A Cry For Justice

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

Pt 1. CCEF’s ‘Counseling Abusive Marriages’ course — bread mixed with stones?

The God of truth, justice and wisdom doesn’t want His children fed bread mixed with stones.  CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) is offering a new course in 2015: Counseling Abusive Marriages. It starts running quite soon: Jan 29th. Their announcement encourages pastors and Christian counselors and others who might deal with cases of abuse in marriage to take this training. CCEF has a widespread influence in the church through its annual conferences, counseling ministry, school of biblical counseling, and its writing and publishing ministry (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, book publishing). We at ACFJ appreciate the fact that CCEF is addressing abuse in this new course. However, as outlined in this post series, we have some very serious concerns about the course content.  

My information about the course come from the Course Description and from CCEF’s blog interview with Darby Strickland, the course instructor. Transcriptions of these two documents are in blue. My comments and scripture quotations are interspersed in black. I’ve added some paragraph breaks in the course description for ease of reading.

The Course Description begins: Shockingly, abuse occurs in one quarter of all marriages. From my understanding of the statistics, the ‘one in four’ refers to the studies which show that one in four women, at some point in their lifetime, experience abuse from an intimate partner. This is not the same as saying that abuse is currently happening in one in four marriages right now. Nor is it the same as saying that one in four marriages will have abuse occurring at some time during the duration of that marriage. Be careful with statistics. However, it’s good to alert the church to the fact that abuse is much more prevalent in marriages than many people think it is.

Fueling these dynamics are distorted and dangerous beliefs that require us to have a distinctive counseling approach. True; if counseling is given in cases of abuse, it needs to be very different from the counseling that is given in other situations. But let’s think about this idea of ‘fueling’ a bit more. Who is doing the fueling? Where is the subject, the agent of the verb “fueling”? It’s invisible. That’s a red flag. Side note: I’m going to closely dissect some of the words used in this course announcement. The reason I do this is that when anyone writes or speaks words which they claim state truth about abuse, abusers, and abuse victims, they must give very, very careful attention to what they say or write. Why? Because there is an ever present danger that poorly chosen words will add guilt and pain to victims who read them, and enabling power to abusers who find them.  

The organization G.R.A.C.E. recently talked about this phenomenon in their report on BJU’s handling of sexual abuse (p. 46). As you read this screen shot, please bear in mind that what G.R.A.C.E. says about sexual abuse applies just as much to domestic abuse. But first, a cartoon that explains it pretty well:

Canary in coal mine means something

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 7.48.31 PM

I am a survivor of domestic abuse and I’ve heard the stories of countless other survivors. We survivors are the canaries in the coal mine; we are able to detect toxic messages of victim-blame way before those who have not experienced abuse are able to detect them. It’s not haughty of me to say that, it’s just a fact. And it’s why counselors and church leaders need to listen much more attentively to feedback from survivors of abuse, especially when the survivors’ feedback is “Ouch! What you’re saying is hurtful to victims!” I detect toxic attitudes in this CCEF course. And I’m going to show the non-abused reader how and why I detect them. So dear reader, if in reading this analysis of mine you start to think that I’m doing what Gandalf did when Bilbo Baggins greeted him with “good morning” —

“Mr. Baggins, do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

then please know that I am not being a Gandalf here. I’m not being too “close.” I am going to demonstrate that CCEF has not done a good job in choosing their words, at best. And as we go through the CCEF material, you will have a chance to see for yourself whether my close reading was worthwhile, and whether there is something deeply troubling about the way CCEF views abuse, abusers and victims. Their course description says: Fueling these dynamics are distorted and dangerous beliefs that require us to have a distinctive counseling approach. Who is doing the fueling? What or who is the subject of the verb “fueling”? Is it ‘the marriage’ that is fueling the distorted and dangerous beliefs? A surface reading would suggest so. But marriage is an abstract noun, not an agent. Marriage means two individuals, and in domestic abuse, one of them is an abuser and one of them is a victim. If we are to understand that the individuals in the marriage are doing the fueling, then the implication of this course description is, both are doing it. Now, without doubt, abusers have distorted beliefs: they believe they are entitled to exercise unholy power and control over others. But because the agent and author of the fueling is left vague here, the agency — the responsibility and guilt — of the abuser is made invisible. And the victim is implicitly tarred with the same brush as the perpetrator. But should victims be tarred with the same brush of having ‘distorted beliefs’? This is sin levelling, and it’s wrong. Maybe the victim has some distorted beliefs, but they’ve been distorted by the abuser(s) and by wrong teaching that is so widely prevalent in the church when it comes to abuse. So right here we have a subtle or potential slur on the victim’s character. And it bothers me that CCEF and Darby Strickland do not see this. And what about ‘dangerous beliefs’? The abuser’s beliefs are certainly dangerous to the victim. But are the victim’s beliefs dangerous to the abuser? No. The victim’s beliefs may be somewhat dangerous to herself, inasmuch as they keep her running on the mousewheel trying to change her husband by her respectful and quiet demeanour. But she does no domestic terrorism to her husband! She does not ruin his health and life by keeping him walking on eggshells in fear of the next episode. To say something that can be interpreted to mean that the victim has dangerous beliefs on the same order as the abuser’s dangerous beliefs, is to contradict the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer 83. Perhaps the sentence ‘Fueling these dynamics are distorted and dangerous beliefs that require us to have a distinctive counseling approach’ could be referring to the distorted and dangerous beliefs that are widely promoted by the church and by Christian counselors, such as the idolatry of marriage that forces women to stay married to abusers, the assumption that the victim shares in the blame, the default to couple counseling for all marriage problems. If counselors and the church are the agents fueling these distorted and dangerous beliefs, why was this not made clear? Why was it left unsaid? This is very unsatisfactory, particularly since there is so much latitude for interpreting the thing as a slur on the character of victims. To continue the course description:

In this course on Counseling Abuse in Marriage you will learn a working Biblical counseling model that will assist you in your conceptualization of abuse as well as providing guidance for how to wisely minister in these difficult and overwhelming situations. You will learn about physical, spiritual, sexual and emotional abuse and how Scripture provides wisdom for both the sufferer and perpetrator. I’m glad to see they recognize spiritual, sexual and emotional, not just the physical stuff. And I’m pleased they use the word ‘perpetrator’ — calling a spade a spade is good. You will walk away with tools for assessing the extent and severity of abuse, plans for providing protection, strategies for church engagement as well as practical counseling approaches for ministering to both the oppressor and the oppressed. Hold it right there for a second! “Ministering to the oppressor” is a wee bit of a red flag for us at ACFJ. What kind of ministering will they be recommending? The kind that John the Baptist did?

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father [we are believers!],‘ . . . Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7-10)

The kind that Jesus did?

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? (Matthew 12:33-34)

Let’s hear what Darby Strickland, the Professor of this course, said about the course on CCEF’s blog interview of her: [bolding added by me]

My experience with these marriages has led me to see the goal of counseling as redeeming worshippers from oppression, so the course is centered on this theme. When God’s people were enslaved in Egypt, God sent Moses to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go so they may worship me.” We are meant to worship the Lord. But in abusive marriages, there are two people who cannot fully live as worshipers. One is the oppressor who is enslaved to the desire to be served, instead of serving the Lord. And the other is the oppressed who is trying to serve and follow the rules of the oppressor. Both spouses need help so they are free to worship the Lord Many thanks to our reader April Kelsey for contributing the next three paragraphs. (readers may like to know that April is currently writing a series of posts on the Biblical Counseling Movement — we highly recommend it)

Darby takes the position that she does after citing the story in Exodus. The Israelites were the oppressed; Pharaoh was the oppressor. Yet the invitation to worship God was never given to Pharaoh. Moses didn’t go before Pharaoh offering care and resources to help him see the light. Moses went proclaiming the dire consequences Pharaoh and his people would suffer if he did not immediately release God’s people from bondage. Yet, Darby never clearly equates the abuser in a marriage relationship to Pharaoh. Instead, she suggests (in a very subtle way) that both abusers and victims are under oppression — which is not the case at all! And to even suggest such a thing in counseling only serves to further empower abusers and give them an ‘out’ for their behavior.

Darby’s perspective puts the abuser and victim on the same footing, as two people in the relationship who are not able to worship the Lord: one who is obsessed with being served, and one who is obsessed with serving his/her spouse. This is definitely sin levelling. It’s as if both abuser and victim are equally to blame for their inability to worship freely. Darby says they both “need help” and both need to recognize abusive patterns. It’s as if Darby assumes abusers are completely ignorant of how they’re behaving and the counselor’s job is to help the abuser ‘see the light.’ The problem is, most abusers know what they are doing and don’t care. Like Pharaoh in Exodus, their hearts are hard. They may nod along with counselor and attempt to show progress, but 99 times out of 100 they will be manipulating things behind the scenes to continue to get what they want. The victim, too, is probably not ignorant of abusive patterns; but the victim’s adherence to those patterns is a matter of survival, not obsession. Yet Darby concludes that the couple (i.e., both people) need care and support from the Church to rectify the situation.

I hate to jump to conclusions, but it smells to me like this course will be advising counselors to do the kind of ministry that John the Baptist and Jesus didn’t do: [adapted from my recent post Biblical counseling for (1) abusers & religious hypocrites; and (2) victims of abuse]

“You oppressors are enslaved to the desire to be served rather than serving the Lord. You are worshippers (i.e., believers) who need to be redeemed from oppression.  At present you are not free to worship the Lord. You need to be free from enslavement. Let me counsel you how to be free, so you can to serve the Lord rather than serving your own selfish wish to be served by your victims.”

“And you oppressed folk are serving and following the rules of your abusive spouse, rather than worshipping God. You are meant to worship the Lord. You obviously haven’t been trying to worship the Lord because you’ve been serving your abusive spouse’s demands. . . What’s that you say? Did I hear you say, “We have been trying to serve and worship God!”? I disagree: I think you were serving your oppressive spouse. I saw some of the ways you relate to your spouse, and you’ve told me about how you relate to him. You’ve been wrong. You’re messed up. Let me help you straighten out your worship by offering you this counseling program. It will REDEEM your worship, and you can’t get better than the R word, can you?”

The paradigm is wrong

CCEF say they acknowledge that abusive marriages exist and they want to help address the problem. But we have to ask ourselves, “Are they only saying that to be culturally sensitive?” Because their approach, practice and philosophy — so far as I can tell from the published material on this course — still has the erroneous and biased assumptions characteristic of most Biblical and Nouthetic counseling, namely, that **every counselee’s problems are presumed to be due at least in part to the counselee’s own sins** and a major part of the counselor’s job is to **help the counselee see their own sins** so they can be confessed and repented of. This paradigm portrays the abuser’s problem as that “he can’t see his sins, and he needs to be shown them.” But the abusers sees, he just disagrees. He knows what he does is wrong, he just doesn’t care. He believes he’s entitled to do it. And he’s very dedicated to that belief. He wants to keep it. And he goes to great lengths to resist dropping it. He lies in a thousand ways to conceal how much he wants to maintain his belief that he’s entitled to abuse others. He loves his lies; they keep his fortress safe. Revelation 22:15 speaks about those who love and practice falsehood, so we shouldn’t deny that there are people like this. They don’t just utter a lie here or there; they practice falsehoods as a way of life, as a full body disguise. This is exactly what the domestic abuser does. His lying involves going to great lengths to make himself an object of pity and to throw up many smokescreens so that people don’t see his belief and how entrenched it is. What’s more, this paradigm fatally ignores (or at minimum, downplays) all the effects of trauma on the victim — the person who has been oppressed or has suffered adversity not of their own cause. And it relegates to the remotest parts of the Biblical Counseling solar system, the notion of elucidating and honoring the victim’s responses to the abuse. Fact: Victims make a lot more rapid progress towards safety and recovery —

  • when their responses to the abuse are elucidated and honored
  • when their false guilt and self-blame is removed by right teaching (which could take place in counseling, or on a teaching blog, or from the pulpit, or from good books)
  • when their Christian liberty is respected rather than over-ruled by Pharisaic leaders
  • when bystanders (e.g. the local church) recognize and resist the abuser’s snow-job attempts, and fully believe and support the victim
  • when the church obeys Proverbs 22:10 —

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

In Part 2 of this series we’re going to be looking at the *redemption* model of the course, and whether God’s Word shows that oppressors often get redeemed. And we’ll be examining the possibility that I might be treating CCEF too harshly.

67 Comments

  1. Brenda R

    I don’t see this going well for victims. Let’s put out a whole new batch of counselors, pastors etc that don’t know what they are talking about. We can’t make headway in protecting the oppressed if abusers continue to believe that it is the victim’s fault.

  2. A Bruised Reed

    Oh, I see a whole lot wrong with this picture! I went to a NANC counselor with my not soon enough to be X, right before I started coming out of the fog of abuse. He had sent both of us an email months later asking us to support him in his counseling ministry. I emailed him back telling him we were separated and that X was abusive. I NEVER HEARD FROM HIM AGAIN. These counselors have NO IDEA how to handle a situation like this.

  3. Mary

    Just to clarify, are you saying that every time someone uses language that blames victims, even when it’s so subtle that only victims can detect it, then that’s a sign that the person using the language is abusive?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Mary – I suspect Barbara will answer your question as well when the sun arises in the other hemisphere. I suppose the answer is yes and no. Abusers themselves can be pretty crafty at saying things and phrasing things in a way that they know full well will hurt and accuse their victim and yet do so in such a subtle way that no one else sees it. Many of our readers will affirm this has happened to them in a group setting. So in one sense, yes, using language that blames victims can indeed be a sign that the speaker is an abuser. Now, on the other hand, in our ignorance about abuse and about the tactics of the wicked, we can foolishly say things that will guilt and hurt a victim. We have all done this at one point or another. When I was writing my book, I wanted to include a discussion of the abuser as Jezebel, ie, that there are cases when a woman is the abuser. Barbara Roberts cautioned me about being very careful in using Jezebel talk because unless I was very, very clear about what I was trying to say (ie, Jezebel is an example of an abuser in the Bible) then I could hurt victims who had been called “Jezebels” by their accusers. When counselors or pastors or Christians start talking to an abuse victim, they must take extra care to avoid any implication that the victim needs to examine herself for culpability in the abuse. Perhaps in counseling/therapy later on down the road, we might all of us need to consider how, through wrong thinking and understanding about what was happening to us, we made it easier for the abuser to do his thing. But all of us need to learn to be very careful about what we say about abuse and to victims so that we don’t end up harming them rather than helping them. And anyone who seems to be saying “I don’t care if ACFJ or anyone else is telling me that I am going to harm victims if I keep saying or teaching what I am saying and teaching,” well – what do you think? I would say that is abusive.

      • Friend of Victim

        Jeff-Unfortunately there is a sentence within your post that illustrates your point about needing to be careful with words. I know it was not your intent, but my friend was very triggered by your statement, “Perhaps in counseling/therapy later on down the road, we might all of us need to consider how, through wrong thinking and understanding about what was happening to us, we made it easier for the abuser to do his thing.” (This is victim blaming to someone who did everything she was supposed to do to pick a Godly husband & have a Godly marriage, not realizing that he was a child of Satan masquerading as a child of God.)

    • Ellie

      Mary, I have had to be corrected several times so that I can minister more effectively to targets of abuse. Because I want to be effective and I want to learn, I have taken that correction to heart and changed my phrasing. I went back and changed some phrasing on an old post just this morning in fact! I don’t think everyone who uses certain words or phrasing is an abuser or an ally of an abuser. But I do share what I’ve learned about terminology and how it’s perceived so that the truth isn’t hindered.

    • Mary, thanks for your question, it’s a good one. I am not saying that every time someone uses language that subtly or tangentially blames victims, that it’s a sign that the person using that language is abusive.

      I agree with all the Jeff said in his reply to you here. Some people who use language that way are indeed abusers. But in my observation, many would-be supporters of victims (pastors, counselors, victim-advocates, family and friends) do it as well, and they are not abusive people. In many cases they do it simply out of ignorance or naivety about how important language use is, in the arena of abuse prevention and recovery.

      The people in this second group may not have been victims themselves, so they don’t have that canary in the coal mine sensitivity. Or they may have been victims themselves but have not (yet) learned how to choose their words carefully enough to avoid hurting other victims.

      I did this myself, years ago. I am just so grateful to the lady I did it to. She wrote me a very clear letter of admonishment for my hurtful words, and told me she did not want to have a friendship with me any more. Then she shunned me for years, and rightly so! When years later I re-read her letter that I’d kept, I saw how right she was (because by then I’d learned more about the importance of language in victim-advocacy and victim-support), and I went to her and told her she had been right and I begged her forgiveness — which she gave, with great warmth and thankfulness. 🙂 Bless her 🙂

      I learned a great deal about the importance of language from Dr. Allan Wade, a family therapist, researcher and victim-advocate who lives in BC, Canada. I did some workshops under him when visited Australia. The website for him and his colleages is http://responsebasedpractice.com/

      A very simple place to start if one wants to get one’s head around improving the way one uses language when talking to victim/survivors is http://www.calgarywomensshelter.com/resources—how-women-resist
      Read that page, then click on the link at the bottom which says:
      Want to learn more about resisting abuse?
      Take a look at our publication Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships

      A more academic paper by Allan that I highly recommend is
      http://responsebasedpractice.com/docs/wade_language_and_violence_four_operations.pdf

      • Lisa

        It is a real thing that we have a “different filter” when hearing words. Before I understood this I would hear my pastor preach about marriage topics and just want to go home and die. “What a loser I am,” I would think to myself and go into that dark place inside me. Eventually the Lord showed me that I was feeling guilt and blame and also, manipulated. I felt so icky. It finally hit me one day that God wouldn’t make me feel that way and so I filed the preaching into “not for me at this time” category. I even told him and another guest preacher that what they were saying would make a victim of abuse want to kill herself.

        Anyway, as supportive as my pastor has been in my decision to divorce and leave the church for another I don’t really think he understands the victim’s mind. I do feel that I have a “hyper discernment” for words that affect negatively and have often wondered why others aren’t seeing it the same way. I remember at the “Grief To Grace” retreat I went to a couple of years ago the leader mentioned that a victim of abuse would feel guilt and condemnation when reading the verse we were discussing. That comment helped me to realize I was receiving words through, what I call, the “victim filter.” Just learning that this actually happens is a huge step in coming out of that emotional abuse abyss. In my process coming out I eventually left my first counselor to go to the county’s women’s resource center. At first I was hesitant to go there since it was not Christian based counseling. But, I needed straightforward counseling on emotional abuse and I got it without the confusing fluff. It is what it is…..abuse. I wonder if I will ever not be over-sensitive to certain wording. On one hand it’s good so that I can help someone else, but on the other hand, I don’t like the step backwards it can send me. Anyway, thank you for this blog and all the comments. It is so helpful to know I am not alone on this walk and “the darkness of the dawn is getting brighter and brighter.”

      • Receiving words through the ‘victim filter’ . . . we could also call it receiveing words through the afflicted filter.

        That might be an option for the survivors of abuse who don’t like to describe themselves as victims.
        Also, it might make it less of a red rag to the bull for the Wooden Biblical Counseling types who are always bemoaning the widespread ‘victim mentality’ — which they denounce as sinful self pity and manipulation.

    • Mary

      Thank you, Jeff, Ellen, and Barbara. And thank you, Barbara, for the links.

  4. cindyrapstad

    I started to read this and their 1 in 4 were in an abusive relationship made me me stop for the time being. They make it sound like it is a one off thing. Really? We have a facebook group of women and the average that the women have been in the abusive marriage is over a decade with many tipping 2 to 3 decades of abuse. Barf

  5. standsfortruth

    As hard as these representatives appear to be trying, they just can’t seem to hit the nail on the head with the issue of how to handle the sinning abuser and his never ending tactics.
    Why can’t they just believe that this is a deliberate sin-dominated perpetrator violation against an innocent victim spouse?
    Instead of spotlighting the perpetrating party with clarity regarding the blatant injustice against the victim in these abusive marrages, this organization is obfuscating, and bluring the facts, ascribing both parties for treatment, and thereby creating a smokescreen and loophole for the perpetrator to continue his blasphemous sin against God, and the righteous through his phony christian facade.
    We need more Christians of true courage who aren’t afraid to confront and call out the abuser in the church and deal with them in a true biblical fashion as Jeff and Barbara, have stated on this site.
    So that the church can once again be restored to a safe haven and santuary for the weary and oppressed, where we all can worship in spirit and truth as originally intended by God.

  6. Sunflower

    I don’t know where our last counselor/pastor got his training, but his second last email he sent (I never replied) was full of things like, “You’re right I don’t believe you but I don’t believe him either. And whether or not I believe you has no bearing on the outcome. Besides, your attitude toward men messes with your perception of the truth, so it has no value.” “You both need to lay down your weapons and just make an effort to get along.” “hurt people hurt people and you are both hurt, so you are both very much alike. Neither of you needs to hurt the other.” And then he had a paragraph about how the woman caught in adultery lied to Jesus, like I did to him.
    When I didn’t reply and stopped going to that church, he wrote one more. It started with a bunch of flattery, and ended with, “For me to represent Jesus in the community I can’t pick sides. And I would still like to work through the things that are influencing your thoughts, beliefs, and actions with you.

    Not likely. I did send him a link to this site, though, many months later.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Can’t pick sides, heh? “I’m sorry, as a pastor I can’t side with good over evil or righteousness against unrighteousness. I must remain morally neutral in my 100 shades of grey.”

    • Anonymous

      Sunflower, You’ve referenced so many of the phrases I have heard by the counselors, pastors and well-meaning friends and family. After you’ve shared the abuse you finally realized you’ve been wading through; it’s discouraging to hear how they love ‘both’ of you and yes, don’t want to pick sides. They are condoning the abuse and then must remind me that I am a sinner, too, etc.
      I’ve also sent links and other info. Only one pastor thanked me but that is about as far as it went. Recently, when I denied an invitation to one of the churches explaining my reasons the woman smiled, “Oh, well, yes our pastor is not the kind to confront but he would gladly ‘talk’ with you.” Now what would we discuss??

  7. Jeff Crippen

    We here at ACFJ do not expect everyone to “get it” completely right initially. What we do expect Christians to do however is to humble themselves and learn so that they do start getting it right. We have a “database” of Christian abuse victims that is growing all the time, telling us the very same story over and over and over again: “We went to our pastor/church/Christian counselor for help, and told them what was really going on behind the scenes in our home. But instead of believing us and helping us, these people guilted us, minimized the evil, told us to submit, accused us of gossip, applied couples counseling, and when we finally left our abuser, they ex-communicated us. We were traumatized as much or more by them as we were by our abuser.” Ok? So this is not only happening in the church, in “biblical” counseling scenarios, in para-church organizations like CCEF or Peacemakers, but it is the NORM. Hear us! Believe us! And stop trying to “redeem” the wicked, hardened of heart, unrepentant person. Help the oppressed and give the thunderings of the Law to the wicked.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I use “database” figuratively. You all aren’t being entered into some mother computer:):)

    • IamMyBeloved's

      Exactly. It is time for us as Christians to face the fact that wicked people exist in the world – some dressed in “religious garb” – and we have to deal with it, but not by embracing the evil and trying to “reform” it – or by embracing the wicked ones performing the wicked deeds and trying to “redeem” them. If they are living with a Christian, then they have heard the Gospel and have rejected it – period. Christ told us to “shake the dust” when that rejection happens. He did not say to keep beating the door down until they let you in. Let God be true and every man a liar.

  8. HAM

    I dealt with this type of counseling several times before I fled 18 years of abuse. My ex did a fabulous job of smoke-blowing, lying, gas-lighting, as so on. His arsenal of abuse tactics had me, and nearly everyone else, convinced it was all my fault. It took sites like this and many books to help me unwind the lies and get the reality check I desperately needed.

    Sad to say my counselors and pastors, those who I looked to for Truth, had the above-mentioned beliefs. I thought they would help. They only made it worse.

    After finally finding the courage to leave, I was told that I needed to reconcile. I couldn’t “just up and leave” because …God hates divorce/you need to wait for your miracle/you haven’t tried hard enough/nobody saw the abuse so it didn’t happen….etc.

    Somehow my leaving was a greater sin than the years of abuse I endured. My ex had become the victim…in my church, my community, and my own family…overnight. I was outcast from all and have not had contact with them since.

    And I thank God every day for the freedom I have from the grip of their hypocrisy. It gives me room to find the actual truth. Truth like this: God loves me. He cherishes me and sings over me. Nobody should ever abuse me. And it isn’t my fault that they did. The abuse didn’t break me. It didn’t make me unlovable. And I still have a hope and a future.

    Painful years. His Glory!

    Thank you for this article. Keep up the good work!

    • thepersistentwidow

      HAM, What a great testimony and I am glad that you found freedom by leaving that church. It takes a lot of courage to go against the false guilt and pressure in that type of setting. I think that the worst thing to do is to go against one’s instincts and give in to the strong-arm tactics of intimidation and manipulation that goes on in the ‘biblical’ counseling program. Unfortunately, most victims are still in the fog from the domestic abuse to anticipate the church’s abuse. Had I known what I was up against, I would never have gone into their counseling at all.

      I am convinced that many churches are following a doctrine of works righteousness and that is why they harm Christ’s lambs with this counseling. Can there be a more difficult work than living with an abuser and looking on as children are subjected to the accompanying vileness and sin while the “biblical” counselor tells the victim to try harder, confess her sins, etc.?

      In my opinion, these kind of counseling programs are based on false and harmful doctrines masked in Christian terminology and forced upon God’s people when they are most vulnerable. It is disgraceful. How much more harm will ‘biblical’ counselors inflict before they realize the damage they are doing and stop? Do they really think they are doing God’s work by “fixing” marriages through pressuring victims to reconcile with abusers because “he looks sorry”?

      When I left the church that expected me to reconcile with my obviously unrepentant abuser and sign promissory notes for his ongoing, expensive “biblical” counseling, my pastor told me that my conscience would condemn me. Well, I can honestly say that my conscience has not bothered me at all because I know that leading my family to peace and safety was the right thing to do. God has continually blessed me since the day I left. He led me to a doctrinally sound and loving congregation where we are all thriving under correct Gospel teaching. The two churches are like night and day. Every Sunday I look around my new church and I thank God for leading me from all of the abuse into a life of joy and peace. I realize that it was God who removed me from that church because it wasn’t good for me and he had much better plans for me. Yes, God does love us. I am so delighted in how good He is! He is faithful!

      • TB

        I apologize ahead of time for the length of this post. Skip over it if you don’t have time to read it all.

        I have been blessed to have a very supportive pastor and church family. And as PersistentWidow has said, I am delightfully surprised at how good God has been to me since my exit from my former spouse. I never expected it could be this good (even though some pain remains).

        My ex showed his controlling behavior toward my pastor some time ago when ex decided I needed to resign from an activity I lead at church because I had stood against him in an abusive episode/dispute directed at one of the children in our home. Ex told me if I couldn’t honor him, I had no business functioning in role at church, and that he was going to reveal/tell/notify my pastor how I was not the same person at church as I was at home. He wrote to the pastor and asked the pastor to “fire” me from my role. Ex did not go to my church anymore because he was offended by something early on. He did not like my pastor either.

        The pastor, whom I had met with a few times over the years to get advice from in how to live beside a man like my then husband, was aware of the stuff I had been dealing with. He responded by asking ex to come in and talk to him about his request to “fire” me. My ex would not go and continued to resist the invitations to go see the pastor through the volleying of emails. Finally he told the pastor he (ex) would handle the matter himself since he saw I had already smokescreened my pastor, and he knew my pastor was not just going to “hop to” ex’s request to send me packing without a meeting. Even when I left home, my ex wrote my pastor again telling him and probably 100 others what a deceptive, lying woman I am and how my leaving showed I was not a Christ follower. Again, my pastor invited him to come in and talk it over more than once. Ex resisted the requests by every person I knew who asked to talk to him.

        So my pastor was aware of my ex’s methods and was very supportive towards me. On the other hand, another couple I know had similar dynamics in their marriage. The pastor heard both sides (husband and wife) and had a hard time siding with the victim because the husband was very, very charming and convincing. The couple went to church together and it was hard to tell anything was “wrong” until the wife came to me and told me things were bad. I am sorry she did not get the same support that I did. Maybe it was easier for me because my ex was not going to church and was not putting up a front like this woman’s husband was. She has since divorced him. And maybe my pastor’s support came BECAUSE of the pastor recognizing after the fact he had failed in validating the other woman’s plea for help.

        My personal concerns are more on the opposite spectrum of this thread. I come from the place where because I have so much support, I keep looking for a reason to blame myself for the problems. I realize I AM a sinner who DID contribute towards the dysfunction. I was not blameless and I really can’t believe all victims ARE blameless. I totally participated in the dysfunction, although usually out of provocation to anger which lead me to say things that were hateful. Many times after episodes I harbored hate and bitterness in my heart. I DID NOT respond in love and turn the other cheek MANY times. It was not me who would get the fire started, but I would often respond out of self defense which would almost ALWAYS escalate the episode. My ex hated to hear me defend myself. All he wanted to hear was YES.

        Lately I have been dealing with a younger child in my family who is extremely defensive and thinks his older brother is out to get him. I don’t see evil intent in his older brother, just a kid who is being a kid. But the younger brother insists the older is always doing things to annoy and irritate him. I have talked to both of them numerous times about this. My younger son is always playing the victim and labels his brother the “perp” if you will (although he doesn’t know that word yet). So, it appears I am seeing the dynamics of what I have lived through played out in front of me. I find it hard to sympathize with the “victim’ brother because I know the “perp” brother doesn’t really have evil in his heart toward his younger brother. Then I question myself and say, “Am I blind to the older son’s behavior because I did not recognize it in my own relationship with my ex? Here is the same sort of dynamic right in front of me and I don’t realize it?”

        The “victim” son calls out to me daily (tattletaling) against his older brother, who I really don’t see as a “perp.” It is hard for me to sympathize and side with the “victim” son when I see his point of view, but knowing the thing the older brother “did” to him was really not something meant to harm him. Some of their behavior is just dumb stuff brothers do, like passing gas in the other’s proximity, etc. Victim son takes each thing and makes it into a big deal and has a VERY hard time letting go of anything he sees as an offense.

        Now then, I am looking at this dynamic and saying, did they learn this behavior/response system from their parents? Is this just foolishness bound up in the hearts of children? Do I just have a very hypersensitive son who sees an offense in every action? Do I have a potential abuser in the older son who is very covert in his activity such that even I (someone who definitely recognizes tactics) can’t see it?

        So often I go back in my head to the the posts I read on this site when I am dealing with my sons. The victim son is crying out for justice and “seems” to be legit in his complaint against his brother UNTIL I hear the older brother’s side which usually cancels out the victim’s complaint. And believe me, I give FULL ear to both sides of what has happened.

        I understand how a pastor or counselor can be sympathetic to the victim and then be duped by the perp. And as a victim, I KNOW that I have sinned and played a part in the dysfunction in our family just be participating through enabling and responding in anger toward the abuser. I may not have initiated the abuse, but I sinned in responding incorrectly to it and not taking action against it sooner.

        I can’t get passed the thought that there must have been some part I played in the sin of it all. Even though I did not do the bullying, harassing, and provoking in my marriage, surely I sinned somewhere along the way. I am not blameless.

        So my stance is that the victim has sins of her own to be accountable for. I don’t think all victims just passively take it and do or say nothing in response to what is happening to them. Surely I am to blame for SOMETHING…even if others have encouraged me and supported me in my choice to exit the relationship, and would likely say I am not to blame. I continue to evaluate and exam myself for the fault of it that surely is/was mine.

        I was reading a blog about the Victim Mentality. I saw myself in everything she posted. I truly have operated out of that place for waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long. It seems my young son is also operating out of that. Maybe there are those of us who are prone to that way of thinking, and that in itself will certainly make us difficult to live with. UGH! I know I was already thinking like a victim when I married my ex years ago because I had been in a previous dating relationship for four years that was abusive, and I was a fighter back then. I fought back, but stayed when the apologies would come. 😦 I had finally gotten to a place in my marriage where I didn’t have any fight left in me and was sick of fighting altogether.

        Maybe it was that very thing that drew my ex to me because he was operating in a counter mindset…sort of like magnets attracted and pulled to each other. I can’t help thinking it was a weird ungodly spiritual attraction as well. I was not saved when we met, although I did come to Christ while we were dating, and he was a Christian already. Our whole marriage started out on false pretenses on his part. He had secrets he had not revealed to me and when I found them out I went ahead and married him anyway. So it’s no wonder we ended up as we did. It just took me a loooooooooong time to come to terms with it and do something about it.

        Does anyone have any wisdom to offer here? Thanks for reading as I continue to sift through the destruction as I slowly begin to rebuild.

      • Re the other woman in your church that you mentioned, I agree that it was easier for you than for her because your ex was not going to church and was not putting up a front like that woman’s husband. This illustrates how pastors can be excellent in responding to abuse victims (as that pastor was with you) so long the abuser does not heap on the manipulation and charm to recruit the pastor, or at least, to bring the pastor to have shades of doubt about the veracity of the victim.

        We hear quite a few victims saying “I left my former church because it judged me and took the abuser’s side, and now I’m in a new church and am being treated well, with compassion and support.

        But the question I tend to ask myself is, How will that new church respond if and when the abuser starts getting in the ear of the influential people there? Will it recognise the lies the abuser is sowing? Will it continue to wholeheartedly believe and support the victim? Not so many churches pass that test. Some do, but some don’t.

      • TB, I may respond more later, but here to start with is our post called Enabling? Sins of the victim? Tetchy topics indeed!

        Personally, I never describe survivors of abuse as having a ‘victim mentality’. I think it’s too pejorative a label. It does not honour the responses of victims.

      • TB, you did not mention in your comment that you were pondering whether you might have sinned by expressing unrighteous anger towards your husband during your marriage, so please don’t take this as if I’m accusing you of that, or assuming you did that. However, since you have been pondering whether or how you may have sinned in the dysfunctional relationship, I am giving a few links to other posts here. They may be relevant or helpful to other readers, even if they don’t apply to you. 🙂

        Abuse and Anger: Is it a Sin to Be Angry Toward Our Abuser?

        Bitterness or Righteous Anger – How to tell the difference

        Anger, Hatred Vengeance: – am I feeling them? are my feelings wrong?

        When Anger is Godly

    • Hi HAM, welcome to the blog! 🙂

      • standsfortruth

        Hi Tb, I wanted to respond to your post, because there are so many similarities in what you have and are experiencing to what I have been through as well.
        I have been with my abuser for decades, and am planning an exodus someday hopefully soon.
        But before i came out of the FOG there was a time of endurance of inner pain and turmoil, in which I felt helpless to change all the evil that was affecting the family dynamics.
        Although I prayed “every night” for change to happen, and for my family to live in peace, it never came due to my abusers distorted need to maintain power and control by undermining all that I did to make me feel useless, and powerless, and unappreciated.
        Most of the abuse towards me occured durring the childrens formative years growing up.
        Like between birth and the early to late teens.
        My oldest son developed a similar parrellel abusive relationship( as his father had shown towards me) , with my youngest son, in which the older son became a vindictive overt bully to him.
        He would berate him constantly in front of anyone, and make mocking jokes about him, just to humiliate him, and tear him down emotionally.
        Try as I could I was powerless to stop it, and it became worse when i was not there to stop it.
        This behavior became compulsive by my older son and out of control, and I know it came from growing up around the continual dynamics of abuse.
        When it turned physical towards my youngest son, I preparred a room where he and I can retreat to, that is called our “safe room”.
        (This room has living, eating and sleeping provisions inside, and inner deadbolt latches in place of doorknobs where my youngest son and I are the only key keepers.)
        It is the only place where we can go assure safety from the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse anytime day or night.
        The church kept me wrongfully guilted into staying in the marriage, although I desperately wanted out due to the abuse, they minimized the abuse and convinced me that my suffering would produce a repentance that never came.
        Now I am sad to say I have adult children that have distorted and wrong concepts about relationships, and life that are so much like my abuser.
        Had I had the support to leave when they were much younger, I believe they would be very different today.
        I guess I am saying all this to say that I would give your youngest son some creedence to what he is telling you, due to what your family has been through.
        Your older son may have learned some “covert” aggressive behavior that you are not seeing just yet .

      • TB

        Standsfortruth…great name.

        I am amazed at what you have had to do to protect you and your son from abuse in your home. How sad, but necessary. When/how do you know that it is safe to come out of your place of refuge after an episode?

        I thank you for sharing your story with me/us. I will definitely be more keenly perceptive and aware of the dynamic between my two sons from here forward.

        I understand what you are saying about the abuse being laid out in your kids’ formative years. I saw the damage it was causing when my oldest child was not even 10. I wrote my former husband a letter at that time (he wouldn’t listen to me if I tried to speak it to him, I had to write it) warning him gently about the effect his anger was having on this child but my words were not heeded. This child walked out of our home at 18 and never looked back. He has tried to extend a hand to my ex toward reconciliation several times since then (it’s been almost 5 years now), but he has been rejected repeatedly in his attempts. He doesn’t even try anymore, and has come to terms with it. I have other older children who have issues as well, and they have moved away from relationship with their dad, too. Their dad says it is me who has lead them in their rebellion and dishonor toward him…he is always about making it my fault.

        Standsfortruth, you said: “Now I am sad to say I have adult children that have distorted and wrong concepts about relationships, and life that are so much like my abuser.”

        I see the same in my older kids. A couple of them say they don’t “do” relationships. One insists he will not marry nor have children. One struggles with wanting a relationship badly…so much that it’s almost an idol in this one’s life. But said child understands the neediness and longing that is there due to daddy issues, so at least the awareness is there that tempers the drive to find a mate for the wrong reasons.

        All I can say is GOD, PLEASE HELP US. You are the redeemer who turns bad into good for your children.

        Even the messes and brokenness we are sharing here can be repaired in him and through him. Thank you, Jesus. It does break my heart, though, that we have endured all this, and I, too, for the sake of my kid’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health, wish I had left sooner. But I was just too afraid and needy and dependent on my ex. I still am afraid and needy and dependent…but now it is on God, who will provide for all my needs according to his very own words, which are life giving and truth filled.

    • mom

      “Somehow my leaving was a greater sin than the years of abuse I endured.” That sentence is SO SO true. The church is so ready to jump all over the victim when she leaves but apparently all the years of sinful cruelty she endured are of no consequence… it doesn’t even register on their radar. Which means something is wrong with their radar, I guess.

      • IamMyBeloved's

        Well, don’t ya know! We are all just a bunch of crummy ol’ sinners still, so the lump is all leveled into one big sinner lump – no difference between a victim and an abuser – a sinner and a saint – in the book of theology that claims we are all the same, sitting in the same boat. The blood of Jesus apparently has made no difference to the cleansed. I beg to differ.

      • TB

        “Somehow my leaving was a greater sin than the years of abuse I endured.”

        I have said this to my ex, who still sends me messages about how awful I am for leaving and then divorcing him. He sees my “sin” in leaving as the unforgivable sin. When I mention the yelling, cursing, foul name calling, physical pushiness, angry threats, stonewalling, and taking the Lord’s name in vain that he did on a weekly basis, it’s like a ball bumping into a rubber wall. The ball just bounces back my way.

        When we were kids we had a saying to divert something bad someone said to us: “I’m rubber and you’re glue…it bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Wow…I hadn’t thought of that little phrase in years till just now, and it fits so perfectly. My ex could say and do anything he wanted without consequence, and if I tried to pin anything on him, he had a way of redirecting it back on me.

        Anyway, it is sad how he could not see his own sin which was THE reason I left. Of course, I am preaching to the choir here.

  9. savedbygrace

    Thanks Barbara for taking the care to critique this course. And , yes, others may be quick to say you’re ‘nit picking’- but thanks for being courageous enough to do so….Sometimes people are so relieved that at last the issue is being addressed that they forget that the ‘good’ that is not the best can be very damaging… I think the most dangerous thing is a course that is mainly good but somewhat bad as well, because it is like abuse itself -it creates a fog of confusion – the bad gets caught up with the good and gets accepted and after a while becomes mainstream thinking. I have done secular and Christian counselling training…. I find it arrogant that Christians want to ‘reinvent’ the wheel and not ‘spoil the Egyptians’ ( if we are going to continue the Exodus theme!) by using the best of secular counselling.. people think that by slapping the tag “Christian ” on a course it makes it ‘acceptable’, ‘beyond reproach’ and ‘best practice’ when a lot of the time it flies in the face of evidence based practice, and common sense and all those attitudes of compassion, justice and mercy Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. The end result is that victims seek help and are re vicitmised… this does not lead to increased worship of God, but rather dishonours Him.

  10. Gary W

    So, what Darby Strickland concludes from Moses’ appeal to “Let my people go so they may worship me” is that “We are meant to worship the Lord.” Funny, I always thought that the whole point of the Exodus narrative was, well . . . exodus. The Hebrews were abused and oppressed. God’s solution was exodus–exodus from Pharaoh and exodus from Egypt, the land of the Hebrews’ enslavement. Likewise, what a victim of spousal abuse needs is exodus — exodus from their abusive spouse, and exodus from their marriage, which is all too often the “land” or place of the victim’s de facto enslavement.

    The only reconciliation an abuser will accept is reconciliation that takes the form of the victim’s utter subjugation to their abuser. The Exodus narrative demonstrates that, where oppression is the norm, exodus, not some impossible-to-achieve reconciliation to one’s abuser, is the prerequisite to worship.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Gary, Great insight from you again. Seems like the biblical counselors can put quite a spin on the clear teaching of a Scripture passage to support their doctrines. They remind me of Gnostics. No wonder so many Christian abuse victims don’t hear the voice of the Shepherd in their counsel. Biblical Counselors interpret Scripture through the lens of their doctrines, not the other way around.

    • AMEN!

      • IamMyBeloved's

        Now there are some words of godly wisdom. Thanks Gary.

    • SavedByGrace(the other one)

      Good words Gary. Thanks!

      My “exodus” came more than a year before I actually left home. I left the marriage much earlier, when I gave up my one-sided attempt to work things out. I told him “if you ever touch me again, I’ll leave” He did, so I did. But even if he hadn’t, I had a plan in place to leave in my own time, based on his continued verbal and emotional abuse and his utter lack of concern for how I felt about it. He told me he didn’t remember the other scattered incidents of physical abuse, but I told him I couldn’t afford to forget because each one was a line I had to try to avoid crossing.

      I think I started to be free and started on my way out as soon as I had a counselor who believed me and helped me identify clearly what my situation was. During that time I reconnected with my Lutheran church and the new Pastor there really understood what I was saying. Each week that I sat with my counselor and each week that I sat in the pew at church gave me hope. I had many many entries in my journal where I cried out desperately for a way out. I didn’t really care how it happened, I just wanted out. I began to be free the minute I realized that I had to get out. The circumstances that led to my leaving were brutal and scary and humiliating. But in the midst of it, I felt cared for and loved, and had God’s love demonstrated to me over and over. Just the past two weeks, I had Christmas cards delivered to my box at church with gift cards and money, every one anonymous.

      I was given an exodus experience, delivered from my oppressor and tormentor, in a way I could never have planned. I have had my needs addressed in ways I had never thought of, often without my asking. I’m not one for having super spiritual experiences but I have been blown away by the way I’ve been led to freedom.

      I recently had a conversation with a friend and she spent a lot of time grilling me on my own failures that led to the breakdown of my marriage. She told me she couldn’t picture him being abusive to me but she could picture me being abusive to him. She pointed out that I often had a messy house and that I sometimes neglected child training and failed to homeschool correctly. She said I was disrespectful and spoke badly about him to others. I asked her point blank if she was suggesting it was my fault that he was hurting me because I wasnt a good enough wife and mother. She said no, but I don’t believe her. I think she meant exactly that. I told her I refuse to listen to that kind of thing anymore.

      I’m glad we don’t have to get things right all the time to deserve love and care. I’m glad that God loves us enough to lead us to freedom.

      • neglecting child training sometimes. . . I know I did that too, when I was with my first husband and post separation when he was still abusing me and her. However, the reason I neglected it sometimes was because I was so traumatized by whatever he had recently done. And sometimes I deliberately chose to let my daughter ‘go out on a long leash’ because I knew she was so traumatized that it would have been cruel and unjust to discipline her in the normal way. And sometimes I let her not go to school on a Monday after an access visit, because she was so stressed and trying to suppress it that and would have been bouncing off the wall at school distracting all the kids and preventing them from learning, and she wouldn’t have learned much herself those days. She just needed to unwind and chill, till she subsided.

        People on the outside do not understand things like this. They look and they judge, but they don’t have (or won’t believe) all the information.

      • Another thing my husband did to me that upset my ability to train my daughter well. He would often tell me that I was a lousy mother. He would criticise things I did in my parenting, things that were really fine, but he would pick on something, and make me feel very unsure of my disciplinary skills. So much so that I got afraid I could not discipline her rightly no matter what I did. I would think I was being too harsh, and soften up, and then I would think I was being too soft, and try to harden up, and I would lose my confidence as a parent. And when she showed a weeny little sign of reluctance to do what I asked her to do, he would point out that I couldn’t control her or she didn’t love me. . .

        Always trying to keep me on the back foot. . .

      • Gary W

        How interesting that your friend, a Job’s comforter if ever there was one, is a homeschooler. While I have some modicum of sympathy for those who feel a need to educate their own children, many homeschoolers here in the U.S. have been drawn into a movement where the husband/father is said to be the absolute and final authority in the family, subject only to the higher authority of a man bearing the title of pastor. Whereas Jesus teaches love-based relationships, these patriarchists advocate authority-based relationships. Authority is inevitably enforced by coercion. Authority is never appropriate as the organizing principle of relationships between Christians (though there may be instances where authority must be wielded to protect against evil-doers). Those of us who live under Western style secular democracies are fortunate to have the option of walking away from coercive/abusive authoritarian spouses and religious leaders. I surmise that, though she does not presently recognize the need, your friend is under the influence of a cult-like movement from which she needs her own exodus. If only I had wisdom to suggest how we could help such a one to see their need.

    • TB

      Wow, Gary. You said:

      “The only reconciliation an abuser will accept is reconciliation that takes the form of the victim’s utter subjugation to their abuser.”

      After my exodus, my ex told me to come back home repentant, begging his and God’s forgiveness (his words). He said he would forgive me and he would show me how to come back in to my proper place as his helpmeet. He had a list of requirements like giving up friends and family (the ones who helped me “escape”), my church, activities, even my cell phone and Facebook account. He said I was to honor him above all mankind (his own words there, again).

      You hit the nail on the head with the words “utter subjugation.” That’s exactly what it looked like to me. He saw it as my proper submission to his God-given authority. By not submitting to this, he says I am disobedient to the Word of God and I will be punished by God himself.

      • Searching is now Moving Forward

        Their arrogance is amazing! A furnace here recently quit, and as he was away, I called the gas company and they came out, fixed the problem, and started it up. Believe it or not, that was the wrong thing to do. I was told I should have called him so he could call people he knows to come and fix it. Why? It’s fixed, started, we have heat, and all very quickly. A narcissist’s mindset is beyond belief. And I also get reminded that we promised to stand by each other for better/worse, richer/poorer, and bad me for breaking that promise. I don’t recall saying I would stay if I was abused, that’s for sure. Of course, he doesn’t see it that way, as he is the victim of my behaviour and all his actions are justified. And then he wonders if I have thought of the consequences of my behaviour when I stand before the Lord, and how a wise woman builds up her house. Lots of scripture used against me over the years. Kind of hard to build up a house when he keeps tearing it down, but I think I have managed as best as I can under the circumstances. TB, thank you for sharing your long story (I made it through!). Trying to express the fog and questions can be difficult – how much am I a contributor, is the solution too one-sided, am I too sensitive, is all “nice” manipulative, is he human, am I cold-hearted, etc. He is the victim – everyone is against him, so I can’t relate to that side of your story. I tend to feel that life happens – good things and bad things – and ultimately God is in control and is my help and guide. I do have one child that has the same entitled attitude, and it sure is hard to work with that. Issues between children are always challenging, and as I at this point see everything through the lens of emotional abuse, I have to be careful to not let that colour every conflict they have. Children just don’t always get along. At the same time, the knowledge I have gained helps, too. Hugs to you and the many other hurting people on this blog.

  11. foundinhim

    I find many helpful things in biblical counseling. It has helped me get to the heart of what truly are sin issues in my life, and understand that Scriptural principles apply to every category of our lives. I have known biblical counselors who are not the prooftexting, simplifying, sin-hunters that people think represent biblical counseling.

    But now I find myself in biblical couples-counseling regarding my concerns of various types of abuse. And am running into some of these problems …of the focusing on your own sin instead of the other’s. I think if what has happened could be proven, they would genuinely support and help me. The difficulty is that my spouse and pastor are both portraying me as untruthful. So what are some suggestions as to how to be both humble and bold in focusing on your own sin but still draw attention to wrong that has happened without appearing self-righteous?

    • Wow what a good question, foundinhim (and welcome to the blog, by the way 🙂 )

      how to be both humble and bold in focusing on your own sin but still draw attention to wrong that has happened without appearing self-righteous?

      How to be both humble and bold in focusing on your own sin — I would suggest we put this part second. I’ll address it later.

      How to draw attention to wrong that has happened without appearing self-righteous — I would think that is very difficult, since the pastor and counselor are believing your spouse’s lies, and thus seeing you as untruthful. Which is exactly what your abuser wants them to do. If what has happended could be proven . . . aah, but that’s the rub. Abusers are very canny, mostly, about concealing what happens from outsiders. And even if a bit of the abuse leaks out to be ‘seen’ by outsiders, abusers have plausible deniablility excuses up their sleeves, so they can explain it away. So the IF is often too big an IF to get around.

      Quite often, readers here say things like “I almost wish he’d been physically violent, so that I would have proof.” (presumably meaning they could show a bruise or cite a doctor’s report or police report, or something like that) But then we have others who say, “Even though he abused my physically and I had injuries to show for it, and I had a statement from the police to that effect, and the church saw my injuries, they still didn’t believe me. Or they still mutualised the blame . . ” So proof is not as easy or as ‘useful’ as you might have imagined it to be.

      Sorry for that dampener!

      I would suggest, and this is very tentative because I may not have thought this thru very well, and don’t have a lot of experience of successfully doing what you are trying to do — get a biblical counselor and pastor to believe you — you might like to try saying to them:
      “What if my husband is lying to you? What if he has distorted the situation and you have not been able to detect how he’s twisted the facts and the history? How can you be so sure I am not being honest? And until you really think about that, and come to grips with that, I can’t see the point of me continuing in this counseling. Because I know I’m telling the truth, and I know you don’t believe me, so I don’t think we have a workable counseling relationship.”

      Let them put that in their pipe and smoke it. You will not have appeared self righteous, you will simply have shown yourself to be someone who calmly but firmly holds to your conscience and your personal integrity.

      If they come back at you with a thousand other barbs from a hundred other angles, just keep repeating what you said. Don’t let them divert you from YOUR perception of the problem. The problem is, they don’t believe you. No work in counseling can be done until they believe you.

      You might also find it helpful to read the posts under our couple counseling tag.

      • and as for how to be both humble and bold in focusing on your own sin —
        Number one is, you can do that, but it would not be wise or safe at the moment for you to do that with this counselor or this pastor, because they don’t believe you and they are set against you rather than for you, so whatever they say to you about your own sin will be tarnished by their malformed view of you.

        If you want to be humble and bold in addressing whatever sin you have or had that may have contributed to any of the stuff you are struggling with at the moment, I could perhaps suggest Mending the Soul, by Steve Tracey. It might depend on what sin/s you feel are there. What we usually find with victims of abuse is that a lot of their guilt for sin in relation to their marriage is actualy false guilt. E.g. “I should have submitted to him more!” need to be transformed in their minds into “Actually, submitting to him only gave him more rope with which to abuse me. I was mis-taught and mis-guided. If I have sinned, it was in misunderstanding the Scriptures, the whole counsel of God and how it relates to abuse in relationships.”

        Sometimes, some victims of abuse do have genuine sin they need to repent and confess in relation to their marriage. Many of us (I was one) had sex with our partners before we got married to them. I did so before I started walking as a Christian. Some did so because they were heavily coerced into pre-marital sex by their ‘c’hristian boyfriends or fiances, and then got pregnant, and you know the rest. In my case, another part of my sin was that one reason I stayed as long as I did in the first marriage was that I was afraid of faling back into bulimia (my besetting sin) if I left. So we all have our own stories. But many/ most of us have already realised our sins of this nature, and have confessed and repented of them to the best of our abilities, way before the marriage went over the cliff to its final destruction.

        Hope this helps.

    • jaime

      I like the truth of your name! That is who we are in Christ.

      Foundinhim, you said, “I find many helpful things in biblical counseling….I have known biblical counselors…But now I find myself in biblical couples-counseling regarding my concerns of various types of abuse.”

      Sounds like lots of effort on your part to grow, to find help, and that you have a genuine heart’s desire to do everything you can to grow in your relationship to God and to help your marriage. However, without really knowing it seems like the effort to ‘save the marriage’ is one sided. Does he demonstrate at home that he is not really changing nor accepting responsibility?

      Over the course of 10 years, my daughter tried many times to get help through the church and church approved biblical counseling. She was like you, always open to recognize her own failures and áreas she needed to grow in. Inevitably it ended up with the ball of blame in her court and not in his. Her abuser (Xhusband) could play the Christian game. He even told her once that he would win in convincing the church leaders that he was a better Christian than she. It was a challenge to him. He knew the right clitches to use, could throw some convincing tone into his voice, talk about repenting, convince the church leaders he was really trying and working on his marriage….and at home, NO LASTING CHANGE, just more abuse.

      She (and we, her parents) prayed that God would bring hidden things to light in a way that she could demonstrate to the church and have “biblical proof” to separate and divorce. The proof came to the surface (even though the track record of his abuse and porno had been known by church leaders and counselors for a long time). When she separated, the church leaders met with them (again) and asked if from now on they would be willing to submit themselves to the church elder’s guidance, they admitted she had biblical grounds to separate, but were asking her to follow their counsel. Her X said “Yes”, and she said “No”, knowing that they were going to insist on her staying with her X and “saving the marriage”. She ended up being publicly excommunicated from the church and her X is in good standing. Figure that!

      You said, “I think if what has happened could be proven, they would genuinely support and help me.” So many victims of abuse subject themselves to enduring years of hope for this to happen but it doesn’t. In my daughter’s situation, adequate evidence was there for years, but church leaders and counselors did not affirm her concerns and give her help and support that “changed him”, because he evidently had no desire or intention to change. Furthermore, they always pushed her to focus on her own faults and change herself. So the cycle of “help” goes in the church, and victims are burdened with the responsibility of making one sided changes until things get really bad and then victims ask the church to help again and the cycle keeps going on and on and on, because the church and Christian leaders and biblical counselors cannot fix or help someone who doesn’t admit his own need and seek help.

      You are the only one able to verify if he really is changing. You are the only one able to know if your own (and your children’s) physical, mental, spiritual and economic security is being systematically attacked and erroded by abuse.

      Churches and counselors cannot fix someone who really has no intention or desire to change. Continuing couple counselling when this is the reality only sets you up to be put under the microscope of condemnation as the cause for the marriage problems.

      It is as though your husband has cáncer and the doctors are giving you the chemo! Something is not right about that!

      Keep hanging on to the truth that you truly are Foundinhim!

      • It is as though your husband has cancer and the doctors are giving you the chemo! Something is not right about that!

        BINGO!

      • IamMyBeloved's

        Foundinhim – I have seen this scenario time and time again in couples counseling with pastors. It seems to me, that when this one-sidedness takes place against the victim, that God is usually preparing the “exodus” spoken of above by Gary W., for the victim of the abuse. God truly wants you to be free from abuse – whatever form it takes. A counselor who does not believe you, is not going to be able to help you and I would encourage you to take Barb’s counsel on that.

      • Ann

        I went to the Pastor about my husband abusing me and was met with a defensive posture towards my husband. On a follow up phone call the Pastor informed me he spoke with my husband about our meeting (I had told the Pastor not to tell my husband anything just then, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to know) and almost immediately out of the Pastor’s mouth came comments about how bad my parents are!!! My husband had blamed my parents that I am not responsive to him and this lie is what the Pastor had a laser focus on! I was beside myself. I asked him point blank if he had ever counseled someone who was abused and was he aware of the tactics of abusers, he said “no.” After a few more statements by me he conceded, “I guess I just don’t really understand about abuse enough to effectively counsel.” Well, at least he got that right.

  12. bright sunshinin' day

    Gary W said: “…what a victim of spousal abuse needs is exodus — exodus from their abusive spouse, and exodus from their marriage, which is all too often the “land” or place of the victim’s de facto enslavement…The Exodus narrative demonstrates that, where oppression is the norm, exodus, not some impossible-to-achieve reconciliation to one’s abuser, is the prerequisite to worship.” This is truth. Read it, meditate on it.

    A wise pastor gave me words of life which have set me free. He said, “Often times abused women think that if they file for divorce [i.e. exodus] they are ending the marriage. Divorce does not end the marriage. It is a legal affirmation that the marriage has ceased. The marriage ceased with the abuse and the refusal to change. Seeking a divorce acknowledges that.”

    This same pastor pointed me to Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

    • TB

      “The marriage ceased with the abuse and the refusal to change. Seeking a divorce acknowledges that.”

      This is similar to what my pastor said to me. He said my ex broke the covenant with his behavior. My pastor also used the word “dehumanizing” for the way my ex treated me. Disregard and disrespect were other words he used. He also gave me Galatians 5:1 when we met for a followup meeting after my divorce.

  13. jmclever

    I want to tell you that the sin leveling mentality is not peculiar to Christian counseling. The secularists just call it by other names. During the divorce, the judge ordered my ex and me each to go to individual counseling. (He never went…no surprise there.) The therapist that I was assigned told me that I was complicit in the abuse. Her take was that I willingly went along with the oppression. That attitude was quite a slap in the face, but it was court ordered so I had to go (yes, court ordered to a particular agency and only a handful of counselors to deal with adults) I am still trying to sort out a lot of things that happened during that time.

    • Yes, jmclever, you are right. I’ve experienced that kind of thing too. Not from a court ordered counselor, but from a secular counselor I went to for a little while at the end of my second marriage. I think he may be a good counselor on other issues, but on domestic abuse, no no.

  14. IamMyBeloved's

    “You will learn about physical, spiritual, sexual and emotional abuse and how Scripture provides wisdom for both the sufferer and perpetrator.”

    This bit right here makes me more than a little nervous. Are they saying they see the perpetrator already as a believer who can use a little godly wisdom in being a husband? It already sounds as if they are dumbing down the abuse and as you say, “sin-leveling” and they have not yet begun their course! They also use the term “sufferer” as if it is the same as having a bad cold. Offense number uno for me!

    I just do not believe that anyone should counsel abuse victims – let alone teach others to counsel them – unless they have either been abused themselves; or have a license in abuse counseling; or have counseled victims of abuse and been successful in rendering the victim freedom from their abuser. It is always amazing to me, how 1 Cor. 5 just gets passed over with abusers – albeit the man in those passages was most definitely what we would call today a sexual abuser.

    This is just a disaster waiting to happen.

  15. Ann

    Went to a counselor who himself had experienced abuse by his father as did his mother. It was the first time I finally felt “heard”. He said I was “in bondage and needed to leave my spouse. He said we needed to see which of the following 3 my spouse would do: (1) start pointing a finger at me for leaving and smearing me to everyone (2) beg me not to go (3) or he would genuinely repent. And of course we should hope and pray for number 3.” Then he said “just don’t turn your back on your husband.” What???! I just got done telling him how my husband almost split my head open to the bone and he doesn’t want me to turn my back on him?! I should have called the police on him (which I regret not doing) and told him he was never welcomed back in the home. For me, threatening my life means even if he did repent, he can live that repentant life from a distance, a great distance from me. How are we to leave these men if not turning our backs and moving forward without looking back?!

    • TB

      When your counselor said, “Don’t turn your back on him,” the first thing I thought was, “Yes, don’t turn your back on him because he may stick a knife in it after you tell him you are leaving.” I didn’t see he meant don’t abandon him.

      • Same for me, TB. That’s how I heard it initially too.

      • Ann

        From the counselor’s facial and body language it really seemed like he was saying not to give up on my husband. But I will need to clarify with him.

        Most of the session he seemed to understand the situation. But towards the end it got a confusing. I mentioned above that his dad abused his mom. Well at one point she left her husband and got an apartment and a new life; she was doing really well. His father talked (guilted) his mother into coming back and once there the abuse started again. So he cautioned me about leaving and then my husband begging me to come back. I felt a great deal of relief that I could leave and don’t remember what I said in relation to that, but I do remember the counselor’s response–“whoa, whoa, no one here is talking about divorce.” I was so confused, I forgot to ask what he thought I should do if my husband didn’t repent. The only I could think of for him telling me not to turn my back on my husband was because of this.==> In a book he wrote he shared that at one point in his Christian life he be came disillusioned after his mentor (pastor) fell to some false doctrine that caused great division in the church. The counselor went of the rails for a season–drinking, looking at porn, angry with his wife because she was going through depression and became so severely ill he almost died. He then goes on to say how his wife stood by him through it all, never condemned him, and forgave him. After many years of crazy making I was hoping that this counselor would help me leave, not put me on a leash only to be let out some distance, but could be yanked backed in. Since the day my husband attacked me, while I was recovering from major surgery only two weeks prior to the attack, I think I divorced him in my heart that day. Before that I always gave him the benefit of the doubt and hoped for better. After that day, I was just trying to survive for the sake of my children. And to this day he has never said he was sorry for what he did. It was not the end of his abuse either.

      • Ellie

        ARRG. Talk about bread mixed with stones. You’d need a gizzard to digest that counselor’s advice!

      • From Wikipedia’s article about gizzards:

        Birds swallow food and store it in their crop if necessary. Then the food passes into their glandular stomach, also called the proventriculus, which is also sometimes referred to as the true stomach. This is the secretory part of the stomach. Then the food passes into the ventriculus (also known as the muscular stomach or gizzard). The gizzard can grind the food with previously-swallowed stones and pass it back to the true stomach, and vice versa. Bird gizzards are lined with a tough layer made of the carbohydrate-protein complex koilin, to protect the muscles in the gizzard.

        Some animals that lack teeth will swallow stones or grit to aid in fragmenting hard foods. All birds have gizzards, but not all will swallow stones or grit. The birds that do, employ the following method of mastication: A bird swallows small bits of gravel that act as ‘teeth’ in the gizzard, breaking down hard food such as seeds and thus helping digestion.

        These stones are called gizzard stones or gastroliths and usually become round and smooth from the polishing action in the animal’s stomach. When too smooth to do their required work, they may be excreted or regurgitated.

        All birds have gizzards, and some fish, reptiles, crustaceans, dinosaurs and pterosaurs do.
        Human beings do not have gizzards. The human GI tract is not designed to deal with stones, especially sharp ones. Please note this, CCEF!

  16. selah

    Bread mixed with Stones. I understand this and am living the by-product. My choice of counselor was and is a state licensed mental health counselor. My h. choice was and is the pastor of a church who is neither licensed nor certified by any organization. Bread and Stones. These blog topics made me wonder what might be the actual training/certification of the pastor who advises, mentors my h. So, I sent an email inquiry this week to the church to ask where this pastor and his asst. pastor received their counseling certifications. This is the email message reply: “There is no counseling certification for pastors in the state of __. That would also be true for persons counseling under the oversight of a local pastor in a church setting as long as no fee is charged.Each state has its own licensing requirements for people who do counseling for a fee. You could check {A} for that information or talk to someone like {B} who would carry state certification. { C and D } are being certified through GFI Ministry, but it is not state licensed.” I omitted some identifications but { A} is a state licensing board link. { B} is the counselor who I meet with. Yes, the church pastor sent this email message himself and refers me to the counselor that I chose in this town. { C and D} are the asst.pastor and his wife. So the email basically affirms that I chose a state licensed counselor that has some form of credibility or has demonstrated some degree of competency enough to be licensed and can legitimately charge a fee for the service of counseling someone. The email explains the view of the pastor of this church who has no credentials himself but is ‘counseling’ people and can/does appoint others to hold counseling appointments at the church or other meeting locations like fast food restaurants, as long as no fee is charged. The revelation this week through this email communication is that there is an effort to have the asst pastor and his wife trained or “certified” by something called GFI Ministry.
    This description of the qualifications or lack thereof of this one pastor in small town USA, may not come as a surprise to Jeff and Barbara who I have grown to respect highly. And maybe one or both want to reply with how common this might be not just in the USA or elsewhere. But now that I have lived through the bread and stones of counseling, what is the question that men and women should ask ahead of making appointments with counselors? How common is this that pastors of churches are “counseling” people based on the premise that they don’t charge a fee?

    • Ellie

      You want to know what would happen if they offered legal counsel but without a fee? The BAR would come after them like hornets.

      What if I wrote a book called “Competent to Perform Surgery” and argued that the Bible is sufficient and shows me how to remove gall stones?

      Trauma affects the whole person. We need capable, qualified, counselors and doctors to help us heal from abuse. I love God’s word. It ministers to me. Good sermons minister to me. The Super Pastors who think they are qualified to fix abusers and “save” marriages because they attended a workshop are paving the road to Hell with their good intentions.

      • selah

        I understand the difference between registration, certification and licensure as a health professional myself. I am far from wanting to actually understand the issues because I am angry at what has happened to me as a result of pastors practicing counseling on their terms because they can get away with it. And they know that there is no law stopping them. yeah I wish there was a malpractice or law against it. The problem for me is that these men/pastored, counseled my husband. My husband’s response: “they are my friends” “why would you go to them”. Just a month ago I asked my counselor “how common is this”, referring to spiritual abuse, et.al. locally in our town. Her reply “very” as she wanted to know how I was managing to continue to live with my h. I don’t think I’m the only woman in her office. My guess.

      • I don’t think I’m the only woman in her office. My guess.

        my hunch is that your guess is right, selah. 😦

    • what is the question that men and women should ask ahead of making appointments with counselors? How common is this that pastors of churches are “counseling” people based on the premise that they don’t charge a fee?

      Here is our post on Finding A Good Counselor and Avoiding the Bad Ones.

      We do not make statistics a big focus of this blog, so I won’t try to answer your ‘how common?’ question by citing statistics. But I can point you to
      1. our interview with Cathy DeLoach Lewis which presents the seasoned observations of one Christian counselor who now ‘gets it’:
      https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/08/20/interview-with-catherine-deloach-lewis-part-one/
      2. No Place for Abuse: Biblical & Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence by Nancy Nason Clark and Catherine Clarke Kroeger
      and
      3. The Battered Wife: How Christians Confront Family Violence, by Nancy Nason Clark
      The two books discuss research which points to how pastors are offering poor/ damaging counsel to victims of abuse.

      • TB

        Thank you, Barbara, for the links you posted to help in sorting out how much of this mess is mine to be responsible/accountable for. I will spend some time reading all the articles over the next couple of days. I am grateful for this wealth of information and your dedication to keeping everything updated and current for all of us who have been torn up by the confusion of it all.

  17. TB

    The problem with counseling is that no one but God knows us through and through. Any time we go to a counselor (whether or not they have letters after their name) we have to remember that counselor is not God. He/she is a flawed human with limited capacity to know, understand, feel, and experience life in someone else’s shoes.
    Some would say education, testing, and certification proves someone’s ability to counsel. On the other hand, I have met people with plain old life experience that would make them better qualified to counsel than someone who has only read books and passed tests on the subject.
    What’s more upsetting is that even trustworthy pastors or spiritual leaders can have opinions and viewpoints based on their personal biblical perspectives that are as different as night is to day on the same topic. If an abuser can’t find one who agrees/sympathizes with him, he can just pick up the phone and call the next number on the list. If the husband finds the pastor “siding” with his wife, he can unplug and go to church down the street.
    I feel fortunate in that the counselor I have had for the past year as I have walked through separation, divorce, moving households, getting a job, dealing with post-divorce abuse, etc etc etc has been very encouraging. He has helped me get my thinking right by understanding abuse, manipulation, power and control. He has helped me make my own decisions without criticism or condemnation. He was part of the local women’s shelter counseling program, so he had a familiarity with abuse.
    But even at my last counseling session with him (and I respected him very much) we had a discussion on something where he and I took opposite viewpoints. We hadn’t had that happen in the almost year I had been going to see him. So, it seems to me there will never be two people who agree 100% of the time on all things.
    What frustrates me about counseling is this: are we just trying to align ourselves with someone who will take our side/sympathize/build us up or are we open to hearing truth that hurts in order to heal and move on?

    [Note from Barb: comment edited to avoid potential triggers for readers. Hope you don’t mind, TB]

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