Diane Langberg doesn’t seem to believe there are people whose father is the devil — so she doesn’t seem to understand the mind of the sociopath. In her book Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores (New Growth Press, 2015), she writes as if all people have active consciences and every person feels bad when their conscience pricks them.
She depicts the abuser as self-deceived, rather than as an intentional liar. In my opinion she lets the abuser off the hook too easily, describing him as a victim of his own self-deception:
… the narcotic of self-deception has become so powerful in his life that he not only cannot stop lying; he does not even know when he is [lying] and has lost his capacity to tell truth from lies, good from evil. (p 225)
She comes across as something of a ‘bleeding heart’ who thinks she has to have unlimited compassion for everybody, even predators.
Failure to love his [God’s] people, even his predatory shepherds, is a failure in my love for him. (p 310)
In my experience as a recipient of abuse (sexual, spousal, social and spiritual), I have spent a lot of time scrutinising my heart to see whether I have failed to sufficiently love the people who predated on me and the ones who favoured and cheered on my abusers. I have asked myself whether by failing to feel loving feelings for my abusers, I am a crummy Christian who does not love and revere God. That self-scrutiny drove me into morbid introspection, downwardly spiralling into a morass of confusion and self-condemnation.
The way to love predators is to expose their evildoing, confront it, resist it, call them to repentance (a call which the vast majority of predators will ignore), and exclude them fellowship. Cast them out. Avoid them. Report their crimes to the secular justice system if you feel safe to do so.
Let us read Langberg’s assertion again:
Failure to love his [God’s] people, even his predatory shepherds, is a failure in my love for him. (p 310)
It’s the kind of stuff the abuser will jump all over because it enables him to accuse those who confront him with his sins — (trigger warning): — “You are not being loving! You are confronting me in an unloving manner! You are being judgemental!”
Langberg appears to be writing primarily for an audience of professional counselors in this book. What she doesn’t seem to take into account is that victims may also be reading her book and will almost certainly be taking her sweeping statements personally. In my view, she has thereby failed in her duty of care for the abused.
Here are a couple more of her sweeping statements that would certainly sting victims of abuse:
Understanding one’s own production of sewage and the ensuing damage is vital. (p.45)
As I bow before God and allow him to produce his viewpoint in me, several things will result: First, I will know without question that evil is not just “out there”; it is also “in here.” I will never see the world as divided between “them” and “us.” There is no “them” because we are all “them.” (p 95)
Langberg’s phraseology is sin-levelling. She implies that the victim, the counselor, and the predator are all producing the same quantity of sewage, and all causing the same degree of damage to other people.
She asserts that an abuser’s bad behavior can be explained because he was probably victimized as a child (p. 51). This plays right into the myths that
- the abuser isn’t responsible for his own choices
- the abuser needs therapy because his problem is in his emotions (rather than his beliefs & distorted thinking)
These myths, especially when they are articulated by respected Christian professionals, contribute to why victims stay so long in abuse. The victim is urged to think, “I need to be more compassionate towards my husband. He must have suffered awfully in his childhood.”
Furthermore, it seems to me that Langberg has a similarly muddled theology of shame to the one articulated by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. She confuses shame and sin, and thus insufficiently distinguishes between false guilt and true guilt. On pp 138-9 she writes:
Jesus says, “I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Hiding our faces is exactly what we want to do when we feel shame. Children know this instinctively. They run, hide in the closet, or they cover their faces when they feel shame. He did not hide; he despised it, hated it. Jesus spit on shame, considered it worthless, it carried no weight, no value. Jesus spit on being spit on. He scorned scorn. He diminished shame itself, one of the most diminishing agents of human beings. He shamed shame. He did not hide; he did not cover; he did not shrink. He hated shame and stared it straight in the face. And then he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God full of glory.
He despised shame and sat in glory. We are shamed and glory disappears. He faced shame and transformed it into glory. On the cross Jesus spits back, not on shameful humans, those warped, ruined, and twisted but still created in his image. No, he spits on the shame they spilled all over him, and he refused to let it define him, diminish him, or destroy his work and purpose. And what was that work and purpose? To change our shame into glory.
We are there with him, all of us bearing the shame of our sin and of the sins of others against us. …
Note: Where Diane Langberg wrote, ‘Jesus says, “I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”’, she seems to be quoting the KJV rendering of Isaiah 50:6 I hid not my face from shame and spitting. She did not state that she was quoting from the KJV there. The words ‘Jesus said’ are Diane’s, not Isaiah’s. Her failure to tell her readers which Bible version she was using there has caused perplexity for at least one of my blog readers. See the comments thread. (This note was added by Barb on 6 Sept 2021.)
Note: I have not given this post the tag ‘bad books’, because we reserve that tag for books that we think are out-and-out bad. If I were to review Suffering and the Heart of God on Amazon, I would probably give it a three star rating because there are quite a number of good things in it. But because the ACFJ blog prioritizes the viewpoint and well-being of victims, I cannot include this book in our recommended resources. However, if you are a Christian counselor and you were to read the book with discretion, especially if you kept in the front of your mind the concerns I have raised here, you might gain quite a lot from the book.
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Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn, Feign, Flirt – ways recipients of abuse may respond to their abusers – Gary Pfeifer
“Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn, Feign, Flirt” — these are some of the ways recipients of abuse might respond to their abusers. In his post Separation from my body to escape suffering, Gary Pfeifer talks about this. If any readers think that recipients of abuse are silly or stupid for responding to abuse by fawning, feigning or flirting, please read the Further Reading links at the bottom of this post.
When you click on the above link, you will be taken to my Mystery Of Iniquity blog which is where I focus on the nature and extent of extreme abuse. At Mystery Of Iniquity, I share testimonies from survivors of extreme abuse, and I present evidence that extreme abuse is sometimes perpetrated by well known Christians who are deeply corrupt but highly skilled at hiding their corruption from the average churchgoer. I also discuss how all that relates to scripture and how the Bible warns us about it.
In Gary Pfeifer’s blog post, which I have featured in the above link, Gary does not go into graphic detail about the things he suffered. Rather, he talks about how he responded to the traumas and how he is gradually healing.
For those of you who are easily triggered by images, I can assure you that there are no pictures or graphics or videos in Gary’s post Separation from my body to escape suffering. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing images or videos in any of Gary’s posts.
I have come to respect what Gary Pfeifer writes. I’ve been following Gary’s blog for some time. He seems to me to be a genuine recipient of extreme abuse in childhood. He suffered systematic torture-based mind control, ritual abuse, rape by pedophiles, and sex trafficking. He writes about how the traumas affected him, how he responded to the traumas, and how he is healing.
Gary Pfeifer blogs at garypfeiferramcsurvivor.wordpress.com.
Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Nonviolence is not primarily written for women who are recipients of abuse. I do not recommend it for women who are living in abuse and longing for their abuser to change.
The author, Sara Elinoff Acker, says in the introduction:
If you’re a man who’s just admitted to yourself that you are abusive, this book is for you. …
When I first started working in the field of domestic violence, I didn’t believe that abusive men could really change. Now I know that some can. Sadly, men who’ve committed to change are only a small minority of men who are abusive.
The author recognises the risk of publishing stories by men who are reforming — the stories “might kindle an unrealistic sense of hope among women experiencing domestic violence.”
While the book is written for men who have admitted they are abusive and are wanting to change, there is one chapter for women partners. That chapter is titled “When the man you love is abusive”. The subheadings in that chapter are:
- Many abusive men do not become nonviolent
- Attending a domestic violence intervention program is essential
- If he doesn’t “own” his problems he can’t change them
- Substance abuse is a separate issue
- Couples’ counseling is inappropriate
- Keep your guard up; change takes time
- Two steps forward, one step back
- Your own experience matters most
- Signs he IS changing
- Signs he is NOT changing
- Healing yourself no matter what he does
- You deserve a supportive community
- Commit to an abuse-free life
I could see that the men’s stories in Unclenching Our Fists might give hope to men who were genuinely admitting their abusiveness and committing to change. Of the eleven men whose stories are in the book, some of them seemed to me more awake and more committed to change than others, but that is to be expected. It sounded to me like all of the men were changing their behavior and attitudes to a fair degree, but I had the sense that some of those men might not persevere and stick at the hard work of changing deep down into their hearts.
I personally know of less than a handful of men who were abusers who have changed into non-abusers. Two of those are men who were not Christians and are still not Christians. Those two abusers both attended secular Men’s Behaviour Change Programs in Australia and kept repeatedly attending and working on their stuff until they deep down changed. They are now both working professionally in the Men’s Behaviour Change movement. One is Dave Nugent who now runs the Heavy Metal Group and was involved in the film Call Me Dad; you can see Dave talking to a group of Jewish men here. The second is Ivan Clarke who tells his story here. [This video takes time to load. Editors.]
The only other case I know of where an abusive man seemed to reform, is Dave Weir. He tells his story on pp.118-25 of Unclenching Our Fists. While serving a jail sentence for domestic violence, Dave was convicted of sin. He doesn’t recount that any Christian spoke to him, he simply says that he felt this from God. It sounded to me like Dave Weir became a genuine Christian while serving the two-year jail sentence. He says that with the help of some books and a few courses he “worked his own program”. After he got out of jail, he went voluntarily to a batterer’s program. His wife never lived with him again. The most compelling evidence for me that Dave did genuinely reform is the way his ex-wife Leta responded at the close of his life. By the time the author of Unclenching Our Fists interviewed Dave, he had cancer of the throat and was having difficulty speaking. The interview was recorded, but Dave’s speech was so hard to understand that the author couldn’t transcribe it. After Dave died, his ex-wife Leta volunteered to transcribe the interview, saying she was proud of the work Dave had done on himself (pp.186-7).
When an ex-wife is sure that her abuser has genuinely changed, and she has remained permanently separated from him (she has not put back on the rose-coloured glasses), but she chooses to have a friendship with him, a friendship that is mutually enjoyable, and she voluntarily does something to help his story get published after he has died, that is pretty telling, in my view.
None of the men in Unclenching Our Fists were what I would call “pseudo-reformers”, but some of them seemed to be “half-hearted reformers” — i.e. men who have made and are continuing to make substantive changes in their behaviours, but who have not (or not yet) developed deep and lasting empathy for their victims…men who are doing genuine reformation in their head, but not deeply in their heart. Some professionals who work in men’s behaviour change groups may think I’m free with my opinion without having enough experience of reforming men. So be it. I can only share my impressions and gut feelings.
I think Unclenching Our Fists could be worth reading for a woman who has been abused by her male partner, IF she is separated from the abuser and well on the road to recovery and building an abuse-free life. If you are such a woman, this book might help sharpen your discernment about how to discern different degrees of reformation in men. It might be especially worth reading if you are a victim who is becoming an advocate.
The cautions that the author gives to women who want to read the book need to be taken seriously. If you’re anything like me, you can easily think “I have shed my illusions; I’ve dropped the rose-coloured glasses, I have seen the abuse for what it was! — but there are still illusions to shed and false concepts to be brought to the light of truth.
Note: I was prompted to write this post because someone tagged me on Facebook while writing about Unclenching Our Fists. See here. The link goes to a private FB group run by another survivor-cum-advocate.
Some of this post is copied from my post Chris Moles has a Play Doh understanding of salvation which was published in August 2018.
In 2019, the SBC produced its ChurchCares Program. I wrote five posts about it. Here they are for ready reference.
Leviticus has several verses that forbid father-daughter incest. Despite this, the ESV Study Bible’s note on Leviticus 18:6-18 reads as follows (bold emphasis mine):
These laws prohibit sexual relations (approach…to uncover nakedness), and therefore marriage, between people who are too closely related by blood (mother, sister, granddaughter, aunt) or by marriage (stepmother, stepsister, stepdaughter, stepgranddaughter, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, aunt by marriage). The clause “to uncover nakedness” can at times merely refer to voyeurism (cf. Gen 9:22-23), but in the Old Testament it is most commonly used for sexual intercourse. No mention is made of the daughter, probably because that needs no comment (cf. Gen 19:30-38) and this prohibition is already well known in the laws of other cultures.
To demonstrate that Leviticus has verses forbidding father-daughter incest, I will mostly be citing the KJV. I am citing the KJV because it uses the term “uncover the nakedness” whereas many modern translations use the term “have sexual intercourse”. I think “uncover the nakedness” is a better term because in addition to connoting penetration of a person’s bodily orifice (e.g. mouth, vagina, anus), it also connotes voyeurism, indecent exposure, etc.
You might find it helpful to bear in mind that when the KJV uses the word woman or wife in the verses I will be citing, it is translating a Hebrew word that can mean woman or wife or female. When translating the Hebrew Bible, the translator has to decide whether to render that word as “woman” or “wife” or “female”.
I will also be citing the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (ABP) which is an English translation of the Septuagint. When I cite the ABP, I will give a link so you can check that I’m not pulling the wool over your eyes.
19:29 ABP (link) You shall not profane your daughter to fornicate her. And you shall not fornicate the land and the land be filled of lawlessness.
19:29 KJV Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
20:14 KJV And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.
20:14 ABP (link) Whoever should take a woman and her mother, it is a violation of the law; in fire shall they incinerate him and them, and there shall not be a violation of the law among you.
Lev 18:17 KJV Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
18:15 KJV Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son’s wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
19:20 KJV And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.
Note: by extension the above verses could be applied to father-daughter relationships. In “quiverful theology” the daughter is not free of her father’s authority until he hands her over in marriage to a husband. The daughters are akin to servants and bondmaids in such families.
I would argue that daughters who are subjected to father-daughter incest should NOT be ‘scourged’ or punished, because those daughters were not willing participants in the sexual relationship — rather, they were coerced, controlled, intimidated, and assaulted (see here). The punishment ought to be laid on the father, not the daughter. Paul did not say that the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife should be incinerated; rather he said that the man should be put out of the church, handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. (1 Cor 5)
The ESV is notorious for its bias in favour of male headship and for translating in ways that oppress women and which obfuscate the legitimate needs and dignity of women. In my opinion, the ESV Study Bible notes need to be read with caution. The notes can be valuable when giving historical background; but when it comes to abuse and gender issues, the notes can be dangerous.