We love our readers to share their own experiences so that others can benefit. To get the ball rolling, here is what three of our readers have said about the pros & cons of getting protection orders, and tips for those who have not done it before.
Protection order legislation varies from state to state. And the terminology varies: they can be called Restraining Orders, Family Violence Orders, Domestic Violence Protection Orders, etc.
What our readers recount may or may not apply in your own state. I recommend checking the laws in your own state to avoid disappointment and confusion. Look up the laws online, as well as ask the police. In my experience, some police officers are not good at explaining the details of the law to members of the public — and they’re always busy! So if your state has police officers that specialise in domestic abuse/family violence, seek advice from those officers – they are better trained in the details of the legislation.
It might also be helpful to discuss the pros and cons of getting a protection order with a domestic violence advocate in your area.
A protection order sets limits on future behaviour, as I explained here. Protection orders restrain some abusers some of the time. But abusers who have little regard for the law tend not to be restrained by protection orders.
The pros and cons of applying for a protection order
Here is the experience of ‘Moody Mom’ —
You’re not crazy for worrying that filing a protection order might bring criticism and maybe even some falling away with friends and church members. Trust your gut. I lost my ‘c’hristian counselors’ and church’s willingness to even speak to us after I filed for my order. The church leaders and counselors heaped shame after shame upon my head for taking out the order. It happens. A lot. They (the church) resented that I brought in (the church people used whisper tones for the word…) *secular* authorities into my situation. They wanted to try handling everything in-house with a few trite verses and shaming me with “submit and pray more,” all the while comforting him for his “troubles”.
You know the people around you well. You’ve seen their history, and how they have treated and talked about “those poor women” that were abused or had “difficult marriages” in the past. You know how they view us. Trust yourself. You are brave and wise. You know more than you know.
All that being said, it was absolutely worth it to file for my order. It was gut-wrenching and scary, but worth it. Just the peace of mind that the order gave – that we would have a legal leg to stand on if he showed up – helped me and my kids. And by God’s grace, the judge who signed my order made it even MORE protective than I had asked for! Before becoming a judge, he had been a lawyer FOR THE LOCAL WOMEN’S SHELTER! He had seen these guys all before and “got” the evil we were dealing with. I do understand that this is not always the case. But my experience told me, as many of us have found, that I found much help in the *secular* arena, and damaging betrayal and shunning in the church.
The order also helped us because x knew that if he violated it, he would face legal action, which would tarnish his glittering public persona – having to be fingerprinted and mug-shotted if he violated. My x wanted to avoid the public scrutiny at all costs. So it kept him away.
— MoodyMom wrote this here
If the abuser breaches the order, getting the authorities to prosecute can be difficult
Our reader ‘Psalm 55’ had an order against her abuser, and he breached the order. But because she could not show evidence of the breach, the prosecutor would do nothing about it. — click here to read her story.
This five minute video gives tips for How to Collect Evidence if your protection order is breached. It features women from the state of Victoria (Australia) demonstrating simple and practical ways of gathering evidence. It refers to protection orders as “intervention orders’.
Even if the abuser is subject to a protection order, many churches still support the abuser
‘Anon Friend’ supported a Christian woman whose husband was extremely abusive. Even when the victim obtained a domestic violence protection order against her husband, the church still supported the abusive husband. Here is a condensed version of Anon Friend’s story:
He was my best friend’s husband. He was a church leader, volunteer biblical counselor for individuals and couples and elder in process … I have watched him deceive pastors, leaders, church members… His deceit still continues as I write this. It’s been a daily nightmare and never ending trauma for my best friend.
…I prayed and waited and waited for others in church leadership like myself to “see” what was “right in front” of them…I prayed on my knees, my heart breaking, feeling crushed deep inside that the pastors continued to not “see” the truth of who he truly is and knowing she and her children were being abused daily by him.
I saw things that he was doing that were evil, heartless and he had no empathy for his wife. I saw him have no regard for her life. I held in the tears each Sunday as I had to pretend like I was comfortable near him while we did prayer team because I knew he would question my best friend when she returned home with him. I thought surely another pastor or leader would see his behavior and question him but they never did. I thought how could this man be in the elder process at our church? Did they really know him? They seemed to be more concerned with “feeling good”, welcoming the abuser’s compliments and literal pats on the back. While at the same time, he was not allowing his wife to have the most basic of needs met.
I witnessed him lie to others in the church body including myself. I knew he was lying because I had a unique “window in” to what he was hiding in his home and the contrast of what he was saying and sharing with others because I spent time in his home and I saw things. Once when I was at her home he sent a text to her saying “I want to [physically assault] you, and tell [my name] I want to [physically assault] her too.” I was speechless when she told me what the text said as I stood in front of her.
Many other dreadful, awful things happened. It was very much felt and apparent he wanted me completely removed from her life. He began to make it extremely difficult for us to spend any time together, threatening her regularly as well as heaping guilt, shame and confusion on her. It felt so scary and still does. Over time trust was built between my best friend and I and she began to share specific horrific details of the reality of her life. I’m still grieving all that she has shared with me (all the trauma) and all that I continue to see her go through and how I have seen others respond to her. …
My husband and I sought help for my best friend and her children from the Director of Biblical Counseling for all the association of churches. She had expressed to me that she wished there was a real way out. I helped her escape with one suitcase for her and her children, leaving everything else behind. The church responded to this by supporting her husband financially, legally and emotionally even after a domestic violence protection order was granted for her and her children by the court. The church helped him find ways around the protection order and therefore she and the children had no protection at all. I felt I helped her escape from one nightmare into another.
— read the full comment here
Once you have a protection order, it might be a mistake to drop it
Our reader ‘Round Two’ said—
I dropped the restraining order, that was a mistake I made. I was trusting and believing my stbx loved me and wanted to reconcile, but he had his own agenda. I’m told because I dropped the order, it will be even harder to get another one, even more so, because stbx has not been harrassing me (thank God for that!). But my understanding is he has been lurking in FB of friends and relatives.
— read her comment here
I invite you to share your own experience of having a protection order
When sharing your experience, it is more helpful if you comment here at the blog rather than on Facebook. Comments on Facebook are ephemeral; comments on the blog can help others years down the track.
And please stick to your own experience and observations, bearing in mind that other readers may have different experiences than you. If you want tips about how to write your story in a way that will not identify you, read our New Users Info page.
“Do not take a brother to court” – does it mean you can’t seek a protection order against your abuser?
To seek a protection order from the court is not a sin. A victim of abuse does not go against biblical principles by seeking a protection order from the secular justice system, even if the abuser professes to be a believer. The “do not take a brother to court” principle from 1 Corinthians 6 must be weighed with other scriptures to rightly divide the word of truth when it comes to protecting people from abuse and oppression. It also must be understood in the culture of the time Paul was writing. And someone who professes faith in Christ but is abusing another person is not a Christian.
1 Corinthians 6:1-8
How dare one of you, having a problem with another, go to law under the unrighteous, and not rather under the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world will be judged by you, are you not good enough to judge small trifles? 3 Do you not know that we will judge the angels? How much more may we judge things that pertain to this life? 4 If you have trials of worldly matters, take those who are least esteemed in the congregation and make them judges. 5 This I say to your shame. Is there really no wise man among you? What, no one at all who can judge between brother and brother? 6 But one brother goes to law against another, and that under the unbelievers?
7 Now therefore there is utterly a failing among you, because you go to law one with another. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather suffer yourselves to be robbed? 8 Nay, you yourselves do wrong, and rob – and that the brethren. (NMB) (click here to read it in the NKJ)
It would be wrong to take that passage as the only precept that must be heeded. Christians believe in the separation of church and state. Romans 13 says God has appointed the secular authorities to carry out a particular function, for the benefit of society as a whole.
Let every soul submit himself to the authority of the higher powers. For there is no power except from God. The powers that be are ordained by God. Therefore whoever resists authority, resists the ordinance of God. And those who resist will bring retribution on themselves, for rulers and authorities are not to be feared for good works, but for bad. Would you be without fear of the authority? Do well then, and you will be commended by the same. For he is the minister of God for your welfare. But if you do wrong, then fear. For he does not bear a sword for nothing, but is the minister of God to take vengeance on those who do evil. Therefore you must obey – not for fear of vengeance only, but also because of conscience. (NMB)
The secular justice system “bears the sword” for the purpose of dealing with wrongdoers. The civil authorities are to be feared by wrongdoers. Churches do not bear the power of the sword in regard to criminal offenses. Criminal offenses cannot be investigated or tried in the church.
Protection orders in the justice system
Secular laws differ from state to state. I am familiar with how they operate in my state (Victoria, Australia). I’m not a lawyer, and I’m speaking generally, but so far as I know protection orders are civil orders rather than criminal orders. Readers may reverse the genders if need be— The woman who fears because of past behaviour by her abuser can apply to the court for a protection order. The court assesses the application and may issue an order against the alleged abuser, stating things he must not do in the future.
A protection order is about FUTURE BEHAVIOUR. It sets limits on future behaviour. So long as the alleged abuser adheres to the terms of the order, he cannot be labelled as a criminal. But if he breaches the terms of the order that is a criminal offence for which he can be charged, convicted and punished by the court.
Bear in mind that the laws in your state may not be the same as mine, but here is an example from my own experience of having a protection order. The person who has an order against them must not:
- Stalk the protected person.
- Commit prohibited behaviour towards the protected person. (Prohibited behaviour includes assault, sexual assault, harassment, property damage or interference, or making a serious threat.)
- Attempt to locate, follow the protected person, or keeping them under surveillance.
- Publish on the internet, by email or other electronic communication any material about the protected person.
- Contact or communicate with the protected person by any means (except through a lawyer).
- Approach or remain within 5 metres of a protected person.
- Go to or remain within 200 metres of where the protected person lives or any place the protected person works or attends school/childcare.
- Get another person to do anything which the order prohibits.
It may be difficult to get the abuser charged for a breach of the order. Abusers are crafty, and it’s hard to produce evidence of the breach that satisfies the court. So protection orders are often ineffective. But they do restrain some abusers, some of the time.
Here is an example from the Old Testament. King Solomon issued an order to Shimei, the man who had maliciously cursed King David when David was fleeing from Absalom’s mutiny. The order stated terms of future behaviour that Shimei had to abide by: if he remained in the city, he would not be punished, but if he left the city he would be punished.
Then the king [Solomon] sent and called for Shimei, and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there anywhere. For it shall be, on the day you go out and cross the Brook Kidron, know for certain you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your own head.” (1 Kings 2:36-37, NKJ)
Three years later, Shimei breached the order, so Solomon had him executed. (vv 39-46)
Understanding 1 Corinthians 6 in the light of Romans 13
Reading 1 Corinthians 6 in light of Romans 13, it is legitimate for a victim of abuse to seek a secular protection order when they are afraid of being abused by their spouse. And if the abusive spouse violates the terms of the order, the abuser can be prosecuted by the state for the crime of breaching the order. The secular justice system would thus be carrying out its God-ordained role of protecting the vulnerable and restraining the wicked. And if the wicked did not submit to that restraint, the secular system could punish (wield the sword on) the offender.
It is impossible for the church to wield the sword like that. And obviously, for the abuser to be so prosecuted, the victim must first have been granted a protection order by the secular court.
Some states only issue protection orders if there has been recent physical or sexual violence. But some places issue them if there has been emotional intimidation, financial abuse, stalking, coercive control, harassment, online slander, etc. States that are at the vanguard of responding to domestic abuse have laws against domestic abuse that criminalise coercive control, e.g. Scotland. (Click this link to find out what coercive control is)
Church leaders need to be aware that although domestic abusers may not commit physical violence or sexual assault against their victims, they all use coercive control tactics to oppress and control their victims.
If a church forbade a victim of domestic abuse from seeking a protection order against her abuser, that church would be violating the spirit of Romans 13. And if a church reprimanded a victim of abuse for seeking a protection order against her abuser, that church would tacitly be enabling the abuser’s wicked conduct, by giving the message to the abuser that he could get away with his evildoing because the church was backing him.
The legal system when Paul was writing to the Corinthians
Most Christians these days are not aware of how very differently the secular justice system worked in the first century AD, when Paul was writing to the Corinthians.
Corinth was a Roman colony so it operated under Roman law. Bruce Winter’s book After Paul Left Corinth has two chapters on the legal system in Corinth. He describes how slaves and freed-slaves had fewer legal rights than Roman citizens, and women tended to have fewer legal rights than men. He describes how Roman citizens often embarked on vexatious litigation against other citizens, in order to enhance their own reputation as orators. The litigant might then attract more pupils to his private oratory school. People pay a lot of money to go to law school these days; in those days people paid a lot of money to be trained in oratory. The skill of oratory (speech making) was important for young men who wanted to be influential in government and public office. Therefore, taking someone to court on the allegation they had ‘besmirched your reputation’ was often a business ploy more than a justice-seeking ploy. Bruce Winter suggests that this is what Paul was forbidding.
In my view, Paul probably condemned ‘taking a brother to court’ for situations in which one professing believer was suing another professing believer for things like defamation or non-payment of debts. Defamation and failure to pay debts are forms of robbery: defamation robs the victim of their rightly-merited reputation; non-payment of a debt robs the victim of money.
Paul could not have been forbidding Christians from seeking justice against professing believers who had committed crimes under Roman Law. He knew very well that Rome had the power to punish crimes. Even the Jews who got Jesus crucified knew that. When the Jews claimed that Jesus was guilty of a crime, they had to ask Roman authorities to issue the death sentence, because they didn’t have the power to ‘wield the sword’ themselves.
No case of domestic abuse is trivial
Paul reminds the Corinthians that the saints will judge the world and the angels (1 Cor 6:2-3). On the Day of Judgement, the saints will be judging the world and the angels, because the saints are in Christ and are one with Christ and the Father has committed all judgement to the Son (John 5:22). But that Day is yet to come.
Paul also says Christians are competent to try ‘small trifles’ pertaining to this life (1 Cor 6:2). The ESV calls these ‘trivial matters’. But no case of domestic abuse is trivial.
Our definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his target subordinated and under his control. (Sometimes the genders are reversed.) This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.
Our definition of a domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.
All domestic abuse cases are serious. Some cases can be lethal.
And male intimate abusers use dozens of tactics of coercive control (link). They systematically disassemble the personhood of their targets. They oppress and intimidate in multiple ways.
Brad Sargent talks about how churches misconstrue 1 Corinthians 6 in many scenarios of abuse:
They decry the “world system” as evil, and use this or other justifications as an excuse to avoid submission to its systems. Sometimes they even includes the laws of the land (such as refusing the mandatory reporting of known/suspected child abuse). [1 Corinthians 6.] But this passage talks about how Christians should be able to take care of TRIVIAL matters in house. Is spiritual abuse of authority “trivial”? Is clergy sexual misconduct “trivial”? How about harassment, or misappropriation of funds by leaders, or covering up for leaders who have severely failed morally and ethically?
—A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 6D: Analyzing Misused Tools and Processes: What are Key Problems and Their System Impact?
Someone who professes faith in Christ, but is abusing another, is not a Christian
Immediately after the “do not take a brother to court” instruction in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul goes on to say that “cursed speakers” (abusers) will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Cor 6:9-11
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived. For neither fornicators, nor worshippers of images, nor whoremongers, nor effeminates, nor abusers of themselves with the male sex, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor cursed speakers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified by the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (NMB)
“Cursed speaking” is the same thing as railing and reviling. The abuser may or may not use profanity, but all abusers rail against and revile their victims. All abusers verbally abuse and slander their victims when they think they can get away with it.
In addition to verbal abuse and slander, many abusers are sexually immoral, covetous, substance abusers, and swindlers. And most abusers are idolators if you count self-idolatry as idolatry.
So when Paul teaches ‘do not take a brother to court’ in 1 Corinthians 6, he immediately goes on to remind us that abusers are NOT Christians.
As we have said many times on this blog, an abuser cannot be a Christian, no matter how much they profess to the contrary.
A protection order can be helpful, but safety planning is even more important
Dr George Simon Jr says:
There are many times when a protection order is not only warranted but necessary. And in those cases, seeking the protection order is not primarily for the purposes of “control,” because, in fact, many abusers violate these orders. Rather, when necessary, it’s just another affirmative step the potential victim can take to not only improve their safety odds, but also to have legal recourse when court-ordered sanctions are violated (as they often are). But even more important than a protective order is a viable safety plan with ample family/community support. Ending an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for a victim. That’s why the safety plan is so critical and why, in the end, it’s often much more effective than any restraining order.
– personal email from Dr Simon
Coming up soon: Domestic abuse victims share their experiences of obtaining a protection order.
Two notes from Barbara Roberts
1) The writing of this post was precipitated by a comment from David who pastors a PCA church in the USA. You can read David’s comment here.
2) This post will become a chapter in my next book. I have planned to write this book for years, and at last I am getting back to working on it.
What about couple counseling? – vital reading for church leaders who think they do mediation in cases of domestic abuse.
How to Collect Evidence if your protection order is breached – a five minute video by Women’s Health West and Victoria Police, Australia. It features local women demonstrating simple and practical ways of gathering evidence. Note: This video is from Victoria, Australia, where protection orders are called “intervention orders’ and the emergency phone number is 000, not 911 as in the USA.
Abuse in the PCA church – Part 1 of Persistent Widow’s story – read the whole series to get a picture of how badly churches can deal with domestic abuse
1 Corinthians 5:11 – does it apply only if there’s common knowledge of the person’s sin? (Part 2) – this post mentions 1 Corinthians 6.
Male Privilege is the underlying driver of domestic abuse – a video presentation by Ken Lay, former Police Commissioner, Victoria, Australia.
Courts Must Learn Basics about Domestic Violence
Four decades after domestic violence first became a public issue [in the USA] our courts still don’t understand the causes and effective responses to domestic violence. Attempting to resolve DV cases without fundamental DV knowledge is like sending children to unregulated daycare; we keep seeing avoidable tragedies in which children are abused and some die.
When domestic violence (DV) first became a public issue there was no research available. Courts developed their initial responses based on popular assumptions that DV was caused by substance abuse, mental illness and the actions of the victims. This led courts to turn to mental health professionals for advice as if they were the experts about domestic violence. In fairness, this mistake was made in good faith, but was never corrected after research demonstrated the initial assumptions were wrong. …
Court officials who are responsible for the health and safety of children must understand that domestic violence is not caused by mental illness, substance abuse, anger issues or the actions of the victim. It is possible for an abuser to change, but it rarely happens out of the blue. It usually requires accountability and monitoring. At a minimum, an abuser who is changing his behavior would recognize he is solely responsible for the harm he has caused; he will be committed to never abuse anyone again; and will understand that if he ever abuses someone he will lose the relationship with his children.
Read the full article here: Why men abuse women and what makes them stop.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate in the USA.
He has written some of the leading books about domestic violence and custody.
When kids have to spend time with an abusive parent, how can they apply ‘heap burning coals upon his head’?
A reader says:
I am a post-divorce survivor of domestic violence. My family have grown and changed a lot along with me through this process… from being unwitting allies of my X, to now maintaining no contact and helping me escape from my abuser.
My kids have to have regular visitation with their Dad by court order. He has been using power and control tactics over the kids when they are with him. During time with my side of the family the kids were venting and the verse that says by being kind you’ll “heap burning coals on his head” was brought up.
I am struggling with the proper application of this scripture to encourage my kids. What is a practical application for this verse that aligns with how abusers are to be treated? I don’t want my kids to become the aggressors, but I want to give them the skills and permission to defend themselves since they have no choice but to live in his home, under his rules at this time.
While I struggle sometimes with hating what he does, I don’t want to enter into sin while expressing righteous anger. And I’m not sure if I can separate hate for him, from hate for what he does to my kids and did to me.
Also there is a dynamic of the kids being divided in loyalty, which is tearing them up. I have a heart for all my children. One child is loyal to their Dad. I believe that child was heavily persecuted before the separation and is trying their hand at earning Dad’s approval through reporting my activities.
How do I encourage my kids to handle the injustices when they can’t yet divorce themselves from their Dad? And most importantly, I don’t want to lead my children to sin.
Let us look at the ‘coals of fire’ verse in context. I have put verse 20 in bold.
Let love be without dissembling. Hate that which is evil, and cleave unto that which is good. Be kind to one another, with brotherly love. Honour others before yourselves. Let not the work that you have in hand be tedious to you. Be fervent in the Spirit. Apply yourselves to the time. Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Continue in prayer. Give to meet the needs of the saints, and be ready to take people in.
Bless those who persecute you; bless, but curse not. Be merry with those who are merry. Weep with those who weep. Be of equal affection one towards another. Be not high-minded, but make yourselves equal to the lowly. Do not be wise in your own opinions. Repay no one evil for evil. Provide beforehand for things that are honourable in the sight of all people. If it is possible, as for your part, have peace with all people.
Dearly beloveds, do not avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God. For it is written: Vengeance is mine, and I will reward, says the Lord. Therefore: If your enemy hungers, feed him, and if he thirsts, give him drink. For in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with goodness.
Here is an excerpt of what Matthew Henry said about verse 20.
Study the things that make for peace; if it be possible, without offending God and wounding conscience. Avenge not yourselves. This is a hard lesson to corrupt nature, therefore a remedy against it is added. Give place unto wrath. When a man’s passion is up, and the stream is strong, let it pass off; lest it be made to rage the more against us. The line of our duty is clearly marked out, and if our enemies are not melted by persevering kindness, we are not to seek vengeance; they will be consumed by the fiery wrath of that God to whom vengeance belongeth.
I think this interpretation by Matthew Henry strikes a good balance. Don’t repay evil for evil: vengeance belongs to God and He will carry it out perfectly. Be careful not to sin when your passion is up. Be kind to your enemies without wounding your own conscience in so doing. If you dissemble, if you fake love, if you slavishly appease an evildoer, you may feel like you are betraying your own conscience by being hypocritical. Or you might be betraying someone else. And there is no guarantee that the evildoer will be melted by your kindness.
There is no guarantee that our enemies will be melted by our kindness. I think this has been overlooked by many bible teachers. They assume the words “…you will heap coals of fire on his head” is a guarantee that the enemy will feel so ashamed of his sin that he will stop being mean. And people who make this assumption then lay guilt on abuse victims who don’t see that happen with their abusers.
It is a rare abuser in the affluent western world who feels any pressing need for food, water or life-saving medical assistance. Many abusers are swollen with affluence; they have a surfeit of food and drink rather than not enough. And they don’t want the spiritual food or drink which Christianity offers them, because they don’t want to repent.
I think a protective parent could discuss with their kids what “needs” a father might to which his kids might kindly and generously respond. It might be best to speak hypothetically, rather than zero in on their Dad. For example, if a father cut himself, his kids could get him antiseptic cream and band-aids. If he had a serious accident, they could call the ambulance. If he was working on his car, they could help him by fetching the tools he needed. If he was mowing the lawn on a very hot day, they could take him a drink of water. But if he was sitting on the couch demanding that his kids bring him his umpteenth beer from the fridge, the kids would not show kindness to him by complying – they would only be helping him entrench his addiction to beer.
And if a father asked his kids to lie for him, they could refuse: you don’t love someone by enabling or promoting their lies. And if a father was divorced and he asked his kids to tell him what their mother was doing with her life, what could they say? They could say, “I don’t think that’s any of your business, Dad.” Or, “Let’s talk about something else, Dad!” Or, “I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s play a game. Or let’s go for a bike ride.”
And if a father pushed his kids around physically, they could find a safe place to wait till their anger and hurt had calmed down. And then, if they felt it was safe to do so, they might like to remind their father that Jesus doesn’t like it when grownups hurt kids. (Matt 18:6).
In this kind of discussion, I would encourage the kids to articulate in their own words whether each way of responding is right or wrong, whether it is sinful or not sinful. Would it be sinning against the father? Would it be sinning against their own conscience? Would it be sinning against someone else? And how can they weigh all that up?
Even if the children don’t have answers, these are good questions to help children think about. The idea is to develop your children’s discernment and help them think for themselves, and to praise them for beginning to wrestle with these hard questions, because even grownups find it hard to wrestle with these questions!
For kids who have to see their abusive parent, the dilemmas they find most difficult are:
- how do I please Dad without betraying my own conscience?
- What is the safest way to respond when Dad is being mean?
- Is it right to please Dad by doing everything he says? Or is that wrong?
- When Dad wants me to ‘be kind’ to him but I know what he wants is not good, what do I do?
- And how can I stay safe while trying to resist him when I think he is wrong?
These are the same dilemmas that adult victims of intimate partner abuse experience. And as we know, there are no easy answers and each situation is different. Each person is different. Each temperament is different.
But it is worth telling kids that WHENEVER PEOPLE ARE BADLY TREATED, THEY ALWAYS RESIST.
So you can elucidate and honour the way the kids are resisting bad treatment.
What I am about to say, I have adapted from the booklet Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships. I have adapted it to how kids resist abuse from an abusive parent.
In our experience of working with victims of domestic abuse, none of them complied with violence, disrespect, or oppression. They always tried to reduce, prevent or stop the abuse in some way.
Because they are in such danger, kids usually do not resist the perpetrator’s abuse openly (although some victims do resist openly anyway). Often the only way victims can resist the abuse is in their thoughts, or through small acts that are sometimes not even noticed by others.
A child’s resistance may not stop the abuse, because the perpetrator is making his own decisions about how he wants to behave. A perpetrator’s abusive behaviour is totally his responsibility, and he is the only one who can stop the abuse. However, the child’s thoughts or actions indicate that in no way does he/she “go along with” the abuse, or “let it happen.” The childrens’ resistance shows their desire to escape the abuse, to keep their dignity, and
to make a better life for themselves.
The following examples show some of the many ways kids resist abuse. We will take a look at what the perpetrator tries to do, and how the kids resist him. I will refer to the perpetrator as ‘Dad’.
If Dad tries to isolate a child from friends or other family members, the child might talk show resistance by talking to or texting their friends or other family members when Dad is not paying attention, or when he’s asleep. Or the child might show resistance by pretending to Dad that she doesn’t care about not being able to talk to her friends, because she is happy just reading a book or watching a movie or playing a game. (If the child is worried that such a pretence would be sinful, the protective parent could read my series Is it always sinful to tell an untruth? and use it as a springboard for a conversation with the child.)
If Dad tries to humiliate the child, the child might show resistance by thinking or acting in ways that sustain her self-respect and dignity. For example, she might hold her head up high and say to herself “Stand tall” when Dad said insulting things to her. Or she might silently remind herself that Jesus says “Whoever hurts one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
If Dad tries to control the child, the child might show resistance by thinking or acting in ways that show she refuses to be controlled. For example, she might quietly disregard Dad’s “instructions” on what she should do about the annoying behaviour of another family member.
Or the child could comply with Dad’s demands but do so in very dramatic way. Let’s say he insists that she put away everything her room in exactly the right spot, and gets angry if anything is “out of order.” The child might be unable to challenge him openly, so she decides to do what he wants, but in a dramatic fashion. She puts everything away especially neatly in the “right” place. She then labels in great detail each section of the room where the items “belong.” I think this is what Jesus means by walking the extra mile, or turning the other cheek, or when someone sues you at law for your cloak, give him your coat also (Matt 5:39-41). Those are all forms of non-violent resistance.
If Dad tries to say that both he and the child are responsible for his wrong actions, the child shows resistance by thinking or acting in ways that show for herself that he is the only one responsible for his behaviour. For example, if Dad is cooking and burns the dinner and then blames the child, the child might feel angry and she might think to herself “what a load of of rubbish!” Or she might feel angry and resolve to change her surname when she becomes of age, so she doesn’t have to bear his surname any more. Those are ways that she makes it clear for herself that she is not responsible for what Dad did, and she will not endorse what Dad did.
If Dad tries to hurt the child, the child shows resistance by doing things to reduce, endure or escape the pain. For example, if the child accidentally spills her glass of cordial and Dad hits her on the side of the head as punishment, it would not be wrong for the child to say, “Stop it! You shouldn’t hit me; it was only an accident. And you shouldn’t hit anyone on the head.” Or she might refuse to show her emotional vulnerability – she might resolve not to cry even though she is in pain. Or she might pretend to comply with his demands, but find more subtle ways to resist him. Or she might say “Go ahead, jerk, hit me again, but it will not change my mind.” Or during a physical or verbal assault she might dissociate and take her mind to a pleasant peaceful place.
If Dad acts unpredictably, trying to make the child afraid so he can gain control of her, the child shows resistance either by creating predictability in her own life, or by becoming unpredictable herself. For example, the child might pay close attention to the small details of everyday life to lessen the risk to herself: she takes as much responsibility as possible for her own safety. Or she might try to divert his attention by acting like she is passionate about some trivial thing that she had never been enthusiastic about before, in order to divert Dad from hurting her.
If Dad tries to make excuses for his abuse, the child shows resistance by thinking or acting in ways that show for herself that the abuse is wrong and there is no excuse for his abuse. For example, she might write down in a journal (hidden from Dad) what he did wrong and how he tried to lay blame on her for his bad behaviour.
If Dad tries to hide his abuse and violence, the child shows resistance by thinking or acting in ways that expose the abuse and violence. For example, if the child knows her Dad as someone who can often be mean and scary, and she hears him describing himself as a ‘gentle bunny rabbit,’ she might feel astonished. Her astonishment shows she refuses to accept Dad’s description of himself as ‘harmless’. And she might expose Dad’s abuse by telling others – including members of his own family – about it.
If Dad tries to make the child ‘stoop to his level’, the child shows resistance by refusing to behave in the same way as Dad. For example, she might purposely do something nice for him in the middle of his verbal assaults, such as writing him a card and listing all of his good qualities. She could do this even knowing it would probably make made no difference to the severity of his attack on her.
Children who have to spend time their abusive parent often find that the only safe resistance is taking steps outside the abuser’s knowledge.
The protective parent can help the children by elucidating, validating and honouring the ways in which the children are resisting oppression and violence, including the secret dignity-preserving thoughts of their hearts, which the abuser cannot destroy.
The protective parent can also help the children think about whether a particular strategy of resistance is sinful or not sinful. The plumb-line is not the abuser’s upside-down version of right and wrong, but God’s right-side-up version. The children probably won’t fully understand this because they have been brainwashed by their Dad, but the protective parent can help them start to think these things through by saying things like, “That’s Dad’s opinion; I have a different opinion. I believe the Bible teaches such and such.”
Here are some scriptures that you might want to share with your kids
The LORD tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
As for the head of those who surround me,
Let the evil of their lips cover them;
Let burning coals fall upon them;
Let them be cast into the fire,
Into deep pits, that they rise not up again.
Let not a slanderer be established in the earth;
Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.
And here is a scriptural example of non-violent resistance by David when he was being abused by King Saul
1 Sam 24
Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) Then the men of David said to him, “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’ ” And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.
David also arose afterward, went out of the cave, and called out to Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down. And David said to Saul: “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm’? Look, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it. Let the Lord judge between you and me, and let the Lord avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.’ But my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea? Therefore let the Lord be judge, and judge between you and me, and see and plead my case, and deliver me out of your hand.”
So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the Lord delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Therefore swear now to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.”
So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
OT quotes are from the NKJ version. NT quotes are from the NMB – more info about the NMB here.
The survivor’s story is used with her permission.
Chris Moles discredits and mislabels victims of domestic abuse – this post discusses the ‘burning coals’ reference in Romans 12. It also discusses Jesus’ recommendation of non-violent resistance to prick the abuser’s conscience.
Is it wrong to feel ANGER and HATRED for my abuser? – one of our FAQs
How can I help my children heal from abuse? – another one of our FAQs
“Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26) is not the Bible’s only teaching about anger.
Coming out of the dungeon of a lifetime of abuse — what it that like? Sometimes victims of abuse become conscious of the abuse in small incremental steps. Each tentative (and brave) step out of the fog results in more clarity. And each survivor’s voice is personal, unique, and poignant. Finding Answers, who is a regular commenter at ACFJ, has written this guest post. She wrote this in early May 2018 and she has airbrushed some of the details to protect herself.
My profoundest thanks to all folks at ACFJ, both past and present. I add my thanks to the multitude. I have had so many light bulbs start to turn on, kind of like those older ones that took a long time to warm up before reaching complete illumination.
The Holy Spirit lets me know today has been one of the biggest realizations, yet to my mind, there have been others of seemingly greater significance. I kept reading the term “walking on eggshells” – on ACFJ, other websites, and in books – but could not understand the feel of it. My equivalent, so-to-speak, is “something bad will happen”. My terminology is much simpler, because the abuse started before I had more sophisticated language.
I am just past the middle of my fifth decade and have only been free from abusive and/or manipulative relationships for the last six months. And that is only because my last workplace closed around the same time and I have – literally – no one else in my life. A lonely place, perhaps, but lifesaving. In my whole life, I have had one hour of joy.
I do not say this as a pity party, simply supplying a bit of background.
I spent most of the last six months, 24 / 7, integrating flashbacks, researching to find the answers to many questions raised because of the flashbacks. Then I spent three weeks, 24 / 7, integrating the more complete memory, using the same research process. Now I am breaking the links to the old edifices…principalities, to put it more biblically.
Only in the last sic months have I come to the awareness / knowledge / understanding of how much abuse has pervaded my life, as the majority of the abuse was verbal / mental / emotional / spiritual / sexual / financial. The few occurrences of parental physical abuse I had encountered as a child, I thought were normal childhood discipline, though I wondered why they stuck in memory. I was in my later thirties before a counsellor told me the incest to my 6-year-old self by more than one brother was sexual abuse. One of those brothers tried to drown me. The whole family – my parents and all of my brothers – were abusive towards me.
Essentially, my family groomed me for an almost two-decade-long marriage of covert aggressive control. I cannot claim credit for any awakening moment in which I realized I was being abused and initiated a divorce – he moved out while I was out of town one morning, taking “his half” of the material goods. It is only in these last few months – I have been divorced over one decade – that I now understand he left because I was beginning to draw boundaries. (At the time, I was just trying to stop things that didn’t feel right.)
Several years later, this was followed by another abusive 2-year relationship. All the red flags were there, but I only have hindsight to supply that information. While his aggression was more overt and intense than any other relationship, it, too, lacked the outright physical abuse.
It is only in reading through the ACFJ website that I understood the validity of No Contact. This second time of going No Contact with both immediate and extended family, I now understand I have biblical support.
The things I said…I never heard the clues. In my entire married life, the only time my anti-x (love the ACFJ website term!) ever used my name was when introducing me to someone. When I talked to other people, whether about childhood or later points in my life, I did not “hear” what I was saying. And yet when others spoke of themselves, I could help them “hear” what they were saying.
I have a small financial fund I am hoping to cash in this week…I am so frustrated with feeling tired. Broken. Almost crippled. Although I’ve spent virtually all of my adult life working, the thought of going to work right now leaves me wanting to curl up in a corner. My nervous system remains hyper-vigilant, though the agitation is greatly decreased. (When I was going through the divorce, I was walking 20 – 26 kilometres a day, just so I could sleep at night.)
I have read through huge chunks of the ACFJ website and have been so very blessed by all I read. If I could, since many of the threads I’ve read are years old, I would create a post referencing the entire website and it would contain the one word seen so often in the comments section: ^^^That! or ^^^^Like! 😉
I’m sorry if what I write is so disjointed. I have always tried to find the exact words to express myself, knowing how easily miscommunication can take place and words can hurt. In comparison to the past, I cannot write my way out of a wet paper bag.