Matt Powell Does Not Understand Abuse and Ends up Adding to Victim’s Suffering
Pastor Matt Powell maintains a blog titled Wheat and Chaff (here Internet Archive link]). He is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Casper, Wyoming, which is a member church of the Reformed Church in the U.S. denomination. Matt has been quite critical of A Cry for Justice and continues to write articles which criticize us and our work, articles that are very harmful to victims of abuse and very enabling to abusers. Matt might believe he is right, that he is helping the church stand firmly in Christ’s truth, but Matt — you are very wrong when it comes to this field of ministry.
I am going to quote from Matt’s recent articles to demonstrate what I mean. I am sure that our readers will easily see his errors, that they are serious errors, and are the kind of teaching that typically has enabled abusers to remain in the church and hold their victims in bondage.
Here is part of his March 22, 2016 article (found here Internet Archive link]):
What disturbs me about this is that a lot of people, in sympathy with the terrible problem of domestic abuse, treat abuse as if it is a whole different situation, to be dealt with by completely different rules, than any other situation, and there is no Biblical evidence that this is so. In fact, the definition of abuse in the linked article is so broad that practically any sinful behavior of one person toward another can be defined as abuse, thus justifying divorce.
My issue with the way that this problem often gets discussed these days is that the term “abuse” gets used to cover a wide variety of types and severities of sins, which wouldn’t be such an issue except that all who are guilty of such sins are labeled “abusers” which then get treated as unique kinds of monsters to which the normal rules don’t apply. I’ve written about Jeff Crippen and his website “Crying Out for Justice” as a particularly egregious example of this tendency before…, and the articles by Justin Holcomb which Andy Webb links to make a lot of the same tendencies- labeling a wide variety of behavior as abuse, and then treating those guilty of these sins as if they all shared particular characteristics. Crippen’s solution to the problem is to always believe the woman when she claims to be a victim, not to listen to the accused at all, to treat him as incapable of change, and to throw him out of the church with no due process. Holcomb’s articles quote Lundy Bancroft several times, one of Crippen’s major influences as well.
Here is Holcomb’s definition of abuse:
“Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner.”
Now the behavior which Holcomb describes is abusive, certainly. But the problem is, according to this, as soon as someone uses hurtful words or silence to try to control someone else’s behavior, they are an abuser, and all these other statements about abuse come into play. But this description is incredibly broad and vague. How many marriages are there where the spouses haven’t used hurtful words toward each other? And why do people do that? Because they want their spouse to behave differently than they are. But this is Holcomb’s definition of domestic abuse. It’s so broad as to be useless.
End of quote.
Matt, did you read the Holcomb’s definition of abuse? And have you read our definition of abuse on our blog at ACFJ? Did you notice the word “pattern” in both of those definitions?
From the top of our sidebar here at ACFJ:
The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his* target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.
The definition of domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.
* Sometimes the genders are reversed.
This is certainly not a broad definition that applies to every single act of hurtful behavior. The abuse we deal with is indeed very different than that. We say that the abuser does what he (or she) does habitually, by nature, out of a mindset of entitlement to power and control. Every day. Ongoing. Even when the abuser appears to be charming, nice, caring, that is just part of the abusive tactics, aimed to entice the target closer, to soften her up so she is more vulnerable, more open, more easily subjected to the abuser’s control.
Nowhere in our books or in any of the hundreds of blog posts we have written do we ever even come close to defining abuse in a way that would permit someone who one time or on occasion hurts their spouse to be labeled an abuser. How is it that you, Matt Powell, claim our definition of abuse is “incredibly broad and vague”? You dismiss with a sweep of your pen this whole ministry of exposing the evil of abuse as “useless.”
It is plain that Matt has never truly and honestly studied the sociopath, the narcissist, the psychopath, or the abuser or he would never, ever lump all sinners into the same category together. Scripture in more than one place tells us that some sin is far more evil and thus deserving of more judgment than Sodom. See a discussion of this in Barbara Roberts’ article Are all sins equally bad? Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? There are wicked men who creep into the church who are reprobate, destined for destruction (see Jude on that one).
Matt ends his article with these words which are difficult for anyone in the know about abuse to even fathom. In fact, Matt, what you say here will be plain evidence to abuse victims that your church is no place for them, that it is the typical place where abusers are enabled and where victims are loaded down with more condemnation and suffering. I am sure our readers will have plenty of comments about, especially, these following paragraphs from Matt’s pen: [Trigger warnings flashing here by the way]
In Holcomb’s articles, I did not see the same level of bad advice that I have in Crippen’s. I have not seen Holcomb say that accusations should not be investigated, that the accuser should always be believed, or that the accused should be excommunicated without any recourse. But there is still the broad overgeneralization, where a very wide variety of behavior, that pretty much everyone is guilty of at some time or another, is described as domestic abuse, and all domestic abusers are described in overbroad generalizations, with the net effect that pretty much any sinful behavior can be described as domestic abuse and the abuser can then be treated any way one likes. It’s classic scapegoating behavior. There is sound Biblical wisdom to follow, and the current fad about domestic abuse I fear is encouraging a lot of reckless, unbiblical scapegoating. Anyone who is unhappy in their marriage can find plenty of material in Holcomb’s article, or from Jeff Crippen’s books or websites, to make their spouses out to be abusers, and leave in haste without proper Biblical process or reasonings, and anyone who encourages them to slow down and seek out advice will be treated as an “abuse enabler and apologist.”
The last thing we need to be doing is encouraging more divorce. These are real people’s lives. Divorce is shattering to the people getting divorced, to the children, to society at large. It causes multigenerational dysfunction. Yes, it’s sometimes necessary. But encouraging people to get divorced with these vague, overbroad descriptions is reckless, foolish, and unbiblical. We need to take domestic abuse seriously, and that means being much more careful in what we’re willing to describe as domestic abuse, and sweeping language we use about people. Everyone sins against other people, and sinful behavior towards others is always abusive. The remedy provided by the Scriptures for abusive behavior is the cross of Christ, and forgiveness and repentance. Abusers are not in some different category than the rest of us.
If someone is abusing their spouse in a way that is a civil offense, such as violence, the cops should be called. Physical violence is grounds for divorce. Other kinds of abuse should be matters of church discipline, and if a person will not submit to the discipline of the church, then that too becomes grounds for divorce. This should be the way these things are handled – in the courts of the church, by mature believers, very carefully, and not with sweeping generalizations. This is why it is so important and so valuable to be part of churches that have robust systems of church government with accountability and oversight.
Whew! A church not to go to for help for sure. This is the fertile church ground abusers find so welcoming.
I will do a second post on another article that Matt wrote. It is just as bad.
Note from Barbara Roberts to Matt Powell:
We do NOT say that accusations of abuse need not be investigated. You have misrepresented us by claiming that. We say that the victim’s report should in the first instance be believed and the victim should be thoroughly supported. We say that abusers characteristically lie, distort the facts, minimize and excuse their evildoing, and twist scripture. We state that abusers are shrewd at manipulating bystanders and those who might hold them accountable. So we warn leaders and other bystanders to beware of being snowed by abusers. And we say that evidence for abuse need not be confined to direct eye-witnessing of abusive behavior. We point out that the Bible and common sense and the principles of law all say that evidence can take the form of:
- documentary material such as text messages, emails, bank statements, credit card statements, internet search records, photos, etc. — see Jeff Crippen’s article God’s Rules of Evidence are Often Misapplied, to the Harm of Abuse Victims,
- symptoms of trauma in the abused such as hyper-vigilance, health issues arising from longterm stress — see our tag PTSD
- the responses the victim makes to the abuse — the behaviors the victim adopts to try to mitigate the harms and dangers of the abuse — see our tag Victims’ Resistance.
We also provide advice for how to discern phoney victims from genuine victims. See these articles of ours:
Follow up post: Matt Powell is at it Again to Keep Abuse Victims in Bondage