10. Victim care is vital – Chris Moles & other biblical counselors are falling short in this
Victim safety and wellbeing must be the fundamental guiding principle if you are counseling abusive men or doing anything to hold them accountable and call them to reform.
It’s vital to put victim safety and wellbeing first. Any person or agency that works with abusive men must see the victim (not the abuser) as their real client. This is what No To Violence (NTV) says. They’re an organization which sets standards for Men’s Behavior Change Programs in Australia. And this principle which they uphold is consistent with Christianity.
The Bible tells tells us to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). And it tells us that we ought to prioritise those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:10).
Therefore, if Christians are to do good in field of domestic abuse, they must especially do good to those who are experiencing abuse in the body of Christ. And that means real Christians, not wolves masquerading as Christians, or leaders who are worried about losing friends and colleagues.
There are countless Christian women in the church who are being abused by their husbands and ex-husbands.
Chris Moles’ approach to victim safety and wellbeing seems deficient in many areas
- Chris doesn’t appear to see the victim as his primary client.
- He avoids discussing the doctrine of divorce.
- He seldom mentions sexual abuse, even though it is a big part of domestic abuse
- He disapproves of survivors having a victim-identity or victimhood status; so he pathologizes victims.
- He wrongly judges what constitutes ‘sinful resistance’ from the victim.
- He disparages the moral integrity of victims.
- He allows victims to lament, but discourages them from venting.
- His notions about suffering will hurt many victims.
In this post I will amplify the first three of those points. In the next post in this series, I will amplify the rest of the points.
Chris doesn’t seem to see the victim as his primary client
Chris would disagree with my statement. He believes he is doing this work to protect victims and future victims:
There is this mindset out there that abusive people can’t change and that we should just kick them out of the church. My question to that is always, “What about the next church?” And [that mindset says] we should remove them from the home. And my question to that is, “What about the next victim?” Because if we do victim care (which I’m all for) we help a victim, and I want to do that. But if we do really solid perpetrator work, then what happens if a man’s heart is changed? Then that victim’s safe and every subsequent victim is safe. (J*, emphasis added)
However, I have never heard Chris tell counselors and church leaders who are working with abusive men to contact the victim privately and regularly to invite her to articulate her perspective on her abuser and the abuser’s progress of change or lack thereof. But partner contact is vital.¹
So long as the victim is willing to give them her feedback, church leaders ought to be regularly inviting the victim to share her perspective on the abuser’s behavior and how it impacts on her (and children’s) wellbeing, and any changes she has noticed in the abuser’s behavior.
Chris does recommend that biblical counselors and church leaders consult with the woman’s advocate. But that’s not sufficient. These authority figures and power brokers need to be regularly checking in with the victim herself about any fears she has for her safety, and any things the abuser is doing which undermine her safety and wellbeing.
In the program run by his county’s probation department where Chris works part-time, there is a victim advocate that the men’s partners or ex-partners can be put in contact with. Perhaps that advocate checks in with the partners regularly (I don’t know). But I am not convinced Chris gives enough emphasis to the importance of partner contact. See the brief consultation which Chris describes here:
I believe it is imperative that the victim be aware of what I am teaching and asking of her husband. Therefore I would request contact with both her counselor and the victim’s advocate in order to provide them with progress reports and to receive feedback and recommendations from them. Counseling him in a bubble would be a mistake. (M 20)
I would request a list of [the man’s] abusive behavior from the victim’s advocate. This could be a single conversation where the advocate takes notes or an inventory form. This would of course be completely voluntary on the victim’s part and would be confidential. This is not information I would share with [the abuser] directly as it could endanger his wife, but it would help me to see any patterns of behavior. (M 31)
Chris makes the assumption that all victim advocates and counselors are good. But what if the victim feels her advocate or her counselor don’t fully get it? What if the victim has sensed that her counselor/advocate is inexperienced, or not trustworthy, or doesn’t have enough time …so the victim isn’t disclosing all her concerns to the advocate?
All paid victim-advocates are run off their feet because the domestic abuse field is so dreadfully under-funded.
Thankfully, Chris Moles does tell church leaders that if they are considering church discipline or public declaration about the situation, they should make sure their proposed actions are consistent with the victim’s requests (C 1:06:45). And Chris says —
When appropriate, seek the victim’s consent and assistance. One element of victim safety is consulting with them prior to making decisions that may place them in additional danger. The victim knows the offender far better than you do. Confronting the abusive person, making public disclosures or public declaration, or any other premature intervention without the victim’s permission and a plan in place for her safety can be dangerous and foolish. The exceptions are of course in areas of mandated reporting such as child abuse / neglect, or if you believe the victim and other may be in immediate danger. (M 143).
However, the abuser will probably be hiding the extent of his abuse and covertly manipulating church leaders to shape their impressions.
So Chris’s advice to church leaders to consult with the victim is too little, too late.
Here’s an example of an abuser hiding his abuse from church leaders, taken from Chris’s book (M 15-16):
It was a court-ordered meeting, but the man seemed eager to discuss his circumstances. We spent several minutes talking about God, the Bible, and our place in the church. He explained to them [the other guys in the group] that he was once a youth leader in his local church and had stopped because of a busy schedule. He said he hoped to be involved in ministry again soon. He was faithful to attend church services and support the activities of the church, and he claimed his relationship with God was extremely close.
I raised a concern with him regarding his recent trouble with the law. This man had physically harmed, harassed, and stalked his wife over a year, during the same time in which he was a leader in his church. When I inquired how his church had responded to his violence he seemed shocked and confused. “Well, I haven’t told anyone in my church about this.” He said. “We are going to fix all this mess and get things back to normal; no one needs to know the details.” When I asked him how his pastor might help him, or if he felt at all uncomfortable hiding his information from his church, he simply shrugged off my statements as if telling his church of his sin was the real transgression. He stated the violence was an isolated incident revolving around personal and marital stress.
After those paragraphs in his book, Chris only talks about how it is imperative that we address the abusive man’s heart, not just his behavior. Chris doesn’t say he commanded this abusive man to be transparent to his church about the ways he had abused his wife. Nor does Chris say that he told the abuser that in his role as Batterer Intervention Specialist, he would diligently double-check with the abusive guy’s pastor. Nor does Chris tell us that and if the abusive guy had not disclosed all to his pastor, he (Chris Moles) would informing the pastor regardless.
What about the abusive guy’s wife who is still in the church? How would she be feeling? How would her kids be feeling?
Chris seldom discusses the doctrine of divorce
The most common question that I’ve been asked by Christian victims of domestic violence is: What does the Bible say abuse and divorce? Wouldn’t you like me to answer that one. I’m not going to! [he gives a sniggering laugh] We would take all day to kind of talk through that. But that’s a big question and I think the heart behind the question is much more important than the answer to the question. What’s motivating that? And what have you tried? What’s your goal? What do you want? (F 28:00–29:11)
Here is another place where Chris dances on the fence about divorce.
(source of video: L 44:05–45:29)
So many victims have asked Chris, “What does the Bible say about abuse and divorce?” And he won’t give them a direct answer to their question!
He questions the victims who put this question to him. He implies there is probably something wrong with their motives in asking that question. He shows smug disdain for the imploring cries of so many victims!
All these bruised-reed-victims have asked Chris for bread…and he gave them a stone.
They asked him for fish…and he gave them a serpent.
When Chris was giving his lectures on domestic abuse at the IBCD pre-conference in 2017, he spoke very positively about Jim Newheiser, who is the President of IBCD.
Jim Newheiser takes a really tough line on whether a victim can separate from her abuser. And he casts suspicion on the victim’s motives, just like Chris Moles does.
I can’t define exactly where that line is [the line in the sand which means that the victim is biblically allowed to separate from the abuser], but if the person for the sake of their own safety, if they’re afraid of getting shot or beaten to death, I’m open to that as a temporary option. I’m also very concerned that if I open that door that somebody will crack it wide open to what I would not think would reach the level of separation.
You have to see what is your motive here. Is your motive you want to honor God and try to save your marriage? Or is your motive that you’re just uncomfortable and you don’t like being uncomfortable and you think you could get relief by escaping? That by itself is not a biblical grounds for separating. (source)
Chris Moles quotes Malachi 2:1:6 as saying “God hates divorce” (L 12:37). And he believes that Malachi 2:13-17 show that “God hates the treacherous violent husband” (M 129). Perhaps Chris does not know that many Hebrew scholars think that “God hates divorce” is a mistranslation of Malachi – in which case he has not done his homework. Or perhaps he knows about the mistranslation, but doesn’t think it is a significant matter – in which case he is not paying enough attention to the views of victims.
At the 2018 conference of the Association of Biblical Counselors, Chris Moles was on a three-person team presenting the Domestic Abuse track. That track consisted of eight one-hour sessions. One of those sessions was devoted to separation and divorce. Here is what Chris says on his blog about that particular session:
Separation, Divorce, and Abuse: I have been asked many times to present on this topic but always refused. My thought was this should be addressed by a theologian, or scholar but the team felt strongly that I could tackle this topic. I walked us through the common divorce Scriptures and built a cas [sic] for divorce as tool, given to men by God, for the protection of women. (Y)
Maybe when Chris refers to ‘the team’ he is referring to Greg Wilson and Kathy Haecker who were the other co-presenters of the Domestic Abuse stream. But in his post Chris also mentions refers to ‘Dr. Lelek and his team’ (Dr Lelek is the President of Association of Biblical Counselors). So we are left guessing about exactly who it was that thought Chris Moles was qualified to present the Bible’s view on divorce for abuse.
I haven’t yet found any videos, podcasts or other resources coming from that ABC conference. So we don’t know what Chris said in his hour-long presentation on divorce for abuse. If any of our readers find a link to that presentation, we would appreciate you letting us know!
Chris seldom mentions sexual abuse, even though it is a big factor in domestic abuse.
The stories the victims told Chris didn’t mention sexual abuse (M 77) – but that doesn’t mean victims don’t experience a lot of sexual abuse from their husbands. The Duluth Model training Chris received would certainly have discussed sexual abuse. And the Power and Control Wheel which Chris uses in his trainings shows physical and sexual violence as the outer rim of the wheel. But in all his teaching, Chris hardly mentions sexual abuse.
Chris does talk about porn use and adultery by abusers. But only in one of his presentations have I heard him talk about any of the types of sexual abuse which abusers do. In that presentation (Z 32:30), Chris mentions rape, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence, and treating the target in a sexually demeaning manner. But he does not discuss how abusers use coercive control to get their sexual needs be met without having to negotiate. Nor does he mention reproductive abuse where the control tactics are focused on the woman’s reproductive capacity and aspirations.
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.
¹ Partner contact is vital, and it always prioritizes the safety of women and children. When men’s behaviour change programs are run under the NTV guidelines, one professional on the Program Team is responsible for making contact with each male participant’s victim, whether or not she is living with the perpetrator or has any intention of continuing or renewing her relationship with him.
Victims are free to discuss their concerns with the partner-contact professional, or to decline involvement if they wish. In some locations they can also take part in a victims’ support group that the partner-contact person facilitates.
Any information that the woman tells the partner-contact professional is NOT passed back to the male participants in the behaviour change group. But if, for example, Jane tells the partner-contact person, “Bob called me a whore when he picked up the kids last Tuesday,” this information is passed to the professionals who facilitate the men’s group, and they can work the topic of sexually derogatory language into the men’s group curriculum, without giving away that Bob had used that language to Jane last Tuesday.