What is wrong with James Dobson’s reply to this letter from an abused wife? I invite my readers to analyse and critique the advice Dobson gives.
Note: Dobson’s article was published at his blog in 2015. It appears to have been scrubbed from his site now, but it can be found in the Internet Archive here: A Violent Spouse [Internet Archive link]
Some years ago we discussed Dobson’s response to this woman. But new people have followed the ACFJ blog since then, so it’s worth discussing again. This time I’m just laying it open to my readers: What do you think about Dobson’s advice? And what arguments can you present to refute Dobson’s advice?
Everything between the two sets of asterisks is pasted from Dobson’s blog post. Trigger warning when reading Dobson’s advice.
From the wife of a violent spouse:
Dear Dr. Dobson:
This is an extremely difficult letter to write, but I must have help. My husband and I have been married twelve years, and throughout most of this time, he has had a secret problem. Only I know that he has a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying to me. He is a leader in our church and is a very prominent lawyer in our city. Everyone respects him highly. But when he is at home he is a different person.
At least once or twice a month he explodes over something the kids or I have done to irritate him, and he becomes furious. He yells, throws things, threatens me, and makes an awful scene. If I say the wrong thing or if I say anything, he beats me with his fists.
Last week he loosened three of my teeth and cut the inside of my lip. I really thought he was going to kill me! This happened because I failed to do some errands he asked me to get done. What bothers me is that the beatings are becoming more frequent and more violent as time goes by.
I don’t know what to do. I really do love my husband. He’s a fine man when he isn’t mad about something. He never shows this side of himself in public, even when he is frustrated. No one has any idea he is a wife abuser. I haven’t told anyone, and my husband would blow up if I asked him to go with me for counseling. No telling what he’d do if he knew I was consulting you!
So what can I do? I don’t believe in divorce. I am trying to be gentle and cautious at all times, but inevitably I step on his toes and he explodes again. I’m so tired of being beaten and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises.
How do I deal with this situation?
The problem of wife abuse is reaching epidemic proportions in today’s families. The violence that is characteristic of the culture around us is being translated into husband-wife relationships and to parent-child interactions. Entire volumes have been addressed to this problem, and I am not likely to add to that understanding in the time and space allotted here. I can, however, offer Laura a condensed answer, which would be the basis for our work if I were counseling her personally.
As I see it, Laura only has four alternatives in response to her circumstance. They are:
1. Remain silent at home, walk on cracked eggs, and be the eternal conciliator.
She is taking this approach now, but is not succeeding. No matter how passive she becomes, she will eventually trigger the anger of her uptight husband. Furthermore, she’ll pay a terrible price emotionally for living on a powder keg year in and year out. For the long term, this is not the answer.
2. Divorce her husband.
As a Christian, I agree with Laura that divorce is not the solution to this problem. Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.
3. Proceed with an “emotional divorce,” remaining married but keeping herself detached and independent from her husband.
This form of “emotional isolation” will shield Laura from psychological pain, but it will make for a terrible relationship. I don’t favor it.
4. The ‘love must be tough’ response.
This is risky and psychologically expensive, but it is my choice and my recommendation. In essence, Laura’s husband is emotionally blackmailing her. He is saying by his behavior, “Do what I wish or I’ll beat you.” She must break out of that tyranny while she’s still young enough to cope with the consequences. This might be accomplished by forcing the matter to a crisis.
Change of behavior does not occur when waters are smooth, as we have seen; it sometimes happens after a storm. I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage. She should prearrange a place to go and ask friends or relatives to step in for assistance at that critical moment. Separate living quarters may be necessary until her husband settles down. He should be made to think that he has lost his wife over this issue, and in fact, I would recommend that she not return until there is reason to believe that he is willing to change. If that takes a year, so be it.
When (and if) her husband acknowledges that he has a severe problem and promises to deal with it if she’ll come home, a period of negotiations should follow. One of the conditions for reconciliation is competent Christian counseling for the psychological problem that is now apparent to everyone but the husband. By all means, Laura will need the support of Christian friends and counselors, especially during the time of crisis. And it goes without saying that the entire matter must be bathed in prayer from the beginning.
I can offer no guarantees that this advice will resolve Laura’s problem with her violent husband. But I believe it represents the best possibility for success. Let me ask those of you who disagree, what would you advise? Counselors suggesting that this frightened woman remain passive and submissive despite the abuse should have to look into Laura’s eyes and tell her that in person.
I don’t believe anyone should be required to live in that kind of terror, and in fact, to do so is to tolerate a behavior which could eventually prove fatal to the marriage, anyway.
From Dr. Dobson’s book Love Must Be Tough.
James Dobson and showering with boys — by J L Flinch
Franklin Graham must answer for his bullying of domestic violence survivor Naghmeh Panahi — by Darrell Lucus. This article says some pertinent things about James Dobson.
James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” Their Husbands — by Homeschoolers Anonymous
Comments made on James Dobson and Focus on the Family:
“The Truth About Men” — Isn’t this Horrible Philosophy in the Church? (Comment by KayJay)
A “Gauntlet Down” Challenge to James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Other Christian Ministries of Fame (Comment by Barbara Roberts)
Perception vs. Per”crap”tion (Comment by Barbara Roberts)
Naghmeh Pahani’s second interview with Julie Roys has been published. I highly commend it. Naghmeh’s Story: Abuse and Betrayal Behind #SaveSaeed, Part II
If you have suffered domestic abuse, I think you will find things you relate to in Naghmeh’s story. If you want to help victims of domestic abuse, I think you will learn a lot from Naghmeh’s story.
Franklin Graham demanded that Naghmeh reconcile with her unrepentant abuser. Franklin accused Naghmeh of embarrassing and shaming her husband by exposing him publicly. He also instructed her to lie to protect her husband’s reputation.
Franklin didn’t care that Saeed had threatened to take the kids to Iran — where Naghmeh would stand no chance of getting them back. If Franklin’s plans had come to fruition, it is almost certain that Saeed would have been able to carry out that threat.
The bottom line was that Franklin didn’t believe Naghmeh was a victim of abuse because Saeed had not beaten her to a pulp every night.
How often have we heard that refrain? Christians who enable abusers have a faulty concept of domestic abuse. Usually their concept is confined to physical violence — which conveniently dismisses coercive control, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, etc. Their concept of ‘physical violence’ is elastic in favour of the abuser, so they can say that whatever physical assaults the victim may have suffered, those assaults are not real abuse because they were not serious or frequent enough to qualify. All victims can be dismissed this way.
Franklin Graham’s sister, Anne Graham Lotz, told Naghmeh, “Franklin does not understand. And I also can tell you, Franklin is not a good listener.” Franklin didn’t want to understand. And he certainly didn’t want to listen to Naghmeh.
Franklin Graham runs a ministry in Alaska for army veterans who have PTSD. Many of those soldiers are abusing their wives. We can only guess at how many domestic abuse victims Franklin Graham has mistreated!
Naghmeh also tells how Jay Sekulow from the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) told her to lie. The ACLJ had helped her advocate for her husband’s release from jail, but when it became public that her husband was an abuser, they wanted to hose it down. Naghmeh says:
“The message I got from ACLJ was, ‘Now media is on this. We need to have a statement . . . What are we going to say to the media? We can say you’re on medication and you are mentally ill.’”
Again, this is a typical refrain from abusers and their enablers: “The woman is crazy — mentally ill.”
Naghmeh refused to lie. She told Sekulow that she was seeing more clearly than she had in years. I would love to have seen Sekulow’s face when he realised he could not bully this woman!
In the interview Naghmeh gives glory to God for providentially protecting her from unsafe meetings with Saeed. I found that aspect of Naghmeh’s story inspiring and encouraging. All the scary things that happened to Naghmeh, God has used for good to strengthen and build up Naghmeh. She is now helping abused women in the Middle East. She deplores the celebrity culture in the American church. I’m sure that her interview with Julie Roys will have ripples all round the Christian community. Those who have ears to hear will hear. Those who have stiff necks will harden their hearts further.
An excerpt from Julie Roy’s introduction:
In this second of a two-part podcast with Naghmeh, you’ll hear audio from an intense meeting Naghmeh and her pastor had with Franklin Graham and Saeed in 2016. Julie also shares emails between Franklin and Naghmeh, where Franklin calls Pastor Saeed a “hero” and rebukes Naghmeh for revealing her husband’s abuse and embarrassing him.
You’ll also hear about a surprise visit to Naghmeh’s house that Franklin Graham arranged by flying Saeed, his parents, two counselors, and a bodyguard to Boise on a private jet.
And you’ll hear part of a campus-wide gathering at Liberty University where Saeed is praised as a “hero of the faith.” This convocation happened several months after Naghmeh went public about Saeed’s abuse.
Go here to listen the interview / watch it on video / or read the transcript.
About Naghmeh Panahi — born in Iran in a Muslim family, Naghmeh sought God and became a Christian at age 9. She is now sharing the gospel and helping abused women in the Middle East.
Tahrir Alnisa Foundation — Tahrir Alnisa means “setting women free.” This is the work Naghmeh is now involved in. They say: “We are a team of women who know what it’s like to be abused or to help those who have been abused by someone they love. We help women escape and recover from domestic abuse.”
Naghmeh Abedini Panahi endured horrific abuse from her husband Saeed, who was a pastor. Like most Christian women who are abused by their husbands, it took Naghmeh many years to realise that she was an abused woman. The purity culture in churches, common misinterpretations of Proverbs 31 and other scriptures, her Iranian cultural background and her husband’s coercive control all worked to condition her to put up with and minimise her husband’s bad behaviour. For years, she blamed herself and tried harder to make the marriage work.
Naghmeh became famous for advocating for her husband’s release from an Iranian jail. Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) was one of the celebrity Christians who supported Naghmeh’s campaign. Franklin Graham is CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse.
When it came out that Naghmeh’s husband was abusing her, she was betrayed and abandoned by Franklin Graham and other well known leaders.
Journalist Julie Roys has interviewed Naghmeh. Naghmeh is telling her story in far more detail than she has told it before. Here is part one of what will be a two part series by Julie Roys.
Ex-Wife Tells of Abuse & Betrayal Behind #SaveSaeed. At the link you can listen to the podcast or read the transcript, whichever you prefer.
In this interview, Naghmeh gives a lot of detail about the ways Saeed abused her. She describes how Franklin Graham gave her significant support when she was advocating for Saeed’s release from jail. The support he gave helped Nagmeh’s campaign, but it also helped Franklin’s profile. Franklin Graham’s following on social media grew astronomically while he was promoting #SaveSaeed.
Naghmeh says that while Franklin Graham was supporting her campaign to get Saeed released from jail, Franklin gave her “honorariums” (gift$). He also provided a private jet to fly Naghmeh to speaking engagements. Naghmeh says the flights and honoraria were paid for by either Samaritan’s Purse or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. When Naghmeh asked Franklin to stop giving her these freebies, he insisted on her accepting them. My questions: Was Franklin trying to make Naghmeh feel obligated to him? Was he buying her loyalty in advance so that if he ever mistreated her she would feel too indebted to him to speak out?
When it came out that Saeed had been abusing Naghmeh for their entire marriage, Franklin Graham did a 180 and betrayed Naghmeh.
I am glad that Naghmeh is now naming the celeb leaders who betrayed her. Clearly, she has not been swayed by Franklin Graham’s gifts.
Franklin Graham bullied and betrayed Naghmeh
In a three way conversation between Franklin Graham, Saeed and Naghmeh which took place in 2016, Franklin Graham mutualised and minimised the problem of Saeed’s abusiveness. Franklin butted in and interrupted Nagmeh when she was trying to say that Saeed’s abuse needed to be dealt with. Read Franklin’s words below, which I have copied and pasted from the transcript of part one, linked above.
Well, we’re going to pause on Naghmeh’s story there. But in part two of this podcast, you’ll hear what happened in those phone calls with Franklin Graham and Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ—or American Center for Law and Justice. After learning of Naghmeh’s horrific abuse, did they respond with support? Or, was the abuse a public relations nightmare they needed to erase?
Again, you’ll hear all about that in part two of this podcast.
You’ll also hear exclusive audio obtained by The Roys Report of a meeting in 2016 between Naghmeh, Franklin Graham, and Saeed. Here’s just a short clip from that meeting.
FRANKLIN GRAHAM: “It takes two people to make it work. If you want to make this work, you’re going to have to move a little bit. Okay? Somebody’s going to have to move a little bit.”
NAGHMEH PANAHI: “I’m sorry, but in abuse”
FRANKLIN GRAHAM: “Don’t tell me you’re sorry because it doesn’t matter to me, Naghmeh.”
NAGHMEH PANAHI: “I’m sorry Saeed, but the abuse has to be dealt with.”
Franklin Graham was bullying Naghmeh in this three way conversation.
- He was telling her not to say something.
- He was telling her he did not care about what she wanted to say.
- He deployed the false notion that “it takes two people to make it work”. Authority figures often say that to try to guilt the oppressed person into changing to appease the oppressor.
- Franklin Graham was enabling Saeed and betraying Naghmeh.
For readers who don’t know much about Naghmeh, here is the blurb from Julie Roy’s post Ex-Wife Tells of Abuse & Betrayal Behind #SaveSaeed.
Naghmeh Abedini Panahi made national news in 2012 when she publicly advocated for the release of her then husband, Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith. Through Saeed’s imprisonment Naghmeh was not only able to bring worldwide attention to the plight of the persecuted Christians, but she was also able to proclaim the Gospel to millions of people worldwide by speaking to governments, human rights groups, and major news outlets. When it came to light in 2015 that Naghmeh had been abused throughout her marriage by her “hero” husband, the Christian community turned on her. Though Naghmeh was judged, abandoned, and rejected by the Christian community, she trusted in Jesus to be her defense and to fight her battles. Naghmeh’s story is a story of God’s amazing rescue and restoration.
Part 2 of Naghmeh Abedini Panahi’s story can be found here.
Billy Graham was corrupt — This post presents evidence that Billy Graham was a 33rd Degree Freemason. It gives documentary evidence that Billy Graham was present when Jim Shaw was initiated into the 33rd Degree of Freemasonry. At those ceremonies, only men who being initiated or have already attained the 33rd Degree are allowed to be present. Jim Shaw later became a Christian and renounced all his Masonic vows.
Why is it so hard to get justice for abuse in the church? — In my Twitter thread on Billy Graham and Franklin Graham. I encourage all Christians to read the evidence which I present in this thread. You do not need your own Twitter account to read it.
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 Gary Pfeifer (RA MC Survivor).