A Cry For Justice

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

Critique of DivorceCare’s “Choosing Wisely: Before You Divorce” Program

DivorceCare is a resource ministry that churches can purchase video and support material from to begin a DivorceCare ministry. At the end of this post we have pasted in the description of DivorceCare, taken from the DC website itself.

The following evaluation was sent to us by a blog reader whose church put her through the five week  Choosing Wisely: Before You Divorce program along with her abuser husband.  While the bulk of the DivorceCare material is for people who have already divorced, Choosing Wisely is a module designed for couples who are considering divorce:

Choosing Wisely is a five week workbook/video you go through as a couple with one mentor couple before divorcing. The first night you agree to certain requirements while taking the class, one of the requirements is not to physically abuse your spouse, no mention of any other type of abuse.  I expected helpful advice but instead got weekly lessons on how divorce will ruin your health, kids, finances and relationship with God. This was often three of them against me because my spouse kept saying how divorce wasn’t his choice.  I was asked straight out how my decision lined up with Gods principles of divorce only for abandonment and adultery.
 
The last two weeks are on forgiveness and reconciliation which results in you asking each other for forgiveness and signing a contract with specific steps for reconciliation. I felt hugely pressured in the contract making to agree to couples counseling (but didn’t sign any agreement). The only thing I would agree to was attempting to have civil conversations about the kids.  The last video ends with two different people saying that no matter how bad your marriage has been, nothing could be as bad as divorce.
I told the church it was like five weeks of emotional abuse.  It could be horribly damaging to people who have needed to leave a toxic relationship and when they finally do, the church guilts them into going back.  I wish I could say it was helpful but feel that any abuse victim would be traumatized by the experience without years of strengthening before taking it.  The church will look into it.

Jeff S relates that in a recent discussion with someone else who had been through the DivorceCare program, very similar criticisms were shared.  However, that same person was very positive about the DivorceCare for Kids material.

To be fair, understand that DivorceCare provides its material only to local churches and also provides, as you can see below, leadership training for those churches in operating this ministry. All well and good UNLESS what you have is an abuser and victim. Then this turns into the same old error of couple-counseling in an abuse situation and it can end up, as our reader above tells us, being a gang up on the victim session led by the abuser.

The Following is Info from Divorce Care Website:

Church Initiative was founded in 1993 by Steve and Cheryl Grissom. Steve serves as the president of Church Initiative. Cheryl serves as the ministry vice president. Here’s what led to the start of our ministry and how we’re serving local churches all over the world.

After experiencing the pain of divorce, Steve’s church played a key role in helping him heal. Once he was ready to resume active service in his local church, Steve felt burdened to make sure churches around the world would be prepared to help others going through divorce.

So, in 1993, Steve and his wife Cheryl designed and developed DivorceCare, a Christ-centered, video-based support group program.

As local churches saw success with the DivorceCare program, pastors began requesting additional resources, similarly structured, to help minister to people in other life crises, such as grief due to a death. In 1996, the ministry underwent a name change to Church Initiative, with a vision to create biblical, Christ-centered resources that mobilize lay people to help hurting people, within the context of the local church. The DivorceCare program was joined by DivorceCare for Kids, Single & Parenting, GriefShare, and other dynamic ministry tools created by Church Initiative to minister to people in a life crisis.

Today, over 18,000 churches are equipped with one or more Church Initiative ministry programs. Here are some of the programs we’ve developed:

Choosing Wisely: Before You Divorce, a marriage crisis intervention tool designed to help prevent divorce and save families

DivorceCare for Kids, DC4K, designed to bring healing to children of divorce and to give them hope and the tools to develop healthier relationships within their families

GriefShare, a grief recovery program to help people grieving the death of a loved one

Single & Parenting, a support group program for single parents who are divorced, widowed or never-married

Church Initiative has a strong commitment to provide ongoing support to churches using its materials. The ministry provides free consulting, promotional tools, and an extensive leadership development website. In addition to the comprehensive leader training resources that come with each curriculum kit, Church Initiative has also developed “Boot Camp Training on DVD,” which provides churches with a complete tool kit to host area training events for the DivorceCare, DC4K, and GriefShare leadership teams.

67 Comments

  1. Forrest

    I noted with interest the classes designed to prevent divorce. It would be so easy to take that as the primary objective regardless of the circumstances. The Lord always considered context. Man made churches tend to follow rules with no regard to context. You cannot apply simplistic cures to every case.

  2. I am fascinated by the way Christians tell each other “your life will be hell if you divorce, divorce is way worse than anything you’ve suffered in marriage” — I had some women tell me that before my divorce.
    It’s totally asinine. As Forrest said above: the Lord always considered CONTEXT. If your spouse is abusing you, then divorce will bring you great relief. Divorce will be the cure for your “cancer”.. why are Christians so scared to admit this?

    • I was told I would be miserable if I divorced. It’s been quite the opposite.

    • fiftyandfree

      I’m sure this has been mentioned countless times on this blog. The couple who goes for Christian counseling or attends one of these divorce care classes is treated as secondary to the “marriage.” The marriage is to be saved at all costs. The persons involved in the marriage are not as important or worthy as the marriage itself. It’s really sickening.

      I was warned by Pastors and friends that I would destroy my children if I divorced their father, but no one seemed to understand that his abuse was destroying them from within the home. My children are MUCH better off since the divorce, and of course so am I.

      • Death? what about death? If divorce is worse than anything you can suffer in marriage then what about emotional or even physical death that some women suffer?? I think divorce is better then letting my husband kill me… just saying.

      • Anonoymous

        I don’t think they get it enough to understand that women are killed in abusive marriages. A slow, agonizing death, if not an out and out brutal murder.

      • Anonoymous

        Should have said, “victims” there. Not trying to slight any male victims on this blog.

      • Amy

        AGREE!!

      • Tersia

        I agree, my kids tell me often how proud they are of me and that they are much happier now that their abusive dad is not around. I can see a difference and they are much happier now.

    • Anne

      What I’ve always heard in church is that divorce is nearly the unpardonable sin. My church didn’t believe in losing salvation so to them the greatest consequence was to be put on a shelf and not used by God. They considered that the fate worse than death. Divorce pretty much guaranteed God would “shelf” you. It’s hard to eradicate that kind of thinking once you’ve heard it for 30+ years. It’s just absurd though that they believe me divorcing would make me unusable to God but my husbands behavior is totally forgivable with a couple tears and an “I’m sorry” even if his behavior doesn’t truly change.

      • Anonymous

        Anne-that’s how you know that what your church is telling you is wrong. It is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ Himself and the Gospel. Why would your husband be forgiven, when he is not even truly repentant and still abusing? True repentance brings true and lasting change.

      • Mary

        very well said — the wife in divorce gets brutally judged or discarded by the church leadership while the NON-agape-loving, NON-cherishing and NON-honoring husbands, who refused to lay down their life for the wife gets NEW positions in church leadership — “poor him”

        cringe

        the “church” nicely forgets that the husband is the one responsible for the state of the marriage, for they put it all on her, while she’s been trying to put on the good show for years.

        the courts, too often, seem to criminalize the woman by the harshness in the divorce decrees that are against her — that harm the children by the way they do 50/50 when that can be very devastating to a child who now now has to contend with an abusive or neglectful or bullying father without their mother to protect them

        A much better “program” would be accountability to the Christian husband and HOW the Lord wants him to agape-love his wife, and what ALL that means

  3. granonine

    I have a couple of cllients who are presently in DivorceCare programs, and they’re both very pleased. It’s hard to know what to recommend or not recommend, so I appreciate the insight here. I’m always a bit skeptical about man-created programs. When they are founded upon and remain firm upon God’s Word, they can be immensely helpful.

    • LorenHaas

      I am always a bit skeptical about “biblical” programs. Whose interpretation of scripture is represented? What are they incorporating and what are they leaving out?
      I have had therapists refer clients to my DC group and other’s conspicuous in their silence. The programs vary a great deal by the leaders, so I would check them out before making a recommendation.

  4. fiftyandfree

    Divorce Care was not offered where I live, but the church in which I got married offered (well, insisted really) on pre-marital counseling which I thought was a very good idea. The problem is that these counselors were not very wise and they did not pick up on my ex’s sociopathic behavior. I wish they had questioned us more thoroughly, especially in regards to our personal relationships with Christ. Maybe they would have helped me to see that his professions were shallow and that he lacked the insight and character of a truly converted Christian. (I don’t know… I guess I should have picked up on this myself, but I’m just wondering aloud here if good premarital counseling could have exposed his lies). Instead they gave us these questionnaires to answer separately, but of course my ex lied throughout the questionnaires and throughout the few short counseling sessions, continuing his fraud and deceit. I wonder if premarital counseling by wise Christian counselors and/or Pastors could help prevent some unsuspecting women from marrying con artists and abusers.

    • Amy

      I don’t think so-as you said ‘they are con artists! So they are going to wear a facade and be sweet etc.-Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde-the hasbeen even fooled my priest who told me he couldn’t be fooled! Now he is seeing the light as hasbeen abandoned us. So, yes, they fool everyone, maybe even themselves-they are twisted people with an agenda of their own-mainly control at any costs! It would have to be counselors who know abuse of all kinds, even then again they wouldn’t pick up on it!

  5. LorenHaas

    My wife and I are long time DivorceCare facilitators and I would like to make some comments.
    First, I have never used “Before You Divorce”, but I am not surprised by the experience of the writer. I am so sorry you were hurt by this.
    DivorceCare originated over 20 years ago and has been revised twice, most recently last year. It has a video curriculum, and a printed workbook that follows the video, an at home bible study, links to the kids program and other helpful materials. Participant discussion is a big part of the program.
    The character of the hosting church and the facilitators plays the largest role in how the program works. The teaching about “biblical” divorce is a good example. DC (DivorceCare) initially teaches that adultery and abandonment by a non-believer are the only allowed justification. This position allows entry into all but the most conservative churches. As the lesson goes on, it is suggested that there may be other reasons, but “they are beyond the scope of the video.” They use academic experts, such as Craig S. Keener to discuss divorce. They even sell his books on divorce in their bookstore. If you read his books, you will see that Dr. Keener supports abuse as a reason for divorce.
    “Wiggle room” is built into the program. If the church/facilitator wants to emphasize adultery and abandonment only they are supported by the DC program. If they want to broaden the reasons to include abuse, they can be supported by the DC program. I personally bring in teachings by Barbara Roberts, David Instone-Brewer and Greg Boyd.
    DC has wonderful teaching on other issues related to divorce. There are sessions on shock, depression, children, finances, sexuality, forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is taught as a process that sets you free and reconciliation as far as is safe and healthy.
    My advice to anyone considering joining a DC group would be to consider the church that is sponsoring the program and to interview the facilitators to establish how safe they are for you. DC reflects the current evangelical church culture, both good and bad.

    • Thank you for all that, Loren. It’s very helpful.

    • Anonoymous

      I imagine the permanence view of marriage Churches, would not do this program at all. I am happy to hear that DC will accept divorce for abuse, but it would be nice if books, like Barb’s, Ps. Crippen’s, Instone-Brewer and Bancroft’s could be reviewed by the DC program and with some education they would adapt abuse as a cause for divorce. I will have to look into the Keener book. I am wondering if it is on the blog’s list.

  6. I have been abuse free for 8 years now. I was married into the Church of Christ. When I met my ex husband 27 years ago, I did not belong to a church family but I loved God and I was a struggling Christian. Being that my ex and his family were generations of Church of Christ members, I felt that I should support and accept their beliefs and I did…for awhile. Please understand that I am not putting the Church of Christ in a square box as I have attended some lovely churches. But, in my ex’s family, their ideals of how men should be viewed in their churches and homes created alot of manipulation and control in the eyes of the men where the women were to be seen and not heard. Hence, my loyalty to my ex husbands beliefs and morals became very dangerous to me and our 4 children.
    I agree-divorce is a horrible thing. It is like a death in the family. Whether there is abuse present or not, divorce is one of the hardest things families can go through because there becomes a separation of two people that bring their loved ones into their lives. It’s not just the couple that feels the hurt and separation. Two different families that love the “married couple” also hurt. If there are children involved, the pain they face is tremendous.
    Having said that-imagine what children endure behind close doors that no family member, neighbor or church can see in a home where “Daddy” is abusing “Mommy”
    My ex husband knew I would never betray him or his reputation by reporting him hence, we taught our children to also keep the abuse a secret. We became the picture perfect family that everyone admired. My ex is an officer in the military, I was referred to many times as “the Kool-Aide mom” and we had 4 beautiful, smart, very well behaved children.
    Looking back, my marriage to my ex husband was not Christian based. Scripture was taken from the bible and re-edited to suit the Elders, Deacons, and Preachers and the male church members means to gain control over their women, their children and their lives because of their low self esteems and moral insanities.
    Divorce is a horrible thing but my children suffered more watching Dad beat their Mom for 18 years. Abusers don’t stop abusing when you decide to leave. Their anger is ignited and they will use whatever they can to hurt you and in their hate, they will use the children. My divorce was a horrible divorce. By the time he was done with me in the courts I lost my home, my life and my kids through lies and manipulations. My children were used by him to try to hurt me and I have battled something called Parental Alienation now for years. My ex husband told me that if I never left him then our children and I would not be suffering as much as we are because God hates divorce. I looked at him and said-“There is only one God and you are not Him” If were to have said that in our marriage, he would have kicked me right then.
    My children’s ideals about religion and God are all distorted today and its not because of “divorce” My oldest son (who is now 24) told me that he would pray that his father would stop abusing me. That he would pray that his dad stop being so mean to all of us. He would pray that he wanted to live somewhere else. He said Mom- “Every time Dad hit you, I hoped that God would stop him and I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore, but God never stopped it until you left. And then when you did leave, Dad took you away from us.”
    How I cried over this for a long time. Divorce saved my life and the lives of my children, do doubt, but I now have two children that claim to be agnostic and one that claims to be an atheist. Their beliefs in honoring, respecting and loving their father were destroyed by a man that felt he had the “God given right” to treat me the way he chose because “God hates divorce”. My children’s faith in a loving Father is gone because of the example their own father set.
    I pray everyday that they embrace the loving God I know but I do understand why they struggle.
    The churches need to understand that trying to keep a family together under the house of the Lord when there are “abuses” going on at home may not be the best thing for the Christians they are trying to help. In some situations, it is best to help the abused transition into a different way of living by leaving the abuser through encouragement, support and unconditional love.
    In the end, God hates “sin”. Divorcees do not need to be viewed as walking in sin. If that were the case, Christ arose for no reason. I agree God hates sin/divorce. However, perhaps more focus should be placed on
    Ephesians 5:25-29.

    Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
    No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband

    • Barnabasintraining

      Hi Catherine Ann,

      My children’s ideals about religion and God are all distorted today and its not because of “divorce” My oldest son (who is now 24) told me that he would pray that his father would stop abusing me.

      In the end, God hates “sin”.

      Thank you so much for writing this. Just a few days ago I was subject to a tirade of sorts from someone who had a very very bad daddy but insisted all his problems in life were caused by his parents’ divorce rather than his father’s sin. Though he clearly outlined his fathers horrific misdeeds he still condemned his mother by implication (he said something later that clearly implied she was to share the blame with his father) because she is the one who filed — and even by his own standard she had Biblical grounds to do so — because he said the divorce was to blame, and she, of course “caused” that by filing. He is an ardent both/and at fault person. I think you can’t help being that as soon as the divorce per se is blamed for the bad fallout. I take strong issue against this and say instead that it is the fault of the offending party who abandons his or her spouse by abuse, sexual immorality/adultery, or just up and leaving for no reason who is the one to blame for the divorce, NOT the one who filed for divorce against the offender.

      I believe this guy’s issues too are not because of his parents’ divorce. In fact, I think it is blatantly obvious, based on what he said. Why this guy has turned his ire against divorce instead of against his father is beyond me. Maybe because you have to forgive people (I shouldn’t get myself started on this guy’s view of forgiveness) but you don’t have to forgive divorce. I don’t know.

      I’m sorry your children’s idea of God is distorted now. That is very hard. 😦

      • Thank you for your insight. I do believe some people struggle with taking responsibility for their own actions and lives. We all have suffered but some choose to take that suffering not as a learning lesson but as a crutch to make excuses for their own misfortunes. My children are healing and getting stronger. I do pray that they one day they lean on God. Once again-thank you for your response.

    • fiftyandfree

      Your ex husband will be dealt with (by God) for the hideous ways in which he provoked his children and lead them astray. I pray that each of your children comes to see that their Heavenly Father is nothing like their earthly father and that they will be believers one day. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    • Jeff Crippen

      CAL- This is excellent, excellent stuff you share here. Thank you. What an example of the damage done by a “church” that taught wrongly about marriage and divorce, and worked to hold victims in bondage. The Lord graciously took you through to a hard-won freedom. But how much different the outcome might have been if, as you say, the church had displayed genuine wisdom and sought righteousness and justice for you and the children.

      Let me say that God does not hate your divorce. What God hates is the willful, violent destruction of marriage vows (Malachi 2), which lies on your abuser and not upon you. In fact I would say that your final leaving and finalizing of the divorce was God’s WILL and blessing for you. Because, you see, sometimes in fact God loves divorce when it is defined as the escape of the oppressed from cruel bondage to evil.

      • Jeff-I find comfort in your words. I have released my anger, fear and resentments but not without years of soul searching and praying. I thought I would feel alone, betrayed, and criticized for the rest of my life. But, I am never alone and the only betrayel in my life today is the lies I tell myself. As far as criticism-I’m in same ball park as Jesus because he is criticized everyday and it doesn’t sway him. I find comfort in that. I would rather be sitting in the pews with the Raggamuffins than sitting in the pews with the wolves dressed in sheeps wool. I am safe. My children are safe now and I know that God has a plan for all of us. Once again-thank you for your powerful words.

      • Amy

        Yes, we are taught God hates divorce BUT I do not think God wants His children to be abused, including the children at all costs of saving ‘the marriage’. Yes, that is putting Marriage as an idol. I think there are so many more people(usually women, and speaking as one) that are probably being abused in the Church but they also are too afraid to speak up! Maybe we are all going thru this to support each other but also to speak up about the wrongs of abuse! Emotional abuse is so much harder to define and prove. It is such a relief when the abuser isn’t in your life, but my other concern is for the children who have to see abused person who puts on the facade-the kids are too young and innocent to catch onto the emotional abuse crap they pull-shoot we don’t even catch it and we are adults! Any comments on others who have kids and divorce/visitation etc or do you have to prove abuse to try and get sole custody? Mr. Nasty pulled one on me-I was ‘neglecting’ children-huh? And where is he?

      • Amy, about if ‘maybe we are all going thru this to support each other but also to speak up about the wrongs of abuse’

        As I’ve prayed and cried out and questioned my faith and God about this very thing, I’ve definitely come to believe exactly that – that at least one of the reasons he allowed me to go through this is so that I will be better able to understand and reach out to other survivors, and speak out against it more effectively because I know, and I’ve been there.

        I feel like one of my main callings in my life is to give empathy, help, hope, understanding and support to others like me, some of whom have gone through much worse things than I, but at least I have to a degree a true understanding of where they’ve been and how it might have affected them, and it gives me a much stronger sense of empathy, I think.

        The other thing I feel really strongly that God wants me to become is a voice for the voiceless, someone who can speak out on behalf of those who are hurting and silenced and oppressed, and I’m still in the process of strengthening the courage and confidence I need to become that, but it’s happening – and the deep down conviction and righteous anger against all kinds of abuse that is born of having actually gone through some forms of it makes my voice that much stronger.

        It does not make me any less angry that it happened at all, but it does make me better able to reconcile a faith in a loving God and accept that he did have a reason or at least, can use it to a good purpose. That I’ve always been meant for this, and thus been given tools and training so to speak, and tested in the fire, so I can give the best help and mightiest hope possible to people who are hurting and desperate and scared. Well, I don’t mean that God caused it to happen, but allowed the fallen state of the world to take it’s course in this instance – I’m saying this badly, but I’m sure the question of ‘why does God let bad things happen to good people’ has been addressed before on this blog. 🙂

        But anyway, there are always going to be people who need that support, even if (best case scenario) the church gets it’s act together regarding abuse and learned to watch for and prevent it, and it hypothetically hardly ever happened among Christians, there will always be non-Christians who do not even have a loving God to lean on, and are desperately in need of as bright a reflection as I can be of his all-loving, all-understanding, grace-pouring peace-giving saving healing heart.

        So maybe it is true that, at least in part, we all have gone through these things so that we can help each other and reach the lost victims and survivors who have even less hope than we. Maybe that is just wishful thinking, flawed reasoning or what have you, but it has certainly helped and strengthened me to think of it that way. Perhaps merely because it transforms me from being a passive, powerless victim into an active, capable fighter for justice. :’)

      • Kagi,
        I understand what you are saying. I absolutely see how God has changed me and given me a passion for the oppressed and abused. I wish I had come to this place differently, but I would not go back to who I was before, either. God has given me a gift of empathy and greater understanding, and I intend to use it.

      • Dear Amy, if you search under our tags for ‘Children’ and ‘Parenting’ I think you will find some threads that deal with the question of kids and divorce/visitation. It is common for abusers to accuse their partner of neglecting the children or failing to parent them properly. It’s just another false accusation they make in their long litany of accusations, and they bring it up with particular emphasis post-separation, when they are striving to abuse you via the legal system. You might also want to google the Protective Mothers Alliance.

    • Dear Catherine Anne
      welcome to the blog, and thank you for sharing your heart-wrenching story.
      Your son sounds like a fine young man in being able to articulate his pain and anguish so clearly. I’m so glad he can sheet back all the blame where it belongs: on his father. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking it must be for a protective mother and her children who are forced apart by a court having become an agent of the abuser’s malice.

      • Barbara-
        All my children struggle with trying to understand why their father is so mean. As much as I thought he was evil in our marriage, I never imagined that his evil would esculate to our children that never asked for any of the insanities. After he could no longer touch me, he started using our children as pawns and if they dare show love for me-he disowned them. Recently, my oldest daughter(who is 21) was permitted to see her baby brother(who is 16) after 8 years of no contact because my ex disowned her, my younger daughter(19) and my oldest son because they claimed that they wanted me to also be a part of their lives. She met her brother at a restuarant with her father and step-mother present. She said it was a very uncomfortable visit as she was under scrutiny. Her brother did not talk much and it was very emotional. After 8 years of lost time with her brother-she was “permitted” 2 hours. I have accepted that unless my ex makes a choice to change for the well being of his children-dissapointment and hurt will always be present in the children’s lives. As I write this, I just realize that he does not care about the well being of the children…he never has. That is what is the most painful to me. Today-God has taught me to try to focus on the “Just for today” and I do pass that onto my children when they call with their fears and saddness. we have come a long way but recovery is never final. I believe that we are all in a recovery of somewhat and the only way to find peace is to walk in faith knowing that-God is right here.
        Thank you again for your kind reply

      • Catherine, your tragic story is an example of what I call CTSD — as opposed to PTSD.
        Instead of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, what you and your kids have is Continuing-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.

        But it sounds like you are all handling it the best way you can, which testifies to your faith, God’s grace, and the incredible capacities in the human spirit (where there is an active conscience) to creatively resist oppression and adversity, by seeking to maintain dignity and personal integrity without oppressing others.

    • cindy burrell

      Hello, Catherine Ann.

      “Divorce saved my life and the lives of my children…” When I read your words, I said “Amen!”

      You are not alone. Many of us have been pressured to remain in abusive marriages – marriages that do not honor God or reflect the love relationship between our Lord and His bride, the church. Abuse makes a mockery of marriage. There is nothing godly about it.

      Now that you know the truth and are free to walk in it, I pray that you and your children find healing and a new, abuse-free life.

  7. Friend of the Oppressed

    Catherine Ann:

    It breaks my heart to hear the most evil results of abuse against mothers and children, the destruction of a child’s faith. I cannot understand the full weight of your pain. But the faith of my children was also murdered at the alter of their abusive father, a seminary trained man who wears a woolen sheep’s suit to cover his pointy wolf ears. Their faith also destroyed by a church in its cold orthodoxy without love. My oldest daughter is married and lives a destructive, reckless life. It breaks my heart to see my son’s dog-tag is stamped with “atheist” as he goes into harms way. And my youngest daughter also claims to be agnostic.

    One hypocrisy in “marriage at all costs” is that the conservative church preaches “sanctity of life for the unborn child and for the elderly.” But the life of husbands, wives and children outside the womb in abusive marriages are coerced sacrifices in homage to the idol of church authority, the idol of submission, and the idol of marriage.

    Your example of faith is an encouragement to me, Catherine Ann. May God’s lovingkindness shelter you in the Shadow of His Wings!

    • Mary-
      I equally feel for you and your children. It’s so hard to not want to take them by the hand when they were little knowing that they were close by…to be able to soothe them by looking under the bed or in the closet to ensure there was no monster..but most of all, to be able to pick them up as they wrap their litle legs around our waists, and rest their tiny heads on our shoulders as we pull them close.
      I understand your pain.
      I do agree that some churches lose site of what God is really trying to tell us. I know of many wonderful churches that do teach God’s word. They offer wonderful programs for different family challenges. But, I have alos learned that “abusers”, “control freaks”, and “power-hungry persons” tend to find churches that enable their behaivors and choices. My ex husbands father has been an elder to several different Church of Christ’s but not because he was respected. He was an elder several times because when he would show his anger to the clergy and church members, and they would ask him to step down from his role. Hence, he would get angry, leave and find another church to attend. He has been an elder 4 times to 4 different churches.
      Mary-your prayer uplifts me. May God also take you and your kids by the hand, protect you from monsters, and hold you tight as you rest your head on His shoulder.
      God Bless-Catherine

    • Barnabasintraining

      One hypocrisy in “marriage at all costs” is that the conservative church preaches “sanctity of life for the unborn child and for the elderly.” But the life of husbands, wives and children outside the womb in abusive marriages are coerced sacrifices in homage to the idol of church authority, the idol of submission, and the idol of marriage.

      Yes!!!!!! 😦

  8. Mary Lloyd

    If the abuser is embraced by the church leaders at the expense of the victim, on the grounds that “God hates divorce” as we have heard so often, then they have become abusers themselves also and should be treated as such.
    Paul tells us clearly (and prophetically) to get with the times here, as follows:
    2 Tim 3:1″But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
    2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
    3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,
    4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
    5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.
    And from such people turn away!”
    I see abusers of all kinds written in these words, and since Paul is addressing the church, he is telling us what we should do about them, that we should turn away, in other words, reject them. I do not see this in church programmes like the above, but rather a kind of denial that permits the continuance of abuse under the cruel lie that God would rather see His children beaten and broken by evil partners than allow them the freedom to reject them, as Paul admonishes.
    Perhaps if we were feeling stronger we might have had the courage to point out that we are personally living in such “perilous times” as Paul describes, being in receipt of all of the behaviours listed, and that we require the church leadership to act as Paul commanded, and if not, why not?
    I feel very angry on your behalf Catherine-Ann. God bless you, I pray the children will come to know the love of God as you have, and through it will see the wordless and priceless lessons you have taught them from your tender broken heart.
    You said this: Abusers don’t stop abusing when you decide to leave. Their anger is ignited and they will use whatever they can to hurt you and in their hate, they will use the children. I agree. It is what we all fear and what keeps us quiet for so long. Abusers cannot change their warped personality. Separation from the effects of a warped personality is the safest thing for us, whatever shape that may take.
    My husband is not physically violent, but verbally cruel and horrible to me if things do not go according to his plan. He has been having multiple homosexual affairs and manipulates me to provide his cover. This makes it a kind of peace in appearances only, since I have been miserable with him for such a long time, and fearful of repercussions of getting out. At the moment I feel I do not want to let him take any more from me than he already has, and I know that he will charm everyone and do just that if I divorce him without preparing myself first. In my heart I have already separated from him: he no longer has my love. This means I can think more clearly, and God being on my side I know is preparing my escape. May the Lord restore all the years the locust has eaten, for all of us here.

    • Anonymous

      What I have seen, is that they want to win the abuser to Christ, instead of obeying God and doing as Paul here commands. They have it backwards. They have failed to obey God’s Word in dealing with the sin of abuse. We see today, people committing sexual immorality, actually being defended by the “c”hurch, instead of those people being tossed, which is what God commands be done with them. Then, if they come to true repentance, let them back in. Instead, it is all twisted on it’s head and the true Church is left reeling because of the disobedience of the leadership.

      Nothing wrong with desiring someone’s Salvation, I think all Christian victims have prayed for their abuser’s Salvation, usually for many, many years, because they believed he would stop abusing if he were to be saved, and also recognized their need for Christ.

      But let’s let God be God. We’ve said it before on this blog – show me just a handful of cases where there was ever actually true and lasting repentance on the part of the abuser – but the answer is always the same. There are not even a handful of them. Are we left then to think that God is so weak or that our faith in Him is so small? No, we are left then to realize that God is mighty to deliver from abuse and oppression and that He made us, as the victims in such marriages, aware of His will in the matter, that being that He did not want those false and ungodly marriages saved.

    • Mary Lloyd-I am so sorry that you are facing this horrible pain. I cannot say that I understand the dynamics of your “everydays” but I do understand what heartbreak and severe dissapointment feels like. We all have a story and although the dynamics to our stories are different there is one common thread-heartache. I pray you can walk into the sunshine, with your head held high knowing you did the best you could. I pray that in your plot to make sure you walk away protected, that you walk away knowing that no matter what-you are not alone. But, for all of us, I pray that the loctus migrate away from our beaten down souls and that butterflies consume our everydays ever after. God bless you Mary.

  9. Now Free

    Jeff, I have not had any experience with their “Choosing Wisely” programme. I had posted previously about DivorceCare and that I chose to drop out very early in the series because of their covert but definite minimization of abuse. I recall a poster mentioning that the local facilitator of the series would put their own positive spin and apparently negate the minimization, so I suppose that can happen.

    When all is said though, I would say to any victim who is contemplating DivorceCare to “Beware”.

  10. Tersia

    I was also just thinking while talking to my cousin, if these men that are so abusive were brought up that way, are we to just bear and grin and let the cycle of abuse continue? No, I believe that somewhere we need to put a stop to it. No wonder this world is getting worse and worse because these kids are raised in abusive families and the mom in this case is told she cannot do anything but live through the abuse. And the church is feeding this cycle abusive behavior. Many times the abusive party does not show the abuse till a few into the marriage, so many times we think this person is so great but in the mean time they are just acting and not showing their true self. I have one more month before I can put all this behind me and I have never felt more relieved and happy.

    • Anonymous

      Tersia – glad for you, that you are feeling so relieved and happy. Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why Does He Do That”, addresses the issues of whether men abuse because they were abused. His answer is something like this. Men who were abused as children, can grow up to abuse, but it is not because they were abused as children, it is because they were either taught or caught the mentality of entitlement, power and control. This makes perfect sense, when you look at all the men and women who were abused as children, who do not abuse. Very good read and I learned a lot from reading it, although I cannot say that I have even yet read every page as thoroughly as I probably should have!

    • Tersia-I pray that your transition in one more month is a easy, safe, freeing one. No one should ever live with abuse-EVER. May God hold your hand on your new journey…I am very happy that you taking a stance to freedom. Many blessings~Catherine

  11. Jeff:

    Thank you for your very thoughtful post.

    As the creator of DivorceCare and Choosing Wisely, I would like to add some perspective and clarification.

    I’m very to troubled to hear of the painful experience described in your original post. Choosing Wisely is, by necessity, a “general use” program. It educates couples on the impact and effects of divorce. The goal is to present a realistic picture of what follows the decision to divorce. Because there are so many potential reasons behind a marriage breakup, it cannot deal in depth the root causes of the crisis (there are too many!) That requires the personal involvement of a pastor or counselor who can get to know the couple and the issues they face.

    When used properly, a counselor, pastor or mature layperson will take the core curriculum and tailor the program to reflect the circumstances surrounding a couple’s marriage crisis. The content of the Choosing Wisely program does not, in any manner, attempt to condone or promote sustained abuse. It would be an inappropriate use of the Choosing Wisely materials to put a spouse (and/or children) at continued risk. Our goal is to promote healing of the marriage when possible through compassionate and loving interaction. A brute-force approach would be inappropriate and hurtful.

    As one of your earlier posters noted, DivoreCare is now in its third edition and we continue to refine and improve the materials. Significant attention is given to the issue of abuse. Group members are encouraged to seek immediate safety if they feel they are in danger. I believe that someone dealing with an abusive marriage would find that the DivorceCare materials reflect an understanding of what they are dealing with and offers practical advice on how to respond to the crisis they are facing. Most of all, they would find encouragement and support of others who are facing similar circumstances.

    Abuse is epidemic and my heart goes out to those who are victims of this awful sin.

    God bless,

    Steve Grissom
    Founder
    DivorceCare/Church Initiative

    • Hello Steve, thank you for your comment and for joining this discussion.
      I have not participated in any Divorce Care programs myself, so my thoughts are only based on what I have heard about it from people who have participated in DC programs. Having said that, I would like to respond to your comment.

      Choosing Wisely is, by necessity, a “general use” program. It educates couples on the impact and effects of divorce. The goal is to present a realistic picture of what follows the decision to divorce.

      In educating couples on the impact and effects of divorce, does Choosing Wisely say that divorce can be beneficial and sometimes/often the best option in cases of domestic abuse? (We at A Cry For Justice believe that is indeed the case: divorce is often better than remaining married to an abuser.)
      Does it give any examples or case studies of marriages where one spouse was exercising power and control with an attitude of entitlement, and thereby chronically intimidating and hurting and eroding the well-being of the other spouse?
      Does it talk about the effects on children in such scenarios?
      Does it talk about how children are often better off after divorce than before, in such cases?
      Does it help leaders and participants identify whether or not abuse is going on?
      Does it explain that abuse does not have to involve any physical violence at all?
      Does it specify that abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, social, sexual, spiritual, systemic (using the legal or health systems to abuse the victim) and using the children as conduits of abuse?
      Does it teach participants that couple counseling is contra-indicated in cases of domestic abuse?

      Because there are so many potential reasons behind a marriage breakup, it cannot deal in depth the root causes of the crisis (there are too many!) That requires the personal involvement of a pastor or counselor who can get to know the couple and the issues they face.

      I agree with you that a generic program such as yours may not be able to deal in depth with the root causes of the marital crisis. But I would like to put to you that a generic program will be failing in its duty of care unless it warns users (both leaders and participants) that being a generic program it may not able to address domestic abuse cases adequately. I would say that unless a program such as Divorce Care gives strong caveats and warnings about its possible inadequacy for addressing domestic abuse, it is going to inadvertently do harm to some of its users.

      Specifically, I suggest that a program like Divorce Care ought to state that it does not train local leaders of the program in how to screen for domestic abuse, not in or how to adapt the program to cases of domestic abuse.

      I would also suggest that in the present climate of widespread ignorance and misinformation in Christian circles about the dynamics of domestic abuse and the mentality of abusers, a program like Divorce Care ought to advise its users that many Christian counselors and agencies which purport to understand domestic abuse may not in fact understand domestic abuse very well, so people would be well advised to be cautious in choosing where to go for help, and that it is possible that some secular agencies may be more wise on domestic abuse than Christian agencies. (At A Cry For Justice we have found this to be the case from many reports from the victim-survivors who come to this blog. I (Barbara) have also heard or read of many other instances where Christian help was far worse than secular help, when it came to domestic abuse. Would that this were not so, but we need to face the current reality, in my opinion.)

      The content of the Choosing Wisely program does not, in any manner, attempt to condone or promote sustained abuse. It would be an inappropriate use of the Choosing Wisely materials to put a spouse (and/or children) at continued risk.

      I am quite ready to believe that the content of the Choosing Wisely program does not condone or promote sustained abuse. However, I am concerned that the program may not give enough attention to the kinds of sustained abuse that are not sustained physical violence. We have had countless readers on this blog tell us that “He never hit me so I never thought it was abuse!” Or, “He only hit/shoved/pushed me once, so I never thought it was abuse!” You can give infinite variation to the phraseology of that sentence; the point is that most victims of abuse, even when the abuse includes repeated physical violence, find it very very hard to realise “I am a victim of abuse!” So for a program like DC to meet even basic duty of care to its users, it needs to give a fair bit of attention to What Abuse Is and all the different ways it can manifest, and the serious risks of remaining in an abusive marriage even when the abuse is not physical. Does Divorce Care do this? I have the impression it does not.

      Our goal is to promote healing of the marriage when possible through compassionate and loving interaction

      Steve, I hope I am not being too critical, but that sentence may point to a fundamental problem in the Divorce Care program. If the foremost goal is to promote healing of the marriage where possible, then the question is, how secondary is the healing of the individual? Is the marriage the priority, rather than the individual’s safety and wellbeing? I guess you would say that ‘when possible’ means that sometimes it is not possible to heal the marriage. But my question is, does healing of the marriage only cease to be the goal where there is sustained physical violence? What is or is not a deal breaker? How do people decide when healing of the marriage is impossible? How does Divorce Care help them decide? What guidelines does it give them for when to recognise that healing of the marriage is not possible? And perhaps most importantly, how does Divorce Care actively guard against abusers manipulating the leaders or mentors in the program to pressure the victim into unwise reconciliation?

      we continue to refine and improve the materials. Significant attention is given to the issue of abuse.
      . . . Abuse is epidemic and my heart goes out to those who are victims of this awful sin.

      I am glad your aim is to continue to refine and improve the Divorce Care materials. I trust that your materials are helpful to many and can be made increasingly helpful as you continue to take on board feedback from people such as myself. Since you agree that abuse is epidemic, I’m sure you will give serious consideration to my feedback and questions, and will use them to continue to improve your materials. If you ever wish to contact me or Jeff Crippen by email, we are quite open to that as well.
      Kind regards
      Barb

  12. Barbara:

    Yes, the Choosing Wisely leader’s material offers some guidance for dealing with abuse situations. That said, it’s unlikely that we go into the depth you would desire. To do so would require us to create a separate curriculum focused entirely on the issues and questions you delineated in your response.

    I understand and respect the focus of A Cry For Justice. You are doing an important work in sensitizing church leadership to abuse issues.

    I would encourage you, however, to be cautious in how you evaluate and publicly critique other ministries, especially when you are responding to second-hand information. You can inadvertently diminish the work of effective ministries that share some of the same passion and vision you have.

    Abuse is an important part of what we deal with in DivorceCare, but it is part of a larger body of information covering a wide range of divorce topics (many of which also could benefit from a much deeper treatment).

    My heart breaks for the victims of abuse, and we try to help them with care and sensitivity within the DivorceCare program. I also understand that a program like DivorceCare is only part of the solution and the pain of abuse needs individual care. Local DivorceCare groups often maintain a list of qualified and specialized counselors who can help people who have needs beyond the general scope and design of the DivorceCare program.

    So … I think we are on the same team but playing different positions. Let’s be friends.

    Blessings

    Steve Grissom
    Founder
    DivorceCare/Church Initiative

    • Steve you said : “I would encourage you, however, to be cautious in how you evaluate and publicly critique other ministries, especially when you are responding to second-hand information. You can inadvertently diminish the work of effective ministries that share some of the same passion and vision you have.”
      I don’t think this is a concern. How would anything said here “diminish the work of effective ministries” ? If anything, someone who is scared of their spouse and possibly going to a DivorceCare class, can google it and perhaps read these discussions – and save themselves some unnecessary trauma. How would that be bad?
      And for some of us your response is a bit of a trigger because horrendous crimes have been covered up by big ministries (like Sovereign Grace!) all in the name of “protecting effective ministries” !
      So while we may be on the same side, surely you can see that this sort of critique is helpful and good for those who need it. Choosing Wisely is not an appropriate program for marriages that include abuse. There is no harm in saying this.

    • the Choosing Wisely leader’s material offers some guidance for dealing with abuse situations.

      Steve, I think it would be helpful if you would tell our readers what exactly IS that guidance that you offer leaders for dealing with abuse situations.

      And in saying that your material offers guidance for leaders, I guess that indicates that your material does not offer guidance for participants who may be dealing with abuse. Could you tell me whether my guess is correct?

      If you could clarify those two things for me, I would be more able to discern whether or not we ‘are on the same team’ as you put it.

      And another point: I looked at the seminar experts that you list on your website. I see two authors that, going by what readers on this blog and other victim-survivors have told me, have been helpful in dealing with domestic abuse and related issues of Christian maturity and Christian living. One of those authors is Leslie Vernick, the other is Elyse Fitzpatrick. Of those two, I know for sure that Vernick’s work deals directly with emotional abuse; I am not sure how much Fitzpatrick’s work addresses abuse directly. I also know that another of your ‘experts’, Craig Keener, whose book And Marries Another says that abuse is grounds for divorce (this I agree with) is rarely mentioned by survivors of abuse as an author they found particularly helpful in their plight.
      Furthermore, I see that while many of the ‘experts’ on your list say they have been divorced, and a few say their marriages had problems of porn or adultery, not one of them say the ‘abuse’ word. Not one says “I am a survivor of domestic abuse.” Why not, I have to ask? If any of these divorced people have personal experience of domestic abuse, why not say so? Is this because not one of your experts has that personal experience? And if that’s the case, why don’t you have any survivors of abuse on your list? And if some of them are survivors of abuse, why not say so? It seems to me like another example of Don’t mention the elephant in the room. Abuse victims are tired of being marginalized and made invisible. They are tired of being made to feel odd, unusual, weird, uncommon . . . and very alone — like they are the only person this has happened to.

      I could give you example after example of resources on marriage and divorce which mention abuse only in a footnote or a parenthesis or a small throw away paragraph buried somewhere near the end of the text. Your list of experts gives a similar impression, except there isn’t even one mention of the “A” word. Isn’t it time to stop marginalizing the issue of domestic abuse?

      • Anonymous

        Amen, Barb. I am curious as to how your questions will be answered.

        Steve, my question to you is this. If you do deal with abuse issues in marriage, are all of the counselors who use your program, trained to give the same counsel? Or, is it that left up to each individual counselor, to counsel people depending on how they feel personally about divorce. For example, one person will go to one DivorceCare group and hear that even though they are the victim of domestic abuse, they should stay with their abuser and work things out, and that God would never permit divorce in their situation, and if they drove 20 miles down the road to another DivorceCare class, they would hear that abuse is not to be tolerated and that the victim divorcing her/his abuser is given support, comfort and assurance that what she/he is doing, is within the bounds of what Scripture allows in the case of divorce?

      • Anonymous

        Insert crickets chirping, as I wait and wonder if our questions will be answered…

    • Steve,
      My sample size is one when it comes to DivorceCare. A woman I knew said it was not a good program for her as an abuse survivor. However, she had WONDERFUL things to say about the DivorceCare for kids program.

      Her kids really went through the ringer (he initially got full custody), so it’s been huge for her to have that program and that it has helped so much.

      Jeff

  13. It is funny Barbara that this discussion is happening today because I just had a conversation with another Christian who is struggling with divorce. And he was shocked when I said “it’s not about divorce itself. It’s about the reasons WHY.” earth moving! because that’s where the truth lies! And our Lord and savior knew it. sometimes divorce is RIGHT and JUST or at the very least ACCEPTABLE (thinking of those cases where someone can’t forgive adultery well enough for reconciliation — but some couples are able to survive adultery) and sometimes it is WRONG. But it all depends on the WHY!!

  14. I am a counselor at a church that has been using DivorceCare for years. I think it is a good program, in general, and has helped many people heal. I am sad to find that some people come away from it feeling that they should stay with an abuser. I don’t agree with that and I know my church doesn’t agree with that perspective either. I have not facilitated it myself. I have coordinated a children’s divorce and grief recovery program called Growing Seasons, so I have worked with the DivorceCare facilitators. I do not believe we have ever used the Choosing Wisely program. Because every situation is different, I believe one on one counseling would be a better choice

  15. Mary Lloyd

    Hi Steve, Barb and all, fantastic discussion and well needed! I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be among people who understand what abuse is. To me the psychological effect of concentrating on marriage/divorce issues when there is an abuse problem is like the church sticking its fingers in its ears and going “lalalalalalala we can’t hear you”. We need to be heard, and in being heard we need to be loved and nurtured and empowered to act way before we want to discuss divorce avoidance strategies. Our hearts are already broken in bits having to acknowledge that our spouses are abusing us, without the added implication that we will be doing something wrong if we divorce. No doubt, all of us who have been abused are already grieving and in pain over the loss of our marriages when we realised that it was all a lie. In my case I am still with my husband, but I am there because for now I am trapped, not because I want to be. The marriage was properly over when I finally put that label “abuse” on what was done to me.
    You see, I am not strong enough to stand up against my husband and tell him “you cannot do this to me any more”. I need help for that. I don’t need someone to dissipate the assistance by changing the subject and making it a divorce issue. It is a broken-heart-by-torture issue and I am already miserable. It feels like further torture when the implication, overtly or covertly is, “by the way, you will be disobeying God if you divorce”.
    What I feel is needed is some kind of radical action by the church on behalf of the abused. Perhaps a different programme offering total confidentiality but at the same time a strict no-tolerance attitude to abuse, whether committed by pastors or leadership teams, or anyone else within the borders of the congregation.
    I haven’t even begun to tell the trouble I had in my last church when they ganged up on me and made me leave, because I complained about an elder who made a pass at me. To my knowledge I haven’t got “please abuse me” written on my forehead for all to take advantage of. But I am left with some bad experiences that show without a doubt how ungodly and ill equipped church teams can be when required to stand up for what is right.
    At the bottom of inappropriate ministry I think are inappropriate priorities. “What if it gets out that our church is full of divorcees” is an inappropriate priority for divorce counselling; “what if we lose congregation members because we have helped the lowly at the expense of the great” is another inappropriate priority. Read the Good Samaritan story. We are the ones beaten and broken and kicked to the side of the road, ignored by the squeaky-clean religious passers-by who didn’t want to get their clothes dirty helping us. We are the ones Jesus told us to help. So help us.

  16. Heather 2

    In reading all of the replies and comments in this thread I am more convinced than ever that each situation must be taken individually. One size does not fit all. Each of us have some similarities in our experiences but they are not a perfect fit. What I find so exasperating is that divorce seems to be considered the “unpardonable sin.” While many divorces seem to happen without serious consideration many are extremely serious. The only people who truly understand the dynamics are those intimately involved.

    Churches which preach no divorce except for adultery and abandonment are the very same ones who extend no mercy or grace to a woman who leaves. Their definitions of adultery and abandonment are weak and inconsistent. They lay an extremely heavy burden on the victims by manipulating them to stay and work on their relationship with their abusers. They become part of the problem, not the solution.

    I’m so tired of it and have begun to believe that these churches are snake pits for victims of abuse. In my opinion, victims need to dust their feet off and walk away from such harmful environments. In my own life I have found unbelievers who have more compassion and understanding to my plight than those who I considered my Christian friends. Talk about upending my world view!

    I don’t know much about Divorce Care but it seems to me that it isn’t designed for abuse.

    • Forrest

      You hit the nail on the head with that, Heather2. Such programmes are not designed to deal with abuse. What seems to be missing often is a prior assessment of the particular circumstances. Too often, there is an immediate pressure to go through some form of couple counselling without regard to the specifics, ie the reasons why there is a problem. Those affected by a divorce can often just want it “fixed” because of the effect on them. They may not be considering that one of the parties involved may not be who they portray themselves to be.

  17. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    My thoughts on Divorce Care. I loved Loren’s thoughtful comments from actually using it. So needed. I would like to see Steve answer more and yes, hearing crickets 🙂 . I have a good friend who was in an abusive marriage and she and her wonderful second husband head up a Divorce Care group and they love it. I really wish I could have gotten my kids in one around my area. My one, personal issue with them, was that when I called locally from the recommendation of my friend. I only had a pick-up and so my driving with kids involved driving two the place, going back and getting the other two so we stayed very close to home and trying to explain this to Divorce Care, she said I could not just join in the middle of the fall when I had had a chance to get batter car arrangements. She thought it was better that I spend an hour getting kids there and an hour getting them home. Add to that she had nothing set up if my ex-idiot showed up in the regular meetings. She just expected him to act like an adult and be respectful. ( which we all know wouldn’t happen)

  18. cindy burrell

    I attended a local DivorceCare support group with the intent of being a support to those going through separation or divorce. A couple of weeks in, the lead facilitator approached me (since I was already healed from my divorce) and asked me why I was there. As the weeks passed, it became clear that I was under the facilitators’ scrutiny. I was an unknown quantity, a threat to their little clique. It was weird.

    I said very little during those meetings, realizing that discourse was to be highly controlled, and the church script was not to be debated. But I did at one point state that it takes two people to make a marriage and only one person to destroy it. The women in attendance were validated by it, but none of the facilitators supported me. At another meeting, one woman who was clearly in an abusive marriage (which none of the facilitators was willing to identify) was told by a facilitator, “We know that it’s not God’s will for you to get a divorce.” I said nothing at that point, although I wanted to explode. If I had contested the facilitator in that moment, I would have surely been ousted.

    After the final meeting, one woman going through divorce approached me (and no one else) in the presence of everyone and said that she was so glad I had been there, that she felt I had a great deal of wisdom to share with women in her situation and that she had hung on my every word. So I know I had had an impact at some level.

    Before leaving, I approached the facilitators, conveyed my appreciation for being allowed to participate and expressed my interest in returning when they began the series again. The lead facilitator curtly said to me, “We’ll have to discuss it with the pastor. You’re not a facilitator.” So I sought a meeting with the pastor, which was denied. Instead, I was asked not to return. The lead facilitator specifically condemned me for shaking my head at one point during the video about divorce. (No head-shaking is allowed, I guess.)

    I was hurt and angry. But I heard the Spirit say, “Shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them…”

    The sad thing is I went to DivorceCare with a desire to serve and a belief that we are all on the same team. While I do not agree with some of the principles DivorceCare espouses, you might think there would be a little room for biblical discussion or debate. But apparently there isn’t.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Cindy.
      In my own experience, the path of a victim-survivor who wants to be an advocate and supporter for other victim-survivors, is littered with road-blocks and put-downs like the ones you experienced in that group.

      Facilitors of groups and ministries for divorcees (and for abuse survivors) ought to welcome it when they see a survivor who clearly wants to help and advocate for others. Sometimes survivors (in my observation) try to do this without having read or recovered enough themselves and they may make the mistake of assuming that every other survivor has been through the exact same feelings and experiences as they have. But even so, if the group facilitators were good at their stuff, they would be able to coach the person to help them become a better supporter and advocate for others. But instead what usually happens is that they try to crush them. I think they do this from jealousy, of from insecurity about their own power base and authority being encroached on or disputed.

      If only they would listen to our feedback!

  19. Charis

    I think it largely depends on the group, the church, the facilitators and the version of DivorceCare they are using. What I mean is this – the experiences listed here seem to fall in the same grade as many of the other “christianized” self-help groups: CR or LifeGroup or other formulaic entities where material is generated en-mass and distributed as templates. These groups are the same in theory yet vary in personality.

    I did not care for CR at all, it was a miserable place/experience – playing at being AA/NA/SA for the “christian” community yet adding layers of steps whilst “christianizing” the already well-known 12 Steps of AA. LifeGroup, while beneficial for their work on grieving, also has its peculiarities with certain rules and further modifies the 12 steps to fit their “christianized” model of grieving/recovery.

    I might also point out that where these types of groups fail in quality as compared to their secular 12-step cousins (AA, SA, NA, etc) is that the public forums are largely the same – it doesn’t matter where you attend or at what step you begin or how many days/years you’ve been attending. They have the formula nailed down and are much more open-minded and less judgemental than their “christianized” cousins. This also lends them transparency if not authenticity. So, no matter where or when you “drop in” – you feel instantly accepted and “at home” – it is a familiar place even if all the faces are different. It has been my experience that whenever I have attended a “christianized” step study – I have the feeling of being slightly off-balance and outside. Strangely, this seems backwards to me. I prefer the secular group.

    DivorceCare, however; was a positive experience for me. Perhaps it was because we were using the most recent release of material – the one with plenty of footage by Leslie Vernick and a couple other noted individuals who have written about abuse. Perhaps it was because I was not shy about speaking up/advocating toward abuse & my personal journey. Perhaps it was because I walked into it with my eyes open toward the potential “hazards” of attending – and so protected myself emotionally. Perhaps it was because I found my facilitator a willing audience, eager to learn more about abuse – and in that, I thank God for listening ears, a ready voice and soft heart. Perhaps it was because there were so many women there raw from abuse who needed to see the curtain pulled back and the fog revealed for what it truly was – abuse. Perhaps it was because I was a little farther down the path of healing than most attendees and was in a place to help rather than be helped in that particular moment.

    That’s not to say DivorceCare was perfect or that there is no room for improvement or that it was without triggers. I left them a detailed review at the end of the program, including a recommendation that abuse be more thoroughly addressed directly by the facilitators and – that careful thought be given to segregate the class. It was very triggering to be placed at tables for small group discussion in mixed company – knowing that this is exactly what my exh would be doing, saying, earning allies and playing the victim. I had zero trust, compassion, empathy for what the men at my table shared. And I had no ability to see past my own wounds to give them the benefit of the doubt. While on the one hand, I feel bad about that – I also recognize it marks where I was in my healing and the work I have left to do. Or perhaps I have learned to recognize a con when I meet one.

    I may not have gained personal healing or knowledge from attending DivorceCare. What I did gain was a sense of community. Local community – and that was tremendously valuable to me. I also hope (and pray) the information I shared and the document I left in the hands of the facilitator is changing the way THAT particular group is functioning today – raising awareness about abuse.

  20. sheisovercoming

    For some there is protection and support after leaving and divorce and it can get better. But for some, it gets worse. They watch their children’s lives be destroyed. For me, my child as a teen stood up for me and was completely condemned for doing so and for making himself the center (other’s words). EVERYONE he went to told him it was a matter between a husband and a wife, and it wasn’t anyone else’s place to do anything. It did not matter if it was his parents, what kind of pastoral counselor, etc. Every single one told him the same thing. And that he was dishonoring his father.

    So he now believes that abuse is between a man and a woman, that the multiple adulteries are to be overlooked, that even the abuse of his sibling and himself which is ongoing are normal behavior. His wife and their children are now being abused by my ex. I watch as it goes forward into another generation. Sometimes it goes out like a tidal wave. Because of this, he has no relationship with God, me, or his sibling, and does not allow me or his sibling to have a relationship with his family. No, it does not always get better.

  21. Debby

    I am currently in the process of divorce (after 3 decades of emotional, spiritual abuse) a long time reader and commenter on ACFJ (well, 4 years, if that’s “long term!) and halfway through Divorce Care. I was ready to red flag it [Divorce Care] totally until I read Loren Haas’ post. I understand that the video series is used in the most patriarchal of churches so it is designed for the “weakest link.” However, it seems prudent, if you really want to support, help the oppressed and effect change, that continuing to propagate untruth to a group of hurting, vulnerable people isn’t the way to go. But I do agree that the specific CHURCH that provides the program is the key.

    The week of “biblical grounds for divorce” [in the D.C program] would have absolutely crushed me even a year ago. But what I noticed is that my group and my group leader have really softened that blow, really didn’t even address it much as so many in our group did NOT fall under those parameters yet having heard our stories, everyone in their heart of hearts would think it crazy to continue in a relationship with their spouses. They have been so supportive even though my divorce (no cheating, no beating) doesn’t fall under the very limited parameters laid out in the video. It has also been a great opportunity (since I practically have a PhD in abuse and the church, thanks to ACFJ other sites) to share other information and perspectives on scripture with my group.

    It is so ridiculous for the church to hang their hats on “Only a person whose spouse has slept with another person can file for divorce and God won’t be “mad at them.” So everyone in the room who that had happened to or whose spouse filed on them and they had no say, gets to breathe a big sigh of relief. Those of us married to abusers who are stellar church goers, bible readers, and wouldn’t dare think of cheating bc they are moral legalists, but don’t consider “controlling his wife and kids by any means” morally repugnant, when we finally file after years of abuse and developing C-PTSD because of the ongoing daily trauma, God is looking down and he is “mad at me?” That is not the heart of God. So instead of twisting God into some legalistic personal belief or ideology about divorce, perpetrated by those YOU have “learned from” and continuing the false narrative, how about considering, hmmm, maybe there is more to this that I don’t understand because it certainly doesn’t feel right or sound right so maybe I need to look at other information from another perspective and see if that makes more sense because my gut is telling me this isn’t right and God put that “gut instinct” there for a reason.

    It’s interesting that the video also includes, emphatically, divorce on grounds of physical abuse, they mention physical abuse several times. So I ask you, why physical abuse? The bible (English translation from Hebrew and Greek) doesn’t SAY that. So why select that as the thing you are going to “add” when your version of scripture doesn’t say that? Because any logical, caring person who reflects the heart of God can say, “I cannot in good conscience, tell a person to return to that.” So bc they are willing to “add” something they can’t back up with their limited take on scripture, because it makes them feel awful in their gut to NOT add it, I can only surmise that they are clueless on the deep damage that other types of abuse do to a person.

    I am so grateful for the carefully laid out exegesis of scripture that ACFJ and some of your guests have provided. I am finishing out the program, because I am strong enough, healthy enough and educated enough to take the good and leave the bad, and I want to be there to give another perspective to my group members. But overall, this is NOT a program that I recommend for those who have been beaten down by abuse. It is just one more false guilt laid on them and they have had enough of that to last a thousand lifetimes.

    • Thanks Debby

      as you will see, I added paragraph breaks to your comment. If you add paragraph breaks yourself, when composing the comment, it would help us in our work of moderating the blog. Double-line paragraph breaks are best. People often don’t want to read a dense block of text that has no white space in it.

      • Debby

        Hi Barbara, thanks! Every time I hit return, it publishes it from that point. How do I make a paragraph? Shoot, maybe that is only on facebook! Im so sorry!

        It seems to work on replies so I think I was just used to how facebook works. Won’t happen again!

      • Yeah, many people make that mistake because Facebook has trained them to never hit the return button!

        One of the many reasons I hate Facebook…

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