A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Does the victim recognize the abusive patterns? Yes, and no. And then, by degrees, YES!

Does the victim recognize the abusive patterns? Depending what you mean by ‘recognise’ I think that question can be answered no, and yes, and both.

Backstory: This post was prompted by something Darby Strickland said when explaining CCEF’s Counseling Abusive Marriages course. She said: “Until both spouses recognize the abusive patterns, counseling can actually perpetuate the problem.”  I’ve already stated my concerns about this CCEF course in a three part series (click here for Part One). 

Typically, victims are (kept) in the fog for a long time and do not FULLY recognize the abusive patterns while they are in the fog. But even in thick and longstanding fog, the victim in one sense does recognizes the abusive patterns — and does her best to predict and prevent the most egregious and most destabilizing abusive events/incidents/outbursts. She does this by walking on eggshells. She gets to know her particular abuser’s patterns and learns to anticipate them and tries carefully to avoid doing things that will set him off. BUT BUT BUT the abuser can and does switch tactics, and add new ones, and he’s purposefully inconsistent so that she is kept on the back foot in trepidation and fear.

In this place, she recognizes the patterns as best she can predict them — and she tries hard to ‘avoid trouble’ and to mop up and repair and hold together what the abuser is destroying. Her focus is often directed to ‘helping her spouse’ but she is also, on the back foot, valiantly trying to protect her dignity and safety and personhood and the wellbeing of her kids.

As she gradually comes out of the fog, the victim begins to recognize the abuser’s patterns in another way, a more analytical way, a way which divests her of false blame and guilt and which starts to ascribe the full blame and full RESPONSIBILITY to the abuser. At some point in this process, the victim will begin, often tentatively at first, to call it “Abuse.” And we know that many victims take a very long time before they are comfortable ascribing the word “Abuser” to their partner.

It is also true to say that the victim may recognize and not recognize the abusive patterns at one and the same time. She may recognize them in her gut, subconsciously, and be creatively walking on eggshells around them, while simultaneously not recognizing or admitting the full pattern let alone the full mindset behind them — the intentionality of the abuser and the granite-like bedrock foundation of it all: the abuser’s belief in his own entitlement.

And she can fade in and out, back and forth, between having

  • the sharp-focused front-brained analytical recognition that divests her of false guilt, and
  • the fog-bound but intuitive, trepidatious, eggshell-walking recognition that is hamstrung by second guessing, doubt, confusion, self-blame and compassionately giving the abuser the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, she often comes somewhat out of the fog and then goes back in and then comes out a bit more and then falls back some. . . . This iterative, revolving, spiraling process is generally a good sign: it’s a characteristic indicator that the victim is — overall — on a upward path of coming out of the fog and the prognosis is good. Not that the victim is pathological or ‘diseased’; I use the term ‘prognosis’ metaphorically, not clinically.

However, the Pharisaic church can push the victim back, push her deeper back into the fog, if they mishandle the case. Which they OFTEN do. Sigh. This is a major reason why Christian victims stay in abusive relationships longer than non-believers do.

The backstitch analogy

The take home message for victims is: it’s okay if you find yourself making one step forward and one step back. In fact, it is often a sign that you are coming out of the black hole, and healing is occurring.

The Lord showed me a truth about this: one step forward and one step back is like backstitch in sewing. Backstitch makes a stronger seam than running stitch. The overall progress is forward, so don’t worry about the fact that sometimes it seems like you are going backwards. The Lord is just bringing about your healing so it is good and strong in the end and cannot be easily pulled out by the catches of life.

* * *

Note: by the time this post is published, Darby Strickland’s course at CCEF will have aready have started.

Related posts:

This thing called healing

I just hate feeling like I am back at square one when some of these triggers come

Two doctrines: one will set you free, the other will enslave you

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

For this Sunday’s post, we have adapted a comment made by Persistentwidow (link).
Read, learn, and be free.

In my opinion, I see two differing doctrines propelling how Christian books/programs deal with abuse. The first is a belief that abused Christians need to tough it out and continue to live with an abuser. This is a work that the abused offers to God by suffering and allowing the family to suffer in the hope that the abuser may someday stop harming his family and convert. There is no end to the amount of books, advice, counseling sessions, or expense with the emphasis being on what the abused is doing to trigger the abuse. These sources consider abusers to be Christians despite acting in ways that prove they are not. Because followers of this perspective claim that God hates divorce and society will degenerate because of it, they do not allow divorce for abuse. Or they may give lip service to it, but in practice they pressure victims not to divorce. This legalistic focus is on preserving the “marriage” despite the abuse; the focus is not necessarily on the well-being of people suffering because of it. Needless to say, that is not our perspective here at ACFJ, rather, we work to warn people of how dangerous that perspective is.

The other perspective is clearly articulated in both Barb and Jeff’s books and this blog. In an abusive marriage, the problem is with the abuser who has broken the marriage covenant through abuse. He should be held accountable for his own sinful actions and the victim may divorce and remarry. The focus is on God redeeming his people, not on human works of suffering (asceticism) to please God:

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:18-23)

Christian abuse resources and church positions fall into these two independent categories. One category believes that abuse is grounds for divorce; the other believes that abuse isn’t grounds for divorce.

Although those in the second category may not diminish the plight of the victim, they likely push for the victim to effect change in her abuser, and that makes things worse by stringing victims along with no end in sight. We disagree with their tactics and theology. We believe that the only way to end abuse is to remove oneself from it and we don’t consider divorce for abuse to be a sin. In fact, we maintain that filing the paperwork is just an acknowledgement of the already destroyed marriage covenant, the destroyer being the abuser.

The bottom line is that one view is based on Works, the other Grace. The type of counselor/teacher one seeks in this matter is dependent upon what one’s view of Christianity is. So if one is looking for laws to follow, go to a legalistic teacher. If one is looking for Grace, go to a teacher who understands the Gospel.

Why sift through the teachings of those with a theological agenda that we don’t agree with, when there are many trustworthy sources in our Resources tab at the top of the page?

* * * * *

. . . the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. (Is. 27:12)


The relational cancer of abuse is not like the common cold

By an anon reader —
I wrote to you many months ago, shortly after leaving my N.A. (narcissistic abuser) husband. I was deeply troubled by the responses of several of my good, Christian friends who told me that they believed I was being abused but that I was not perfect, either, and I did act like a victim.

As I have now had several more months of experiences (with the N.A. and the friendships), and several more months to reflect on the 11 years of marriage and how so often I beat my head against a wall, wondering why these women who said they loved me as a sister seemed so nonchalant about my pain, I have come to yet another realization that I thought some other women might be able to relate to.

You see, it has become to apparent to me, that while I believe these women truly did love me to the best of their ability, and really do love the Lord, while I was describing the events of my daily life to them over the years, what I was describing was a daily norm and a terminal “cancer” of my marriage and my own spirit —  but what they were hearing was situational; just another “cold” that would pass.

The advice I was given of course, was cold remedies; traditional “fixes” for common marital problems. It did me no good for my chronic illness that was progressing in it’s life-sucking skills, and it certainly was not responding to any kind of “treatment”. And the longer it went on, the weaker I got. Unlike a cold, where the longer it goes on, if you treat it with common cold remedies, you get closer to wellness, I was dying a slow death in my soul, and my friends kept waiting for me to stop feeling sorry for my “cold”.

I hope that you understand that in NO way am I trying to make light of cancer; I have actually watched several people close to me suffer through the process of the evilness of cancer, until death becomes wanted because it offers relief. I find it interesting that this is the point at which my analogy takes a turn.

In the real physical disease of cancer — I assume because we can see the weight loss, the ashen skin, the loss of life, the disheartened eyes, the struggle to breathe, the winces and moans of unbearable pain — we can’t wait for the struggle to be over and relief to come for that person. But in the relational “cancer” of living with an abuser, there seems to be very little concrete, visible evidence of the disease to others, and so when the person accepts the death and files the divorce papers, people sadly talk about “If you had only…”, or “God hates divorce.”

Would one ever say those words to the person who has wrestled with the physical disease of cancer, and is now on their deathbed welcoming freedom in eternity via death? No!  So it saddens me that the most loving people, and the Church herself, are guilty of such things against those who have fought for their freedom from the relational cancer of abuse.

Thursday Thought — The Abuser’s Problem with Anger


One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him.  No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil.  The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out to you — as will happen to any abused woman from time to time — he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can.  Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are.  Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed.  You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.

Why does your partner react so strongly to your anger?  One reason may be that he considers himself above reproach . . . The second is that on some level he senses — though not necessarily consciously — that there is power in your anger. If you have space to feel and express your rage, you will be better able to hold on to your identity and to resist his suffocation of you.  He tries to take your anger away in order to snuff out your capacity to resist his will.  Finally, he perceives your anger as a challenge to his authority, to which he responds by overpowering you with anger that is greater than your own.  In this way he ensures that he retains the exclusive right to be the one who shows anger.

(excerpt from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That?* p59-60.)

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.

Why don’t authors address Matt 19:29 when teaching on divorce for abuse?

Today’s post is by a male survivor of domestic abuse. I (Barb) have met this man face to face as well as communicating over time with him by email and I am confident he’s a survivor of domestic abuse. He wrote this to me in an email and we are publishing it here with his permission. Many thanks to him for raising this topic in such a cogent manner.
Text in [square brackets] has been added by Barb. 


There is one passage that I absolutely cannot believe seems to have been completely ignored by every single author on the topic of divorce in the context of abuse — at least at the time at which I really investigated this thoroughly, after the latest NIV version of the Bible was published in 2011.

This passage is Matthew 19:29 and the parallel in Luke 18:29-30

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29, NIV)

“I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30 NIV)


1. In at least the case of Matthew, it is only the most recent version of the NIV that includes “wife”, with a footnote that some texts exclude wife.
[To see all translations of Matthew 19:29 go here. Some ancient manuscripts do not have ‘or wife’; thus, some English translations include the words ‘or wife’ and others do not.]

2. Mark 10 has many parallels with Matthew 19, but does not mention wife.

3. The start of Matthew 19 talks about divorce.

4. The start of Mark 10 (lacking reference to “wife”) also talks about divorce (ie. in parallel).

My questions are these:

1. Why has nobody at all taken the time to answer the question “Why does Jesus include ‘wife’ in the list?”

2. In the context of these two references, under what circumstance is a man blessed (yes blessed!) to leave his wife? The answer is given in the reference. Jesus says “for my sake”.

3. Aren’t newer versions of the NIV supposed to reflect increases in knowledge and understanding about a passage such that the newer version best communicates what a majority now believes was the original intent of the original speaker? In other words, to move from ‘wife’ being a footnote (older NIV), to being in the main passage, isn’t this saying the translators now believe it is a more accurate representation that ‘wife’ be included in that list?

For those who would argue this passage is not relevant I ask: how can a man leave his wife in such a way that Jesus’ words here apply to him?

How can you not conclude that a believer, leaving a persistently and unrepentently violent [or non-violent but still abusive] situation, is in fact bringing themselves (and potentially their children) to a place of greater peace — which is a fruit of the spirit, surely an act and outcome that is in line with Jesus’ desire for humankind? Indeed an immediate blessing is, in fact, peace!

It feels like the more accepted arguments that permit divorce — adultery, for example — come across as concessions (like this: “Yes, if your spouse has committed adultery, you are permitted to leave”). Whereas in these verses Jesus’ language comes across as someone pro-actively leaving a wife to pro-actively pursue Jesus’ “sake”. The scenario of a person standing up and saying “For the sake of God, I will no longer endure your unrepentent, persistent abuse; I am leaving!” seems to fit this tone.

Look at the proximity of this statement to Jesus speaking on divorce! Is there no connection whatsoever? One might refute by saying other items in the list have nothing to do with divorce but imagine this scene played out: Jesus spends notable time discussing divorce, then a moment later talks about people leaving all manner of relationship — including their wife — for his sake and being blessed. And this reference to leaving a wife (proactively?) seems unrelated to the discussion just had. In other words, the discussion just had about divorce in the earlier verses is not the exhaustive word on the matter. Again — how can a man leave his wife in such a way that Jesus’ words here apply to him?

A final note of consideration is that Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible has this to say:

[of the phrase] “brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children, lands, for my name’s sake; or, as in Luke, “for the kingdom of God’s sake”;
that is, for the sake of the Gospel, and a profession of it. Not that believing in Christ, and professing his name, do necessarily require a parting with all worldly substance, and natural relations, but when these things stand in competition with Christ, he is to be loved and preferred before them; and believers are always to be ready to part with them for his sake, when persecution arises, because of the word. All these things are to be relinquished, rather than Christ, and his Gospel; and such who shall be enabled, through divine grace, to do so shall receive an hundred fold.

(For this reference, a further two commentaries and 21 different bible versions, see: http://biblehub.com/matthew/19-29.htm )

CCEF say that victims of abuse need redemption

Similarly, you should typically expect to find two sinners embroiled with each other, not one irredeemable monster oppressing one innocent victim who needs no redemption.

The above sentence is by David Powlison, Paul David Tripp and Edward T Welch, men who are or have been leaders of CCEF — Christian Counseling Education Foundation. It is part of the guidance they give to pastors and counselors who are trying to help domestic violence. The quote comes from p 10 of the CCEF booklet Domestic Abuse, How to Help.*  That is the booklet which Peacemakers Ministry recommend for pastors who are inexperienced in dealing with domestic violence, as Persistent Widow discovered in her research after having been badly hurt by Peacemakers and a PCA church (link).

The guidance that Powlison, Tripp and Welch give suggests that abuse victims wrongly convey to pastors and counselors that they, the victims, are totally without sin (are innocent victims who need no redemption). These three men imply that counselors and pastors need to be on the lookout for where the victim is sinning in the relationship.

Let me show you the whole paragraph in which the quoted sentence occurs, so you can see for yourself*:

Similarly, you should typically expect to find two sinners embroiled with each other, not one irredeemable monster oppressing one innocent victim who needs no redemption. God will be at work in the lives of both people. So explore incidents of violence in detail. You will usually find places where both parties need God’s grace to change. Perhaps one spouse draws most of the attention because he acts with his fists; but on closer inspection the other spouse may skillfully weild her tongue in ways that seek to bring hurt through use of words. Outbursts of violence are usually extreme instances in more widespread, low-grade patterns of conflict. Look for the common sins that both parties share, as well as for the unique outbreaks of sin in one party. You want to help both people become more loving, wise and peaceable.

Several posts could probably be written about this one paragraph. There are so many things wrong with it.

  1.  The potential for sin levelling is in that paragraph for sure. (Though to give them a modicum of credit, their next paragraph warns counselors not to accept the abuser’s blame-shifting distortions.)
  2. They assume that God is working in the abuser, implying the abuser is a believer (an assumption which we reject).
  3. They lampoon the idea that an abuser is an ‘irredeemable monster’. At ACFJ we do not say that abusers are irredeemable; all we say is that it’s best to (a) assume that abusers are not Christians, and (b) recognise that their entrenched character disturbance, their mentality of entitlement and responsibility-resistance, means they are very unlikely to humble themselves and repent unto saving faith.
  4. They call it ‘conflict’ which is a misnomer. It’s abuse. Not conflict. Conflict implies differences contested and debated between two individuals of relatively equal power. The word ‘conflict’ implies there are issues or points of disagreement, and/or fighting. In abuse, there is power-over and intimidation and subjection and control. ‘Issues of conflict’ are random, they shift and change at the whim and craft of the abuser; the victim cannot make peace because every attempt she makes at negotiation and appeasement is being made on shifting and sticky quicksand. And what outsiders may perceive as a ‘fight’ or ‘conflict’ is usually the victim trying to selectively resist the wicked oppression of the perpetrator, and the perpetrator escalating and intensifying his control tactics in order to push the victim back down, deprive her of dignity and personal liberty, and make her confused, bewildered, exhausted and scared. But enough of that. We write about that a lot.

What I really want to focus on in this post is:

CCEF say that victims need redemption

They say the abuse victim must not be seen as an innocent victim who needs no redemption. Let’s clarify this by turning their double negative into a positive. These men are implying, “The victim needs redemption.”

Christianinty 101: Who needs redemption? Collectively, fallen man needs redemption from original sin. But when we speak of individuals, we only say that unsaved people need redemption. Those who have been born again do not need redemption, they have come to faith in Christ so the price that Jesus paid on the Cross has been effectually applied to them. They have been redeemed. In him we have redemption (Eph. 1:17; Col 1:14) —  we do not need it, we already have it. We have been bought back, redeemed by the blood of Christ from the domain of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God, having received adoption as children of God in Christ Jesus.

Side note: The only time the New Testament talks about redemption as something future, something yet to occur, is when it refers to the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30). And it talks about our future redemption not as something we ‘need’ in the here and now, and (hem hem) need to be admonished about so we don’t get cocky and forget that we need it (as CCEF would imply), it talks about the redemption of our bodies as something that is promised and surely will be given to us in Christ Jesus on that Day, to the praise of His glorious grace.

Never once on this blog or in our books do we say that a Christian abuse victim needs redemption. If an abuse victim is not a Christian, sure, she needs redemption, like every unsaved person does. But a believer in Christ has been redeemed.

At ACFJ we may talk about how a Christian victim of abuse — like all Christians — is called to sanctification: the Bible exhorts all believers to develop a more and more Christ-like character throughout the rest of their days on this earth. But we never say the victim needs redemption. And it is insulting for CCEF to talk about Christian victims as ‘needing redemption’ because it means that the victims are not saved — that they are still dead in their sins and heading to hell without Christ.

I believe that CCEF, Peacemakers and their ilk have been using the word ‘redemption’ very sloppily and without any concern for how their use of it insults Christian victims of abuse.

What do you think? Do you hear the statement that ‘Christian victims of abuse need redemption’ as an insult? Do you see it as besmirching victims?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*The full text of the CCEF booklet has also been published as ‘Pastoral Responses to Domestic Violence’ (Chapter 14 of Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, Wayne Grudem & Denis Rainey, eds.)  The sentence I quoted at the start of this post can be see on p 271 of that volume in Google books.


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