11 Chris Moles discredits and mislabels victims of domestic abuse
Chris disapproves of survivors having a victim identity or victim-hood status.
He conveys the idea that victims are somehow wrong to be so aware of their victim-hood.
It’s an interesting thing in the victim-care work, that many victims’ identity will be so tied to their victim-hood status.
And one of the things biblical counselors have done is we don’t like victim status. Right? So we dismiss it, rightfully so, 90% of the time. But this percent of the time we might need to walk with them graciously to get them out of that, because we don’t want to drive them further into it – we want them to have victory right?— not be a victim.
And yet, if you’ve been a victim for 25-30 years, it’s kind of ingrained in you, isn’t it? Do you think you’re going to trust easily if you’ve been under that weight for a long time? Maybe not. We can’t guarantee because everybody’s different. But it is important to remember that victim care is a very delicate issue… you probably won’t have much control over it – you’re going to be managing it. There is no perfect intervention. (F* 15:00-15:55)
This approach pathologizes victims. It suggests that victims have actively and sinfully ‘tied’ themselves to this status. What an unjust way of perceiving the victims!
I don’t exactly know what Chris means by “victim-hood status” but I think he probably needs to stop being so negative about it. It is not a “status” that we nestle in because we want to nurse self pity or grumbling resentment. We are victims because abusers and their allies have victimized us. And because so many people in the church continue to dismiss our cries for justice.
When Chris thinks a victim is “tied to a victim identity,” he admonishes her. He urges counselors and pastors to remind victims:
This [the suffering, the victim-hood] is not who you are! …There is provision in the pain. I know you’ve been a victim. I know you’ve been hurt and we’re going to stand with you in the gap. We’re going to address this to the best of our ability. We’re going to lovingly care for you but the reality of it is God has given you more than enough to stand strong in the face of what you’ve had happen to you. In the mean time we’re going to hold your arms up. We’re going to be part of your process because we love you. And part of the provision God has given you is us. (F 32:05)
This teaching is unjust because it obscures the systemic abuse that victims are experiencing. It brushes off and minimizes the injustice and stigma that victims are put through not only from their abusive husbands but from their churches, their fellow Christians, and society at large.
Chris recognizes the injustice to some extent. He tells counselors, “…as you’re dealing with victims it’s important to remember the type of pressure that they are under.” (F 18:24-18:30) But it is disturbing that Chris doesn’t comprehend how pervasive this systemic abuse is for victims, even though Christian victims have told him about the systemic abuse they experience in the church (see Part 4 of this series).
We shouldn’t be all that surprised Chris doesn’t recognize the extent of the systemic injustice. After all, he and his buddy Jim Newheiser are contributing to the systemic abuse by casting suspicions on victims who ask good questions like “What does the Bible say about abuse and divorce?” (see part 10 in this series)
I don’t know any genuine Christian victims who self-indulgently focus on their victim-hood status or who habitually embrace their victim-hood status at the expense of their relationship with God and their love for God’s people.
But I know countless victims who are painfully aware of their victim-hood because the abusers and the churches keep on abusing and re-traumatizing them!
If Chris really wants victims to have victory and “not be a victim,” he needs to do a lot more to expose and denounce the institutionalized and systemic abuse.
This must start with renouncing and confronting all the false doctrines and practices in churches which are contributing to the suffering of victims. And then it requires Christians to lobby their governments to bring about changes in legislation and policies so that victims will get better protection from the secular justice system and the welfare system. For example, changes which would enable victims to get protection orders for all types of domestic abuse not just physical violence, with police properly enforcing those orders. And changes in the Family Courts so that victims will not have to hand over their children to abusers for visitation or ‘shared parenting’, or (even worse) the protective parent loses custody to the abuser! And changes in the Child Support system so that it becomes harder for abusers to avoid paying proper child support.
Chris wrongly judges what constitutes ‘sinful resistance’ from the victim
Chris claims that many victims are resisting the abuse in sinful ways, repaying evil for evil. He talks quite a lot about the victim’s temptation to turn the tables and abuse the perpetrator in reaction and revenge. Here is what Chris teaches counselors:
We are permitted to resist we just aren’t allowed to resist the way the world resists. And I think that many cases victims that we counsel are resisting in kind, rather than learning how to be kind in their resistance. Make sense? This is not killing [the abuser] with kindness. This is drawing attention to how I’m being sinned against appropriately, and prayerfully ask for repentance from that party.
If you violate me physically, if you hit me and I hit you back, we got a fight – don’t we? But if you hit me and I resist appropriately we don’t have a fight any more. Now all the onus is on you. All the weight is on you. I don’t think we do a very good job of teaching resistance in the church nowadays. (F* 39:06)
Belief and support can be incredibly empowering to victims, as it should be, but you [counselors] need to be aware that this may be the first time she’s felt powerful or in control and the temptation may be to seek revenge, hold hostage, or rely on this new found power for her safety and security rather than God. (F 40:17)
Resistance is acceptable, revenge is not. Revenge belongs to God – He will repay. Resistance is acceptable: [e.g., saying to the abuser:] “I’m not comfortable with that. This is ungodly. I’m being sinned against.” (F 40:35)
For non-violent resistance to coercive force, Chris recommends the examples Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount: turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, leave the courtroom naked [that’s his phrasing, not mine!] (F: 37:28). He also points to Romans 12 which recommends responding to enemies this way:
(Rom. 12:17-21) Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
But none of those responses by a victim would mitigate domestic abuse or overcome the abuser’s evil, because they rely on the oppressor being shamed…and in domestic abuse that seldom if ever happens. In public, the abuser usually succeeds in doing a snow job on bystanders so they never show him the contempt that he deserves. And the abuser is impervious to being shamed by his victim in private.
When the victim appropriately draws the abuser’s attention to how he is sinning against her, prayerfully asking him to repent, he will never respond positively to her appeals. But he will pay attention to what she is telling him and file it away as extra information which he can use to hone his abuse and draw the noose even tighter around her. Now he knows that tactic X is really hurting her, he might do more of tactic X. Or he might accuse her of using tactic X. Or he might spread rumors to the church that she is using tactic X against him. Or he might diminish his use of tactic X for a while to give her the impression he is improving, while quietly escalating some of his other tactics of abuse. And he knows he can resort to tactic X again when it suits him…which he knows will be very effective because she will be really triggered when he does.
So when a victim judiciously employs non-violent resistance tactics with her abuser, the abuser typically takes whatever she does or says and turns it into bullets or landmines that he can use against her. He takes advantage of everything she does to non-violently resist him. He takes advantage of every kindness she shows him. The victim eventually finds out that the only safe non-violent resistance is taking steps outside the abuser’s knowledge, whilst validating and cultivating the secret, dignity-preserving thoughts of her heart which the abuser cannot destroy. And she finds that the best contact with an abuser is NO contact.
Here is another example of how Chris wrongly judges what constitutes “sinful resistance”. He correctly states that the abuser is probably lying; but he also asserts that the victim is probably lying:
One of the dangers for us as biblical counselors is this ‘Proverbs 18:17 trap’ — that we can play so much of our time playing private investigator [trying to work out the truth of what is happening by listening to one party then the other] till we realize both parties are probably lying to us, and there’s probably something else happening that we aren’t being told, that we can’t wait till we get every piece of information. (E 05:50–06:20)
By asserting that the victim is probably lying, Chris is contradicting himself. For Chris has observed that victims own every wrong thing they have done:
My experience with women’s groups has been that when women come into our group or when women come into counseling who have been victims, they own everything they’ve every done. “Yeah, I hit him. Yeah, I slashed his tires. Yeah, I did this.” (B 50:06)
Chris gives an example of a wife’s resistance (E 32:07–40:30). He describes how a man isolated his wife to the point of forbidding her from visiting her mother and threatening her if she disobeyed his order. Chris rightly notes that the wife might resist by deceiving her husband and making secret visits to her mother. But here’s the problem: Chris calls that sinful resistance by the wife! For all his high-sounding teaching that the church needs to balance its theology of suffering with a theology of oppression (C 18:32), Chris clearly hasn’t considered applying to domestic abuse the biblical stories of righteous deception of the wicked — the Hebrew midwives’ deception of Pharaoh for example, or Rahab’s deception of the leaders of Jericho. (For more on what the Bible says about telling untruths and deceiving oppressors, see here.)
I do not deny that some victims, sometimes, have resisted the abuse by using sinful behavior themselves. For example, if a victim seeks solace in the romantic arms of another man to whom she is not legally married, that is sin on her part. If she takes out her anger on her children, that is sinful. A Christian victim/survivor will know that those things are sins, and will confess and repent of them and seek to make whatever reparation is possible. But I am very troubled by Chris actually describing a victim’s sinful resistance as “abuse” which he does here:
Does sinful resistance need to be addressed? Yes. Not in the context of his violence but in the context of her abuse, but it doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to what he is doing. (E 38:47, emphasis added)
Chris is wrong to label sinful resistance by the victim as “abuse”. Whatever the victim does, even if she sometimes uses sinful actions in resisting the abuse, it is wrong to imply – as Chris has done here – that she is abusive to the perpetrator. I shall use Chris’s definition of domestic abuse to prove my point. Chris defines domestic abuse as:
An abuse of power manifested through selfishly motivated patterns of behavior to exercise or maintain control. (C 24:40, 37:38, 55:09)
And his longer definition is:
A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, injure or wound someone. (B 19:00)
Victims do not evince an abuse of power manifested by selfishly motivated patterns of behavior to exercise or maintain control over their parter. Victims do not employ an ongoing pattern of coercive and controlling actions targeted at their abuser. It is not selfish to protect one’s dignity as a person made in the image of God. It is not selfish to protect one’s safety or the safety of one’s children. It is not selfish to resist evil.
We could also consider the definition of domestic abuse we use at A Cry For Justice. We define domestic abuse as a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, they keep their partner subordinated and under their control. That is the mentality and tactics of abusers; it is not the mentality and tactics of victims.
Why have I made such a big deal of Chris referring to a victim’s sinful responses to her oppressor as “abuse”? Because the abusers usually accuses his victim of being the abuser. So this is a very sore point for victims.
Chris disparages the moral integrity of victims
Chris thinks the victim needs to be held accountable to truth and called to repentance and christlike conformity:
We want to confront the abuser and comfort the victim. Does that mean the victim is sinless? No – there’s plenty of work to do there. Does that mean the abuser is an evil monster? No. But we are calling oppressors to repentance; we are calling victims back to Christlike conformity. (F 41:55)
You should not be surprised to see anger and resentment. And certainly we want to help victims move from this to Christlike conformity. But understand you are going to probably experience some of this. This will manifest itself in different ways, but certainly the weight of abuse can contribute to that. (F 22:30, emphasis added)
Don’t pretend to be or think you’re the victim’s messiah. …They need you as a partner and an advocate. [Victims need] somebody [who] holds them accountable to truth, draws them to repentance, and then also works with the perpetrator and pulls him into repentance. (C 1:06:56) (emphasis added)
So Chris assumes that victims are doing things wrong and they need to repent. He tells counselors they have to “pull victims back to truth”:
Jesus – how loving he was with the woman at the well. Still calling her to truth, but doing it in a winsome way. What about the woman caught in adultery? (Which is a crazy story, by the way – this just goes back to that male privilege category, doesn’t it? – where was the dude? –she was in adultery by herself?)
And yet Jesus was so patient and winsome. Really articulating and following the Law without giving to its aggression and violence. Because He says, “Yeah, the penalty is stoning and the person without sin can throw the first rock.” Him being the only one there without sin chooses instead to show mercy. … So when you are dealing with victims who have been isolated or hurt, labeled, conditioned, it’s important be patient but always on the side of truth. We still pull them back to truth.(F 28:00–29:11, emphasis added)
That phrase “we pull the victims back to truth” is not in itself all that bad. On this blog, some of our work involves teaching biblical precepts for how to deal with abuse. But Chris and other biblical counselors don’t seem able rightly to divide the Word of truth, especially when it comes to the complexities of abuse. So when Chris utters that phrase, it comes across to me as haughty and arrogant.
News flash: if genuine Christians who’ve suffered domestic abuse are not walking well with Christ, it is most likely because the church has taught them so many unbiblical (untruthful) things. The victims are either trying to obey all that unbiblical teaching – which causes them to disregard the voice of their conscience / intuition / the Holy Spirit. Or they’ve given up trying to obey because the unbiblical teaching only gave them options which put them in ongoing danger from their abusers.
Chris rightly notes that victims often feel helpless, hopeless, lost and exhausted. But what does he do with that observation? He tells counselors: “we may have to be a little sparse on [giving the victims] homework” (F 26:00). How patronizing for counselors to think they can give victims homework at all! Victims of domestic abuse are usually stretched to the limit dealing with practical safety matters, housing, parenting, finances, legal stuff, etc. It is horrible to think of biblical counselors prescribing any homework to victims that might add to their burden.
Chris allows ‘lamentation’ but he disallows ‘venting’
Chris encourages victims to lament along the lines of Ps 55, Ps 10 & Ps 22, but he makes a point of saying that “the goal is for the victim to lament properly” —
Lament not vent. Venting is a secular category that invites exaggeration accusation and justification, but it doesn’t invite repentance and it doesn’t invite the Holy Spirit. Venting not a scriptural principal. (L 40:15–40:58).
(source of video: L 40:14–41:58)
I agree that it is helpful to encourage victims to use the psalms for lamentation. The psalms have many examples of victims of oppression grieving, lamenting and crying out to God. But we also see the psalmists being angry at injustice, naming the evil conduct of their oppressors, rejecting their oppressors’ false accusations, and asking God to bring shame on the oppressors. It is helpful to advise victims that there is nothing wrong with praying in the style of the imprecatory psalms. Chris never mentions that, which is another ethical shortfall on his part.
What is more, Chris maligns victims when he says that “venting invites exaggeration and self-justification”. And his claim that venting is not a scriptural principal is simply ridiculous. Consider the book of Job. Rather than rebuking Job for all his venting, God gave Job a glimpse into His awesome creative and majestic power. To rebuke someone for venting is a mean-minded act.
Chris sometimes says negative things about victim advocates. And the advocates he praises are dodgy.
Certainly, Chris respects the victim-advocate who is his colleague at the county probation department (F 1:10). But he often says negative things about victim-advocates. I’ve got the impression that when Chris says negative things about victim-advocates he is mostly referring to non-Christian advocates who have secular feminist viewpoints (e.g., E: 45:45, 01:01:44). But he also says that he has received some strong opposition from Christians. (I wonder if he means us?)
He endorses more than one victim-advocate website run by Christians — sites which we do not endorse at ACFJ because we think some of what they say is unbiblical or inaccurate in regards to domestic abuse.
In one instance where Chris does praise victim-advocates, he seems to be unaware that the advocates he is praising have been shown to mistreat at least one victim. Allow me to explain. Chris praises and quotes from the Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC) Elders’ Statement on Domestic Abuse (F 56:35). And as an example of empowering female leadership, Chris cites BBC’s Domestic Abuse Response team (DART) which has many female volunteers on it (F 57:25). Then he says:
I want to encourage you to empower female leadership. Key leaders to assembly team response female voices have to be a part of this. If you’re doing victim care and 85% of victims are going to be female… Female leadership is key here. We’ve got to have females at the table. (F 57:32 -58:11)
But the fact is, there has been some poor fruit from the training Chris has given to BBC and the DART team has not helped all victims who have disclosed. In fact, BBC has publicly persecuted a victim. Here is the evidence: My Defense Against the Public Attack by Bethlehem Baptist Church — a reblog from Natalie.
Chris sometimes mutualizes the blame (sin levelling)
Here is an example of how Chris mutualizes the blame and engages in “sin levelling”. He says:
… we embrace the reality that not only did Jesus die for violent men, he hung on a cross designed for a violent man, and by a sermon on the mount type of theology, each of us have that heart of violence potential within us and so if we have no hope for the abuser then there’s little hope for us… (A, emphasis added)
Here’s another example of sin levelling:
Domestic violence has at its very heart desires for control and sinful abuses of power which constrict a relationship to the point of little or no meaning. Purpose is swept aside for conformity and truth is replaced with manipulative communication both from the offender who controls and the victim who resists, or plays along to avoid abuse. (P, emphasis added)
Chris called the victim’s behavior manipulative. Ouch! That example illustrates how Chris fails to honor the victim’s resistance.
Hint from Barb to counselors and pastors: When you elucidate and honor the victim’s resistance, you will help her come out of the fog and recover. Biblical counselors and church leaders who want to learn how to do this can check out this pdf.
Here is one more example of Chris using language that is “sin levelling”. Many of our readers report that the words I’ve put in bold are the similar to what they’ve been told by church leaders who are pressuring the victim to take some responsibility for the problem. Chris appears to be talking about total depravity, but he doesn’t use that phrase because he doesn’t have Reformed Theology:
We live in a sin-cursed world. … The biggest difference between me and the men I have worked with is what side of the room I’m on. No; I haven’t been abusive; but my heart’s just a wicked, just as fallen, as anybody I’ve worked with. (L 6:13, emphasis added)
Chris, is your heart as wicked as an abuser’s? Really? Are you born again, Chris?
Certainly we are all born with a sin nature, but abusers have progressively and intentionally corrupted and hardened themselves, relishing and perfecting the wickedness in their hearts much more than most of us have (see here). And if someone is born again, their heart and spirit is made new in Christ; they still battle against the flesh, but are not in bondage to sin the way unsaved people are.
Given that Chris has been trained in how to run Batterer Intervention Programs, I’m astounded that he talks about abusers “losing control”:
We teach a technique known as taking a “proper time-out.” The purpose of this is to give a man a tool to use when he believes he may lose control and endanger himself and others. (M 115)
One of the myths that abusive men love to disseminate is that domestic abuse happens when the guy “loses control”. Chris ought to know this is a myth. He should not be recycling that myth.
Chris’s notions about suffering will hurt many victims
Chris talks about “couples suffering in the midst of family violence” (M 13). How misleading! In domestic abuse, “the couple” does not suffer. The victim suffers.
The abuser will most certainly suffer in eternity if he does repent unto saving faith before he dies. But in this temporal life, the abuser doesn’t suffer much for choosing to abuse the victim…so long as he can maintain control. Rather, he enjoys the perks he gets from keeping his victim under control. And even if she escapes from his control, he takes delight from being able to retaliate on her through manipulating the visible church and the secular legal system.
Here is an example of how Chris “draws the victim back to conformity with Christ”.
There is power found in enduring pain… consider it pure joy when you face trials of different kinds (James 1). We should be experiencing joy when pressure comes on us. … There’s tons of hope here, but PLEASE PLEASE balance the theology of suffering with confrontation of the perpetrator. Theology of suffering on its own can prove dangerous. (F 32:34 )
There are promises in our pain.(F 33:20)
Here’s another place where Chris talks about suffering:
If we’re going to talk about abuse we have to balance a theology of suffering with a theology of oppression. And what we tend to do is we tend to take 1st and 2nd Peter and we lob that onto the victim of abuse and tell her to “Suffer well. Conform to the image of Christ.” And we forget God’s call for the church to stand in the gap for the oppressed. So we put all the burden on the victims of abuse and none of the burden on the church to stand in the gap and say “Enough!”
So James 1:27 is a very culturally significant verse. “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God is this: that we care for the widows and orphans in their distress, and remain unpolluted by the world.” We no longer think like the world, and that new thought process – that Christlike thought process – calls us into mediating positions, reconciling positions that stand between the oppressor and the oppressed.
So yes; victims will suffer and that suffering can produce conformity to Christ – but not unnecessary suffering, and not suffering isolated from or removed from the intervention of the church. (L 15:45 – 17:00)
But who does he recommend as giving good teaching on the benefits suffering? Wait for it! John Piper, Justin Taylor and biblical counselors who’ve been key figures at CCEF (David Powlison, Ed Welch & Paul Tripp). We have published multiple posts warning people about Piper and CCEF.
Lastly, and most sickening of all, is what Chris says to counselors who work extensively with abusive men (in violation of the Bible’s precepts). He flatters these counselors by conveying the notion that they’re martyrs for the gospel:
Now again I’ve told you and I’ll tell you this again – I don’t have the greatest batting average. But I don’t think any of us do. This is not all-star weekend. Especially if it’s gone up that escalatory arrow. Don’t expect to be batting a thousand. Expect disappointment. Right? I’m not say you go in without hope. You go in with hope-guns loaded, double full barrel hope machine. But understand you’re going to experience some disappointment. And you might lose some friends. And you might suffer some heartache. But isn’t that really the call of the gospel? to identify with the suffering? So I’m not saying put yourself in harm’s way. I’m not saying make yourself a victim. I’m just saying be prepared to have some successes and rejoice in them, but don’t rely on them…. (E 57:57, emphasis added)
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.