“I wouldn’t really call what he does ‘abuse.’ I mean, it’s not like he hits me or anything.”
Have you ever found yourself saying something along these lines? Many people believe that “abuse” only refers to physical beatings, the kind where the man leaves the woman with bruises on her body and swollen eyes. And they are badly mistaken.
Verbal abuse takes a huge toll on a woman, especially when it is combined with other injurious behaviors, such as controlling her or cheating on her. The put-downs, the humiliation, the ridicule — all of these can attack a woman’s soul deeply, sometimes more deeply than assaults do.
What are the key messages that verbal abuse sends you? His vicious words tell you that you are beneath him. He sends the message that you have no value. His insults and rejection work to convince you that you are not worthy of love. His verbal attacks teach you that everything you do is wrong. His arrogance and demanding treatment make you feel stupid and incompetent.
Tearing apart a woman’s identity in this fashion can be every bit as wounding as pounding her with fists.
There is good reason why you feel emotionally injured. The problem is not that you are “too sensitive.” Verbal abuse is one of the most toxic forms of human mistreatment. There is no excuse for the way he talks to you.
[Entry from Lundy Bancroft’s Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?* p110-111]
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link
The Apostle Paul identifies very clearly the fundamental reason for idolatry:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)
God has revealed Himself to His creation so clearly that all human beings are without excuse when it comes to their failure to honor Him as God/Creator and give Him thanks. Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, such people set themselves on a foolhardy course of foolishness characterized by the lie that the creature is God. Fallen man would sooner worship a snake than bow before God. Thus we see God justly handing these idolaters over to the depths of their evil and sin.
Now, what has all of this got to do with abuse? Certainly abuse is one result of life in a society that largely rejects God. But it is this matter of “by their unrighteousness suppressing the truth” that has jumped out at me this evening. In our ministry to the victims of abuse, we see — everyday — people who profess to be Christians suppressing the truth. They hold it down. Like any truth, the truth about the nature and existence of abuse keeps trying to jump right out in front of our eyes, but for some reason most people suppress it. Shove it back down as if they were playing one of those carnival pop-up games. There it is again! Whack, knock it back down out of sight.
Let me suggest a theory of mine. I suggest that there is far more culpability (guilt) among people who don’t “get it” about abuse than we might realize. Yes, a certain degree of naivete can explain things, but only for a time. At some point the Spirit of Truth in the Christian is going to put the truth about abusers, their thinking, their tactics, etc. square in front of that person’s eyes. And if the response is more suppression of that truth, well then, Romans 1 says there is a serious, serious problem. Because this kind of suppression is characteristic of people who are practicing unrighteousness. People who simply and knowingly refuse to submit themselves to truth that God has revealed. The thing really comes right up to at least the edge of idolatry because such people exchange the truth of God for a lie. That lie eventually is given some kind of form (marriage, for example) and becomes a false god.
Truth, you see, even as it is revealed by God Himself, is not welcome among idol worshipers. Which once again brings us back round to the question that so often nags at us — just how many people today who claim to be Christians, aren’t? Or how many have permitted idol worship to creep into their minds and hearts with its deceiving, blinding effects. I must confess myself – I believe I was more culpable in the days of my ignorance about abuse that I may want to have admitted to myself. We can probably all own up to that. But what, I ask again, what of people who have the truth about this evil put squarely before them time and time again, but they just keep on pushing it down out of sight?
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:1-9)
Very, very commonly Christians grant the abuser a “get out of jail free” card by teaching that God does not permit divorce for abuse. Specifically, the Word of God is made void and is replaced with the traditions of man. We see the thing in the verses cited above.
God’s commandment to children is “Honor your father and your mother.” So serious is this that any son or daughter who would revile their parents was to be put to death under the OT Law. This is God’s command for children and parents.
Then along came the Pharisees and scribes with their traditions, which they put across as the Word of God. In this case they had so exalted tithing and giving offerings, that injustice resulted. Elderly or ill parents were not helped because this business of “giving to God” trumped all else.
And I maintain that the VERY SAME thing is being done today when churches insist that abuse victims cannot divorce their abuser. And here is how it goes.
What does God’s Word say, repeatedly, about what a Christian is to do in regard to relationships with a wicked person? I will show you:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; (Psalms 1:1)
Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. (Psalms 119:115)
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Proverbs 4:14-15)
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. (Proverbs 14:7)
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. (Proverbs 22:24-25)
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)
Enough? There are many, many more such instructions in Scripture, I assure you.
Now, what Christians are doing by insisting that victims cannot divorce their abuser is making void the Word of God for the sake of their traditions. They are teachings the commandments of men as the Word of God. The very same thing the Pharisees were doing, for which they received the Lord’s denunciation. He called them hypocrites and told them that their hearts were far away from Him.
See it? The Lord commands His people to separate from the wicked. Over and over again He gives us these instructions. Are we to believe that the Scriptures that teach about marriage being designed for a lifetime trump all these other Scriptures that tell us to separate from the wicked? Of course not. Marriage does not negate God’s Word. Marriage is not intended to be a covenant that allows the wicked to be wicked and their spouse have no recourse ever. No Scripture ever “cancels out” another Scripture, as if the abuser is given some kind of “diplomatic immunity” card that lets him pull off whatever crime he wants and yet his victim is not permitted to “go out from his presence.”
And I think that what I have stated here is quite enough to prove that God permits and even blesses a victim who separates from (divorces) an evil man.
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Related post: The Bible virtually commands divorce for domestic abuse
A “Gauntlet Down” Challenge to James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Other Christian Ministries of Fame
One of the most common characteristics of an abuser is — you all know it well — he never admits when he is wrong. Never admits fault. Never takes blame. Unless of course it is done just for show, to dupe others into thinking he is “humble.”
Now, here is a question for all of us. When is the last time you heard a notable Christian ministry, organization, or celeb personality, admit they have been wrong, that they have taught something falsely, and they are confessing it and doing so publicly? When have you heard them say something like this: “I have always taught that God does not permit divorce for abuse. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I repent of that and I want everyone to know it.”
We know of some celebs who actually have softened on this point, but will they come out publicly and say so, admitting their errors and asking for forgiveness from those they harmed? Nope. Too costly.
On our Facebook page (link) we recently highlighted James Dobson’s teaching on how to deal with a violent spouse. He teaches that: “divorce is not the solution to this problem. Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.”
He advises that the abused wife use a weird version of his ‘tough love’ approach. We say weird because if Dobson’s advice were followed, the woman would be at risk of being killed or permamantly maimed by her violent husband. No kidding. His advice shows how little he understands (a) the dynamics of abuse, and (b) the responses that abused wives usually receive from the church when they seek support. He greatly underestimates the naivety of the church when it comes to abusers. And he gives no longterm advice for what a woman is to do if her abusive husband chooses not to genuinely repent and reform.
Dobson’s “tough love” advice is false. It is unbiblical. It is disgusting and dangerous.
Focus on the Family has undergone changes. Dobson is no longer there. Here is the scoop from Wikipedia-
He is no longer affiliated with Focus on the Family. Dobson founded Family Talk as a non-profit organization in 2010 and launched a new radio broadcast, “Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson”, that began on May 3, 2010 on over 300 stations nationwide. As part of his former role in the organization, he produced Focus on the Family, a daily radio program which according to the organization was broadcast in more than a dozen languages and on over 7,000 stations worldwide, and reportedly heard daily by more than 220 million people in 164 countries. Focus on the Family was also carried by about sixty U.S. television stations daily. He founded the Family Research Council in 1981.
Ok, so there are some indications that Focus on the Family does not hold to all that Dobson taught and continues to teach. FOF says that they are reaching out to victims of domestic violence. So here is the gauntlet we throw down to them:
To Focus on the Family: let’s hear you come out publicly, renouncing the damaging, enslaving errors that Dobson taught for so many years at Focus on the Family, specifically in regard to situations of domestic abuse. Let’s hear you confess these things. Confess that as an organization FOF participated in grievous errors which you now renounce. Be specific about what errors you are renouncing: what wrong things you taught or condoned in the past, and what you now teach instead. Let’s hear you stand up and say for all to hear that you do not accept Dobson’s teachings on these matters. Because FOF really needs to be the leader in correcting these harmful things.
And to James Dobson: let’s hear you publicly renounce all your teaching that has loaded countless victims of abuse with burdens hard to bear, when you yourself wouldn’t touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
You see, it is one thing for Christian celebrities and ministries of notoriety to say things behind the scenes. But it is quite another for them to be willing to pay the price and take a public stand for all to hear. And there will be a price. That is the main reason these public confessions are so rare. There is a price. Here is our estimation of the price:
- Some big time donors will be all kinds of upset and take their checkbooks and go home.
- There will be a barrage of angry shouts from old school loyalists.
- Your website and blogs will be deluged with comments from abusers attempting to perpetuate the myths about domestic abuse.
- These abusers will cleverly and subtly use language to
- conceal abuse, violence and oppression
- obfuscate perpetrators’ responsibility
- conceal victims’ resistance to abuse
- blame and pathologize victims.
- If you want to keep your website and ministry safe for victims of abuse, you will have to learn how use language to do the opposite of what abusers do. Your written and spoken language will need to
- reveal abuse, violence and oppression
- clarify perpetrators’ responsibility
- elucidate victims’ responses and resistance
- contest the blaming and pathologizing of victims.
- And you will find that it is is necessary to moderate all comments on your blogs. You’ll need to be able to detect and block comments from abusers, plus be careful with comments from naive people who unwittingly say things that will trigger the abused and prolong their bondage to oppressors.
But if you are prepared to pay the price and do all that hard work, something else will happen. Something good. The reputation, integrity, and trustworthiness of your ministry will increase exponentially in the eyes of God’s true people. The same applies to all other celebs and ministries in the Christian realm. (Note: When this post is published, we will be emailing both Focus on the Family and James Dobson at his current ministry, to invite them to read it.)
At present, myriads of abuse victims who have been dealt rank injustice at the hands of these kinds of ministries, are waiting. Waiting for a word of confession. Their wait is really quite similar to that other crowd of saints calling out for validation and justice:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10)
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Acknowledgements and thanks to Dr Allan Wade for his ideas on the four operations of language which we have nested in the bullet points of this post. For further reading see Allan Wade’s article Language and Violence: Analysis of Four Discursive Operations of Language.
Related Post at Spiritual Sounding Board: Three Pastors Challenge Dr. James Dobson’s Advice on Domestic Violence Which Could Put Victims in Harm’s Way
Related post at Homeschoolers Anonymous: James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” their husbands.
Today’s post is highlighting an analogy from our Allegories, Analogies, and Fairy Tales page.
Defending or Stalking
In his book In Sheep’s Clothing George Simon has a wonderful analogy- the difference between a cat that is stalking a mouse ( the intentional aggressor) and the cat who is defending itself from a dog attacking it. The defending cat raises it’s hackles and looks “abusive” but it is not trying to hurt the dog. It is all about intention — and the abuser’s intention is power and control, a wife defending herself is not trying to get power and control over her husband, just trying to save herself from his abuse. (by Dr. George Simon)
Here is the link to the original comment where this analogy was given.