How Abuse Affects You as a Mother

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.


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

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

Sticks And Stones

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

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

The Fruit of an Abusive Heart

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

Final Thought:

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

Not A Marriage Problem

Not a Marriage Problem

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

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

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

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

Final Thought

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

Thoughts on Womanhood and Motherhood by Rev. Robert Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

3 ways to bring more clarity to our domestic violence responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read good books such as...

Check out these great resources

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

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

Dialogue with Experts in the field

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

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

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

Julie Owens - Julie is a survivor, advocate, and dv expert. You can find out more about Julie at


Early on Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can a healthy church provide victims of domestic abuse?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Week of Travel and Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

Plenary Sessions Included

  • Counsel from the Word with Dwayne Bond  

  • Counsel at the Cross with Elyse Fitzpatrick

  • Counsel to the Heart with John Henderson

  • Counsel for God’s Glory with Chris Freeland

Track Options Included

  • Introduction to Biblical Counseling

  • Depression

  • Domestic Abuse

  • Addictions

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Equipping Counselors in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Trouble with Victims

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

I lived over twenty-five years my life as a victim. From the time I was 14 until I was nearly 40 I was involved in an abusive relationship, and breaking free was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. During those tumultuous years, I lost nearly everything I owned and barely escaped with my life and my two girls. In the years that followed, I faced great financial loss, angry children, and continued threats on my life. I had nightmares, and found myself freaking out at things that had nothing to do with me. When I heard people around me complain about everyday struggles I wanted to laugh in their faces and say, “Are you kidding me?! That’s nothing!” I wanted the world to know that I had been wronged, and somehow come and make it right.

The odd thing is the more I complained, the less people wanted to listen. They seemed to alienate themselves from me, which made my situation even more miserable. I could have stayed in that pattern forever, but as I cried out to God I began to realize I would never be an overcomer until I dropped my victim mentality. I realized that people did not know how to handle the severity of my losses. I am sure it made them uncomfortable—perhaps even guilty that they had been blessed with an easier life. I realized that I needed to stop making my unfortunate past my identity, and made a decision to pour my complaints out to God rather than people. I chose to believe his promises towards me rather than my feelings. Although that decision did not immediately change my circumstances, it did make all the difference in the world. Today I am a victor rather than a victim, because I decided to believe him.

In the years since I transitioned from victim to victor, I have many opportunities to work with other victims. I have seen some apply themselves to the truths of God’s Word, and basically blossom before my very eyes. In those cases, it has truly been like watching butterflies come out of their cocoons. From all outward appearances their situations have seemed hopeless, but God has performed miracles for those who have learned to trust him. Trust like this involves a decision to believe God rather than emotions and past experience. I have never seen God disappoint those who have chosen to really trust him. The outcome has always been beautiful.

On the other hand, some of the women I have tried to help have refused to let go of that victim mentality. When I direct them to God’s promises, they give me a thousand reasons not to believe them. Their attitude reminds me of the man Jesus healed at the pool in Bethesda in John 5. Even though he stationed himself in the place where the angel stirred the water to be healed, he basically told Jesus it was impossible, because somebody always beat him to the water. He was full of bitterness and excuses. When Jesus healed him in spite of his negativity, he showed no joy, nor did he stop to thank Jesus. Instead, when the religious leaders rebuked him for carrying his pallet, he blamed Jesus. Jesus knew his heart and came to him later with a warning, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14).  But he simply went out and reported Jesus to the leaders. Jesus set him free, but he chose to remain bitter.

That’s the problem with so many victims, they fail to see and appreciate God’s provision in their lives. Instead, they choose to remain bitter, and make excuses for hanging on to their anger. They basically cut themselves off from God’s blessings and blame everyone around them (even God) for their negative circumstances. I love to contrast the story of the man at the pool with the healing of the man born blind in John 9. When Jesus healed him his life was changed immediately. He became a believer, and was willing to profess his faith in spite of harsh opposition. As far as outward circumstances go, he probably fared worse than the man healed at the pool. Yet, he was filled with joy over what Jesus had done for him. Like King David (who spent years running for his life) he chose to praise God in the presence of his enemies rather than cling to bitterness.

The truth is that bad things happen in this world. Many of us end up at victims at some point, and it grieves God’s heart. We suffer unjustly and it isn’t fair, but God knows exactly how that feels (Heb. 4:15). Our God is a redeemer, and nothing is wasted when we know him. He can turn our mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11), and use tribulation to mold us into the image of his son (Rom. 8:29). But in the midst of our troubles we must choose to trust him. We must choose to let go of the bitterness that poisons every relationship in our lives and keeps us in bondage (Heb. 12:15). The problem with victims is they are often not willing to make this choice. Instead, they hold tenaciously to their right to be miserable and angry, and unwittingly finish the job their enemies began.


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

Domestic Violence and the Image of God

This post first appeared on the Faith Biblical counseling blog

I’ve read scores of criminal complaints, police narratives, and victim statements over the years but this one was different. Maybe I’m getting used to reading them because as I look back I was far too casual with this one, almost callused hurrying through the details eager to place it back in the file. It wasn’t until later that evening as I quieted my mind that the Holy Spirit allowed the words from that report to begin penetrating my heart. It was as if the details flew into my mind almost like they were in color and the background was black and white. Words like, “bruising on the arms and face” “lacerations” and “the victim’s blood” reminded me that this is far more than just paperwork. These are people, people who in the context of an intimate relationship find their lives reduced to a few paragraphs on a sheet of paper. I was actually reading about a victim who is far more than the extent of her wounds, and a perpetrator who in fact is more than his rage and desire for control. They are people created and subsequently pursued by the God of heaven. His desire for them far exceeds the trouble they have and will continue to face. He has comfort for the victimized, and hope for the violent man and also longs for His people to compassionately respond to both the victim and perpetrator as well. While this experience has left me with many thoughts, here is one that I hope will challenge you as well.

What the image of God has to do with domestic violence

People are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Therefore when one person assaults another he is in fact assaulting an image bearer of God. This was running through my mind as I contemplated the victim in the above case. Asking myself what that means I jotted down a few thoughts.

  • Sacred Space: Most agree that the image and likeness of God involves more than what we see in the mirror but this is still a fine place to begin. The human body is sacred so to speak. When we neglect or harm our own bodies, or inflict harm or pain on another we are in fact attacking the one whom our bodies represent. For the believer this truth is emphasized in the New Testament in reference to our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) as well as how husbands in particular are to treat their wives (Ephesians 5:28).  As Biblical counselors we should not neglect this reality as we ask questions or find out more information. In our case above a husband has done great damage to his wife, and in doing so had minimized or completely ignored the image of God. We should love him enough to challenge his sin and call for repentance. In addition we should acknowledge the victims pain and mourn with her.
  • Our God is a relational being therefore we are relational beings. We are designed for community and abuse perverts and distorts this reality.

    Relational Beings: Our God is a relational being therefore we are relational beings. We are designed for community and abuse perverts and distorts this reality. Domestic violence isolates the victim from safety and security, and the perpetrator from sources of accountability. This relational dysfunction of isolation deviates from God’s design, and for the believer violates the principles of Scripture (Hebrews 10:24-25). I really believe that the church is the proper place to address domestic violence because we are a laboratory of relationships. We can both teach and model these principles to the couple above. Yes, we should give way to the authorities, domestic violence is a crime. But, that does not mean we neglect our brothers and sisters. The authorities can punish, and try and protect but they can’t offer the hope of the gospel. The church has as our mission and calling the ministry of reconciliation (2Corinthians 5:18-21). We too are compelled by Christ’s love to see the victim and the perpetrator through His eyes. Only the church can call the offender to repentance and provide the spiritual accountability he needs through the body of Christ and church discipline. Only the church can bring the healing touch of Christ through his body’s response and subsequent care to the victim. (1Corinthians 12:12-14) The bottom line is they need us.
  • Made for a Reason: We, as image bearers have purpose. Our functionality or purpose is connected to the image of God as well. Consider how a Christian husband is fulfilling his God given purpose of living for God’s pleasure (2Corinthians 5:9) while physically assaulting his wife, or how the victim is confined and restricted from being salt and light by a controlling spouse. Domestic violence has at its very heart desires for control and sinful abuses of power which constrict a relationship to the point of little or no meaning. Purpose is swept aside for conformity and truth is replaced with manipulative communication both from the offender who controls and the victim who resists, or plays along to avoid abuse. Marriage is a mirror of Christ’s relationship with the church. (Ephesians 5:21-33) But, when a marriage is blanketed by violence and control it will not effectively point observers to Christ. It lacks purpose and meaning.

This post is the result of considering one story, but there are many more like it. If you haven’t encountered domestic violence in your counseling you probably will. You will more than likely see the bruises, marks, and scars of the victim and may be a witness to the rage, denial, and slander of the offender but will you see more? Will you see clearly the image of God stamped upon and in each person that seeks your help? And, are you and your church prepared to offer comfort to the victim, and hope to the offender? Let’s work together so that God’s incredible work of restoration may be visible in the lives of all those we counsel.

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.


Six (6) Attributes That Can Replace Abusive Actions

This post first appeared as a guest post for my friend Leslie Vernick at

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. 

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


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.

1Cointhinas 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 are 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.


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


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

A Great Week, and Great Responses

Last week I had the privilege of delivering the Thursday night plenary address at the Biblical Counseling Training Conference in Lafayette, Indiana. The BCTC has been training pastors and lay leaders in discipleship and Biblical counseling for forty years and this year over two-thousand folks from around the world attended the conference and many more attended Thursday night's session via live stream. It was such an honor to share with one of the largest gatherings of Biblical counselors ever our vision of seeing the Church and Christian families become the safest place on the planet. If you were not able to join us live you can view the replay here. 


Our hope was to challenge and encourage Biblical counselors by acknowledging the severity of the problem, help recognize our own blindness to the systemic nature of violence against women, and to take a stand publicly. I am encouraged by the responses of fellow pastors and biblical counselors to this presentation. I know many people are disappointed in the church's past responses and rightfully so. We have done a poor job and must improve. But, the progress I observe is encouraging. 

  • Churches that never discussed domestic abuse are reading, learning, wrestling with, engaging, and building Biblical policies and practices to serve victims better. This growing process has literally saved lives. PTL
  • Training ministries that previously, rarely addressed domestic violence, and sometimes offered poor or counterproductive advice, are transitioning to healthy, honest, and humble positions on these issues. Last week's BCTC is an example of such movement. PTL. 

There are many more examples of how the sleeping giant is awakening and there is more work to do. I WILL NEVER condemn a pastor or counselor for addressing the problem. In fact, l praise those who do. At the same time, I want to help them clearly and more effectively speak truth. That is why on Thursday night we re-launched PeaceWorks University as a membership site for Biblical counselors, pastors, and people helpers. 

PeaceWorks University is a membership site designed to train and mentor biblical counselors and people helpers in ministering to those impacted by domestic violence. Currently PeaceWorks University features over thirty-hours of video based content from myself, several e-books, and resources from friends, as well as new resources added monthly such as our masterclasses with experts in the field, toolbox items, and Facebook live sessions with myself.  Our hope is that PeaceWorks University will become a place to build relationships, knowledge, and skill. I want to invite you to consider joining us as well.  


PeaceWorks University will be extending our Founding Members' pricing of $10 a month or $100 a year through the end of the month of February (2018)! We have received lots of questions for more information about PWU so while we get those addressed, you still have time to subscribe at this affordable price. Visit to subscribe. 


It is a BIG DEAL

Hello friends, before we jump into today’s post I wanted to let you know that I will be speaking this Thursday night February 15th at the Faith Biblical Counseling Training Conference on the topic of Domestic Abuse, How Can The Church Respond. This session will be available on Live Stream and you can join us by following the link below. 


I hope you can join us. Now to today’s post.


“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8

Among the most common responses I hear when confronting a man about his abusive behavior is that of minimization. The goal is to soften the impact or severity of his behavior with excuses, rationale, or a dismissive attitude. The sentiment is that the events we are discussing are not as serious as they seem or that there is some kind of misunderstanding. In essence a reasonable person will see that what he has done is not that big of a deal. The result however of one’s consistent minimization is not that of removing attention but will in fact reveal your heart over time. You see with each attempt to reduce your responsibility, diminish the credibility of your partner’s concerns, and dismiss or deny the necessity of consequences you maximize your own self-importance. With each seed of minimization you sow the crop of pride continues to expand and a harvest of destruction is looming. I know you’re frustrated that others doubt you and that some even refer to you as smug or arrogant, but they do so because you are probably smug and arrogant. Your attempts to minimize your behaviors only draw our attention to the severity of those actions. The fact that you’ve hurt others is a real problem. It should not be easily swept away by minimizing the harm or ignoring the impact or potential damage you’ve caused. A major mistake that I have witnessed men make is diminishing the results of their abuse. Statements such as, “it’s not a big deal” or “this has been blown out of proportion” should be removed from your vocabulary in this instance. While guilt and the subsequent consequences of your sin are uncomfortable they are beneficial. It’s time you acknowledge the impact of your behavior. Is your spouse afraid of you? Are they always walking on eggshells? Are you reaping a harvest of destruction? Are you willing to take responsibility for these results?

Final Thought

Charles Spurgeon once said, “If your sin is small then your Savior will be small also. But if your sin is great, then your Savior must be great.” Let me encourage you to acknowledge and confess the severity or your sin.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”                                                                                                            1John 1:8-10


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