Pt 3. CCEF’s ‘Counseling Abusive Marriages’ course — bread mixed with stones?
In Part 3 (the final) of this series on CCEF’s course ‘Counseling Abusive Marriages,’ we are looking at how the course seems to envisage churches working in conjunction with counselors to minister in domestic abuse situations, and whether they mention church discipline for abusers and divorce for victims. We will also be looking at the reading list for the course. Lastly, I’ll summarize my overall thoughts about the course.
[Go to Part 1 of this series; Part 2 of this series.]
In Darby Strickland’s CCEF’s blog interview she said:
Students will also learn how to utilize the church community to support the counseling process. The church has resources that one counselor cannot offer, so if they work together there is greater potential for true and lasting change. I will provide specifics on both how a counselor can work closely with a church leader and how a pastor or other church leader can coordinate care with a counselor. Excuse me while, as a canary in the coal mine, I cringe, give a little soft shriek, and wait for my flesh-crawling to subside. This is another red flag for us.
Okay, let me explain. Darby Strickland and CCEF are running this course because they believe that many counselors need training in how to counsel abusive marriages. So if many counselors need such training, why on earth is it safe to assume that church leaders and lay church folk have enough understanding of domestic abuse to assist in caring for the abuser and the oppressed victim?
If one reads even a fraction of the posts and threads on the A Cry For Justice blog, one will see countless stories in which our readers, the survivors who come here, have been mistreated by folk in their churches, both leaders and ordinary congregational members. Do not assume for one moment that the church is a safe and happy place for most victims of abuse to be in, let alone a safe and supportive place for them to disclose. And do not assume for one moment that the church leaders and congregation will be wise enough to recognize and resist the lying and manipulation of the abuser, especially when the abuser is actively out to recruit allies and discredit his victim because she has just left him or had him put out of the home thanks to police intervention.
Destructive dynamics are prevalent in marriages—even in Christian ones. Again, Darby Strickland/CCEF are implying that the abuser can be a Christian, and an abuser who claims to be a Christian is to be treated as a Christian. We disagree. These situations are complex and can become overwhelming very fast. I submit these situations would be a lot less complex and overwhelming if churches would energetically deliver the kind of justice we are calling for at this blog. Unknowingly, churches and counselors can do harm in these situations if they do not recognize that abuse is occurring and have knowledge about how to intervene. That’s true! So why is Darby so optimistic about the the idea of “utilizing the church community to support the counseling process”? Methinks there is a big chasm between the cup and the lip.
Navigating care for a couple in this situation takes a tremendous amount of wisdom. Hang on! “Care for a couple”? This suggests that CCEF is aiming to keep the couple together. No surprises there, having seen their take on it so far. There is nothing in the course description or blog post about Separation. Or Divorce. Does CCEF avoid mentioning divorce because it’s too hot a potato? Would CCEF not get any registrants for the course if they mentioned the D word? And if the course is going to endorse excommunication for the abuser and divorce for the victim, they need to say so publicly and most explicitly, so victims can have more confidence in CCEF. This course will help build that wisdom. I’m sorry to say, but on the basis of what I’ve read so far, I doubt it will.
Back to the course description:
About the Professor
[I’ve removed her pic from this transcript; you can see it at CCEF]
Darby is a counselor at CCEF. She has a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Chicago and a Masters of Divinity degree, Counseling Emphasis, from Westminster Theological Seminary. Darby has been counseling at CCEF for over 10 years. In addition to her work at CCEF, she also counsels at her local church, where she runs a support group for women in abusive marriages. I’m glad to hear this, Darby! Would you like to start following our blog, if you don’t do so already, so that you can learn from an even wider pool of survivors? Darby has over 15 years of ministry, teaching, and counseling experience. She is married to John, and they have three children. Areas of specialization include marriage, abuse, anxiety, family issues (including children with developmental delays and disabilities), and depression.
Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Brancroft EXCELLENT! We are very very glad they have this first on the list!
Is It My Fault? by Lindsay A. and Justin S. Holcomb Reasonably good, but could be better. The Holcombs tell the victim it is not her fault; they put safety first; they encourage victims to leave; they say (in passing, in parentheses, sigh) that they believe divorce is an option in abusive relationships; and their chapter on the Biblical principle of fleeing abuse is excellent. But they sometimes say things that subtly slight victims (it’s probably inadvertent, but still disappointing); they fail to discuss how abusers recruit allies in the the church; and they barely touch on how Christians are enabling abusers. I’m publishing a review of this book as soon as I can get it completed.
I would have liked CCEF to have included the book A Cry For Justice* on their list as it would have supplied some of the pieces that are missing in the Holcombs’ book. *Amazon Affiliate link
Sexual Abuse in Marriage by D. Anne Pierce (ebook) Very good! I recommended this book some time ago. We have it on our Resources list, and the author has commented on our blog; here are her comments, I’ve put the most informative ones first:– 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. I’m really glad CCEF are giving this book publicity and recommending it. I believe it needs to be read much more widely than it has been. I also recommend that pastors, counselors and missionary organizations read D. Anne’s comments that I’ve just given here, as they illustrate how badly churches can handle domestic abuse cases very badly.
Emotional Abuse: Silent Killer of a Marriage by Austin James uh oh. Not on our list of recommended resources. We haven’t reviewed it yet, but have a look at what Denise M Libby said about it in her one star review on Amazon:
I could barely get through this book. The deeper I got the more I shook my head. I kept thinking throughout, more manipulation, more playing the victim, more blaming the partner etc… Although he describes how he used emotional/verbal abuse on his family for years, and owns up to that, I couldn’t help but wonder why it took his wife asking for a divorce, before he saw how awful his behavior truly was. He uses specific instances of his abuse in this book, which says to me he knew exactly what he was doing, at the time he was doing it, and was only sorry after his wife asked for a divorce.
This book, in my opinion, reads like a manipulative way to “win” back his wife, and reads like it was written solely for her. As his abuse was having no effect on her and he wasn’t getting his own way all the time, it seems to me that he just changed tactics. I felt that he wrote this book as a manipulative way to “win”. He would be one up and she would be one down. He took every chance he could find to let the reader know that even though he had done such hard, soul searching work on himself, she just could never find a way to give him a second chance. He wins, she loses.
I hope that the author really did change, and did all the work necessary to stop being abusive, but I have my doubts. Seems he blamed most everyone from his wife, his mother (especially his mother) to his short stint in the military. This was not a book to help anyone who is in an abusive relationship, nor someone who is an abuser. It is a thinly veiled attempt to guilt his former wife into coming back to him, in my opinion. All in all…sometimes actions speak louder than words and he should have left this book unwritten.
UPDATE: we have now published a one-star review of Austin James’s book; click here to read this review.
And from Freedom’s one star review:
Austin James claims to have been a completely changed man after just a few weeks following his wife’s request for a divorce. That type of change would be nothing short of a miracle. I do believe miracles can happen, however, I doubt that this author experienced said miracle. For one, he continues throughout the book (OVER AND OVER) to harp on the fact that his ex-wife was abused as a child. HUM….? He also says he always felt it was his job to “protect” his wife. Yet he has no problem abusing his wife yet again as he violates her personal privacy. Perhaps to let any would be suitor know she is indeed damaged goods. He also benefits financially from inflicting this abuse on her once again by any profits he may gain from the book. If he was in fact protecting his ex-wife he would protect her privacy at all cost. Therefore, his abuse of his ex-wife continues. (How masterfully manipulative!) He is an admitted liar and self-proclaimed master manipulator. One has to question if his wife was ever abused by anyone before she met him. Either way he says whatever will serve his own agenda.
The book also seems to pitch a recovery program over and over. Plus the author admits to manipulating self-help books and programs for his own gain and to further his abuse of his family. The last 2/3 of the book really seem more like padding to make the book seem longer than it is.
It seems to me, from the information CCEF has publicised about this course, that they are:
- wanting to address domestic abuse, but ignorant of how much more they need to learn
- foolishly starting from the default that abusers are Christians merely because they claim to be Christians
- offering dubious interpretations of scripture to justify their position
- failing to grasp basic biblical teaching about oppressors and fools, and therefore being unwisely optimistic about the likelihood that abusers will change (will stop abusing)
- using the wrong paradigm for counseling domestic abuse
- ignorant of the dangers of sin levelling
- insensitive (at the very least) to how their use of language can be harmful to victims and empowering for abusers
- naive (at the very least) about how much the church is hurting victims of abuse and enabling abusers
- failing to make strong public statements about biblical discipline for the abuser, and the victim’s liberty to divorce the abuser
- failing to show nearly enough outrage about what is happening re domestic abuse in the church
There may be some bread here from CCEF, but there is certainly strong evidence that there are stones mixed in that have all the potential of breaking the teeth of victims.
Final Note: since this series started, I have emailed Darby Strickland encouraging her to read the series and I’ve given CCEF the same message as a p.m. via their FB page. At the time of writing this final note (7.30pm Jan 1st USA Pacific time, the time this blog is calibrated for) I have not heard anything back from Darby or CCEF.
I do hope that even if they elect not to comment here, they will read the series and maybe use it to pick out some of the stones from their bread offering. 🙂