When My Isolation Bubble Popped and I Watched It Happen — By Megan Cox

Today’s post is by Megan Cox, Founder and executive director of Give Her Wings. We are so thankful for Megan’s willingness to share her story with us and pray that God will use her words and ministry to bless you.

Since undergoing EMDR therapy (highly recommended for those who have experienced trauma), I would say that my triggers are about 75% relieved. This percentage was, most definitely, put to the test when I went to visit my two closest friends in the city where I had been abused. This city is my old stomping ground. It was there where I was more secluded than any time, in my life. It was there where I had all four of my babies, home schooled and had very little outside influence welcomed into my home, besides our church, because there is so much “evil in the world”. It was there where I learned that women were (basically) created to please men, have babies and have a “quiet and gentle spirit”. It was there where I lived in the isolated bubble of a miserable existence. . . . where I used to cry, literally cry in the closet, believing that I was worthless . . . where I used to yell out to God with tear-soaked questions like, “Is this all I was created for? To be used? Do you even like women, God??”

And even though my theology was not working, at the time, (and for so long), I still managed to believe that I had a corner on God and that I was living amongst the people who had it right.

We were arrogant. We knew things. We knew and no one else did. And part of what we knew was that it is OK for a woman to be abused in every way, and the church would practically endorse that.

You can imagine how I felt being all over the places where I had had been so crushed.

But, it wasn’t the place that crushed me. It wasn’t the doctrine (skewed though some of it is — let’s be honest — we are all NEVER ALL OF THE TIME RIGHT ABOUT DOCTRINE). It was the bubble in which I lived.

And, when you are being abused or neglected at home, I think you kind of believe that it is normal and that other people think you should be abused and neglected, as well. And we cannot look people in the eye. But, this is one of the greatest lies in the world of abuse — the lie that says, “I must deserve it. And he says everyone else thinks I deserve it. So, I cannot get close to anyone. Not really. It will only reinforce what I deserve. And I cannot manage that right now.”

We walked into a church in that city and that same, old sickening feeling came over me . . . the mild nausea associated with my old life. I started sweating. The preacher was a young man I had never seen. He was too young to know stuff. It goes without saying that I had a slightly bad attitude. I wondered, “Would this church have responded to me the same way my church did when I took my children and fled an abusive man? Would they insist that I stay in the marriage? Would they have made me feel smaller, telling me that God wanted me to be abused for the rest of my life?” But, I love my friends and this church is important to them so, there I was.

The young man preaching, decked out in super-cool clothes and an even superercooler beard started talking about Joseph from Genesis. And, all of a sudden, it was all I could do to hold back tears. It was good. It was not oppressive. This young man spoke about being stripped of everything you thought you were . . . a son, a brother, a young man full of hope (a daughter, a sister, a young mother full of hope). He spoke about being stripped of dignity . . . and then being given a new name and being given all of the dignity back and more. He said things like, “The brothers weren’t the ones who sent Joseph away . . . God was. And He did so for a purpose.”

Ya’ll.

How could I have given certain people, in my life, so much power as to think they were responsible for my banishment? Whoa. They didn’t do it. God did this. Why? I don’t know all of the reasons.

But, I DO know that, if I hadn’t left my abusive marriage and if my family of origin did not judge me so harshly and if the church I had been attending hadn’t been so gossipy and hurtful, I would not be here, directing Give Her Wings, which impacts thousands of hurting mothers and provides for so many of them to be able to pay bills and get on their feet. That’s why.

My isolation bubble has popped and I could see outside of my painful situation, more than ever. This may have been a final stage of my healing and I am so grateful for it! So, come on . . . come at me with your bad theology. I’m not crippled by it, anymore. I am here to tell you that there is a better way, a freer way, the way in which Jesus said He wanted to pave to show us how to love and forgive our sins and make us these awesome, funky, original creations that He just adores. I won’t shy away. I hear stuff and it hurts my heart . . . but it no longer affects me. And that is huge.

I may never “fit in” to that culture again, but that is OK. Jesus didn’t fit in, either. Maybe someday I will, who knows? But, for now, God has me right where He wants me.

I was recently asked what to do when one finds oneself isolated — stuck in that weird place between being a Christian but no longer looking like the culture might and feeling unaccepted. This is what I told her: You are in good company. Jesus started out in the temple, where everyone marveled over Him. By the end, those same temple leaders were plotting His death. He looked for people on the fringes . . . the marginalized and outcasts. He fully believed in God -- He fully WAS God. But, His own did not accept Him. My greatest advice to you is only that -- advice -- because I am sure there are wiser, more capable people out there who know better than I. But, I can tell you what I did. I started following Jesus. I mean, actually following Him. Doing what He did -- reaching out to those "kicked out of the temple", marginalized, outcasts. And thus . . . Give Her Wings. I believe, after reading all you have faced and all you have been through that you could possibly serve in the same ways. If it were me, I would start praying about where God would have you serve . . . maybe it is a blog; maybe a book; maybe a ministry; maybe writing; maybe serving; maybe a different education. Maybe victim advocacy. I don't know. Only you and God know. But, from your letter, I see a woman who is just waiting to start a firestorm (in all the right ways), right where she is, creating her own community for those who are just like her. It sounds as though your bubble is popping on its own. Again -- a severe mercy. It might be time for you to expand your horizons -- give yourself some more space to explore. Maybe a different denomination of Christianity! Maybe a support group. Maybe you START one -- or a book club. One thing I DO know -- you don't have to have a lot to help a lot of people. And in helping, you can also heal. I hope this helps. I wish I had better answers for you, precious child of God. Just know that God has brought you this far -- He is still working in every moment of your life. And I care. You are beautiful and brave.

Much Love, Megan

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Megan Cox is Founder and Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Inc., a non profit that helps single mothers who have left abusive relationships. She is author of Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse and has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling. She is certified in crisis response with the AACC.

Learn more about Give Her wings at giveherwings.com


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.

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

 

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." 

God Redeemed my Pain

Today’s post is by Megan Cox, Founder and executive director of Give Her Wings. We are so thankful for Megan’s willingness to share her story with us and pray that God will use her words and ministry to bless you.

That fear . . . that fear that we would not find a place to live was overwhelming.

When I left my European National abusive husband with my children, I did not know what I would be facing. Four suitcases, four favorite toys, four small children, five bibles and 100 Euros in my pocket was all we had. All of our memories, all my former beliefs about marriage, all my future hopes, all of my dashed dreams . . . all of it left behind as we traversed that lengthy flight back to the US and toward the unknown. We had a place to live for three weeks. I was prepared for that. I was prepared for the reverse-culture-shock. I was prepared for the fact that this would all be hard. I was prepared to nurse the children through the time-change. What I was not prepared for was just how agonizingly difficult it would be.

For the next year, my littles and I would bounce around. The places we thought we would find help and comfort brought us the opposite — judgment and pain. For an entire year, I suffered from post-separation abuse, harassment and shock. The PTSD I already had from losing my parents in a car accident took on a life of its own. Stifled all-day tears turned into muffled wails into my pillow at night. Quiet times with Jesus in our tiny 700 square foot home erupted into cries of, “What do I do, Jesus? What DO I DO?” Friends had abandoned me; family had forsaken me. Any “love” that I felt was what seemed to be the hidden desire that I be “loved” back into my abusive marriage. I had sinned by leaving my husband, in their eyes. The fact that they insisted I go back to him told me that my own people believed I deserved the abuse. Everything felt dangerous. And the financial strain was terrifying. Further, our hardship was “proof” to very righteous people that I had sinned in leaving. Christians seemed to love that. And it hurt. Still, seven years later, I fight. I fight the thoughts that creep up . . . This home, this life . . . it could all go away. In the blink of an eye. Here I am, safe now. And yet I wonder how long it will last. Who will turn on me? Who will abandon me?

The fight is a good fight because it thrusts me directly into the arms of Jesus every time.

The pain of my church family gossiping and name-calling and judging was, perhaps, the greatest pain of all. I had loved and served these people. I had watched their babies, brought them meals, worked at the church for several years. And yet I was called a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No one called to ask how we were. No one wanted to hear what had happened. It was as though I was outside the walls of the church . . . outside the temple . . . outside the camp. I was not acceptable, anymore. To them . . . and to myself. My faith was having an intense crisis because I could not find love. And, again, on top of this mind-crackling, numbing, dark pain was the fear that I could not provide for my children. There was no money for an attorney, no money for counseling, no advocate. There was no help . . . yet. It was seven years ago and I still feel the pain acutely. Years of healing and training and counseling and I still remember the betrayal. The aloneness. The suffering. The deep longing to care for my hurting babies and protect them and take the bullets. I was raw with pain from the pain my children were suffering and raw with pain from the arrows I would take so they wouldn’t have to.

This should not be. Not in God’s Church.

When I started writing blogs for other women who were going through the same marked struggles, I realized I was not the only person who had suffered in this way. That there were so many women out there whose faith was also hanging by a thread. Yet I did not see any organizations that were created to help us. And definitely no Christian ones. And I wanted to help.

On my knees, one night, during a torrent of tears, God spoke clearly to me. Megan, I want you to obey Me, no matter your circumstances. On the floor of that tiny kitchen, I decided to raise money for a hurting single mother I knew. She had many children, some sleeping on their floor in a rat-infested home. An educated woman who had fallen on very difficult circumstances. She was trying to teach her children about Jesus. I respected her. I raised money for her. $2000 to be exact. I could not believe God’s pouring out in love for His daughter and her little lambs!

Give Her Wings was born, a non-profit to help single mothers who have left abusive relationships and have been rejected by friends, family, church and have little to no recourse by way of child support or finances. This was the beginning of an incredible journey. For over six years now, Give Her Wings has been able to help hundreds of women (financially and emotionally) feel supported again . . . have a financial buffer and financial relief . . . and, most importantly, find a place where they are loved. The Church. Us. Give Her Wings loving them and showing them that God has not rejected them but Whose love is so big that He would send a group of men and women who will love them like Jesus does.

My deep, life-altering pain has been a high price to pay to become God’s ambassador to these women. And our team is one of tremendous love, grace and mercy. And here we are . . . pressing toward goals, helping more and more women, bring awareness to the fact that God may wreck our lives — WRECK our lives — so we can find Him. The real Him. The deep, loving, well-springing, never-thirsting-again-life in Him. And that is what we do. Bekah, David, Chuck, Audrey, Naomi, Lori, Ruth, Michelle and I . . . it is what we do. We love ridiculously. We give generously. We serve radically. We audaciously ask people to donate. We want to love more and more and more. We want to love like He does. Give Her Wings is a non profit organization that works on behalf of King Jesus. These are our sisters . . . let’s bring them back into the fold. Protect them. Repent of what we have done to them. Heal them.

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Megan Cox is Founder and Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Inc., a non profit that helps single mothers who have left abusive relationships. She is author of Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse and has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling. She is certified in crisis response with the AACC.

Learn more about Give Her wings at giveherwings.com

The Blame Game

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

Working with abusive men has taught me a great deal including, there is always something or someone to blame. Many men will go to great lengths to show how innocent they are at the expense of others, circumstances, or substances. Most commonly men blame their partners.

“She pushed my buttons.”

“She attacked me first.”

“She made all this up.”

Often times they may also blame their circumstances or substances.

“I’d lost my job.”

“Our kids are out of control!”

“I was drunk/high at the time.”

The excuses vary but the motive is the same, I am not responsible for my actions. If an abusive person can effectively shift the blame then he removes the potential source of accountability that will confront his wrongdoing. That’s the goal isn’t it? If we choose not to accept responsibility for our actions, and the consequences our actions produce there is little hope for change.

The Power to Change

One former client once told me, “I was miserable trying to control everyone and everything. It was a trap, and I couldn’t get out until I recognized that I was the problem.” Freedom can only be found when we acknowledge that our actions, attitudes, desires, and beliefs are harming others. You must accept responsibility for your actions and stop the blame game. You see it’s not your partner’s fault that you hurt her, manipulated her, used her, or neglected her. Those were your choices. It also wasn’t alcohol, some other substance, or a poor circumstance that led you to your abuse. It was you. Oh I know you experience pressure and are tempted to explode but you can choose not to.

1 Cointhinas 10:13 has a powerful reminder for you.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Notice there is no promise you won’t be tempted by your pride to control, demean, or hurt. There is also no promise that life will go your way and you won’t feel pressure. The promise is that you can endure the pressure, stand against the temptation. In other words, if you claim to be a Christian you have no excuse, no right, and no permission to harm another person because you are uncomfortable, and if continue to do so perhaps you are not a Christian after all. You are responsible for your actions. If you want to experience growth and change the time for blame is over, and the time for ownership is here.

 

Putting Off and Putting On

Abusive behavior can often be so damaging and graphic that people helpers who genuinely seek to intervene focus so much on seeing the abusive behavior end that they fail to champion the need for new, behaviors to take their place. The Bible offers us clear instruction regarding the process of change through the means of putting off and putting on.

Simply put, when we are striving to change we must not only cease the destructive behavior but replace it with more God-honoring behavior.

Let’s say we have a man who consistently yells at his wife, and as we question him we uncover additional practices of intimidation such as body language, pounding his fist on the table, and threatening gestures such as clinching his fist. We establish that he wants his wife to conform, give in, so badly that he is willing to scare her to do it. His pride has led him to value getting his way over treating his wife properly. Certainly we want him to put off the intimidating behavior, but what can we ask him to put on for the glory of God? We realize the need to confront him with passages such as Ephesians 5:25-33 to address his lack of Christ-like love, and Colossians 3:19 dealing with the harsh treatment of his wife. Instead of causing his wife fear in order to control her we call the intimidating man to love his wife in such a way that she is not only no longer fearful, but safe, sane, and secure.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.

Passages of scripture such as this remind us that love opposes fear and instead love seeks the well-being of the other, and pursues such with patience and kindness, not intimidation and fear. As such we should expect the man who once intimidated to now be intentional in regards to expressing love and safety.

Note: This takes time.

I’m not suggesting that a single blog post, counseling session, or confrontation will suddenly produce Christ-like love. Moving from intimidation to Christ-like love will require hard work, accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.

More specifically we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior and through the process call him to alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few example from my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse.

From Violence to Gentleness:

We can encourage men who use violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many a man who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently as an alternative to violence.

  • As a matter of following Jesus

“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.

  • As a result of the Spirit’s work

“But the fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness.” Galatians 5:22-23.

  • As a requirement for leadership

“not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1Timothy 3:3.

“to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” Titus 3:3.

From Ridicule to Encouragement: 

Words are powerful and the venom of verbal abuse seeps into the spirit of its victim. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Christ, or the people he has called us to be. Scripture admonishes us to speak words of truth, and life into those we communicate with.

  • As a means of building others up

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:29-30.

  • As evidence of holiness

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:18-20.

  • As a means of practicing wisdom

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:5-6.

From Minimization, Denial, and Blame to Truth:

Truth and a willingness to speak honestly are key components within the Christian life. Deception and misleading behavior are valuable tools to the abusive man who consistently deceives himself, lies to his spouse, and attempts to misled everyone else. He is a master of manipulation and that must stop, and truth must come forth.

  • As a means of accountability

“ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.

  • As a means of sanctification

“ Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17.

  • As a matter of obedience

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.

From Economic Abuse to Stewardship:

All that we have is God’s and as such he has entrusted us as stewards to manage our possessions wisely. Unfortunately withholding resources is a tremendously useful tool for an abusive man. He must understand the evil nature of such actions and embrace a God-honoring approach to resources in which he attempts to honor God through provision, and generosity.

  • As evidence of his salvation

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”1Timothy 5:8.

  • As a means of acknowledging God’s sovereignty

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16.

  • As a means of care and provision for his family

“ In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:28-29.

It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is therefore a difficult, some would say impossible, unless we use the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without intervention, it is rare to see the kind of significant heart, desire, and behavior changes we are calling for. It is all the more imperative that we as leaders and people helpers engaged in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.

 

When Anger Takes Over by Joy Forrest

Today’s post is by my friend Joy Forrest and first appeared on her blog at Called to Peace

Anger

In my years of counseling victims of domestic violence, I have met some pretty angry people, and in many cases, their stories have angered me as well. Domestic violence can be unimaginably cruel, and it is difficult to hear the accounts without feeling upset about the injustice of it all. Quite often, victims are not only injured by their spouses, but they find very little support when they reach out for help. The judicial system frequently favors perpetrators, who tend to have greater financial resources, and often seem much more composed in court. Even churches can make matters worse for victims when they don’t understand the dynamics of abuse or interpret scriptures on marital roles harshly. For victims, insult is added to injury on a regular basis.

Living with abuse gives us plenty of reason to be angry, but sometimes our anger becomes sinful and destructive. Unfortunately, when that happens we often find ourselves living with negative consequences. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” We can easily find ourselves compounding the pain and misery of an already bad situation by allowing anger to rule our hearts. It is easy to find yourself responding with anger when you’ve lived with it day in and day out but letting yourself to be consumed by it will merely worsen the situation.

Becoming upset over violence and injustice is not only understandable, but it is also normal. Ephesians 4:26-27 seems to imply that anger is common but warns “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.” The problem isn’t becoming angry as much as it is failing deal with it quickly. When we stay angry and allow it to control us, we are headed for trouble. It seems that unresolved anger opens our lives to Satan’s destructive schemes (Eph. 4:26-27).

There was a time when I became so angry, I began to suffer physical symptoms. Even worse, I found myself snapping at my children for the littlest things. Rather than being able to offer them the love and support they needed to get through the devastating events they were experiencing, I found myself so consumed with anger that I had nothing left to give. The problem with maintaining anger is that you can’t simply contain it to one area of your life. It spills out onto others and “defiles many” (Heb. 12:15). It is like a poison that damages every relationship in your life, including the most important one of all—your relationship with God. During this period, I found myself feeling as if my prayers were hitting the ceiling. Although I continued to reach out to God, resentment controlled me rather than his Spirit, which left me very isolated from my Helper. I needed to learn how to handle my anger biblically.

Divine vs. Human Anger

Scripture clearly tells us there are things that anger God, and we are created in His image as emotional beings. God’s wrath is provoked by sin, and He hates violence. In Genesis, God told Noah “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (6:13). It was enough to cause God to want to destroy His own creation, so it is certainly understandable when we get upset about it. Even the second part of Malachi 2:16, “God hates divorce” indicates He also hates it when a husband deals violently and unfaithfully with his spouse. The Bible is filled with passages proclaiming our Creator’s hatred of injustice and unfaithfulness. As His children, we should naturally hate the evil that he hates. Our problem is that we usually carry it a little too far. Rather than turning the situation over to God, and leaving justice in His hands, we try to control it.

In reality, much human anger reveals a lack of trust in God. We may be questioning why He has allowed bad things to happen in our lives, and if He really cares. In our minds, we profess that He is good, but in our hearts, we doubt it. We know that His Word commands us to forgive, but we believe that forgiving is like giving a stamp of approval to the abuse. Thoughts like this unconsciously charge God with injustice. When we see our offenders “getting away” with sin, we want to take matters into our own hands, because it seems as though God is sitting back doing nothing. I know that’s how I felt, and I became so miserable that life was not worth living. Over time, God graciously intervened, but it was not an overnight event. It was a process that required me to take some very specific steps.

Face the Truth

People who live with abuse live with lies, and I was certainly no exception. I told myself that my husband couldn’t help it when he blew up, and that he was simply a product of his environment growing up. I tried to hide our violent episodes from everyone to the point that I almost seemed to hide them from myself. For over two decades I went to great lengths to avoid the truth; until one day I could avoid it no longer and found myself angrier than I had ever been. I was worn down by months of constant offenses. Doug had been calling and threatening me 15-20 times a day. I was afraid not to answer, because I felt if he didn’t get me on the phone, he would come out and make good on the threats. Normally, I would just hold the phone away from my ear and let him rant, because I learned that saying anything just made matters worse. On one particular call I heard the screaming stop and put my ear up to the phone just in time to hear him quietly threaten suicide. He slammed down the phone, and that was that. He had made similar threats in the past, but had never followed through, and usually started harassing me again within hours. However, this time I heard nothing for two whole days, and became concerned about him. I drove past his house both days and noticed that his car had not moved. On the third day I decided to take my key to our former home and go check on him. I was scared to death to go in but was so worried that I did it anyway. He was not downstairs, so I tiptoed upstairs and saw him lying deathly still on his bed. He looked extra pale, so I went up and nudged him. As soon as I did he woke up cursing at me, and I ran out as quickly as I could.

Within a few hours I got a call from the county sheriff’s department saying that Doug had come in— and charged me with criminal trespassing. They had a warrant for my arrest, and he urged me to come turn myself in. I was released on my own recognizance, but I was furious! How dare he have me charged as a criminal when I was merely concerned for his well-being? Foolishly, I decided to call and let him know just how awful his action had been, but the conversation only left me more upset. I told him he was the one who needed to be arrested for violence against me, but he said he had only hit me one time in the entire history of our relationship. He basically denied being abusive, and I couldn’t believe his nerve! My response was pure rage. By this point I was learning to turn my strong emotions over to God, so I started writing in my journal, telling Him about all the horrendous things Doug had done over the years.

As I was banging out complaints on my computer keyboard, my friend Karen happened to call to check on me. I told her about my earlier conversation with Doug, and the already lengthy list of offenses I was compiling. Much to my surprise, Karen said “Don’t forget the time he tore up the house, because he was mad at the cat.” I was confused, because I didn’t remember it at all. After she reminded me that they had provided housing, and how it had been resolved, I remembered. The odd thing was that it had only happened 12 months earlier! I was amazed that I could forget it so soon, but I believe that I had gone to such great lengths to hide it I had almost convinced myself it didn’t happen. For the most part, those of us who have been abused remember the abuse. I surely remembered the most traumatic incidents, but sometimes we lie about it so much that we begin to believe our own lies. I’ve met women who have casually told me that they had no problem forgiving their abusive spouses, but they could barely talk about what happened. Some who did open up were still making excuses or denying the severity of the abuse. That is burying anger, not dealing with it.

Entrust it to Him

After admitting the truth, we must put it in His hands. A great deal of healing happened in me the day I finally faced the truth and conceded just how horrible things had been. Let me clarify. I do not think I was healed simply because I finally told myself the truth. That was only part of it. The reason I found healing was that I was pouring out my hurts to God and committing them to Him. The truth was too overwhelming for me to handle on my own, but I knew my heart was safe with Him. Psalm 62:8 encourages us to pour out our hearts to God, and that is what I did on that day. When you face constant offenses, it will often require you to surrender your anger again and again, but it will guard your soul. Commit the offenses you have suffered to Him. It is the only way to avoid carrying them yourself, and He is far better equipped to handle them. Each night when you lay your head on your pillow, drop those heavy burdens at His feet and trust Him to fight your battles.

Choose to Forgive

For many of us, forgiving our abusers can be the toughest battle we face in the recovery process, but it is a necessary step in overcoming the anger that comes from abuse. Although it may seem that facing the truth about the hurts I had experienced would have made it harder to forgive, it actually helped, because I realized it was too big for me to handle alone. I knew I could not face the pain without God’s help. I also knew His Word commanded me to forgive, but I needed a lot of help in working through it. At the height of my anger, our ladies’ Bible study decided to work through Kay Arthur’s Lord, Heal My Hurts. When I picked up the book, I noticed a chapter in the Table of Contents entitled “How Can I Forgive?” It was the very question I had been asking myself, and this wonderful Bible study helped me figure it out. When I was able to forgive, it was as if a thousand-pound burden had been taken off my shoulders.

There were a few common misconceptions I had to overcome in order to truly forgive, and I’ve seen many other survivors struggle with them as well. As a child, I was taught to forgive and forget. When my siblings and I asked for forgiveness, we were taught to respond with, “That’s ok. I forgive you.” Then, we were expected to hug and make up. Basically, that formed my view of how the process should look, but it was a very flawed perspective, because it caused me to believe that forgiveness would always lead to reconciliation. I also thought forgiving meant I simply had to minimize or dismiss the offenses as though they had never happened. Thankfully, I was wrong on both counts. Biblical forgiveness is placing the offender in God’s hands and leaving justice to Him. It is letting go of our own need for vengeance; but it definitely is not dismissing the hurt as though it wasn’t that bad or that it never happened. Romans 12:17-21 gives us instructions on dealing with those who harm us. Romans 12: 17-19 instructs us not to repay evil with evil and not to take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath.

We must trust that He will handle the situation in His time and with perfect justice. Also, we need to refuse to stoop to our abusers’ level by taking revenge. Usually when we refuse to let go of our anger and desire for retaliation, it is because we don’t trust that His way of dealing with it is better than ours. We will never find peace until we realize He always has our best interest at heart, and He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29). Regardless of how things may look in the present, there will come a day when your abuser will have to bow before Him, perhaps in great fear and trembling, and confess that He is Lord (Ph. 2:10-11). We need to trust Him to make all things right in due time.

Resolve to Believe Him

Letting go of anger and believing God is definitely a choice, and not a simple process. For me it was hard work! It meant learning how to choose His truth over my feelings, and trust that He cared deeply for me— even when it didn’t feel that way. One day a phrase from Isaiah 50:7 spoke to me. This prophecy about Jesus predicted that he would set his face “like flint” to accomplish the Father’s plan.  There was something about His determination in this verse that resonated in me because I knew that my outcome would be tied to my decision to believe Him. I decided that I would resolve to believe, no matter what happened or how I felt. I pray that as you read this, you will decide to do the same. To overcome anger, and its damaging consequences in your life, you must determine to do it God’s way rather than your own.

The Process

Dealing with anger His way requires taking several steps. It means being honest with yourself, and no longer minimizing or making excuses for the abuse. In order to truly heal, you must face and give the full weight of the burden to God. Commit your anger to God quickly, and do not let it fester. Let Him fight your battles. Sure, there may be actions you will need to take to protect yourself and your children, but you won’t have to try and control things or force your version of justice anymore. Choose to forgive your abuser, recognizing that it will set you free, and leave justice in God’s hands. Correct any thinking that is contrary to God’s truth and believe that God will redeem your sorrows. Remember that He is for you, and that even though He will not violate the free will of your abuser, He is sovereign, and He wants to use your trials for good. Finally, seek scriptures that provide instructions on wisely dealing with anger, and choose to apply them. Please see Appendix A at the end of this book for a list.

 

*Note: I do believe there comes a time in the healing process when staying angry can actually help us move forward. We have to become justifiably angry at the sin we’ve endured so that we will no longer make excuses for it or continue to subject ourselves to it. The problem comes when we allow the anger to control us rather than giving God control.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Joy’s book, Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse.

Resisting Abuse and Matthew Chapter 5

Disclaimer: The following post is intended to address the phrase, “turn the other cheek” as used by some helpers and pastors to encourage victims of abuse to simply accept and endure hurt. My intention is not to prescribe specific means of resistance during individual acts of abuse. Each of Jesus’ illustrations in Matthew chapter five occur in public as resistance to an oppressive government and while some principles may be transferable they are not directly intended to speak to a wife’s personal resistance to her husband.

I am often asked about the principle of “turning the other cheek” as it may apply to domestic abuse, and specifically as it applies to oppression and resistance. These discussions usually indicate an understanding that “turning the other cheek” means a Christian’s response to hurt is to either offer ourselves up for additional harm in the spirit of Christ or sin against our spouse by retaliating. This either or view is unfortunate and possibly deadly for victims of domestic violence who feel the need to passively receive evil treatment rather than responding to evil.  However, the "turn the other cheek" passage is in fact a call to respond to evil.  

“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the left also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”

Am I Supposed to be a Doormat?

An initial reading of the words of Jesus may lead one to think that, as a Christian, we have no other recourse when faced with oppressive behavior than to stand idly by practicing a bizarre form of “doormat” theology. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus offers this sermon to a group of followers living under oppression to the Roman Empire. The word 'resist' could easily be read 'resist violently' or resist in kind. Jesus is not suggesting passivity but rather peaceful resistance. So, in this context Jesus highlights three real life scenarios that his audience may experience.

1. A backhand to face by a Roman soldier, official, or collaborator. This would have been a slap of disrespect like one given to an animal, or slave and to my knowledge a culturally acceptable act. The right hand striking the right cheek of the victim. Jesus does not appear to approve of this behavior but cautions his followers not to resist violently by striking back, but rather exposing the aggressors privilege by offering them the left cheek. This 'turn the other cheek' posture forces the aggressor to choose whether to abandon the assault or strike your left cheek which would, more than likely, be with a fist (an unacceptable and illegal use of force). If the oppressor strikes the victim with a fist then the oppressor will be clearly in the wrong. Resistance should highlight the oppressors wrong-doing not the victims response.

2. Leave the courtroom naked. Jesus’ audience, with a few exceptions, were not wealthy individuals. To have someone sue you for your coat is significant. Again Jesus encourages us not to physically fight for our stuff, but rather abandon our garments in the courtroom. In other words expose the aggressors privilege by forcing them to publicly deal with the shame of leaving you high and dry. I've been told that in the first century to be naked was shameful, to see someone naked was more shameful, but to cause someone to be naked was most shameful. Again, the resistance highlights the victim's need and the oppressor's sin. 

3. Going the extra mile is not about effort but nonviolent resistance. Roman soldiers in Jesus day could commandeer Jews off the street to carry their gear for one mile under the law. Willingly going the extra mile puts pressure on the aggressor. Once again highlighting his privilege and forcing him into a place of discomfort as others see you continue to walk past the cut off point.

Jesus taught his followers the power of resistance and the importance of holding oppressors accountable, by highlighting the sinfulness of their behavior by exposing their privilege.

Final Thought

Over the years I have seen pastors struggle with cases of abuse claiming that both parties are abusive. They relay stories of how they see him as overbearing but that she is prone to fits of rage and abuse herself. I sometimes call these the “big buts” as abuse is sometimes minimized by saying, “yes he does this BUT she does that.” My challenge to these thoughts is to consider whether one party is in fact abusive and one is resisting the abuse rather than assume the behavior is mutual. My friend Leslie Vernick does a good job distinguishing between controlling abuse and reactive abuse in her book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. Certainly, responding to abuse with behavior that mimics or mirrors abuse is not the healthiest of choices and may sometimes be sinful but that doesn’t mean that resistance should not happen or be honored.

Resource

In the following video I walk through an exercise in escalation that may helpful for people helpers to process resistance. 

How Churches Can Help Fight Abuse

This week we are re-publishing a PeaceWorks University member submission.

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.

Sexual harassment and assault have been headline news a lot lately. As tragic as these episodes are to read about, it’s even more tragic to realize that mistreatment, oppression and abuse are also found in our churches. However, the church is also well-positioned to prevent, identify and intervene in unhealthy relationships. What are some practical steps that churches can take to help fight abuse in the church and among its members?

Prevention

Obviously, the most helpful approach is to prevent sinful behavior rather than deal with it after it happens. Churches should take seriously their responsibility to screen and train pastors, staff members, and those who volunteer with at-risk populations, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled. This should include everything from background checks for all church workers and volunteers, development of policies to protect the vulnerable, and ongoing training and oversight to ensure compliance. Resources such as On Guard by Deepak Reju can help church leaders think through practical steps to make their churches resistant to those who would harm children and other vulnerable people.

Prevention of abuse among church members is more indirect, but no less important. This would involve clear teaching from the pulpit about servant leadership, the proper use of authority and clear denunciations of misusing one’s role. One of the best observations I’ve heard in a sermon is, “If you’re enjoying the perks of leadership, you’re doing in wrong.” The value and worth of all people, regardless of nationality, gender, age or gifting must be emphasized. Naturally, such teaching must be accompanied by wise and humble exercise of pastoral authority.

Church membership is an important factor in helping a church know its people more intimately, and gives it authority to act when troubling situations arise. Cultivating a grace-filled ethos that encourages transparency, being known, and mutual confession of sin can also make it harder to hide all types of sin.

Identification

Since preventive steps are not foolproof, churches must also take steps to identify problematic situations as quickly as possible. It can be helpful to have booklets on abuse and information on women’s shelters and services in the ladies’ restroom, where resources can be more discreetly obtained. Such resources should be accompanied by a clear message to seek help if they have any concerns about their relationship. Women who have been told that they just need to forgive and submit need to hear that the most loving thing they can do is to interrupt the oppressive cycle in their relationships.

Training for pastors, staff and other church leaders helps identify oppressive relationships by equipping them to recognize problematic patterns of behavior. While formal training is ideal — such as CCEF’s course on abusive relationships — this will not be possible for everyone. However, there are also a number of other books and resources that provide guidance on the nature of abusive relationships, such as Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s Is It My Fault?, Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage and The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and GRACE (www.netgrace.org). These resources open the category of mistreatment beyond physical or sexual abuse to include verbal/emotional abuse, financial control and intimidation.

Intervention

Once an abusive relationship has been identified, the church needs to determine how it can help address the situation. Ideally, churches would have pastors and/or staff who are qualified to work with both parties to untangle complicated and confusing situations and address the complexities of abusive behaviors and relationships. Since this clearly won’t be possible in all cases, church leaders should not hesitate to seek outside help when needed and connect those involved in the troubled relationship with law enforcement, women’s shelters, legal or financial planning services, or addiction or mental health treatment, as appropriate. If you learn about a worrisome situation and are uncertain how to proceed, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org or 1-800-799-7233), which is open 24/7 for assistance. Even when care must be sought outside the church, church leaders, at a minimum, should be prepared to walk alongside both parties to address the myriad spiritual needs that exist on both sides of troubled relationships. The gospel speaks to both the oppressor and the oppressed, offering hope, comfort and the possibility of true change and restoration. All of the books mentioned above, as well as Chris Moles’ The Heart of Domestic Abuse, are helpful resources for addressing issues faced by both the abused and the abuser.

When possible, diaconal funds can be of great assistance to help with practical needs, especially if outside care or separation are appropriate. As you consider steps forward in a difficult relationship, remember to be patient with women who are wrestling with decisions about how and when to address their situations. Allowing an oppressed woman to make her own choices helps to reestablish her sense of self and her own agency in the relationship.

While churches will vary greatly in the ways they can address this difficult issue, all churches should seek to be proactive in the fight against abuse in all its forms, remembering the Lord’s heart for the oppressed (Judg 2:18). Although it is difficult work, church leaders can be encouraged and hopeful as they fulfill their call by “patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25).

Note: While men can also be victims of abuse, this article refers to women and children for the sake of simplicity and because they represent the majority of victims of domestic abuse.

Brenda Pauken

The Trouble with Victims

This week we are sharing a post by our friend and PeaceWorks University Faculty member Joy Forrest. Joy is the author of the 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.

joy-head-shot.jpg

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

What is the "Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused" curriculum?

This post was written by Brad Hambrick and first appeared on the ERLC website. The original post can be found here “Becoming a Church that Cares Well”

Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (churchcares.com) is a training experience designed to equip the church on how to respond well to the initial report of abuse. This free resource brings together top experts in the areas of social work, law enforcement, trauma counseling, abuse counseling, legal advisement, and pastoral care. Its purpose is to help pastors and ministry leaders equip their churches to be able to provide excellent care in the initial stages of receiving a disclosure from someone who has experienced abuse.

Contributors include (alphabetical order):

  • Rachael Denhollander

  • Mika Edmondson

  • Brad Hambrick

  • Samantha Kilpatrick

  • Diane Langberg

  • Chris Moles

  • Andrea Munford

  • Karla Siu

  • Darby Strickland

  • Leslie Vernick

Each of their bios can be found at churchcares.com.

Four key emphases

This team worked together with intentionality in order to create the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum. Here are four key emphases in the curriculum development process.

  1. We wrote collaboratively. Every team member helped edit the content at each stage in the process. We wanted every section to benefit from the expertise of every member of this team.

  2. We were focused. In a 12-lesson curriculum, with each lesson being 20 minutes, we could not say everything that needed to be said. We focused on two things: (1) initial responses and (2) getting people involved. Our belief was that if churches start well and get the right people involved, then the collaboration between pastors, social workers, law enforcement, trauma counselors, and other relevant professionals would ensure holistic care was provided.

  3. We strove to model what we are advocating for. Our team was comprised of the key professionals who need to be part of the care process. As ministry leaders watch the videos, we want them to get a foretaste of the benefits that will come when they speak with comparable professionals in their community.

  4. We wrote conversationally. We didn’t want to use technical language from various professional fields. We tried to write in ways that ministry leaders talk. Our hope is that by listening to the videos that accompany the handbook, ministry leaders will get a sense for what it sounds like to have uncomfortable conversations with survivors. It is not comfortable to talk about abuse, but it is a conversation we cannot avoid.

Three ways to use this resource

What is the best way to use or study this resource? Here are three ways, listed chronologically, you can use this resource for maximum impact.

  1. Study: Watch each video while following along with the handbook. As you study, focus both on the content and tone. We need to know what to do, but it is equally important to hear that content shared by people who have had hundreds of these conversations. In ministry moments, we want to represent Christ accurately in tone and content.

  2. Share: Ministry leaders are encouraged to share particular videos with key lay leaders in their church. This is to ensure that all the key leaders in your church—paid staff and volunteers—know how to respond when someone discloses their experience of abuse.

  3. Listen: Finally, and this may be most important, invite a survivor of abuse to study the curriculum and share with you what stood out most to him or her. Hearing how these principles would have made a difference in his or her life will cement them in your memory and convictions. Getting to share his or her story with a pastor desiring to learn from and care for him or her can be an incredibly healing experience for the survivor.

Our prayer is the churchcares.com resource will be used by God to significantly improve how ministry leaders—local church or parachurch—care for those who have been abused and respond to reports of abuse. If the church is going to be the refuge that God intends, these are areas where we must grow.

Is Change Really Possible

If I could simplify one of the most common questions I receive it would be, "can destructive people really change?” I want to honestly offer a few answers to this question by changing the words slightly.

Can They Change?

Simple Answer – Of course they can.

I have heard the sentiment many times that people cannot change. The understanding is that thieves are always thieves, liars are always liars, and abusers will always be abusive. I believe the Bible teaches that change is not only possible but necessary. God desires the unbelieving to practice repentance and experience transformation. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He desires the believer to practice repentance as well, calling us to put off the old man and to “Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:24)

Honest Answer – Anyone can change but the potential for change does not guarantee that it will happen.

Do They Change?

Simple Answer – Yes…Well, kind of…It depends.

I’ve been doing this work for some time now and I have seen many men make changes. Sometimes those changes are radical. It’s exhilarating to watch men make such dramatic shifts in thinking and behavior. I’ve also seen men make some necessary behavioral changes to avoid consequences or pain. This may make things safer in the short term but lacks the power that the gospel promises. Lastly, I’ve seen men attempt to manipulate everyone with superficial changes designed to deceive others into leaving them be.

Honest Answer – They do when they choose to, but motives are important in understanding the validity of these changes, and initial 'changes' do not guarantee transformation. 

Will They Change?

Simple Answer – Do you have someone in mind?

As I read this question again I have the tendency to hear this, “will the person I love change?” The honest answer is I don’t know. Unfortunately the individual most desperate for change is often the one who is being victimized. The last thing I want to do is give false hope that your positive attitude or faith that change is possible will lead to your loved one’s transformation. The truth is you are not responsible for their changes but for your own safety, and sanity. While you may desperately want them to get help that is a decision they alone can make.

Honest Answer – I do not know if the person you love will ever change.

Final Thought:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:13-17

Have you ever heard the saying, the proof is in the pudding? Biblically speaking we know that change has occurred when change occurs. I recently had an interesting discussion with an individual who couldn’t articulate the difference between confession and repentance. Acknowledging one’s sin is a wonderful first step but it is still a first step. When is a liar no longer a liar? When he says, “I know I lie” or when we witness him consistently telling the truth? Change is possible, but change is hard.

A few years ago I was invited to participate in a webinar through Our Daily Bread Ministries. This was the event where I first met my friend Leslie Vernick. Many important concepts related to change and the church's responsibility are covered in this webinar.   

Watch the Webinar Here

 

Six (6) Attributes That Can Replace Abusive Actions

This post first appeared as a guest post for my friend Leslie Vernick at www.leslievernick.com

Behavioral change without heart change is a kin to paying a tremendous amount of money for a new paint job on a car without an engine.

Changing the outer appearance doesn’t solve the real problem. Character development is essential to the process of transformation, but not just becoming nicer, or more compliant but becoming more like Christ. Ephesians 5 is a common passage used to describe a husband’s role in marriage and many pastors will use this passage to encourage certain behaviors. I too use this passage but suggest we begin in verse one which calls us all to “…be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”

While there are many aspects of God’s character we can encourage men to adopt, allow me to suggest one passage which I highlight in my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse. Here God describes himself using six (6) attributes, which Jesus readily demonstrated during his life on earth and of which we are called to imitate. In addition, to an obedient Christian these six attributes have a direct impact on the Christian marriage. In Exodus 34 , Moses has returned to construct new tablets after smashing the originals following the discovery of idol worship in the camp. After completing the tablets God approaches Moses and makes this declaration about himself.

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” Exodus 34:6-7

While God shares additional information about his character in the remaining portion of the passage these six characteristics stand out as adoptable attributes consistent with the call to conformity.

1.Compassionate: God describes himself as compassionate and Jesus models compassion numerous times in the Gospels. In particular, Matthew 8, tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion as he looked out over the people. For the Christian, compassion is a necessary characteristic to embrace in response to being wronged or even perceptions of harm. Consider Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In response to the temptation to become sinfully angry that can express itself through bitterness, rage, name-calling, gossip, and even violence, Paul calls the believer, among other responses, to act with compassion.

2.Gracious: In many ways the opposition from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day stemmed from their inability or unwillingness embrace his words of grace. The Christ-follower is compelled throughout the Scripture to imitate this characteristic. In particular, Colossians 4, instructs the believer to, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Imagine for a moment the husband who repents of the damaging effects of his words, recognizes the selfish posture of his heart and determines to conform the image of Christ in part by speaking to his wife with grace.

3.Slow to Anger. Jesus did not come to us with condemnation but hope and salvation. He patiently calls us to redemption and then calls us to love each other with that same longsuffering conviction. In the James 1, the pastor leaves little room for doubt in our conformity to this principle when he says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The excuse, “I have a short fuse,” falls silent under the weight of our conformity to Christ who has time and again suffered long on our behalf.

4.Abounding in Love. Scripture resounds with truth regarding God’s love. We sing songs to His great love. We are recipients of His wonderful love. From an early age many of us recited that, “God loved us so much that he gave us his son.” God’s love is among the central themes of the Bible, and we are commanded to imitate him by loving others, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Love is our go to in the process of becoming like Jesus, and the characteristic most directly related to the husband’s interactions with his wife, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

5.Faithfulness. The faithfulness of God resonates in the stories of saints throughout the scripture, as well as, those we encounter in our lifetime. We rely upon His promise to be faithful in our temptation. Our faithful God has united us with Christ and called us into fellowship with him. Our families should be able to trust us as we consistently trust in God. We are faithful in part because He has taught us faithfulness. His Spirit reminds us of His faithfulness and in turn empowers us to be faithful.

6.Forgiving.  Our God is a forgiving God and Jesus models this characteristic beautifully as he forgives sinners and unmistakably when he cries, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Even while on the cross Jesus promotes the power of forgiveness. Why are we so hesitant in our circumstances to embrace this life of forgiveness? Where once an abusive man held his family hostage with selfish expectations, the mind of Christ calls him to surrender his past desires for a new Christ-like conformity which includes forgiveness. In light of God’s forgiveness through Christ, this man has little alternative than to follow the instructions given by Paul when he says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The most influential realization obtained by a forgiving person is the fact that he is himself forgiven. If the abusive man can experience forgiveness for the grievous sin he has perpetrated against his family ,than certainly forgiveness can be anticipated and even expected from him.

Let us strive to teach that change comes when we replace negative actions and patterns with better ones. 

Am I Really Forgiven?

Today's post is by my friend Bev Moore.

Jill thought for a long time about God’s forgiveness. She had spent so many years dealing with feelings of condemnation and guilt.  What she was experiencing now seemed like a dream—something too good to be true. She was nervous that something was going to go wrong, or that maybe God was waiting to heap on the guilt the next time she messed up.

Many of our counselees can identify with Jill.  When they are introduced to the gospel—that they can be forgiven by God’s grace—it’s almost more than they can believe.  But by God’s grace they do believe!  Yet sometimes they feel uneasy but they’re not quite sure why.

One thing that really helped Jill was reading how Jesus demonstrated His love for a woman who desperately needed His forgiveness. It wasn’t hard for Jill to identify with the woman in this story. Jill got to see the love and compassion Jesus freely gave to someone like her.

It’s the beautiful story found in Luke 7:36-50 where Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While there a woman who had lived a sinful life came to the house with an alabaster jar of perfume and she wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with the perfume. Simon was repulsed by what he saw and couldn’t believe Jesus could allow Himself to be touched by this “sinner.”  

Jesus knew what Simon was thinking and told him a story involving a moneylender and two men that owed him money and how the moneylender forgave both debts.  Jesus asked Simon which man he thought would love the moneylender more. Simon knew that the man with the bigger debt canceled would love the moneylender more. Here is how the rest of this scene played out:

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:43-50)

What a striking contrast between two people—a Pharisee, who placed his faith in his own self-righteousness and goodness, who erroneously believed he had a very small debt he owed to God, and believed he could earn God’s favor by keeping the rules. And a woman who knew she had a huge debt she owed to God and she could never even begin to repay Him, but who put her faith in Jesus. This woman was well aware of her guilt and her need for forgiveness. She knew she had to come to Jesus for the forgiveness she desperately wanted and needed.

For some, believing that God will forgive every sin is difficult to accept as true. Why? Here are several reasons to consider:

• We doubt that God will ever accept us after what we’ve done. We think that our sin is too big or too awful for God to forgive.

• We continually repeat our sin, feeling trapped in a never-ending cycle of defeat and despair.

• We fail to grasp the holiness of God and His hatred of sin so we fail to see our sin as a direct offense against God.

• We attempt to establish our own standard of righteousness and feel defeated and unforgiveable when our performance doesn’t measure up to our satisfaction.

• We fail to grasp the depth of God’s forgiving grace through the sacrifice of His Son’s life.

Jill was grateful for God’s forgiveness, but wrestled with this thought: “I just can’t forgive myself for the things I’ve done.” Very often we feel regret, shame, and condemnation for the things we’ve done that have caused us and others pain and heartache. It feels like we need to forgive ourselves, but it’s a misconception that we have wronged ourselves. Our sin is against God (and possibly others), and it’s His forgiveness that we need. We may feel the need to forgive ourselves so that we can feel better about ourselves, but nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to do this. Forgiveness was purchased for us at the cross because ultimately our sin is against God.

In order to get past the regret we have regarding our sin, we have to keep our heart and mind focused on the cross and what Jesus did for us there. When the devil wants to remind us of battles lost and tries to rub our noses in our failures, we can confidently say to him, “I am worse than you think, but I have a GREAT BIG GOD who is bigger than all my sin. He has washed me and made me whiter than snow through the blood of Jesus Christ!”

But what if I don’t feel forgiven?  Forgiveness is a fact, just like guilt is a fact. I don’t always feel guilt when I am guilty, nor will I always feel forgiven when I confess my sin to God and He forgives me. There may be residual regret and possibly painful consequences that are reminders of our sin. But we have to focus on the truth of God’s Word: if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we base our forgiveness on feelings, what does that say about what Christ has done for us? Could we be saying that not only did He have to die for our sin, but now He has to give us the feelings we desire in order to believe and/or feel we are forgiven? Are we saying that what He has already done was not enough? We can certainly spend a lot of time trying to feel good about ourselves, but that should not be the goal. We are to humbly live by faith in the truth, not faith in our feelings!  

We have to help our counselees focus on God’s Word and pray that the Holy Spirit will renew their minds with the truth so that they can walk in the light and in the precious freedom of God’s forgiveness.

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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. 

Churches and Domestic Abuse Policy

Some churches have approached me regarding domestic abuse policies and while I do not have a standard response yet, I will be creating a process in the future, I do find it helpful to see what others have done. Below is an example of a first draft proposal created by one local church.

Domestic abuse, or intimate partner abuse, is the desecration of the image of God in the abuser’s spouse or intimate partner through a pattern of intentionally misusing power, overtly or covertly, in words or actions, to gratify self.

  • Abuse is an assault upon the image of God in another human being.

  • Abuse usually occurs in a pattern that is typically increasing in frequency and/or intensity. 

  • Abuse is intentional, though the abuser may not be self-aware enough to recognize the intentions of his or her heart. Abuse is never perpetrated on accident.

  • Abuse is about the misuse of power to control or manipulate another for selfish gain. It is an act of oppression.

  • Abuse can involve physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, economic, spiritual, or psychological means.

  • The goal of abuse is self-gratification – to get what one wants at the expense of another.

Domestic abuse, which can be used interchangeably with the term “domestic violence”, is pervasive in our culture. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetime. Domestic abuse is under-reported, so those statistics are conservative. We know statistically that domestic abuse is just as pervasive at ______________ as it is in the culture, and so we must be alerted to it.

Domestic violence in any form – physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or spiritual – is an assault upon the image of God in a fellow human being, and is therefore an assault upon God himself. When it is between a husband and a wife, it further violates the one-flesh covenantal relationship that God established. Under no circumstance is abuse ever justified. Neither is it ever the fault of the victim. Domestic abuse severely damages relationships and often destroys the relationship beyond repair. An act of abuse is never an act of Christian love. Christ's self-giving love encourages the full growth of the individual, while domestic abuse seeks to stifle the victim's autonomy through dominance, replacing love with violence and fear. Given this acknowledgement, ________________ Church affirms the following:

  • domestic abuse in all its forms is sinful and incompatible with the Christian faith and a Christian way of living;

  • all abuse is spiritually damaging for both the person being abused and the person who is abusing;

  • domestic abuse is a serious problem which occurs in church families as well as in wider society;

  • domestic abuse is not primarily an anger problem, a marriage problem, the victim’s problem, or even a legal problem, but rather a sin problem;

  • domestic abuse is primarily perpetrated by men, against the very people whom God has given these men to protect and shepherd - women and children.

  • we will listen to, believe, support, and care for those affected by domestic abuse;

  • we will urge abused persons to consider their own safety and that of family members first and to seek help from the church, professional counseling, and legal resources, to bring healing to the individuals and, if possible, to the marriage relationship;

  • we will discipline abusers and remove them from the church if they are unrepentant;

  • we will work with local domestic violence support agencies, will learn from them and support them in appropriate ways, and will publicize their work;

  • we will teach that domestic abuse is a sin;

  • we will teach what it means to be male and female image-bearers of God, equal in value, dignity and worth;

  • we will train all pastors/elders, ministers/deacons, and lay leaders;

  • we will seek to utilize trained professionals to encourage best practices and keep church members and leadership trained on and informed about the implementation of this domestic abuse policy.

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.

 

Abuse: Domestic Violence and a Call to Repentance

This post recently appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Blog.

One of the reasons I believe biblical counseling can be an effective response to domestic abuse is our emphasis on the biblical principle of putting off and putting on. If a man who has made abusive choices claims to be a believer, then it is required of us within the church to call him to repentance by holding him accountable to completely abandon the wickedness of abuse and embrace a new and better way. Simply put, when we are striving to promote change, we must not only call the counselee to cease the destructive behavior, but also to replace it with God-honoring behavior. The end result of this confrontation should produce either evidence (fruit) of repentance or confirm his unbelief and the need for continued consequences.

Let’s say we have a man who consistently yells at his wife, and as we question him we uncover additional practices of intimidation, such as body language, pounding his fist on the table, and threatening gestures such as clenching his fist. We establish that he wants his wife to conform (give in) so badly that he is willing to scare her to do it. His pride has led him to value getting his way over treating his wife properly. Certainly, we want him to put off the intimidating behavior, but what can we ask him to put on for the glory of God? What are we looking for that will evidence the new patterns of repentance? We realize the need to confront him with passages such as Ephesians 5:25-33 to address his lack of Christ-like love, and Colossians 3:19 in dealing with the harsh treatment of his wife. Instead of causing his wife fear in order to control her, we call the intimidating man to love his wife in such a way that she is not only no longer fearful, but safe, sane, and secure.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Passages of Scripture such as this remind us that love opposes fear and instead seeks the well-being of the other and does so with patience and kindness, not intimidation and fear. As such, we should expect the man who once intimidated to now be intentional in regards to expressing love and safety.

Note: this takes time.

I’m not suggesting that a single blog post, counseling session, or confrontation will suddenly produce Christ-like love. Moving from intimidation to Christ-like love will require hard work, consistent long-term accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.

More specifically, we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior, contrast that with Scripture, and through the process craft and call him to biblical alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few examples from my book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse.

From Violence to Gentleness

We can encourage men who have used violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many men who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently in Scripture as an alternative to violence.

  • As a matter of following Jesus: “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” (Matt. 11:29).

  • As a result of the Spirit’s work: “But the fruit of the Spirit is…  gentleness” (Gal. 5:22-23).

  • As a requirement for leadership: “…not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1Tim. 3:30); “…to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:3).

From Ridicule to Encouragement

Words are powerful and the venom of verbal abuse seeps into the spirit of its victim. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Christ or the people He has called us to be. Scripture admonishes us to speak words of truth and life into those we communicate with.

  • As a means of building others up: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:29-30).

  • As evidence of holiness: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt. 15:18-20).

  • As a means of practicing wisdom: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5-6).

From Minimization, Denial, and Blame to Truth

Truth and a willingness to speak honestly are key components within the Christian life. Deception and misleading behavior are valuable tools to the abusive man who consistently deceives himself, lies to his wife, and attempts to mislead everyone else. He is a master of manipulation, and that must stop and truth must come forth.

  • As a means of accountability: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

  • As a means of sanctification: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

  • As a matter of obedience: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).

It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is difficult, some would say impossible, unless we use the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without intervention, it is rare to see the kind of significant heart, desire, and behavior changes we are calling for. It is all the more imperative that we as leaders and people-helpers engage in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.

Questions for Reflection

Are you and your church equipped to engage in confrontational ministry? Have you considered continued education in the area of domestic violence intervention and prevention?

Rev. Chris Moles (M.A.B.C.) is a Certified Biblical Counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC). He is also a certified group facilitator in domestic violence intervention and prevention. Chris is the author of The Heart of Domestic Abuse; Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Violence and Control in the Home and founder of PeaceWorks University, a membership website that exists to help train, commission, and support biblical counselors and others to address the problem of domestic violence with the gospel of peace.

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.

Don't Confess Your Sins?

HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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