions, adolescent life-stage issues, marital conflict, anxiety disorders and mood disorders. Greg also serves as a deacon of care at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and is a certification curriculum facilitator for the Association of Biblical Counselors, where he is also a member of the advisory board for their Center for Professional Soul Care. Greg also is a trained mediator, and he has met all the state requirements to perform mediation services in Texas. He trains lay counselors in the church and through the Association for Biblical Counselors and consults with church leaders on matters relating to biblical soul care.

Sticks And Stones

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”                                                                                                              Proverbs 12:18

We all know that words are powerful and when used by an individual set on coercive control they can have devastating results. Many men over the years have shared with me that physical violence was a last resort and that they prefer to use non-violent means of manipulation and control. I believe that the same heart that produces physical abuse is the same heart that produces emotional abuse. A heart bent on control will use whatever “works” to get what it wants, and will excuse that behavior based on its own entitlement.

The Fruit of an Abusive Heart

The root of an abusive heart produces the fruit of abusive behavior. One of the difficulties in speaking with pastors regarding this topic is the insistence on separating abuse into a variety of categories. While understanding distinct categories of abuse such as emotional and verbal is beneficial such as in determining the pattern, many times they are incorrectly arranged according to perceived severity. When we prioritize abusive behavior, labeling some as severe and others as modest, we may miss the important reality that while the behavior may seem to run on a broad spectrum they all originate from the same heart motivation. Tactics of power and control, whatever form they take, all serve the same heart of pride. Overlooking the heart while minimizing the severity of certain behavior may lead us to excuse the more “respectable sins” of verbal and emotional abuse because at least no one is getting hurt. This is not a new consideration in Christian thought and practice. Jesus, revealing the centrality of the heart said this of anger, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”(Matthew 5:21-22) Not only does Jesus condemn this malicious, murderous anger he also forbids verbal abuse with the same punishment as murder. This reality of the heart is not limited to Jesus and we read this same principle in the writings of the early church. For instance the Apostle John writes, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” (1 John 3:15) If Jesus and His early followers were concerned with motives of the heart evidenced in a wide variety of behaviors then when addressing abusive people I feel it is necessary to not only promote a change of behavior but a reorienting of motivation.

Final Thought:

If the heart of pride promotes the use of power as a means of controlling one’s spouse then we have a problem regardless of the “fruit” of our behavior. Rather than reducing the severity of emotional, economic, verbal, or mental abuse should we not instead call to account the sinfulness of a self-serving heart

Not A Marriage Problem

Not a Marriage Problem

“I don’t see the harm in sitting down with the couple to get the whole story.”

“That’s great Chris, but when can we begin marriage counseling?”

“How long before they can move back in together?”

These are just a few examples of the kinds of things I’ve heard over the years from pastors and ministry leaders who have come to me for help and assistance with a case in their ministry involving abuse. Many have been resistant to my recommendations to delay marriage counseling and feel pressure to focus attention on the marriage. The truth is domestic abuse is not a marriage problem, it’s a heart problem. Therefore, marriage-focused solutions may do more harm than good in cases of domestic abuse. Rushing a resolution could prove damaging and even deadly in cases of domestic abuse. While there remains some debate regarding the value of marriage counseling in an abusive situation most believe that marriage counseling endangers the victim through, often unintended, but real consequences. For instance, couples suffering in the midst of family abuse often have nonverbal cues or key words that have hidden meaning. Men who are driven by control and eager to manipulate may use the counseling room as a tool to control while (seemingly) humble or portraying themselves as a victim. Therefore, hurried marriage-focused solutions may endanger one party and ultimately undermine the long-term success of the marriage we are desperately trying to save. One way to view this issue is to imagine the reconciliation process like a hurdle race at a track and field event. While each hurdle must be cleared by the runner he or she is bound by the rules to clear them in order. They cannot skip hurdle one to attempt to clear hurdle five without suffering disqualification. In much the same way, I am suggesting that our first obstacle is the abuse; not communication, not nagging, and not even the marriage. Our first objective is to end the abuse. Then we are free to traverse the next obstacle on the way to reconciliation. I understand, to some degree, why we are quick to pursue marriage counseling. We are comfortable with marriage counseling. We’ve been equipped to provide marriage counseling. And the Bible has a great deal to say about marriage. Since domestic abuse often occurs in the context of marriage that seems like the proper context in which to address it. I’m in no way suggesting that domestic abuse and marriage are unrelated. Certainly, it has devastating effects on the marriage relationship but I must stress and urge us to accept that domestic abuse is, in fact, a problem beginning in the heart of an abuser.

Final Thought

We would never suggest that a child abuser simply needs classes on Biblical parenting because the act of abuse occurred in the context of a parent/child relationship. No! We would want to comfort the victim by addressing the child’s suffering. We would, in accordance with state law, want to confront the abuser, and offer them the gospel, accountability, and correction for their sin. In much the same way the church should determine to comfort those who suffer from the terror and harm of domestic abuse and address the heart of the abuser. I firmly believe that the most effective means of reducing abuse against women is addressing the hearts of men.

Thoughts on Womanhood and Motherhood by Rev. Robert Owens

This week's post is by Rev. Robert Owens. Pastor Bob's work was the first I encountered from a pastoral perspective when I began working in domestic violence prevention and intervention. His faithful voice in the work to end violence against women has been an encouragement to me for many years now.  This post first appeared on his blog at pastorbobblog.com

I wanted to write a tribute to mothers, but when I sat down at the computer I felt led to enlarge the subject, for since recorded history men have been using and abusing women, degrading and dehumanizing the female. Patriarchal religions are no exception, except men do it in the name of God, in the belief that they have the right to subjugate, dominate, and humiliate women, if necessary, in order to keep them in their place. How sad it is that many men who bear the name of Christ believe the Bible gives them the right to assert their authority in a manner that requires the use of force to let their wife or girlfriend know who is “boss.”  For after all, they contend, the New Testament tells us that God has put man in authority “over” women, especially in marriage, where the husband is supposed to be the spiritual leader, the “head” of the wife, the one who gives the orders, the one who has the last word, the one who makes the major decisions, the one who handles the finances. This is the interpretation of scripture that has always been most appealing to abusers, but most appalling to those who are among the advocates for victims.

Furthermore, many men do not consider themselves abusers because they do not beat their wives, but abuse takes many forms: verbal abuse, mental abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, etc. However, physical abuse is the kind of abuse most people think of when they hear the term “domestic violence” and, believe it or not, this kind of abuse is common in Christian homes—there are victims in every congregation, though many pastors refuse to believe it. This is THE SIN MOST PASTORS DENY. They simply do not want to believe there are any victims of domestic violence, let alone abusers, in their churches.

I attended a “Family Life Conference” a number of years ago in Texas, where this patriarchal view was evident from the beginning, a military design for marriage and family life that had been widely promoted in such family life seminars across the country (i.e., with ranks in the family, an “over and under” design for marriage). That seemed so strange to me, for I knew Jesus had said, “It shall not be so among you,” referring to those who “lorded it over one another.” Furthermore, the kind of leadership Jesus modeled, and told His followers to exemplify, was servant leadership, just the opposite of “positional leadership.”  However, at this particular conference where that kind of leadership was being proclaimed as “God’s design for marriage and family life,” a well known pastor of a very large church in a major southern city had just completed his message on “submission” and “headship” when, during the talk-back session, a woman in the congregation stood up and asked, “What should a wife do if her husband is an abuser, guilty of beating his wife?” That pastor responded, “Go back and take another beating! Perhaps your submissive and gentle spirit will bring about the changes you desire in your husband’s behavior.” That was a wake-up call for me!

We are supposed to be the followers of One who said, “He who is greatest among you shall be the servant.”  We are supposed to be the followers of One who “made Himself of no reputation,” but humbled Himself, even to the point of washing His disciples’ feet. Jesus never used His power and authority for Himself, to lord over others, even though He is Lord! It is impossible for me to understand how any Christian man who is in a leadership position in his home, in his marriage, in his family, in his church, could ever use and abuse scripture to justify his abuse of his power and authority as a leader in Christ’s Church. However, I know from my own personal experience, as a pastor and advocate for victims of abuse for many years, that there are many men in the Body of Christ who do so, including pastors, elders, deacons, counselors, attorneys, physicians, psychologists, counselors, and in almost any other profession you can name.

Let me explode a common myth right now, that the problem of abuse, the crisis of domestic violence, is something that only happens in poor families, among uneducated and  irreligious people. Furthermore, some people actually believe this problem is much more common in some socio-economic and racial groups than others, especially their own, which is an indication of their own prejudice.  If you do not believe me, I encourage you to consult the experts in this field, as well as other related subjects: sex trafficking, with young girls are used as sex slaves, a worldwide human crisis that is fast becoming a major industry in the United States); and date rape. Whenever and wherever girls and women are degraded, when virtue is demeaned and our God-given sex drive is used in the marketplace to sell products by promoting sex appeal, there will always be moral decay and decline.Consider how the internet is being used (misused) by producers and companies sponsoring popular shows in which human sexuality is often debased, and true love is frequently debunked. Consider much of contemporary literature, both drama and novel, where we find not only premarital sex, extramarital sex and sexual abuse, but also a myriad of other degrading and very destructive forms of human behavior. This should cause us to be greatly disturbed and compel us to speak out and stand up for “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing (especially pleasing to God), whatever is commendable…. THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS.” (Philippians 4:8)

Are we not now reaping what we have sown in the breakdown of the home and family? Almost as many divorces as marriages; an alarming increase in the number of suicides among teenagers and young adults; the tragic killings of families in their own homes—too often, children killing parents, parents killing children, or abused women killing an abusive husband or boyfriend in a final desperate act of self-defense. Yes, there is a spiritual law that is just as inexorable as physical laws, and scripture calls it the law of sowing and reaping: “Be not deceived, whatever we sow, that we shall also reap. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption, but if you sow to the Spirit you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:7-8)

Let us also ponder two scriptures that are difficult to understand, but very important to consider. In Matthew, chapter five, Jesus lets us know that His truth for living a moral life, the Christian ethic, is much more than a set of rules, both positive and negative (i.e. “you shall” and “you shall not”). It is an affair of the heart. He startled His listeners, and still does, with His deeper truth that anger out of control is murderous, and to be lustful (to “look at a woman with lust in your heart”) is to be adulterous. As always, our Lord is going beyond the letter of the law, and going beyond the act to the attitude. He wants us to understand that how we act is the result of how we think, and an indication of how we see people, including those of the opposite sex.

Do you not agree that it would be wonderful if all of us made a more conscious effort to see people through the eyes of Jesus? We can begin this month as we celebrate MOTHER’S DAY once again. Let us men consider how we look at all women, not just our mothers, if we are fortunate enough to still be blessed with their presence. If we are fathers, and are blessed to have daughters, let us consider how we want men to look at them. For those of us who have a loving and faithful wife, let us realize that what the Bible says is true; she is worth much more than precious jewels. Personally, I am amazed at the loving and giving capacity of wives and mothers. They take care of us, they take care of our children, they run our households, they prepare delicious and healthy meals, they keep our houses clean, they do our laundry, they put clean clothes in our closets and drawers, they nurse us when we are sick, they keep track of where everything in the house is located and keep their cool when the rest of us are misplacing our things. I am personally convinced that a good and faithful wife’s love, and the patient and endless love of a devoted mother, is one of the main ways by which God’s love reaches us as husbands and fathers. No wonder the Bible tells us to live considerately with our wives, to love them as Christ loves His Church, and to honor our mothers. THEY DESERVE IT and GOD COMMANDS IT. (Ephesians 5:25-31; I Peter 3:7; Exodus 20:12)

A final word to you Christian men. If you are wondering why your prayers are not being answered, look at the way you are treating your wife (and your children’s mother). Read I Peter 3:7 once again, “…lest your prayers be hindered.”

 

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Rev. Robert Owens (Pastor Bob) is a retired Presbyterian (USA) minister and long time advocate for victims of domestic violence. You can learn more about and from Pastor Bob at pastorbobblog.com

3 ways to bring more clarity to our domestic violence responses

I want to begin this week’s post by thanking the incredible people at Elijah Haven Crisis Intervention Center in LaGrange, IN. Thursday night I spoke at the Elijah Haven fundraiser dinner, Friday night I presented a three hour seminar to a group of Amish Bishops and their spouses, and Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Marion Christian Fellowship. It was a great week with some wonderful people.

Meanwhile back in the Evangelical world a shocking and offensive audio clip re-surfaced and exposed a problem that many of us are all too familiar with; A Christian leader offering dangerous advice to domestic violence victims. I’m not going to address that audio here because there have been many helpful responses to Dr. Patterson’s comments already. I want to spend our time today adding clarity to those responses. I greatly appreciated the Christians and organizations who used their platforms and influence to stand up for victims. However some of what was said could benefit from a few corrections.  

  1. Abuse is a Crime: So many of the responses I have read this week include definitive statements that abuse is a crime. The problem with such statements is that they are only partially true. The reality is that domestic violence is a broad term used to describe a pattern of coercive control, and while some behaviors include criminality most do not. The vast majority of behaviors including emotional abuse, aspects of isolation, minimization, denial, and blame, economic, and verbal abuse are sinful of course but not necessarily illegal. Some writers declared this week that, “not only is abuse sinful, it is a crime.” Unfortunately, a statement such as this tells us that the authors, although well meaning, do not yet understand the dynamics and impact of abuse which may include some criminal activity but more than likely will include tactics of power and control that are frankly outside the scope of law enforcement and the courts. It also says something about our view of sin, indicating that somehow a crime is more significant than the sin of domestic violence.

  2. Report, Report, Report: Secondly, well meaning Christians have taken to social media to instruct their brothers and sisters in leadership to report acts of domestic violence immediately. One passionate writer went so far as to suggest that a pastor who doesn’t report a disclosure to the authorities should be held criminally negligent. Again, I believe these comments are from a place of goodwill, but are problematic. The majority of states in the U.S. require clergy to report acts of abuse against children, and the elderly. On the other hand, most states do not require clergy to report acts of domestic violence and it is in fact based in wisdom. Women who disclose are taking a great risk to confide in you and your willingness to listen and believe them is a tremendous act of support. Reporting a disclosure, without the victim's consent, may actually place the victim in further danger as an investigation or service of a protective order may incite their partner to greater violence. In addition some victims report being safer knowing where their partner is as opposed to the mystery of removal. The bottom-line is that victims must inform our decisions. We offer resources, safety planning, and support. I have found this flowchart from the United Methodist to be very helpful in informing responses to disclosures.

  3. The Cycle of Abuse: One popular model of teaching and understanding domestic violence has been the cycle of abuse. Many experts have used this model in the past to help people helpers wrestle with the life that a victim lives. Victims have cited that this cycle is not the experience of every victim. My friend John Henderson has rightly said, “If you’ve seen one case of abuse, you’ve seen one case of abuse.” The suggestion that we must break the cycle of abuse, or that pastors must understand the cycle of abuse is again a well-meaning and in some ways helpful but overall an insufficient model of understanding abuse. We are best served by listening to victims, interacting and asking questions of service providers, and engaging experts in the field.

Suggestions: I want us to do this well, and I believe Christians with a platform (pastors, teachers, leaders) can do a much better job of raising awareness and calling the church to repentance. May I suggest a couple places to begin.

Read good books such as...

Check out these great resources

  • Focus Ministries - Paula Silva and her team have collected a treasure chest of resources at www.focusministries1.org You can learn more about Focus through our interview with Paula here

  • PeaceWorks University - PWU exists to train, commission, and support people helpers in a variety of ministry contexts so they are better equipped to address the problem of domestic violence with the gospel of peace. Learn more about PeaceWorks University here

Dialogue with Experts in the field

Chris Moles - Chris Moles is a certified Biblical Counselor, and a Certified Batterer Intervention Group Facilitator. Chris has worked in Domestic Violence prevention for over a decade having worked with hundreds of abusive men. You can interact with Chris at www.chrismoles.org

Leslie Vernick - Leslie is a Social Worker and Biblical Counselor who works with hundreds of victims. You can interact with her at www.leslievernick.com

Joy Forrest - Joy is a Biblical Counselor and certified victim’s advocate with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You can interact with Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Julie Owens - Julie is a survivor, advocate, and dv expert. You can find out more about Julie at http://www.domesticviolenceexpert.org


 

Early on Sunday Morning

Today I'm sharing a past experience as it appears in my book, "The Heart of Domestic Abuse."

Early one Sunday morning I arrived at our newly formed church plant’s location to find an acquaintance of ours obviously troubled and waiting nervously at the door for someone, perhaps anyone, to arrive. Once inside she collapsed in my arms sobbing and speaking incoherently. After some time I was able to calm her down and she told me her story. After several months of heated encounters with her husband, the morning had erupted into violence. She described an altercation that included yelling, screaming, pushing, shoving, and threats ending with a shotgun in her face. I was shocked by what I was hearing, and even more shocked now as I recount my advice to her and the attitude under which I was operating at the time. Most disturbing was what my heart attitude revealed:  “I can’t deal with this right now,” I thought to myself, “I’m just not qualified to handle this. I’m trying to plant a church and this is not the kind of trouble we need.” To my great shame, I told this hurting woman that I had no expertise in this area, which at the time was accurate, and advised her to contact the police. We calmly talked about something or other for the next ten minutes while she composed herself. I made her promise me she would call the authorities and then showed her to the door. After all, I had a church service to perform and a young church plant to grow.

That morning, I preached to a small group of people about the power of the gospel to heal the brokenhearted, but nothing I could say would speak with greater authority or conviction than the hypocrisy I had just committed hours before.  As I spoke of being the hands and feet of Jesus to our community, a broken, battered person filled out paperwork against the man she loved, alone in a police station. 

I mention this story not to emphasize the ways in which I poorly responded to this woman’s needs, and they are numerous, but rather to illustrate how ill-prepared I was to address the problem. They do not cover this in most Bible colleges. Prior to my education in domestic violence intervention and prevention, I rarely thought of this incident. I believed I handled the situation as well as I could, and it never occurred to me how pervasive this problem really was in our community and churches. Domestic violence and the church has since become a common conversation I have with Christians and pastors across the country, and I find that many of the ways we have viewed and responded to domestic violence fall short.

"Domestic violence is a very complex, destructive reality in many Christian homes. Clergy have not always responded in helpful ways to domestic violence in the past, but this can change. Clergy have tremendous influence for healing and protection. If they educate themselves, have the courage to condemn domestic violence from the pulpit, and develop ministries for abuse victims and even for perpetrators, then the cycle of violence can be broken and the body of Christ can be a place of safety and divine healing."[1]

[1] Steven Tracy, Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence; Priscilla Papers Vol.21,No.2, Spring 2007

Taken from, "The Heart of Domestic Abuse; Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Violence and Control in the Home." 

What can a healthy church provide victims of domestic abuse?

Today, I’ll attempt to highlight just a few things our churches can do for victims of domestic abuse. Before I offer suggestions we need to ask ourselves, are we approachable? Are we trustworthy? Are we safe? Does our preaching, teaching, and leadership communicate to those we serve that they can trust us with their stories, pain, and anger?

Suggestions:

  1. Believe her: When a woman gathers the courage to tell her pastor what she is experiencing it is important that we believe her. Remember we are not gathering evidence for a court case; we are supporting a sister who is hurting. Belief validates her suffering and puts us in a position to help. My experience has informed me that we may be the first people to truly hear her story.                                              
  2. Support her:

          A. When she is willing and able to walk through her pain in community, surround her with loving sisters who will comfort, pray for her, and hold her accountable to the process.

          B. Provide Biblical counsel which will include a process of healing and forgiveness in the context of safety. Ensure her that the church will not rush reconciliation but will promote her safety, while calling her husband to repentance, change, and accountability. While I know this will be a difficult subject for some churches, consider how your plan may include considerations for separation, and even divorce when necessary. 

         C. Consider meeting physical needs. For instance should we establish an emergency fund to help her and children if the abuser is unwilling to financially contribute? Should we establish safe houses within our congregations for temporary shelters? Are we prepared to offer rides or other services that may be needed?

        D. Confront the abuser: I believe the greatest means of serving victims is holding abusers accountable. WARNING. Unless you fear for her health or immediate safety and are taking her to a safe house, communicate to the victims your desires and intentions before you address her abuser. Articulate your plan and seek permission before hand. Confronting her abuser before she is safe may actually endanger her further. With that said, Here are a few suggestions based on an assumption that he is willing to change.

               -Make it very clear that abuse is sin and will not be tolerated. “We love you too much to allow you to continue down this destructive path.”

               -Contact and familiarize yourself with local domestic violence intervention programs or local counselors trained in domestic violence interventions beforehand and encourage him to seek help. Better yet, offer to go with him.

               -Provide a well-trained accountability group where men from the community are given permission to ask him about his behavior, challenge his beliefs, and pray for his transformation.

Great Week of Travel and Teaching

Trying to get back into the swing of things after a full week of traveling and teaching. I am so thankful to Dr. Kruger, Dr. Newheiser, and the folks at RTS Charlotte for the opportunity to teach both in a community-oriented lecture series, and in the Master of Arts in Christian Counseling classes, both were tremendous privileges. In addition I got a chance to reconnect with Jim and Caroline Newheiser and visit the Billy Graham Library. Wednesday I flew to Fort Worth, Texas were I participated in the Association of Biblical Counselors annual “Called To Counsel” conference. This year saw a new format which I believe could be a game-changer for the Biblical Counseling movement. If you’re familiar with the Biblical counseling tribe then you know our events tend to go one of three directions.

1. A specific topic in which a variety of speakers will weigh in on.

2. A specific path, such as foundational elements or advanced training, in which a variety of speakers will give you general information toward a goal like certification, or supervision.

3. A Pot-Luck of content in which a variety of speakers present a diverse array of topics, approaches, and methods.       

This year A.B.C. deviated from past models by offering specialized tracks based on counseling issues. So, participants shared in four plenary sessions on the broader category of counseling and then choose one of six specialized tracks to attend throughout the event.

Plenary Sessions Included

  • Counsel from the Word with Dwayne Bond  

  • Counsel at the Cross with Elyse Fitzpatrick

  • Counsel to the Heart with John Henderson

  • Counsel for God’s Glory with Chris Freeland

Track Options Included

  • Introduction to Biblical Counseling

  • Depression

  • Domestic Abuse

  • Addictions

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Equipping Counselors in the Church

I was so excited to participate in the domestic abuse track and to be partnered with two incredible people.

  • Greg Wilson is a tremendous counselor who is highly invested in reducing violence against women and holding abusers accountable. He serves as a deacon at his church where he is developing policies and responses to domestic abuse. I believe Greg will soon be the “go-to” on church-based responses to domestic abuse.

  • Kathy Haecker is also an outstanding counselor who served for fifteen as a victim advocate within law enforcement. Her passion and experience in the field combined with her deep love of the Scripture make her one of the most skilled and unique advocates I’ve ever worked with.   

Our time was divided into eight one-hour sessions. It was a challenge to decide what to include in our track but I believe that we delivered the most complete and nuanced training in the Biblical Counseling movement to date on the issue of domestic abuse. Our sessions broke down as follows.

  1. What is Domestic Abuse with Chris Moles: I walked participants through an introduction to the week’s material by identifying what we were talking about and what we were unable to talk about. I also provided definitions, common elements, statistics, and key examples of abuse.

  2. Theological Considerations: Greg helped us think through the necessity of developing a theology of oppression, recognizing the centrality of the image of God in this work, the dangerousness of hyper-headship/patriarchy, and the value of Biblical complimentarity.

  3. Responding to Victims: Kathy reminded us that Jesus, himself, was a victim of family violence as his children tortured, and murdered him. She then carefully walked us through a relational, victim-centered, biblical approach to care. I have set through countless victim-care lectures in my time and this was, by far, the most complete and most beneficial I have heard.

  4. Responding to the Perpetrator: Greg and I teamed up to deliver material on working with abusive and destructive men. We offered participants some foundational reminders as well as high profile case studies. Greg showed us the distinctions between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow and I walked us through a brief explanation of one the exercises I use.

  5. Separation, Divorce, and Abuse: I have been asked many times to present on this topic but always refused. My thought was this should be addressed by a theologian, or scholar but the the team felt strongly that I could tackle this topic. I walked us through the common divorce Scriptures and built a cas for divorce as tool, given to men by God, for the protection of women.

  6. Legal Issues: Kathy brought her law-enforcement experience to the table and gave clear, concise distinctions between criminal and civil domestic cases as well as tons of great resources. The church is often in the dark regarding social services and court restrictions. This session served us very well.

  7. In Her Shoes: Those of us who have done this work within the larger culture may be familiar with the in her shoes experience but not so much within the church. In fact, I have participated in this exercise many times, but this was the first time I did it in a Christian settings. Participants spent the hour traveling to various stations as a victim of domestic violence. Character cards were distributed to each participant and they made choices which led them to new experiences. Some were injured (make-up), some burdened with baggage or children (bags of flour), and some died. This was an emotional and tremendously beneficial time.

  8. Debrief: We concluded our time with a panel discussion about what we learned and experienced through session seven and how we can apply the lessons of the week.

I can’t say enough good things about this conference. Dr. Lelek and his team have brought a tremendous gift to Biblical Counseling world. If you are a Biblical Counselor and you are looking for a conference to attend, mark “Called to Counsel” on your calendar for 2019.  

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The Trouble with Victims

This week we are sharing a post by our friend and PeaceWorks University Faculty member Joy Forrest in celebration of the release of her new book, "Called to Peace: A Survivor's Guide to Hope and Peace after Abuse." You can order your copy here CALLED TO PEACE

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.

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Joy Forrest has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence since 1997. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and held the position of Community Educator for Safe Space Domestic Violence Services in Louisburg, NC from 2000-2001. She has served as a biblical counselor in church settings since 2004. Her own experiences as a former victim of domestic abuse, along with her involvement with Safe Space and church counseling, caused her to see a major need for churches to become better equipped to help families affected by DV. In January 2015, she helped establish Called to Peace Ministries to promote domestic violence awareness, particularly within the faith community. Joy is also a Certified Advocate with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the author of the book "Called to Peace." Learn more about Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

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