Ed Welch Has Abuse All Wrong, and so does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
One of our readers pointed us to an article on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church website called Helping Victims of Domestic Violence* by Ed Welch from CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation). We have yet to experience any CCEF acknowledgment of errors they have written in their published materials about abuse.
Be forewarned, the article by Welch will trigger, raise blood pressure, and generally make you jump up and down yelling “how can anyone get it so wrong?!”
Our ACFJ team members have collectively written this critique. Welch’s words are indented and italicised. Remember, this stuff is on the OPC website and thus endorsed by them for their churches.
Couples who sit peacefully in church pews may nevertheless be at war. Spouses can attack each other, defend ground, employ manipulative guerrilla tactics, and declare occasional truces. When war has been declared, there is sin on both sides, but when violence is involved, a strong man typically oppresses a woman. With God’s grace, afflicted women often look to the church for help. When they do, what are some basic biblical parameters that should guide your ministry to them?
Well, he gets it wrong right out of the starting blocks with this opening paragraph. See it? Fundamentally he endorse the myth that domestic violence is a two-side problem; he mutualizes the fault: “there is sin on both sides,” rather than ascribing the fault to just the perpetrator. He talks about spouses attacking each other, manipulating each other, declaring occasional truces, as if both spouses had equal power and were mutually to blame for the dynamics of the relationship. He wrongly describes it a ‘war’ — characterising both parties are combatants — but domestic abuse is not a war, it is the tyranny the totalitarian dictator with his KGB and his Animal Farm mind-control system working secretly to keep the oppressed spouse intimidated.
And as well as regurgitating the myth that the abuse victim is a combatant in a war (rather than what she really is: a prisoner in a prison camp experiencing domestic terrorism), Welch recycles another myth about domestic abuse — that it’s mostly about physical violence. He promotes this myth by talking about one of the combatants in this supposed war having the advantage of physical strength. “When violence is involved, a strong man typically oppresses a woman.” This is an all too typical example of the idea that abuse is primarily physical violence, and that if physical violence isn’t occurring, it isn’t really abuse, it’s just ‘marital conflict’. These are notions which all competent domestic violence professionals will reject in a flash.
Welch now sets out to instruct pastors and church sessions and members on how to properly minister to abuse victims. He fails. Once again notice his emphasis on violence and we must conclude that he specifically mean physical violence:
Remember that some victims of violence are reluctant to speak openly about it. They may fear that openness will lead to retaliation by the perpetrator. They may feel ashamed that they contributed to the war (though they are not responsible for the violence done to them). They may consider their problems unworthy of an elder’s or a friend’s attention. Or, they may feel ashamed that their husbands could dislike them even to the point of violence.
The implication here is that yes, the victim has indeed contributed to the war herself, but she isn’t to be held responsible for the violence done to her. See the thinking? Welch fails one of the first tests in the field of domestic violence (see our Non-Negotiables). His thinking focuses on physical violence primarily. In fact we all know that the bulk of domestic abuse done to victims is non-physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Notice this confirmed in Christ’s sufferings:
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)
Yet not a hand had been laid upon Him to this point. No sound theologian, especially a Reformed theologian, would think of denying that Christ’s sufferings included His pre-Calvary oppression at the hands of wicked men, yet those hands never laid upon Him until after Gethsemane.
So it is with domestic violence. The suffering of violence often does not involve physical assault, and even when it does, the abuser may only use physical violence rarely. Many an abuser has broken his wife’s spirit without once touching her in anger. Abusers are cunning and know that using physical violence may lead to criminal charges, or may wake their victim up to the fact that A.B.U.S.E. is happening; and they can often accomplish their goal of power and control without taking that risk.
Furthermore, Welch does to the victim the exact thing that the abuser does to his victim: he gives her contradictory messages. Message one: “When war has been declared, there is sin on both sides.” Message two: Victims are not responsible for the violence done to them.” So is the victim’s sin contributing to the problem? Or is she not responsible for the problem? The victim will try to make sense of these opposing messages but will be unable to because they can’t both be true! She will feel like she must be crazy because she can’t work out a way to make sense of both of them at the same time.
Welch is not done:
If the woman is confident that returning to her home will not lead to her physical harm, then listening should include a more systematic review of the violent, controlling patterns in the marriage. This information is most helpful when it is specific and written down. Then the perpetrator can be confronted according to the requirements of Matthew 18, and made to understand that the church leadership takes domestic violence very seriously and will act to protect his wife even as they seek to minister to him and hold him accountable.
This is simply staggering in its ignorance of the dynamics of abuse. Notice again, if anyone had any doubts, Welch believes that physical violence and harm is the necessary requirement for separation. And it’s a temporary separation: he doesn’t make mention of divorce at all in this article. (We have noted that CCEF routinely avoids coming out and addressing divorce for abuse).
Additionally, Welch makes no recommendation that the victim ought to seek the advice of domestic violence professionals to assess her risk and work out whether it is safe to go home. And he doesn’t even mention Safety Planning! Welch puts all the risk assessment burden onto the victim herself, which is dangerously bad practice. Risk assessment and Safety Planning is something that is best done by DV experts working respectfully and closely with the victim.
Welch is also dangerously uninformed about the mentality of abusers. He believes that things can be taken care of with Matthew 18, that the church can “minister” to the abuser, and “hold him accountable.” Minister to him? That means “serve” him. Where in God’s Word do we have instruction that a wicked, evil man who has worn the facade of Christianity, all the while wickedly abusing his wife, is to be ministered to? The abuser is a reviler, and 1 Corinthians 5 instructs that a reviler who profess to be a Christian is to be immediately put out of the church as a scandalous sinner and the church that fails to do this is guilty of arrogance:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. … now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 11)
The dangerous counsel continues —
You teach the oppressed to put their hope in God
The victim must be encouraged in her faith. As in all suffering, she may think that God is indifferent and aloof, or that the perpetrator is all-powerful. Either way, affliction is always a time for God’s people to know and rely on our God who hears. Furthermore, if a victim is ever to move toward a repentant perpetrator in love and to open herself to love and trust, she must be strengthened by a robust faith.
Welch’s patronizing tone makes us gag. He haughtily assumes that the oppressed woman has not been putting her hope in God, so (silly woman) she needs to be taught to do so. How audacious! How offensive to the victims! And think about it for a moment. What is the reason some victims may come to think that God is indifferent and aloof and the perpetrator is all-powerful? Because a) the church is usually indifferent and aloof; b) the perpetrator is powerful in keeping her intimidated, confused and exhausted; and c), the perpetrator is enabled to continue abusing his wife because the church continues to be taught myths about domestic abuse by people like Ed Welch!
You will see as you read through this article that Welch, as evidenced here, really says that it is God’s will for an abuse victim to remain in the abuse. In addition, it is her obligation before God to move toward a repentant perpetrator in love AND TO OPEN HERSELF TO LOVE AND TRUST! Mr. Welch, did you really say that? A large part of our time is spent educating the abuse victim that it is unwise for her to keep giving the abuser more chances and opening herself up again by trusting her abuser. Abusers are not trustworthy. Sociopaths cannot be trusted. And the victim has no obligation before God to “move toward” her abuser when he claims to be repentant. Does Welch not know (no, he doesn’t) that abusers are masters at play-acting repentance? Freedom and healing and (to use a CCEF favorite word) redemption from oppression comes through the victim learning that her abuser cannot be trusted.
What abusers can be trusted to do, based on their long records of conduct towards their victims, is to fake repentance in order to suck their victims back into their reach and then gradually or suddenly switch from Jekyll to Hyde. And the Bible’s advice about dealing with such people is to have nothing to do with them —
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Tim 3:1-5 NIV)
Ready for more? —
God does not forget (Ps. 10:12; 56:4). Personal trouble does not mean that God has forsaken his people. Rather, the Bible constantly shows that God responds to prayers for deliverance. While we cannot always observe this deliverance immediately, God will most assuredly deliver his people. The story of God’s work in their lives is not over. Therefore, remind victims to keep their eyes open, watching for God’s strong hand in their lives.
So the victim gets reminded to pray and keep her eyes peeled for God’s deliverance — while the church can sit on its hypocritical hands, not helping to deliver her by putting her abuser out of the church, implying that she she shares the blame for declaring marital war, while they ‘minister’ to her oppressor! And preen themselves for being such great leaders by “making the perpetrator understand that the church leadership takes domestic violence very seriously and will act to protect his wife even as they seek to minister to him and hold him accountable.”
By the way: how can you make a perpetrator understand anything? And more to the point: perpetrators already understand that domestic abuse is wrong — that’s why they hide and deny most of what they do from the public! — they know it’s wrong and they choose to keep doing it. And they are much more skilled at avoiding accountability, than most church leaders are at making fast the chains of accountability and blocking the loopholes in the accountability net.
Welch continues —
Jesus knows our sufferings. In his own body, he experienced violence at the hands of his own people. In fact, his experience surpasses our own because he suffered even to death. When we see this suffering, it can actually begin to lighten, or outweigh, a woman’s grief.
For the woman who feels forsaken by God, the sufferings of Jesus can be a great comfort. It is a comfort that exceeds the sympathy and comfort extended by other women who have endured similar experiences. At a women’s shelter, a victim of violence will be surrounded by people who understand, but in the throne room of God, she will be in the presence of One who understands perfectly, grieves deeply, and loves completely.
As our team member Wendell observes, this is assuming that all suffering that Christians face are for the same reason as Christ’s sufferings, which is not the case. Trying to equate the sufferings of an abused woman with the sufferings of Christ is ludicrous. True, they were both from wicked people; however, Christ’s sufferings were to fulfill prophecy and lead us to salvation (over simplification there). He volunteered for those sufferings by choosing to give up the prerogatives of being God and coming down in the form of man and to be obedient up to death so as to pay the price for our sin. An abuse victim did not volunteer for being abused by her spouse, and that suffering is not going to bring anyone salvation or do anything other than destroy the victim and further enable the abuser.
Right on, Wendell!
It’s true that Jesus knows our sufferings and sympathizes with them, but for Welch to make this point is clammy comfort for victims when he’s been so patronizing and unhelpful to them already. Welch suggests that when victims see Christ’s suffering, it can actually begin to lighten, or outweigh, their grief. The afflicted woman will automatically translate this to: “Your suffering isn’t as bad as what Christ suffered. You’re probably making too big a deal of it. Just meditate on Christ’s suffering and you’ll soon see, little woman, how self-centred you’ve been in dwelling on your own pain.” — Maybe we oughta just traipse back to Rome and start conjuring up mental icons of the bleeding wounds of Christ!
The Cross provides the timeless evidence of God’s love for his people and his “toughness” with sin. Sin and suffering will always remain a mystery. Neither makes sense in a world that God created as good. Yet it is clear that God’s love, demonstrated to us in Jesus, exceeds the boundaries of our imagination, and his justice leaves observers silenced. In a world where a woman cannot trust the one closest to her, the greatest blessing you can offer to her is the assurance of God’s loving and watchful presence.
You’re on your own, little woman: it’s just you and God. The church pretends to stand with you and deliver justice, but it won’t really. Yet it pats you on the head and reminds you that God loves you so make sure you smile humbly and thank your superiors for reminding you of what you must have forgotten. And if you don’t smile and show thanks, well clearly your faith isn’t robust enough!
Now Welch gets even more dangerous in his instruction to victims. Yes, dangerous. Look at this mind boggling headline —
You teach the oppressed how to disarm the controlling, angry, or violent person
The victim must know how to preempt and respond to ungodly anger. Whether or not the woman returns immediately to her home, she must learn to manifest “a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Too often her responses to violence fluctuate between timidity and revenge, revealing both the perpetrator’s ongoing control and his dominance in her life. Instead of fluctuating between these two extremes, wives need to be led in a biblical course that is humble and powerful.
Welch puts the onus on the victim to disarm the abuser. And instead of honouring her responses and interpreting them as resistance — discreet attempts to maintain her dignity in the face of oppression — he blames and guilts her for her responses. What he maligns as her ‘timidity’ is very likely to be the very thing that Welch says she needs to be led to manifest: self-discipline and humility in trying to elicit respectful treatment from her husband. And what he derogates as her ‘revenge’ is likely to be her expressing righteous anger against injustice and her attempt to powerfully resist the mistreatment. But Welch sees none of this; all he sees is that she needs to be led and instructed because she’s doing it all wrong.
And do not forget. In all of this Welch is sending her sooner or later back into the lion’s den. She is on a mission to redeem (disarm) her abuser. It is her divine calling. She must not shirk it. This is the teaching of this “expert” in biblical counseling.
When in doubt, confess your sin to the perpetrator. There may be no more powerful response to the sin of others. Everyone knows how difficult it is to confess sin to another person, but to confess it to a perpetrator of violence seems utterly impossible. But a woman who is strong in the Lord does not stand on her own righteousness; rather, she stands on the righteousness of Christ and can therefore confess her own sin. This, of course, does not imply that her actions caused the violence or abuse. She simply confesses sin that God has exposed in her life.
This betrays an amazing level of ignorance regarding the very nature of evil. The mentality of a normal person will appreciate an apology. But that of the abuser is anything but normal. He will take his victim’s confession of sin and run with it full field to a touch down of further abuse. Abusers see apology as a sign of weakness. They are like a savage predator (as is their father the devil) who is now provided with a victim who turns her vulnerable jugular to them, inviting attack. And attack he will. Welch seems to believe that the way to deal with the Devil is to confess our sins and failings to him. He will then be so moved with our humility that he will repent of his evil ways and we can all live redeemed, happily ever after. Oh yeah.
That paragraph quoted above, notice once more, includes more of that same single string plucking — real abuse necessarily involves physical violence. That is fundamental to Welch’s thinking.
And, after you’ve confessed your sin to the perpetrator according to Welch’s formula —
“Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).
This is the log-speck mix-up. It’s not mere sin-levelling, it’s a diabolical inversion of the true sin situation. The abuser’s sin is the log, a giant telegraph pole log in each of his eyes. The victim’s sin is a speck in comparison and it has not caused the marriage breakdown, and her confessing it to him will be likely only to give him more grenades to throw at her and more ways to slander her to others. But Welch doesn’t care, he’s too intent on giving pious advice to think about whether the metaphor fits the case.
For some women, confrontation may be harder than confession. It may be easier for them to assume they deserve sinful treatment than take a stand against sin. Or they may be afraid that confrontation will lead to divorce.
The woman is deemed wrong if she’s afraid that confrontation may lead to divorce, but her fear of being divorced is not allayed by telling her that it is not a sin to divorce for abuse!
But a way to love the perpetrator is to clearly portray his sin and its consequences. Minimizing or ignoring it can be spiritually deadly—for either party. Such confrontation should be done in the presence of another person.
Forgive quickly, but don’t allow the perpetrator’s request for forgiveness to be the end of the discussion. Reconciliation begins when the perpetrator asks for forgiveness. In situations where there has been an outbreak of violence, this violence uncovers a larger pattern of demandingness, control, and arrogance. Such patterns should never be swept aside with the words, “Will you forgive me?” The flesh and the devil thrive when hurts and sins are kept in the dark. Therefore, one way a wife can love is to let her husband know the consequences of his sin in her life. This is not done to hurt; it is done to heal.
Can’t you just imagine what will happen when the victim confronts the abuser in the presence of another person like an Ed Welch cloned counselor or pastor? (If you can’t, click here for some survivor’s stories.) The abuser will probably ask for forgiveness because he knows that will “begin” the process of reconciliation and will win brownie points with the pastor. The woman is then meant to tell her husband the consequences of his sin in her life — but who looks after her safety after this interview when the abuser later retaliates on her for telling some of the truth?
Speak with gentleness and love. In a world where advanced technology is power, we often overlook the power of words. Words, however, can disarm angry people. It can be a great encouragement for women to know that “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). Although the woman is not the cause of the violence, she nevertheless has power to subdue it with humility, gentleness, and love. . . . God reserves unique glimpses of himself for those who have been oppressed, and he gives power to shake off the twin enemies of timidity and rage.
So there it is. Welch over-generalises the ‘gentle answer’ proverb and tells the woman she has the power to subdue and disarm her abuser by speaking to him in humility, gentleness and love. But hang on, she’s probably been attempting to do that for years already and it never stopped the abuser wielding his power and control! If she displays humility and gentleness, what’s the chance she get criticised by Welch for showing timidity? And if she get angry about the injustice the abuser has done to her, or the patronizing way in which the counselor is treating her, she’ll be criticized for displaying rage. She’s in a Catch 22.
The reality is: if she gives pearls of love to her abuser, he, being the swine he is, will trample them underfoot and turn again and rend her. Welch’s imagination about the woman’s power is just that: his imagination. He needs to come to reality and stop thinking he has all the answers.
Ed Welch, you need to repent of these teachings. You need to publicly recant what you have taught here for the glory of God and for the sake of the oppressed. We call you to it. And to the OPC, we make this plea, take this article down from you website and begin to learn the truth about this wickedness of abuse. A great place to start that journey of learning is right here at A Cry for Justice.
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- This teaching by Ed Welch has been published in many formats; it keeps reincarnating. The article on the OPC site is slightly condensed version of what has appeared in other formats. It formed part of “Queries and Controversies: Helping the Victim of Domestic Violence” in the Journal of Biblical Counseling, Jan 01, 1997 (link). It was also part of the CCEF booklet Domestic Abuse: How to Help, by Welch, Tripp and Powlison. Our readers may recall that Peacemakers Ministry recommends that CCEF booklet — see I wish I knew this about Peacemakers before I went, part 5 of Persistent Widow’s story.
And it’s not the only dangerous teaching by Ed Welch on domestic abuse. He has also written Living With an Angry, Abusive, or Violent Spouse which was published on the Family Life website and which we likewise do not recommend.