Chris Moles is well aware that most abusive men do not apply themselves to the hard work of reforming their characters. He claims that he’s seen a few abusers reform. I personally think Chris is spiritually blind and isn’t able to discern reformation from the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of pseudo-reformation.
When reading Chris’s book, you have to get to chapter eight (half way through the book!) before he talks about an instance where he pulled the plug on counselling an abuser. In that passage he mentions that it’s not unusual for abusive men to fail to reform. But look at how the context in which he says this. The following quote is taken from ch 8 of Chris’s book. Boldface added by me.
Change is hard but it is not impossible. This truth plays out in the lives of men who are receptive to change. Time and truth have a way of wearing on a man’s hardened heart like a trickle of water works its way through stone. However, there are times when a man’s heart is hardened and his resistance and arrogance make change and peace impossible.
One evening in particular stands out as incredibly frustrating. My counseling partner Kim and I had begged and pleaded. We tried everything we could think of to call the man in front of us to repentance. Unfortunately every request was met with resistance and every appeal with hostility. He would not budge. He was convinced his destructive behavior was necessary and that his wife deserved all she received. A recent incident, in which his wife resisted his demands, only solidified his position. “I’ve got her now!’ seemed to be his key motivation. Finally I put an end to the struggle realising we were getting nowhere. I told him that he was free to continue down the path he was walking, but that I had no doubt it would lead him to self-destruction. Kim and I assured him that we were willing to help but that our primary concern was for his wife and children. A few ultimatums and conditions were given and we parted ways. I thought, “How can he not see what he is doing to his family and himself?” Sadly this is not an unusual occurrence, and some men will not accept responsibility and will not change their behavior. (M 85-86*)
So Chris only gave his first mention of how abusers usually don’t change halfway into his book. He should have stated that right at the beginning. I believe it was unethical for him to not put it on the back cover blurb, and in the first chapter of his book.
If we believe his testimony, Chris seems to be having a few successes with abusers reforming their abusive mindset and patterns of behavior. Here is what Chris says in one of his presentations to Christian leaders (Z 1:32:18):
On average from a criminal perspective, in the large groups I lead (those groups are mandated for eight months) [Chris is speaking about the groups he leads for the government] I’m just trying to get acknowledgement. It’s a wrestling match. When I first started this work I thought, “Here’s the goal: everyone’s gotta be an advocate and champion for women!” Now: they just gotta move!
Everybody I’ve ever worked with changes. Guys either become more obstinate and more defiant, which is rare. Honestly, if you spend enough time, if you can can institute accountability, you see movement. A lot of guys make just enough movement to be safe and not be hassled: behavioral change – I’m not a big fan. I’m okay for safety reasons, but I’m not a big fan. It’s like taking apples off the tree and stapling on bananas. It’s not going to last.
And lastly, there’s guys who experience transformation. And that’s the winner, right? That’s what makes it worth coming back for. But those are rare, they really are. We’re not hitting home runs in this work. …
The research and reports I have read all point to the fact that programs for abusive men are not effecting positive change in the men who are at the more entrenched end of the spectrum. And no research yet shows that the positive changes made by men who go to such programs are long-lasting.
As Christians, this should not surprise us. Evil men shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived (2 Tim 3:13).
The psychologist Dr George Simon, who is an expert on character disorder, says:
Heartless characters can be largely born the way they are. That is, the most disturbed among us have an innately impaired capacity to care. But folks lacking in empathy also tend to think in certain ways. And those ways of thinking lead them to form problematic attitudes and patterns of behavior. Moreover, engaging in those patterns both engenders and reinforces heartlessness.
Heartless Characters Think Differently
Pastor Jeff Crippen, who used to co-lead this blog with me, says —
These kinds of wicked people, these “domestic abusers” (or sexual abusers and others) who generally parade as Christians…are members of churches. Sometimes they are pastors or church leaders or missionaries.
And all the while, for years and years and years and years and years, they have been wickedly being who they really are. Behind the scenes they have been destroying lives. They have heard God’s voice time after time after time, but they have hardened their hearts against Him, time after time after time. And they still don’t repent. Yet people like these “experts” at ACBC claim that such people are to be “redeemed.” That through counseling, they can be fixed. That we should never give up hope.
The prevalent false gospel among us – “No one is beyond God’s mercy”
In winding up the final chapter of his book (M 125-7) Chris says:
Can they change? Of course they can. …. Anyone can change but the potential for change does not guarantee that it will happen.
Do they change? Yes…Well, kind of…It depends. I’ve been doing this work for many years and I have seen many men make changes. Sometimes those changes are radical and transformative. … I’ve also seen many 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 man attempt to manipulate everyone with superficial changes designed to deceive others into leaving them alone. … They change when they choose to, but motives are important in understanding the validity of these changes.
Will they change? Do you have someone in mind? … I do not know if the person you love will ever change. …we know that change has occurred when change occurs. Change is possible, but change is hard.
At one of his lectures at the Institute of Biblical Counseling and Discipleship, Chris was asked a specific question by a female counselor. (E 58:46) —
Woman: I have limited experience in this but I find that these marriages that are like 20 years plus – that these are church going people, committed to Christ – this is very tough for them then to be willing to submit – to even begin a process of considering responsibility. So I guess my initial question to you in the local church (not to those you minister to in the jail) – do you see people coming to repentance?
Chris: Yeah; I’ll tell you a couple of things that I try to keep in mind. By the time an individual gets to me through the court system … having escalated that far (and some of the men I’ve worked with having been in the system since they were teenagers, having been violent for 20, 30 years, some of them having learned more violence in jail) – we look for small victories. So sometimes the victory is acknowledgment and that’s as far as we get. And so we rejoice in that. At least he recognizes it. But we might not see repentance.
The second thing I would say is that with the guys that I get early – especially individually – who come to me recognizing [i.e., self motivated]. They’ve filled out an application, they’ve called me, they try to get a hold of me. They say, “Chris, I’m abusive. I didn’t know it. I’ve read your book. I read Leslie’s book or the Holcomb’s book. And this is me. I’m in trouble. My family’s in trouble because of me.” The chances of success there are a lot higher. …
I get asked the question a lot “Do guys actually change? Do people change?” Especially in this work because really the culture, secularly, …The reality is that a lot of unbelievers and experts believe that we’re futile in trying this.
But here’s my response when people say, “Do men actually change? Do people change?” I say: Everybody changes. Everybody. All the time. Some of the men I work with become more obstinate, more arrogant, more ugly. They change. Some of the guys I work with make just enough changes to not get in trouble. And I don’t like [that]; but we can rejoice that people are safe. We can be happy that they have made some changes in their life. But there’s no transformation. And then some people, some, experience the life-changing power of the gospel, and they’re transformed. For the sake of the few that fall in category three we continue to do the work.
I agree with Chris that everybody changes.
I also agree with him that some abusers become more obstinate, arrogant and ugly. It is very clear to me from survivors’ testimonies that as abusers practise their abusive conduct, they become more skilled abusers and more controlling. The abuser might slow down somewhat as he gets old and frail; but that only limits some of his tactics, it doesn’t change his abusive heart. But Chris says ‘some’ change for the worse, whereas I would say that the vast majority of abusers change for the worse.
I agree with Chris that some abusers make just enough changes to not get in trouble. They do this to avoid legal penalties or to avoid coming in sight of the radar of authorities. However, unlike Chris, I don’t rejoice about that at all! I don’t think it makes victims more safe: it quite possibly puts them in greater danger. The abuser is now practising more subtle, covert, less criminal types of abuse.
Most victims say that the subtle abuse is the worst: the emotional, verbal, gaslighting, the mind control, the covert sexual abuse and the spiritual abuse… all those things are much harder to recognise. And they take much longer to recover from.
For Chris’s third category, “some who experience the life-changing power of the gospel, and they’re transformed,” I am sceptical that Chris actually has had any in this category. His understanding of the doctrine of salvation is so poor that I’m not confident Chris (or the pastors and counselors he is friends with) could tell whether an abuser has been regenerated. (see part 12 in this series)
*Citations in this post are shown in grey, with each item designated by a capital letter.
The Chris Moles Digest gives a link to each item cited by a capital letter.
For further reading and viewing
Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men —video presentation in which Lundy Bancroft says:
The great majority of abusive men can change. And the great majority don’t. And the reason they don’t is not because they can’t, but because they’ve figured out that they don’t really have to.
NB: while we think Lundy Bancroft says some accurate things about abusers, we caution survivors against attending any healing retreat he runs, or getting involved in any face-to-face mutual support group that is set up under his Peak Living Network.
Many Christians have no local church to attend where they feel safe and are being fed. For those who are in that position, we encourage you to listen to sermons and services online.
Churches, live-feed church services, and archived sermons that we recommend
Ps Sam Powell, First Reformed Church Yuba City, California
You can listen to Sam’s sermons anytime on Sermon Audio- First Reformed Church Yuba City
You can follow First Reformed Church Yuba City on Facebook. All their services are live-fed to their Facebook page. They also give a link to the sermon where you can listen to it after it has been live-streamed.
Sam Powell also posts links to his sermons on Twitter @sampowell365
Ps Jeff Crippen, Christ Reformation Church, Tillamook, Oregon
You can listen to Jeff Crippen’s sermons anytime on Sermon Audio – Christ Reformation Church Tillamook
Sermons that are particularly helpful to victims of abuse
Most Christians who are victims of abuse are tired of having to pick up crumbs from sermons while being on hyper-alert for things the preacher says that may trigger them.
Many Christians who are victims of abuse are exhausted (and almost despairing) because they have found by hard experience that if they go to church service they have to make an immense effort to discern and cut all the bad (triggering) things that the preacher has said, in the hope of picking up a few crumbs from the sermon that will help them.
Our sermons page gives links to sermons we know have been really helpful for victims of abuse.
(you can navigate to that page anytime by clicking on Resources in our main menu)
Some of the things you will find at our sermons page:
Imagine if pit bull terriers and poisonous snakes and spiders were commonly used as companion animals. Imagine if they were common in homes, schools, nursing homes, churches and missionary organizations.
And now imagine that a skilled animal-handler found a way to train pit bulls, snakes and spiders so that a few of them did not bite…but the training worked on only a few of them. No matter how hard the super-skilled trainer did his or her amazing stuff, the vast majority of those animals could not be trained.
Would it be sensible to say “Let’s teach all the animal trainers to use these amazing techniques so that a few less people are hurt by snakes, spiders and pit bulls?”
Or would it be more sensible to just ban poisonous snakes, spiders and pit bulls?
Of course, the analogy is imperfect…and I mean no offence to real snakes and spiders as they have a place in the ecosystem! But I think you get my point.
Psalm 15:1-4 NASB
O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart.
He does not slander with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
But who honors those who fear the LORD;
He swears to his own hurt and does not change;
I grew up in a Christian home. I should clarify, my mother’s faith was always an inspiration to me, but all I saw with my father’s so-called faith was hypocrisy and using the Bible as a weapon against others.
Then one day, my mother came to me weeping over my father’s actions towards her. She had nowhere else to go, as over the years she had become more and more isolated, and bought into the lie that as a good Christian woman she shouldn’t talk about her marriage issues with anyone and cover her husband’s sin.
She came to me out of sheer desperation because the emotional abuse had got so severe. I was shocked but strangely not surprised. I guess I had always seen my father’s antics, just was surprised how far he had taken things this time.
I begged mum to go get help from another Godly couple we know (who have been a true blessing to her through this!) I begged mum to not go back to my dad but to separate from him. Enough was enough. I told her his behaviour was abusive.
Meanwhile, I confronted my dad directly. I heard his side of the story.
I tried pleading with him initially to go get counselling. He agreed to do so, only to twist their words and use them as validation for his behaviour! I was so horrified.
At that point I realised that he was emotionally manipulating everyone (including me)! I had never seriously thought of my dad as being manipulative, I think because growing up he used overt control and didn’t need to be subversive with me about it!
I realised at this point that pleading with him would only serve to further his cause. He wanted compassion and he wanted allies. He would just continue shifting goalposts and deflecting issues until he wore me down.
So I took a firm stand against him. I told him I would never agree with him, that what he was doing was sin and he was in a dangerous place with God.
At first he was angry with me, and then when he realised I wouldn’t sway from my convictions he told me that I didn’t have to agree with him – but I had to ‘accept’ what he was doing.
It’s just a play on words – in his mind acceptance will just flow on to agreement, and I have seen so many people fall into this trap with him already. They tell him they don’t agree, but they continue to have a relationship with him in the hope that one day he might magically change his mind. Meanwhile he tells everyone else that these people agree with him that my mother is a horrible person! These people (including family members) foolishly try to walk the path of neutrality, and they don’t realise they HAVE by default chosen a side…the side of the abuser!
I told my father I would not accept what he was doing. He threatened to not come around anymore if I was going to ‘lecture’ him every time he did (translation: disagree with him and call him out on his sin) and I told him perhaps that was best. At that moment he freaked out because his threat was just a bluff. Then he pulled out all the stops – accusing me of being a self-righteous, judgemental Christian with conditional love. According to him I was giving him ultimatums, I was threatening to cut him off (even though two seconds before HE was threatening to not see me anymore!) I was wanting to punish him. It was insane and heavy. He became desperate and bullying. After this altercation I told him repeatedly (and respectfully) to give me time and space and he refused. He attempted to bulldoze my boundaries about four times and in the end my husband had to step in and tell him he wasn’t welcome in our lives until he ‘pulled his head out’.
So now here I am. I haven’t spoken to my father in a while now. He refuses to repent or show even remorse. He has lied repeatedly. All the while he has played the victim which makes me so flipping angry, when all that has happened is a result of his choices! He has always blamed everyone else for his problems, and now he is out of control.
I feel a strong conviction in my spirit to have nothing to do with him. Until he repents. IF he repents (which I sadly fear he may never). Not to punish him, but to protect myself and my family from his evil.
Now I am struggling against the enormous pressure to resume a relationship with my dad despite his sin and lack of repentance. I hear “but he’s your dad!” Apparently, it’s acceptable to cut all toxic relationships from your life EXCEPT if it’s family. And yet it’s family that can do the most damage if they are toxic.
I feel other people’s judgement, that somehow I am not a loving person because I can’t accept my dad for “who he is” and forgive him. I judge myself worst of all. I am constantly at war with myself, battling the lies my dad has spoken over me (judgmental, self-righeous, punishing him…)
I can forgive him, but I cannot comprehend a relationship with him if he is unrepentant. I don’t even know how that can work. It sends my soul into turmoil at the thought of it. I get fearful and anxious at the thought of him being in my life given his toxic behaviour.
I sometimes battle with intense anger. I wonder why I am the one with all the expectations on me to make the situation ‘right’ when I am not the one who caused all this mess – my mum and I are victims of it. Yet NO ONE except for me has stood firmly against my dad to defend my mum. All these people who know my mum’s character and can vouch for it…yet they keep trying to ‘love’ dad into repentance. It sounds so Christian, but it’s so twisted, and dad is lapping it up. It hurts my heart and I feel so alone sometimes.
It’s so jolly hard to decide not to have anything to do with your own father. I didn’t take my decision lightly, or impulsively. It’s even harder to deal with another Christian’s pressure to reconcile. I will say though, that my closest friends have been very supportive and understanding of my position and that is a true blessing.
I would love to reconcile with my dad. But I need to see repentance. Why is that so polarizing to Christians?!?!?
Thanks very much to Porcelain Warrior who gave us permission to publish her story as a stand-alone post.
Faith is not man’s opinion and dream, as some imagine, and form their own ideas when they hear the story of the gospel. The cause is that when they hear the gospel or glad tidings, they fashion by their own strength certain imaginations and thoughts in their hearts, saying, I have heard the gospel; I remember the story; lo, I believe! And this they count true faith – which nevertheless, since it is but man’s imagination and assumption, does not profit. Neither do good works or a lasting amendment of life follow.
But true faith is a thing wrought by the Holy Spirit in us, which changes us, transforms our nature, begets us anew in God, and makes us the children of God, as you read in the first of John. A faith that is genuine kills the old Adam, and makes us altogether new in the heart, mind, will, desire, and in all our affections and powers of the soul, and brings the Holy Spirit with her.
Faith is a living thing, mighty in working, courageous and strong, ever doing, ever fruitful, so that it is impossible that the person endued with faith should not work good works. A person of faith does not ask whether good works are to be done or not, but has done them already, before mention be made of them. And he is always doing, for such is his nature now: a living faith in his heart, and the active moving of the Spirit, constrain him and stir him to this. Whoever does not do good works is an unbelieving person, and faithless, and looks around groping after faith and good works, but does not know what faith or good works are, even when he talks ever so much about faith and good works.
Faith is then a living and steadfast trust in the favour of God, whereby we commit ourselves altogether to God. And that trust is so surely grounded and sticks so fast in our hearts that a man would not once doubt of it, though he should die a thousand times for it. And such trust wrought by the Holy Spirit through faith makes a person glad, joyful, cheerful, and true-hearted, toward God and toward all creatures. And thus he or she is willingly and without compulsion glad and ready to do good to all, to render service to all, to suffer all things, so that God who has given him such grace may be loved and praised. So it is impossible to separate good works from faith, even as it is impossible to separate heat and burning from fire.
Therefore take heed to yourself. Beware of your own suppositions and imaginations, which to judge of faith and good works will seem wise, but indeed are blind, and of all things most unwise. Pray God that he will assent to work faith in your heart, or you will remain evermore faithless, however much you surmise, imagine, strengthen your resolve, wrestle with yourself, or do what you will or can.
From William Tyndale’s Prologue to Romans, Matthew’s Version Abridged (1537). The language has been gently updated into modern English by Ruth Magnusson Davis.
Unlike most of our Sunday posts, today’s post is not a sermon. But if you want to listen to a sermon, there are a vast number of Ps Sam Powell’s sermons on Sermon Audio.
Lastly, here is a hymn that one of our readers sent me.
The Matthew Bible is the first complete English Bible, and Ruth M Davis is gently updating it for modern readers – in this post you will find out more about William Tyndale. He translated the Greek New Testament and about half of Hebrew Old Testament, but was taken captive and martyred before he could complete his translation of the OT. His translations were incorporated in the Matthew Bible.