What does Dallas Theological Seminary say about Divorce and Redemption in Cases of Spousal Abuse? (continued)
Here is the rest of my critique of the DTS panel discussion on divorce for domestic abuse. I hope you find it helpful. [You can find the earlier part of my critique here.]
We are picking up the video at the 16:14 mark.
Darrell Bock: Okay, well we’re now to the last section of the video and so now we’re going to turn our attention to watching see how this wraps up.
[The panel watch another video segment showing a survivor whose church told her she couldn’t get a divorce and that no believer should go to court against another believer.]
Darrell Bock: Well that obviously puts another issue on the table and that is, not only do we have a problem with divorce, but now we got a problem: we gotta go to court to get a divorce, so that’s two strikes against the person pursuing potentially a breakup of the marriage. I think we’ve probably already answered this to a certain degree but it’s probably worth a reaffirming here. What process do you go through when you’ve tried everything, you’re at the end, the vow has been broken. It’s clear if the person goes back into the house they’re going to be at risk. There is no good conciliatory path to take. What happens and how should communities do that?
Gary Barnes: Well you know I think biblically you just have to accept the truth that in this broken world with broken people one person can’t do the work for two people to have reconciliation occur. That’s a biblical concept. It requires two people. And so even though that would be very regrettable that it’s not able to happen it’s still the next greater good that you would be able to live a life of safety and dignity where you’re not living under control of another individual.
‘One person can’t do the work for two people.’ And all the victims who hear this say Amen!
But then we have the little dagger — ‘it’s regrettable.’ ~~~~Shiver. The victim will feel guilty for causing the church to feel regret. She will feel guilty for letting the Christian side down: Christians getting divorced gives a bad witness to the world, she’s heard that so many times! Probably one of the reasons she hung on to that shell of a marriage was so as not to give a bad witness to the world. And now Mr Barnes pours salt into her wounded (wrongly taught) conscience by saying it is ‘regrettable’ that divorce has to occur. No, Mr Barnes, what is regrettable — nay, reprehensible — is that the abuser has been abusive and the church has guilted the victim for calling her decision to divorce ‘regrettable’.
And for those victims who may be feeling regretful grief about their divorce, I say to you, it’s not a sin to grieve. You are probably grieving the loss of your dreams, hopes, years, the loss of the friend you thought you had when he was being the nice guy (but now you know his niceness was only to suck you back into his web), the loss of your health and finances, and the loss of opportunity to raise your children in a godly environment. And you may be regretting how naive you were, how you didn’t pay enough attention to the red flags, how you could have left years ago, if only that little thing hadn’t happened that tipped you back into the reconciliation and fog again. . .
Darrell Bock: and then the only way we have to do this is to go to court and get the divorce.
Gary Barnes: Because you don’t have two participating parties. So that’s the only recourse.
Darrell Bock: I mean, if the person wants to disentangle themselves not just socially but legally, then that really is the only option. So again, it’s not the best option but it’s a – but we have to sometimes face up to it and say this can’t be put back together. It’s regrettable but it’s the case.
Debby Wade: I think that’s where we have to accept that some of life is so complicated. There’s not just this one answer that’s going to work for everybody or this one solution that is going to be the easiest solution. And where none of these solutions would be easy and there’s going to be a complexity, I think even us as believers have to step outside of our comfort zone in walking alongside people who are hurting in this way. But I think when it comes to it we would never support someone going back into a situation where they are going to be harmed. And if there’s evidence such that change is not taking place we can’t support them in doing that. And so supporting them to make the wisest decision going forward for themselves on what they know they need to do for themselves, it will be the healthiest decision that they can do.
“I think even us as believers have to step outside our comfort zone.” Yes indeed you do. But I would like to point out that victims have been living in a DIS-comfort zone for years — a Himalayan mountain range of fearful discomfort that most non-abused people can barely imagine. So yeah, step outside your comfort zone church, but don’t spend time giving us the pity party of how hard it is for you to make that step! The victims are desperately needing justice. When will more of the church step up to the plate?
Gary Barnes: Yeah. And again we don’t want to just jump to that [i.e. divorce] as the immediate alternative. See if we can allow space and time for the possibility for people to change over time as that would be the better approach. But even if there’s not that change over time, for the person who is the victim and is following through with the divorce that’s also something that is not outside of God’s redeeming work in that individual’s life. And so we want that person to be very much embraced by God’s redeeming work even following that bad situation.
‘We can allow space and time for the possibility of people to change over time.’ People? What people? By not specifying the abuser as the one who needs to change, you’ve implied that both the abuser and the victim need to change. ‘The possibility for people to change’ is a mutualizing expression: ‘people’ is plural, so Barnes is talking about both spouses needing to change. Darell Bock uses the word ‘people’ in a similar way, later in the video.
Please hear this: Mutualizing language is victim-blaming language because it puts some of the fault on of the victim.
We have been hearing for decades: DON’T BLAME THE VICTIM! But victim-blaming language is still very common. It is likely that Barnes and Bock are not aware they are using victim-blaming language. That is how pervasive victim-blaming language still is, and how blind most of society still is to the nature of domestic abuse. We need to keep saying this, despite the pushback from those who don’t like to hear it, till it sinks in and the lightbulbs come on in more people of goodwill.
And while it is indeed true that for divorced survivors of abuse, God can indeed make beauty from ashes, I think you need to know Mr Barnes that your reminders about how God can redeem the victim’s life after divorce are not welcome. You’ve hurt victims over and over again in this video, and you can’t (hem hem) redeem yourself by proffering a few patronizing platitudes.
Darrell Bock: Okay well I think we’re down now to the last segment. Let’s hear the rest of the video.
[The panel watch another segment of the video in which the Director of the Faith Trust Institute, Marie Fortune, mentions physical violence as breaking the covenant and destroying trust, but she does not, in the segment shown on this DST podcast, mention other kinds of abuse.]
Note: the video segments from the Faith Trust Institute which this DTS podcast shows are all pretty good; certainly much less triggering and more informative than the DTS panel discussion is. But we need to let our readers know that Marie Fortune has come out as a lesbian. Therefore, we recommend discernment when using Faith Trust Institute resources. It would appear that either DTS is not aware of Marie Fortune’s sexual preference, or if they are aware of it they find it unproblematic. Certainly, Gary Barnes recommends the Faith Trust Institute as a resource. (See part one of the DTS video podcast where at 2:10 Barnes recommends the Faith Trust Institute.)
Darrell Bock: You know I personally find this particular topic the most difficult in terms of dealing with the exception passage in divorce. You know the two scenarios that the Bible mentions explicitly are sexual immorality (the Greek term is porne) and the other is what’s called unbeliever desertion, that’s called the Pauline exception, 1 Corinthians 7. And I often find myself wondering in all honesty whether a physical abuse doesn’t come under a type of sexual immorality because of the abuse of the person that it represents. I’m curious as counselors what you think of that. That this is such a fundamental violation of the person and of course that’s part of what sexual immorality also is driving at. It’s a violation of the vow in a profound kind of way. If this isn’t encompassed in those exceptions.
Gary Barnes: What I would think biblically on that is, when you mentioned those two grounds for divorce, I don’t really take from scripture anywhere where it says these are the only two grounds. And so I would say yes, those two would be a factor and I don’t really even have to think about how other factors might have to fit under one of those two categories. I think just out of the basic sanctity of life and the heart of God against violence I would say – and as she was saying on the videotape, and of course of all places within a covenant relationship that that one person should not be trapped into a situation like that.
Debby Wade: [quoting from the video where the survivor talked about feeling she had no human rights in her marriage:] “To feel that they have no human rights in their own marriage.” I certainly believe that if there’s psychological abuse and physical abuse, that typically what follows with that is also sexual abuse. And I just don’t think at all that we can encourage somebody to stay in that or prevent them to get help by saying, “I’m sorry, neither one of our categories fall under what’s permitted in the Bible so you have to stay.” I think that’s being able to interpret these things in scripture, but also understanding the heart of God.
See my next comment, a little further down, where I discuss the mention of sexual abuse.
Darrell Bock: You know, one of the things that strikes me about this discussion sometimes, about the nature and grounds for divorce is, if you look at 1 Corinthians 7, Paul teaches with an awareness of what it is that Jesus taught. He even refers to this as ‘my word, this is not the word of the Lord.’ Whatever it is that he knew that Jesus said, gave him the comfort zone, if I can say it that way, to talk about unbeliever desertion as a category even though it wasn’t explicitly mentioned by Jesus in what he taught. So this is going in the direction that you’re suggesting — that there’s something fundamental about what marriage is and what the partners are to bring to marriage that suggests that when we think about the fundamental abuse, not just spousal abuse but the abuse of the marriage that that represents, that that does represent in some sense as a broken vow and that God’s heart in that situation wouldn’t be for the person to remain in a situation in which they are personally at risk.
Debby Wade: Right.
Gary Barnes: Yeah.
Darrell Bock: Well this has been a difficult topic to cover and it’s an important topic. I want to give you all each a chance to say kind of a final word so Gary, how would you?
Gary Barnes: I would say a couple of things. This is a thing that grows with secrecy and so it’s a problem that we’re prone to not be aware of or to think about. This is really worthy of the church’s attention.
The other thing is that this is not limited to a certain category of people. This is across all categories, rich, poor, whatever your background is. This is across all categories.
And the third thing that I would want to say for the church is that this is also within the redemptive work of God, that change can happen. And it’s a very marvelous, wonderful thing to see the power of God’s grace actually changing this kind of a problem. This is not just like a willpower behavior management plan. This is like a total transformation plan and that’s what God does in our lives. And so we need to always move with that kind of hope.
Barnes’ exhortation to “always move with that kind of hope” will bind the sensitive conscience of the victim to make her deeply fearful of divorcing her abuser, just in case God will turn yet around her husband’s heart.
Barnes says how marvelous it is to see ‘the power of God’s grace actually changing this problem’, but again, he does not name WHO God is changing. God is changing ‘the problem’ — what an antiseptic, aloof, non-explicit expression! The word ‘problem’ does not name anyone: it’s just an abstract, mutualizing word. Does Mr Barnes mean that God marvelously changing the abuser? the victim? or both of them? Cases where the abuser truly reforms are exceedingly rare. I suspect that none of these counselors have ever seen such a miracle, but are just giving lip service to it. More likely, what they have seen are cases where the abuser made some degree of change but not out-and-out reformation, and the victim was persuaded that it was safe to be reconciled. We know of cases like that, but the proof of the pudding is only found in the long term. And there is always the possibility that the survivor is still partly in the fog.
We are not saying it never happens, but we think is very rare. For example, I know of three cases where a male abuser seems to have truly reformed. I am aware of many more cases where the abuser seemed to reform and the marriage reconciled for some time, they even might have started a Domestic Abuse ministry together, but in the end the cracks start showing and it become pretty evident that the man’s entitlement mindset has not really changed. And in the (much less common) cases where the abuser is female, we have not heard of any examples of true reformation.
Dr George K Simon is forensic psychologist who understands a lot about the likelihood of abusers ever changing. We highly recommend his books, but for a taster here are two of his web articles:
Disturbed Characters — Can They Ever Really Change?
Can Character Disorders Hit Bottom — Do They Ever Change?
Darrell Bock: And it will be an intensive exercise in many cases. It will involve a lot of investment and a lot of people to encourage and to support in such a way that opens the door for God to work and change people.
I have already dealt (here and here) with the notion that abusers need encouragement and support and people to come alongside them. The kind of support (more properly called confrontation, education, limit setting and enforcement of consequences) that abusers need is from experts like Dr George Simon, or from people who are well trained in running Behavior Change Programs for Abusers (aka Batterer’s Programs). It is very rare to find a Christian professionals with that kind of training, but pastors and church leaders can and should be delivering biblical discipline for abusers. How rarely we hear of that being done!
Also, ‘for God to work and change people’ is a mutualizing expression:— ‘people’ is plural, so Bock is talking about both spouses needing to change.
Debby Wade: Well certainly I would say to the church let’s make this a topic that we bring to the table and we’re willing to talk about. And to those who are listening that may question are they in abusive situation, they may be saying, well I’ve never been hit so I don’t know if I could call it physical abuse, but yet they have many things in their home that are damaged or pets that are hurt. So property and pet abuse is also considered part of domestic abuse. Then certainly there can be the sexual abuse, the physical and or the emotional.
To give first mention to property damage, sexual abuse and pet abuse so late in the video is very wrong. A robust definition of abuse — one that covered property damage, sexual abuse, pet abuse, financial abuse, social abuse, spiritual abuse, legal abuse, abuse of the children and abuse via the children — should have been given at the start of each of these videos. Some victims may not have made it this far into the video, and those who made it this far may be deeply triggered by all that has been said.
We believe that in any educational program about marriage or domestic abuse, a good definition of abuse and the range of things it covers needs to be stated early. The fact that these counselors do not know this shows how incompetent they are. It’s a basic failure in duty of care.
Wade: But if one feels that they are in a controlling and abusive situation to reach out to someone to start with, first a good friend or a person on staff in a church that they trust, or calling out to a counselor or a crisis line. Just start somewhere to see where they can get some help.
Yes, we do encourage victims to reach out for help. But I think these DTS folk have a Pollyanna view of the church, the counseling scene and the justice systems of secular society. They seem to be pretty clueless about how many ill-trained, ill-informed, prejudiced and even corrupt people are out there providing help to victims of abuse who are seeking help.
Wade: And we’ve talked about possibility of reconciliation or when it doesn’t happen. There’s five words that I use a lot with clients whether I’m working with them individually and or with couples, what I see that God is able to do and we’ve got history of it and biblical accounts where he does it over and over again and he can in our lives: that he rebuilds, he reclaims, he redeems, he restores and he resurrects. And trusting how he can do that regardless of our situation, that those are four things that he’s committed to working on in our lives.
It’s great that Wade mentions the possibility of the marriage NOT being reconciled. But again, we can’t rest in our little sigh of relief for long, because then comes this whole emphasis on how God redeems, rebuilds, reclaims, restores, resurrects. Yes; God can do those things; but wicked people choose to make a habit of wrongdoing and avoiding responsibility. Rarely, very rarely in Scripture do we see this kind of person change. We all know that when a person repents (a much overlooked R word!) and trusts in Christ for salvation — is genuinely born again, regenerated by the Spirit of God and given a new heart — they change. But other than this, we don’t see abusive wicked evil people changing. The old saw-horse of how God redeems and restores is an over-applied doctrine in domestic abuse, it’s used way too often to coerce victims into a drudgery of hopefulness in which they can lose years, decades, of their lives.
Here is a little conversation between Ellie and Jeff Crippen that relates to this part of the video:
I absolutely hate that “redeem” business. CCEF overuses it so badly it is pathetic. Redeeming marriage. Redeeming anger. Redeeming, whatever. Well let’s just hold on a minute — Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. We aren’t. He effected redemption, not me. So you get this whole totally unbiblical model of “redeeming the abuser” like somehow these pastor/counselors think they are the Son of God or something. I really don’t think I am overstating the case here.
To be fair to DTS, I didn’t get the sense that they were saying THEY could redeem anyone, but that we shouldn’t forget that Christ can redeem. That’s the thing they don’t get, that victims are sitting in the pews next to their abusers and hoping hoping hoping that THIS will be the Sunday that the sermon reaches him, that they won’t have to call 911, that in one 30 minute sermon this fraud sitting next to her will walk an aisle and come back to that pew a changed man and they can live happily ever after.
20+ years of Sundays for me. 20+ years.
In the end I really think that people like this do in fact believe that WE can redeem the abuser. It sounds like all of this faith in Christ, but the fact is that the Bible never presents a scenario such as the one these kinds of people do. People who reject Christ and persist in unrepentant wickedness are called evil in the Bible. Scripture does not tell us to spend decades waiting for them to repent and somehow through all of our long-suffering we can pull the thing off. What we are told to do is put such people out of our midst and separate from them, announcing to all what they are. So I do believe that this school of thought does in fact end up creating a false, man-made tradition about this “redemption.”
[back to the video transcript:]
Darrell Bock: One other thought has come to me. What advice would you give to someone who hears from someone being abused? I suspect many of us may know people who find themselves in the situation and they’re kinda saying, okay, should I just be an ear? or is there more left to do?
Gary Barnes: You need to be an advocate, not just an ear. Because this person is isolated and needs support and they need very much to have somebody be an advocate for them.
Yes, a listening ear is good — so long as they don’t subtly blame the victim and subtly excuse the perpetrator — but a listening ear who is an advocate as well, is far better. However, Mr Barnes, I would not go to you for either a listening ear or an advocate.
Darrell Bock: And so that will mean going to bat for them. What do you do with the confidentiality that a person may ask you to have about this? I could see getting boxed in.
Gary Barnes: Confidentiality is always limited with the safety guideline. So if you’re ever concerned about somebody being a danger to themself or others, see then that’s a limit to confidentiality.
That is true. However, if you are a helper there is a vital thing you need to know which Barnes failed to mention: the danger of revealing to the perpetrator the secrets that the victim has disclosed to you. Rule of thumb: Do not tell the perpetrator or any of his allies (or people who he may recruit as allies) what the victim has disclosed to you, unless the victim has given her express permission. If in doubt or if you have concerns about her safety, seek advice from the Domestic Violence Hotline. Safety for the victim and children takes priority, always. Too many victims have been betrayed by pastors or counselors who foolishly go and confront the abuser without the victim’s fully informed consent. Or worse still, they ‘take the abuser out to lunch for a friendly chat’. Safety planning is a whole big topic which these people at DTS scarcely mentioned. Safety planning can be done by professional domestic violence workers in conjunction with the victim, but there are also many good safety plans on the web. See our Resources page on Safety Planning.
Debby Wade: And I think sometime, with that listening ear we may hear something and we’re not certain what they were telling us, we have concern or question. Be willing to go back to that person and say “You know, the other day when we were talking you mentioned this. And I just really wanted to come back and see are you okay?” Because I think sometime we will hear something and maybe shy away from it ‘cause we’re either scared to get involved or we think, “Oh I don’t want to think that.” We semi-deny it.
This is good.
Darrell Bock: Or the other end of the spectrum might be well I don’t want to be a gossip. I don’t want to share something that really shouldn’t be shared.
Debby Wade: Right.
The panel should at least briefly have talked about how to distinguish gossip from wise and caring disclosure, and how the ‘no-gossip’ rule is often used to silence victims.
Debby Wade: But to come back to that person and say, “Are you okay? And if you’re not, how can I help?”
Amen! A gentle, encouraging, open-ended question or expression of concern for her wellbeing, rephrased or repeated on different occasions, can be very helpful to victims.
Darrell Bock: Well I want to thank y’all for coming in and discussing this and we appreciate your joining us at the table today over a very, very serious topic, spousal abuse, not just domestic violence but spousal abuse and we hope this has been helpful to you as you think your way through what is something that often we don’t talk about but we’ve brought it here because we think it’s very, very important to talk about.
He was right to use the term ‘abuse’ rather than (or in conjunction with) the more restrictive word ‘violence’.
I shall end with a final quote from Jeff Crippen:
The DTS panel never even mentioned church discipline. They talk and talk about trusting God, God can redeem anyone, being patient, trying separation that is structured, etc., . . . but where is there any indication that they realize that here is a guy who has been wickedly abusing his wife for a long time, who claims to be a Christian — where is their outrage and their resolve to announce his evil to the church and put him out of their midst, handing him over to Satan for his destruction (1 Cor. 5-6, 9-13; Eph. 5:11)? These people have embraced a completely unbiblical doctrine of man and of sin.