Non-Negotiables for Effective and Biblical Abuse Ministry
Recently we composed this statement of what we call our “non-negotiables” for abuse ministry. We call them this because they are not points that we are willing to “agree to disagree” with. You might say that this list serves as our philosophy of ministry in this field, and in capsule form states fundamental truths that every abuse ministry must embrace if it is to be effective and biblical. These are the hard-learned truths which determine all of what we do here. They also serve as the criteria by which we evaluate books, speakers, and organizations. Unless such entities adhere to these non-negotiables without reservation, we will not recommend nor endorse them to our readers.
For those ministering in domestic abuse situations, please read this list carefully. If you find that you do not concur with all points in this list, we encourage you to prayerfully reevaluate your beliefs and your practice.
1. A clear definition of domestic abuse and of the nature of the abuser is vital for proper ministry to abuse victims.
a) The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his victim subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.
b) The definition of a domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control. (*sometimes the genders are reversed)
2. A marriage to an abuser does not need to be fixed (it cannot be fixed). It needs to be ended. Christians should encourage and support the victim to make her own decisions as to when and how to set boundaries against the abuser and distance herself from him physically and/or legally. True Christians should help (but never pressure) victims of abuse to get free from the abuser’s oppression to the greatest extent possible, recognizing that leaving an abuser is not a simple or easy step for many abuse victims, and that society and the church often compound the difficulties victims face.
3. Divorce for abuse is not only permitted by God, but blessed by Him. The institution of marriage must not be prioritized over the safety of the individuals within it.
4. Any counseling of the abuser must begin with the threatening of the Law of God, not with the promises of the gospel, and it must remain Law as long as the abuser remains unrepentant.
5. The abuser is to be dealt with as an unbeliever, not as a Christian. If he has been passing himself off as a believer, the church ought to discipline him as per 1 Cor. 5:11-13.
6. The abuser cannot be “educated” into a non-abuser. That is to say, the only means by which the wicked can become saints is through the thundering of the law of God and subsequent faith and repentance toward Christ.
7. We hold to an informed pessimism regarding the potential for an abuser to change into a non-abuser, recognizing that abusers typically feign repentance and live a lie. Genuine heart-change in an abuser is very rare, and therefore we must take great care to not give victims a false hope that their abuser is going to change for the better.
8. While all human beings are born into this world in a fallen condition as sinners, not all are abusers. This means that statements such as “we are all sinners the same as the abuser” are unscriptural, false, and lay unjust burdens on abuse victims by what we call sin-leveling —raising the victim’s guilt and minimizing the evil of the abuser and his guilt. The abuse victim is not to be blamed in any way for the abuse suffered.
9. Couple’s counseling must be ruled out for an abuse scenario. Any mention of counseling which could be interpreted by the hearers as endorsing couple counseling, ‘marital counseling,’ or ‘marital intensives” is dangerous because it tends to mutualize the blame: it conveys that ‘the couple’ or ‘the marriage’ is the problem, rather than the abuser being the problem.
10. The many ways the victim has responded to the abuse and resisted the abuse need to be elucidated and honored. The victim must not be pathologized for the ways she has responded to the abuse. Depicting the victim’s responses as ‘her pathology’ dishonors her, and it does not acknowledge the effects of trauma.
11. Biblical forgiveness does not always require reconciliation of relationship with the offender. In cases of abuse, while the victim can forgive in the sense of not seeking personal vengeance, reconciliation of relationship is not required by God and it usually ends up being unsafe for the victim.
12. As the church strives to help and protect the victim, we must ensure the victim’s right to Christian liberty and resist the temptation to dictate and enforce church decisions upon the victim. We maintain that the decision to separate from and divorce an abuser for reasons of abuse, for example, is a matter of conscience for the victim and does not come within the jurisdiction of the church to dictate.
13. We reject patriarchy. By “patriarchy,” we do not mean any idea of the Bible’s teaching on proper biblical responsibilities given to husbands and wives (such as in Eph 5). We do mean, and we reject, teaching that presents a man as superior to a woman. Common teachings of patriarchy include, for example, the husband and father as priest of his home, the insistence that a wife is never to criticize her husband, etc.
14. One day, this may not be a ’non-negotiable’ but at present it is. The visible church at large must be indicted for the way it has been enabling domestic abusers. Those doing domestic abuse ministry need to call the church to explicit reforms and to indict those who have been enabling abusers, and this needs to be done with a spirit of outrage such as Jesus Christ, the Prophets and the Apostles demonstrated when confronting injustice and false teachers. Anything less is a failure of justice and truth.