This Biblical Counselor Thinks we have Misrepresented Biblical Counseling
A biblical counselor submitted a commented on this post of ours. We didn’t publish his comment on that thread because it would have been triggering for our readers. Instead we have chosen to feature it here because it exemplifies the kind of things that many biblical counselors say. We want you, our readers, to analyse and comment on it. Use it an exercise in discernment and assertiveness.
I am a biblical counselor, perhaps the kind that you tell people to run from. However, I don’t think you fairly characterized the kind of counsel that organizations like ours would give. I think it is true that we would struggle to “come right out and say” that “Abuse is grounds for divorce” because there is a better and more complete way to have the conversation. There is a more complete conversation that the scriptures would encourage us to have. Consider the questions below:
Is being lazy really abusive grounds for divorce?
Is “working too much” abandoning the marriage?
Is infrequent / too frequent sexual relations really a subtle form of abuse?
Is failing to encourage your wife abusive?
Is “forcing” your spouse to attend your church with you abusive?
Is requesting “oral sex” abusive?
Is restricting the budget too severely, controlling and abusive?
Is avoiding arguments through silence abusive?
I have heard all of these referred to as “abusive” in my office. I think you could make a case that all of them could or would be classified as abusive in some relationships. Some are certainly more gray lines than black and white. However, to give a blanket statement to husbands or wives who are in these situations that their “marriage covenant is irretrievably broken” would not be sound, wise or complete counsel. It’s a far more complicated and lengthy conversation then that. Divorce would be the first response to some of the difficulties above and certainly not the desire outcome.
Here are some questions that come to my mind. We are going to email Tim when this is published, to invite him to respond. And remember, he submitted his comment to this blog expecting it would be published, so he certainly understood that he might receive public pushback from us and our readers. Therefore, it would be unbiblical to claim that we were obliged to ‘speak to him privately first’ as per Matthew 18:15.
The questions below can also prompt you, readers, in composing your comments. We know of course that none of us can read Tim’s mind, nor can we or assume we know his motives. But many of our readers may have experienced similar statements from their own counselors — and we are all free to talk about our own experiences!
Qn 1. Does ACFJ give a blanket statement to husbands or wives who have experienced any of those behaviours from their partner, that their “marriage covenant is irretrievably broken”? (as Allchin claims)
Qn 2. Tim Allchin believes you could make a case that all of those behaviours he listed could or would be classified as abusive in some relationships. So, in his view, what is required to classify them as abusive?
Qn 3. How would Tim Allchin discern whether or not a ‘gray’ situation is abusive?
Qn 4. Are victims guilty of calling sins by their spouse “abuse” just to make a bigger deal out of it than it really is?
Qn 5. Are victims guilty of exaggerating? Or of lying?
Qn 6. Are abusers guilty of exaggerating? Or of lying?
Qn 7. Has Tim Allchin bothered to look at our careful definition of abuse?
Qn 8. Is it wise for Tim to have made his questions all about discrete behaviors?
Qn 9. By making his examples all about discrete behaviors while not talking about the mentality of abusers and the pattern of coercive control and the employment of power, is Tim Allchin showing that he understands domestic abuse well enough to counsel victims or perpetrators?
Qn 10. Is his focus on discrete behaviours designed to throw us onto the back foot? —to bamboozle or undermine us? —to characterize us as too black and white?
Tim admits that he and organizations like his would struggle to come right out and say that abuse is grounds for divorce. He explains his reluctance on the grounds that there is a better and more complete way to have the conversation… a more complete conversation that the scriptures would encourage us to have.
Qn 11: What, in his view, would that more complete conversation be like?
- Would it look at the pattern, the coercion, the covert aggression, the power and control in the marriage?
- Would it just drag out the standard wives submit, husband be servant-leaders, confess, forgive, reconcile, formula?
- Would the conversation cover what to do when one spouse pretends to be a loving Christian but behind closed doors is a mean, harsh, deceiving, evasive, manipulative bully?
- Would the conversation cover the fact that Malachi 2:16 has often been mistranslated? Would Tim Allchin inform his clients that God does not hate all kinds of divorce?
- And most important of all, would the conversation be done in a couple-counseling format?
The problem in the church is not that wives are saying everything is abuse.
The problem, we believe, is that the church is saying very-little-to-nothing is abuse, and is hiding behind the excuse that “it’s such a gray area”.
And even when a church does say ‘x’ is abuse (e.g. physical violence), that is usually just rhetoric: when you take them at their word, you find they move the goal posts. “It wasn’t severe violence. Your life wasn’t in danger. You didn’t flee so it couldn’t have been that bad. Report him to police, they’ll deal with it (as if that always stops abusers!). Oh, but you can’t take a brother to court so forget the family court and divorcing him, and God hates divorce so you can only separate … ‘for a season’. Oh, look! now he’s repenting, so you’ve gotta take him back!”