9. The will-o-the-wisp of hope for abusive men
Chris Moles doesn’t fully understand the story of King David
Chris Moles uses the story of King David’s taking Bathsheba for his sexual gratification to illustrate what he calls the “four pillars of domestic abuse” (W*). The four pillars Chris sets out are:
- superiority – the abusers misuse their power because they believe in their own superiority
- objectification – abusers treats their victims like objects
- forced submission – abusers force or compel their victims into submission
- violence or abuse with impunity – the abuser has been getting away with this for a long time will little to no consequences.
And we all know that David repented when Nathan confronted him. Chris Moles concludes that this ‘gives us hope’ for abusive men.
But while David repented of his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, his repentance and change of heart only went so far.
David had been abused and persecuted by King Saul, so, unlike most men who abuse their female partners, David knew what it was like to be an adult being victimized by another more powerful adult. David knew what it was like to be a victim, so he should have been especially vigilant to protect others from victimization.
The Bible says that David was “a man after God’s own heart” and we can understand this when we read the Psalms which David wrote under the inspiration of God. But even David, the man after God’s own heart, was deeply flawed.
David misused his privilege and kingly power to take Bathsheba for his sexual gratification and then kill her husband Uriah to get him out of the way. When Nathan confronted David, he repented of those sins. But David still harboured a tendency to go along with male privilege at the expense of women. We know this because David did not put enough effort into curbing and curtailing some of his evil-minded sons.
For all King David’s repentance, he still harboured presumptions about male privilege. David was still willing to overlook the abuse of power by privileged men.
Has Chris Moles given much thought to how David’s repentance falls short of what is required to keep women safe from predatory men?
David played a supporting role for his son Amnon, which gave Amnon an opportunity to rape Tamar:
Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let Tamar my sister come and make a couple of cakes for me in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”
And David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Now go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” (2 Sam 13:6-7 NKJ)
It could be argued that David was completely deceived by Amnon’s crafty ploy. But David had taken advantage of a woman (Bathsheba) before and had supposedly seen the error of his ways, so he ought to have been on the alert for the possibility that his own son was doing something similar. If Amnon had really been ill, he could have been cared for by his male servants. David ought to have been very suspicious of Amnon’s request.
And after Ammon raped Tamar, the Bible tells us how David responded:
When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry (v21).
The Dead Sea Scroll and Septuagint add: “But he [David] did not grieve the spirit of Amnon his son, because he loved him because he was his firstborn.”
David not only failed to reprimand or punish Amnon, he also failed to vindicate and support his daughter Tamar. David just got furious…and then did nothing.
Chris Moles doesn’t see any of this. He just concludes his teaching about David by pointing to the ‘hope’ for abusers because they can repent like David did.
But the ‘hope’ that Chris Moles draws from the story of David’s repentance is like a will -o’-the-wisp.
Thanks to the commenter who has pointed out that our definition of abuse is a pattern of behavior with the intention to control. This pattern of behavior is a long term thing. And because of this, David story doesn’t seem to be a great example of abuse and repentance to apply to domestic abuse.
David was a man after God’s own heart; abusers are not. While there are other stories in the Bible that show David’s character flaws, he is not depicted as someone who habitually abused his power over the long term.
Person A can do something terrible and abusive, and repent. That does not mean that Person B, who has made a life habit of using abuse as their normal way of getting what they want, will also repent. Person B has already decided not to repent many times.
I know a domestic abuse survivor in the USA who cleans people’s houses for a living. She told me that one of her cleaning clients runs a government drug program – those found guilty of drug charges can go through this program instead of going to jail. She asked him how successful the program was. He told her a figure (she thinks it was between 20-40%). It was a higher percentage than she was expecting. She then told him she had read a bit about DV programs, and the success rate for DV programs seem to be much lower. His response:
Oh, DV is a different animal. I have a buddy that runs a DV program. He sees very little if any change in his guys. And even in my program – it’s very hard to measure success. The numbers we show on paper are probably too high.
Lundy Bancroft used to worked in the Emerge Program which was one of the early programs in the US for men who have abused their female partners. Readers of our blog will know that we do not recommend the “healing retreats” Lundy runs for abused women (link). But I think it is likely that Lundy is fairly familiar with the likelihood of abusive men changing for the better. I watched his 2017 webinar and took notes. Lundy said:
I have not seen any lasting change from religious conversion, recommitting to his own religion, deeper studying of his religion, or when a man deepens his commitment to his faith.
How religious a man is does not appear to have any effect on now abusive he is. Abusive men can be atheists, or deeply religious, or ‘lightly’ religious.
We don’t have reliable stats on the percentage of abusers who change. The studies measure different things. And no studies measure change in verbal abuse.
No abusive men change in the absence of intervention. Interventions can be
- jail / criminal conviction
- being left by the victim for an extended time (at least three months) or for good
- or both of the above
but even then, the abusive man has to do substantial work – and few do.
Only when he realises “My partner could live without me” is there any likelihood that the abusive man might start to do the work to change.
Abuser Programs need to last at least six months minimum. And abusive men only change if they do 18 months or more work, so that means they attend three or more times.
There is lots of research about abusive men being bad parents. The problem in the US court system is the absolute refusal of the courts to look at the research.
Programs for abusive men in the US vary tremendously in quality. Not all of them contact the woman. Some even write him a report saying he is really empathic.
Citations in this post are shown in grey, with each item designated by a capital letter. The Chris Moles Digest gives a link to each item cited by a capital letter.
David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah – two sermons by Ps Sam Powell