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

How will I know if my abusive husband won't abuse me again?

Today's post is part one in a two part series by counselor Allison Stevens. 

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees he won’t abuse you again. If your husband has physically harmed you, and/or had a pattern of verbal, emotional, or mental abuse, you are not obligated to stay with him as his wife. Physical and emotional safety are foundational in marriage; without it you don’t have a marriage, you’re in a prison and you’re the prisoner. No one should judge you if you can’t continue in this earthly hell and end your marriage.

But if you’ve decided, for your own reasons, to try and make the marriage work, and you’re safe from your abusive husband and he’s getting help from a therapist who’s trained in domestic violence issues, and you are making this decision on your own (no one has pressured you to stay in this marriage), then there is an important clue you should look for to know that your husband is making progress and is less likely to hurt you again in those ways.

You will see that he supports your decision to be safe. He won’t burden you with guilt to come back home to “get the family back together” before you’re ready or before he’s ready to have you back. Some husbands make it difficult for their wives to stick it out because they beg, plead, argue, and demand them to come home too early. They call the pastor and tell him that his wife is out of the “will of God” by not submitting to his “authority” by coming back to him. After all, the husband reasons, he’s remorseful, he’s come before the church, and now he’s ready to be a better husband. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some pastors and therapists fall for this manipulative strategy and join the abuser to put more weight on the wife to get back home before it’s time. Rushing the process of growth and healing is a sure sign that the abusive husband is indeed not interested in true growth or healing.

Any manipulation to get you back home or to let him come home too soon is a serious warning that he is remaining in a place of power and control over you. He’s operating out of inequality instead of mutual equality, love and respect for you. He is nowhere near ready to restore your marriage. And if you are extremely tempted by his cries for help, you are not ready to put your marriage together again. You also have more work to do on yourself.

The decision to stay in and work on an abusive marriage is a serious one and shouldn’t be taken lightly. One must realize that it is a long road to recovery; it will take a significant amount of time for the abuser to address his issues that cause him to relate to you from a place of power instead of love. And one of the best markers that he’s on the road to wholeness is that he is supportive of your decision to separate until you’ve both experienced a level of health and healing that will ensure the greatest level of safety in your relationship.



Lies Victims Believe

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


How Things Our Abusers Told Us Keep Us from Answering God’s Call

Working with people who have suffered domestic abuse can be the most rewarding and frustrating job in the world. It’s rewarding, because many of the survivors I work with develop a depth of faith that most Christians can’t even imagine. They face impossible situations and tremendous loss. Many lose nearly all their worldly possessions and face sudden financial ruin. They are often stalked and in imminent danger. Some even lose custody of their children, because their abusers are able to afford expensive attorneys, and they have no choice but to go to court without representation.

I could go on and on telling stories of injustice and intense suffering, but the point is that in extremely trying times, my dear friends learn to hold on to God in a way that is simply incredible. They probably don’t know it, but as I sit and listen to their stories in counseling sessions and support groups, I am in awe. I’m in awe of God’s faithfulness and their ability to rise above the pain, even when everything, and everyone, on earth has failed them. It is simply incredible to watch God turn ashes into beauty, and that’s what helps me maintain motivation to continue doing a work that can be exceptionally difficult.

I wish I could say that all the folks I work with “get it”—that they suddenly have an epiphany and learn to cling to God and prove Him faithful, but that’s simply not the case. Many let their pain become their identity, and they stay emotionally crippled for life. It’s so hard to watch these precious souls struggle. Sadly, they are alienated from the very One who can bring healing, because their image of Him has been warped by abusive people who portrayed Him as harsh and demanding, rather than gracious and merciful. All we can do is show them His love, and pray that someday they will come to realize the truth. However, many remain victims and never move on.

Believing lies about God can keep folks in the victim mode, but there are other lies that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Even some of my friends with extraordinary faith in God never seem to get past believing destructive lies about themselves. So many times when I reach out to survivors to help with our ministry I see an all-too-familiar hesitation to help. It’s not that they don’t want to, or that they don’t have the heart for it. It’s because they don’t think they’re worthy. They seem to think they’re too broken, and they need to get their own lives together before they can possibly think of helping others.

There’s a familiar pain in their expressions that tells me they’re still believing the lies their abusers told them. “There’s no way you could ever do this.” “Do you really think anyone cares to hear anything you have to say?” “You’ll make a fool of yourself when they find out who you really are.” Almost every time I see it, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you realize how incredible you are?! You’ve beaten all the odds, and come out shining like gold. You’re an amazing woman of faith! The world needs your voice.” But for these folks, it’s easier to believe truths about God than about themselves. Until they do they’re missing His best for their lives, and opportunities to bring Him glory.

Have you ever been told you have nothing to offer? Has someone made you doubt the incredible gifts God has given you? Is buried shame still controlling your decisions? If so, I implore you to reject the lies. Perhaps a flawed and insecure person has caused you to doubt your calling and your identity as His child, but the Perfect One is still calling. He still wants to use you, and He sees you as worthy (1 John 3:1, Eph. 2:4-7). He doesn’t want you to wait until you think you’ve got it all together, because if you do, you may never find His purpose for your life. He delights in using broken people for His purposes, but you have to choose to believe Him above the lies of a deceiver. The Truth will set you free, and when you receive it, you will be His instrument to help others find that same freedom


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

Prayer and the Harsh Husband

Today's post is by my friend David. You can read more from Pastor Dave at www.pastordaveonline.org

"The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16b).

It is astounding to consider all that God delights to accomplish through the prayers of His people. Prayer is powerful, and yet it is also connected to the character of those who pray. The prayers of a "righteous man," we are told, are powerful. Likewise, Peter warns men that the way they treat their wives directly impacts their prayers. Character plays a part in our prayers. Men who are harsh with their wives should not expect God to respond to their prayers.

In his first epistle Peter addresses significant matters of the home. Chapter 3 focuses in on the dynamics of husbands and wives and the conflicts that can arise in their home. He begins his instruction with the wife, explaining how she ought to respond to a husband who "does not obey the word" (3:1). He shifts gears then to speak to this very husband. He states:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (v. 7)

It's worth considering the specifics of this command.

The passage begins with the words "likewise," which refers back to duty of submission incumbent upon all Christians (it is mentioned in 2:13, 18, and 3:1). Husbands are commanded to submit in service to their wives. The same principle is at play when Paul speaks to the Ephesians. Just before outlining the specific responsibilities of husbands and wives in chapter 5, Paul establishes the universal principle of mutual submission (5:21). Submission is not simply a wifely duty, it is a Christian duty and therefore husbands are commanded to do it too.

Husbands are to "live" with their wives "in an understanding way." A man's submission to his wife begins with the practice of consideration. Living with you wife in an understanding way means to be considerate of her needs, concerns, desires, and hurts. It means to be sensitive and attuned to her. Husbands who dismiss their spouse's feelings or worries, who downplay or minimize her hurts, who outright ignore her interests are not fulfilling this mandate. A husband who puts his own interests, desires, concerns, and needs ahead of his wife's is failing to fulfill this command. Often men will couch their own selfishness in the language of "leadership," asserting that they must do what is best for the family. It just so happens that what is "best" is often what they want. They rarely, if ever, make sacrifices and even when they do it comes with a great deal of passive aggression and displeasure. Godly husbands, on the other hand, are deeply concerned to understand their spouses, and live with them in a sensitive and attentive manner.

They are to be honoring, as well. The language of "weaker vessel" is not intended to communicate inferiority, since it is pointedly followed by the truth that wives are "co-heirs" with their husbands. They are equals. The language of "weaker vessel" is about care. The "weaker vessel" is a reference to a highly prized possession. Think of it in terms of the difference between a Ming Vase and a cheap Wal-Mart imitation. The valuable vase is protected, cared for, valued enough to be look after with intentionality and precision. Husbands are to honor their wives by caring well for them. They ought to seek with all diligence to protect them, provide for them, and preserve them in physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual ways.

All of this, Peter warns, is to be done in order that your "prayers may not be hindered." That means that where husbands fail at this their prayers will be hindered. The husband who is harsh and selfish yet maintains that he is a godly man whose life is marked by spiritual growth and faithfulness is deceived or deceptive. God himself refuses to hear or answer the prayers of such a man. His prayers are not "powerful in their working" precisely because he is not a "righteous man." Character impacts prayer.

Husband, evaluate yourself. Think carefully about the nature of your home, the culture, the interactions, and the relational dynamics. Think about how you esteem your spouse. Think about how your wife expresses herself. Does she feel safe to disagree? Does she feel honored in disagreements? Does she feel her opinions are valued? Furthermore, do you respect her views? Do you ask for her opinion and listen carefully? Can you identify your spouse's greatest fears, desires, and needs? Would your spouse agree with your assessment? How do you handle conflict and disagreement? How do you respond when you are told "no"? Is your authority more important than your spouse?

Think carefully about these issues because how you relate to your spouse directly impacts your spiritual life. The prayers of a harsh husband accomplish nothing. That will only change when such a man prays a prayer of repentance and seeks to live that out with his wife.



Dave Dunham is a biblical counselor, writer, and currently serves as associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, MI.

Pastor Dave blogs at www.pastordaveonline.org  

Free Resource When Violence Comes Home

We are excited to share one of our favorite free resource from our friends at Our Daily Bread ministries.

Spousal abuse is one of the most rapidly growing problems in our culture today—even within the church. Gain insight into the causes and effects of marital abuse and find out how you can respond with godly intervention, as co-authors Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson offer help for both victims and offenders.

Download here. Free E-Book

Sticks and Stones

by Chris Moles

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. 

When Praying Makes things Worse

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

Have you ever prayed fervently for a situation to change, only to find matters getting worse? I know I have. I have seen it many times in my years of working with victims of domestic violence. In these situations, things often escalate to unbearable in spite of ardent prayers and abundant effort. It sometimes seems as if God doesn’t see or care about our struggles. After all, if He was on our side, wouldn’t circumstances improve? However, if scripture is to be our guide, we need to look at how He worked with His people there to see if that expectation is valid.

This morning as I was reading in Exodus, I found the story of the Israelites’ plight after Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh to let the people go and worship. According this passage, God had heard the cries of the Israelites, and sent Moses to plead on their behalf. However, instead of helping the situation, it hurt! Pharaoh severely cut the supplies needed for their work. The situation seemed hopeless all around, and even Moses became discouraged.

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the LORD look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Ex. 5:19-23-emphasis added.)

The story could’ve have ended right there, but Moses took his confusion and complaints to the Lord. Even more significant, he continued to obey God in spite of negative circumstances. Moses was full of doubt about his own abilities, and he was discouraged about the Israelites anger towards him, but he still continued to follow God’s path. We all know the outcome. God used his obedience to bring about a miraculous deliverance—just when things seemed impossible. In the end, terrible oppression made liberation seem even more incredible.

When I think of my own story of escaping abuse, I can see His hand in every painful experience. All I knew to do was cling to Him, because everything else had failed me— from the courts to the church. Even people who loved me and wanted to help had no clue how to do it. In the long run, the overwhelmingly impossible nature of the situation made me desperate for Him. I spent long hours in prayer and scripture, and even came up with a database of passages that were particularly helpful.[1] I made a decision to believe His promises, because nothing else was working. All I could do was hold on to Him for dear life, and He was faithful. Circumstances did not improve in the beginning. In fact, they became worse, but in the end my faith in Him became stronger than it had ever been and He delivered me. I often tell people that even though I would have never chosen to suffer like I did, I am grateful for it, because it drove me to Him. My relationship with Him became my anchor, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

If you think that circumstances are a measure of God’s care, or lack thereof, you are missing a beautiful opportunity to allow Him to redeem your story. God is not a magic genie who snaps His fingers and makes everything suddenly all right. He also will not force anyone to follow His ways, but He will use your pain for good. Please understand, I am not saying you should stay in a harmful situation. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people fleeing danger. Instead, I am saying, cling to the One who loves you most, and you will not be disappointed. He will use your trials to grow you and your faith. I’ve worked with survivors of domestic abuse for over 20 years, and those who have held onto Him have simply amazed me. I have never met more amazing people than those who have proven Him faithful in the midst of great suffering.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to become an amazing example of His redemption, I encourage you to go to scripture. God specializes in using reluctant and under qualified people for His purposes. He not only wants to redeem your situation, but if you let Him, He will use you to help others who will face the same battles you’ve faced (2 Cor. 1:4). Take your doubts and struggles to Him, and determine to hold on to His promises. Just keep walking in His direction, and don’t let people or circumstances warp your view of Him. He will deliver you in due time, and in the process you will develop faith that is unshakable.


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: What I Wish Pastors had known when I was Looking for Help

Today we receive advice from a friend's personal and professional experience.  This post is based on a chapter written by Julie Owens in the book Beyond Abuse in the Christian Home: Raising Voices for Change. Julie's list represents decades of work with victims of domestic violence as well as personal experience from her own past. 

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.


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

A Call to Pastors

There are many things I’d like to share with pastors regarding the dynamics and impact of abuse. The most pressing and possibly most vital area of understanding is the centrality of power and control in abusive behavior. While abuse takes many forms, the motivation and means rarely change. Abuse is one person exercising power and control over his/her spouse. As I work with abusive men, one primary goal is to uncover their motivation. To do this we ask many “what” questions of their abusive behavior such as…

§  What did you want to see happen?

§  What did you want your partner to do?

§  What did you want your partner to stop doing?

§  What did you hope to gain from this behavior?

I avoid using why questions because they rarely get to the heart and allow the individual more room to shift blame.

Q: Why did you do that?

A: Because she…

Uncovering patterns of motivation will reveal the heart of abuse. We can expect “getting my way” often to be the motivation; to gain or maintain control.

In addition to gaining or maintaining control we should expect the use of power. They will be leveraging some aspect of force to get what they want. For some this power will be physical force. For others it may include intimidation, threats, demeaning words, economic security, or any other means used to control and get their way. I just recently spoke with a man who used the fact that the house was in his name to subtly suggest\threaten that he would kick her out if he didn’t get what he wanted. We often refer to abusive behavior as tactics because they are rarely tied to a specific activity. These tactics are tied to the abusers’ desired result, not to being provoked by stress, but to getting their way. For instance, if an abusive husband is confronted regarding his physical violence, he may conform to applied pressure and end his use of violence. This does not mean his heart has changed. In fact he may simply resort to new, less violent, but still abusive, behaviors to achieve the same results and get his way at the expense of his wife’s sense of security and well-being. The dynamics of power and control are central to abusive behavior. It is not simply a matter of incessant “button pushing” frustration, substances, or uncontrolled anger. It is important that we as pastors recognize and expose these dynamics when coming alongside those we are called to minister to.

What do you think?

Would knowing the dynamics of abuse impact how you address those who come to you for help? Have you approached a pastor or ministry leaders for help only to find they misunderstood/misdiagnosed the problem

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.


Domestic Violence: Not An Anger Problem

“I was just so angry.”

“I couldn’t help myself.”

“I just snapped!”

Words like these are common in the work I do with men who use violence in the home. Many of the men I have worked with will insist that they are not abusive, but simply need to learn how to control their anger. Unfortunately, it’s not just the guys I work with that see violence as an anger problem. I’ll occasionally hear of men being court ordered to anger management classes following domestic abuse.  My conversations with Pastors and ministry leaders will also include descriptions of abuse in terms of his anger and the solutions that are offered revolve around self-control and addressing anger. The rationale may go something like this, “violence is the result of anger and therefore, we must address the perpetrators anger and anger cues in order to properly end the violence.” Now, I’m not suggesting that we avoid discussions about anger but rather that we place it in the proper context, especially when we are addressing domestic violence. I’m afraid we miss the heart if we only address anger and anger cues. After all abusers will certainly blame the victim for their anger, and cite them as the most prominent anger cue. This strategy runs the risk of leaving the heart untouched encouraging patterns of control that are nothing more than “respectable” forms of abuse. How may pastors and ministry leaders view an abusive man’s anger? Here are a couple suggestions.

1. Anger as an excuse

Anger can easily be used as an excuse for sin. Statements such as “I snapped” “I lost control.” or “My temper got the best of me.” may be accurate descriptions of the man’s emotional and behavioral responses but they are, by no means, excusable simply because we can recognize that he was angry. This is especially true for pastors who are working with husbands who have abused their wife. Scriptures like Ephesians 4:26-27 give us clear instructions on anger and its relationship to sin and the implications of sinful anger in the life of a believer.  “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  Men who use anger as an excuse need a clear reminder that regardless of emotional pressure, abuse is sinful as well as a careful warning of the impact of their sin on both the victim and themselves.

2. Anger as a tactic

Pastors and ministry leaders would do well to see outbursts of anger and expressions of rage as potential tools used by an abusive man to intimidate and control his partner. I have heard many men admit that fear through threat and intimidation is as effective as physical assault. A man’s rage will often illicit the same result as physical violence.  This form of anger is not simply an emotional response but evidence of oppressive desires. “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Proverbs 15:18 I have encountered many men who create a climate of fear within the home. An abusive man will use his anger as a tool to intimidate and manipulate his spouse into conformity with his desires.

Final Thought

Lastly, let me encourage you to view anger as a window into a man’s heart. Don’t ignore his anger. We are not listening to confirm an allegation, or understand his side of the story we are listening for the heart. Listen for the themes that will pinpoint the nature of his desires. His anger will likely point us to desires for control, tendencies to manipulate, and beliefs of entitlement?  Restate stories back to him highlighting his behaviors, his desires, and the impact of both. His anger may very well reveal his beliefs about God, himself, and others.


The Heart of Abuse

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

In working with men who are abusive one difficulty I have encountered is the willingness of pastors and ministry leaders to accept any immediate change in behavior as a sign of repentance without recognizing the manipulative nature of the abuser and certainly without adequately addressing the heart. The assumption may be that once the “violence” has stopped then our role as shepherd shifts from confronting abuse to looking for ways to restore the marriage, it always seems to come back to the marriage. Among the many problems with this approach is that it draws our attention away from the source of abuse, which is the abuser and his beliefs.

The Centrality of the Heart.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:43-45)
Jesus words in Luke 6 remind us that as we deal with problems it is imperative that we address the issues of the heart. In working with men who use violence it is easy to focus upon the actions surrounding the instances of abuse. The abuser’s behavior will require diligent and focused attention but, they remain only a portion of the problem. Sometimes men are willing to embrace the “respectable” sins of poor judgment and bad behavior in exchange for the continued concealment of an abusive heart. Like the “bad tree” in Jesus’ story the abuser may have experienced some consequences resulting from his sin but remains unwilling to address the real problem. Lying beneath the soil are a system of roots that have developed over time in the heart of an abusive man that contribute to so much more than just the abusive behavior and if left un-confronted may produce, though possibly different, more damaging fruit. Yes, the behavior must be addressed but in conjunction with the uprooting of the heart of abuse. Behavior is rarely, if ever, an isolated event. As James chapter four illustrates people do what they do, because they want what they want. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” If we only confront violent behavior we may very well see a family susceptible to new tactics of control. He will more than than likely still be entitled, empowered, and bent on control. This is why we spend a great deal of time connecting behavior to beliefs when confronting men in our groups because we believe that a change of heart is the only real means of changing behavior.

Final Thought.

My grandparents have an apple tree in their backyard and unless we uproot and remove it there will always be an apple tree in the backyard. Behavior modification without heart transformation is a kin to ripping all the apples off the apple tree, stapling bananas in their place and then trying convince others of how amazing this new banana tree is. That is exactly what abuser’s are willing to do if they think we’ll buy it.


But, what about Proverbs 18:17?

“In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

Among the most common questions I receive from pastors and ministry leaders involves this simple verse. The concern is that so many of us who teach and speak on domestic violence prevention insist that pastors and ministry leaders believe victims who come to them for help. This, some may contend, contradicts the wisdom of Proverbs 18 by “taking a side” without first hearing the entire story. “Shouldn’t we first gather more information before we assume that someone is an abuser?” some have asked. While there is much that can be said here please allow me to address just a few concerns.

1. How we read the book of Proverbs.

Most of us would agree that the Proverbs are a wonderful tool in ministry, shepherding and counseling ministry in particular. After all, they are wisdom literature. The caution is that these tokens are written as general observations. In other words, they ring true in almost every situation, but there are exceptions. For instance, I have heard parents claim Proverbs 22:6 as a promise only later to experience the disappointment of a rebellious child. Wisdom literature may offer wisdom but may also require wisdom in how we apply them. Could abuse be one of those instances?

2. How we read this proverb.

Proverbs 18 is a collection of twenty-four sayings that may be applied to a variety of situations including relationships or business dealings. Verse seventeen is addressing the reality that it can be difficult to discern the truth, in a dispute or conflict. (It should be noted here that I do not believe abuse to be a “dispute” or simple “conflict” but the use of power to control another). Verse seventeen offers no solution; it only speaks to the problem. That is why I would suggest including verse eighteen in your interpretation and application. Proverbs 18:18 states, “Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.” To many of us this would seem foolish, as if flipping a coin would somehow help us believe or put aside an accusation. If we literally apply verse seventeen to abuse cases, always hearing “both sides” before we are free to trust one’s account, then should we not heed verse eighteen and just cast lots in a search of the truth? I hope that sounds silly and I pray we are not bound “iron-clad” to a literal Proverbs 18:17 approach when confronted with abuse.

3. Trust God, not chance.

Thankfully, the wisdom of verse eighteen is not found in a game of chance, but the sovereignty of God. You see, to cast a lot was to leave the outcome to God. This practice seems to protect the weak, as they had less to lose, prompting a settlement rather than the powerful risking loss or embarrassment. In the Spirit of Proverbs 18:17-18 I suggest we listen to the cries of those who suffer. As pastors and ministry leaders, we come alongside the weak and the vulnerable and, above all, we trust God with the outcome. Experience tells us that among the things victims need in moments of disclosure is support and trust. Can we move toward a reliance on God that is so strong that it allows us to put off our assumptions? To offer faith and hope while also relying upon his truth to guide us?

 Final Thought.

I shared earlier that a common component to the Proverbs 18:17 question is a desire not to make an assumption regarding the one being accused. In my personal experience, this concern is voiced after a wife has disclosed her husband’s abuse and the pastor is fearful of accepting her claim as the truth. While we may not want to assume that the husband is abusive, for some reason we are willing to assume, or suggest by our actions, that the wife is either a liar, overreacting, or ignorant of what constitutes abuse. I’m not sure why we continue to do this, in particular with women. Perhaps it’s a form of male privilege that still resonates in our hearts, a fear of being wrong, or a belief in the myth of pervasive false accusations. Whatever the motive this is precisely why we encourage each other to believe the victim and offer comfort and help in the moment of disclosure and beyond. After all Proverbs 18:5 warns: “It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.”