[March 9, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Focus On The Family are promoting David Clarke and his book I Don’t Want a Divorce: a 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage. David Clarke does not understand enough about the dynamics of domestic abuse to offer counsel on this.
One of our long time followers emailed me about David Clarke. Here is the gist of what she said:
Focus on the Family have featured Dr. David Clarke discussing marriage and “shunning” an abuser in a marriage in order to show the abuser the error of his / her ways. I heard the broadcast and was triggered. While David Clarke mentioned that “shunning” an abusive spouse could possibly hasten a divorce (which is true), I was still struck by the poor advice and assumptions he made.
- He advised you as the victim to tell the truth to your church leadership about your marriage. He assumed that church leaders will believe the victim; but we know that many church leaders do not believe the victim.
- To use an abuser’s tactic — the silent treatment / shunning — as a means to wake the abuser up to his sin of abuse will not work with an abuser. It could make things worse for the victim. I know this from my own experiences and from reading other’s stories.
So much was not said in this broadcast, and most church leaders don’t know how to help or counsel abuse victims. I felt this broadcast gave bad advice and false hope to DV victims and did nothing to educate or equip DV victims, and in fact David Clarke will cause more harm and danger to victims that decide to use his advice.
David Clarke has a book that Focus On The Family are promoting: “I Don’t Want a Divorce: a 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage”. It sounds to me like Dr. Clarke’s book should not be recommended to victims of abusers because it gives false hope that a wife’s actions can change her abuser and “save” her marriage. I have not read the book, but you can see excerpts here [To read the excerpts, click on the book’s “Look Inside”]: I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90 Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage
Clarke does mention emotional and physical abuse in this book, but does not separate out abuse from other marriage issues. And one of his essential solutions to saving the marriage is “couple talk” — couple’s therapy — again, we know that will never work with an abuser.
I have learned so much from ACFJ through the years, and I hope that ACFJ readers become aware that Focus On The Family still doesn’t get it where abuse is concerned and that they should not take advice from FOF or David Clarke’s book.
The broadcast our reader heard was Part 2 of David Clarke’s interview Saving Your Marriage from Divorce. I, Barb Roberts, have listened to both parts of David Clarke’s interview. Part 1 [Saving Your Marriage From Divorce (Part 1 of 2) [Internet Archive link]] was useless for victims of abuse. Part 2 [Saving Your Marriage From Divorce (Part 2 of 2) [Internet Archive link]] was almost as useless: David Clarke did not take into account how cunningly the abuser recruits allies so that the victim will not have a support network. And neither David nor the FOF interviewers gave a robust definition of abuse. They gave the impression that abuse is only physical violence. [The Internet Archived videos won’t play, but if you scroll part way down the page, you can read the transcript. Editors.]
Another of our long time readers, a father whose daughter has survived domestic abuse, also wrote to me recently. He gave me a heads up about David Clarke’s article Enough is ENOUGH: It’s Time for Plan B. [This link is broken and there is no replacement. Editors.]
That article is chapter one of David Clarke’s book Enough is Enough: How to Leave an Abusive Relationship. The article / chapter gives advice to women whose abusive husbands do not change. It says that leaving an abuser can be the right thing to do (that’s a plus!)….but there are too many minuses. Clarke tells the victim what to do:
You have to do some hard work in preparation to leave your abuser: You have to: (1) get spiritually healthy, (2) get a solid support team in place, (3) get emotionally healthy, (4) get financially healthy, (5) get your kids ready to leave, and (6) get to a safe place where you will be living away from your abuser. You will take all these steps in secret. Your abuser will have no idea what you are doing.
Hmm. Getting your kids ready to leave without the abuser having any idea what you are doing, is fraught with danger. The kids might easily spill the beans to Dad. And they might vociferously resist mum telling them that she will be leaving Dad and taking them with her. And, as many of our readers know, “getting healthy” — whether it be financially or spiritually — can often only be begun after the victim has separated. Yet Clarke’s formula sounds rigid. He arrogantly says that he knows the order of what the victim should do.
Perhaps his biggest mistake is that he assumes the victim will be able to assemble a solid support team, including men within the church who will confront her abusive husband. But as we know, abusers are highly skilled at torpedoing any support team that the victim tries to put in place for herself. Clarke seems to be ignorant of this. He boasts “I know the way out.” But he does not know enough about the difficulties and risks of leaving an abuser.
I want to thank to the two long-time followers of ACFJ who alerted me to what David Clarke is doing. Neither of those readers have ever commented on the blog, but they are obviously paying attention and appreciative of our work, and are supporting it by judiciously sharing their concerns so that other readers will benefit.
[March 9, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to March 9, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 9, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 9, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 9, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
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Hall of Blind Guides — Resources that Will Not Help (and may harm) Abuse Victims
18 thoughts on “David Clarke is another self-styled ‘expert’ on domestic abuse and Focus On The Family are promoting him.”
I read through the transcripts for the interviews with David Clarke, and read the Plan B article.
To write a detailed comment would take me hours, and I would be omitting any reference to Scripture. From my own abusive “marriage” experience, I could provide MANY examples of how some of the suggestions made by David Clarke did NOT work, but I was married to an unbeliever.
The only meaningful piece I could add to the discussion is whether an abusive spouse is a Christian or a “Christian”.
For new readers who may be wondering about the reference to whether or not an abusive spouse is a Christian, see the FAQ Can someone be an abuser and be a Christian?
My ex was a minister, he believes in a god. His god is not my God. My God is the Creator of the universe and original source of Scripture.
It is baffling how my ex with an M Div degree could study Scripture, teach Scripture, stand in a pulpit year after year. When my uncle asked him what it meant to love your wife as Christ loved the church, my ex exposed his true self. His reply, in a sly manner was, “I have no idea”.
Ahha! My uncle had solved his own puzzle. This was just before my uncle lovingly told me I needed “to get out” of the marriage. He had been very perplexed for a long time about my deep struggle. My ex was known as our family minister. He was craftily deceptive.
Deception is just that. I imagine he thinks he believes in God, but tracing back through his life to mid-teens when he “prayed a prayer of confession”, his life never was consistent to that prayer. Within a year of that prayer, he decided he was going to move to the top of the heap and be a minister.
For [over three decades], one could say I was unequally yoked.
I use these different examples to explain how I was able to make sense of his godlessness with the amazing help of ACFJ.
Seeing Clearly, what wonderful comments. And I wish I could give your uncle a big hug and a big thank you. How we all need someone “in our corner” when we are being exploited by the very ones that are closest to us.
This is sort of a general comment, not directed at your ex. I fear and strongly believe that the church has become more a business than a blessing. Not ALL churches, mind you. I also strongly believe that there are pockets of churches that are full of God’s love—-and they aim to live in that love. They don’t use the name of God to tear down the very ones He loves.
Being in church leadership is a calling from Him, not a career. It is unique, set apart from other choices of employment. There is great responsibility in it, and with that comes great accountability.
One simply cannot look at the role of a pastor as you look at any other occupation. Yes, when asked what you do for a living—you say: I’m a pastor. But again, if anyone tries to look at being a shepherd of God as “climbing a corporate ladder,” you’re in the wrong business (pun intended). Because, in even suggesting or insinuating it’s a business—you’ve already missed the mark in what it means to lead and guide His people.
One thing I truly DO understand, when it comes to pastors who truly do love the Lord—-is what an uphill climb it is (again, pun intended!)—-but I don’t mean climbing up a ladder, looking for more success and more money. I mean—it’s an uphill climb in learning the ropes as you go, learning by making wrong or bad decisions, constant repenting of those shortcomings—and most of all, keeping your eyes on YOUR Shepherd, the One who you must aim to emulate. The One you will be accountable to. The One who is watching you very carefully—-because ultimately those are His sheep you are entrusted with. If you mess with them, you mess with Him.
I would not take any of that lightly. And yet, it seems so much of church leadership does just that.
I try to assure and reassure anyone who needs to hear that: He takes your pain personally. How often have we been told to NOT take abuse personally, as if that will somehow dull the pain? Or make it bearable somehow?
The implication is that since your abuser is someone close to you, it’s not as bad or not as hurtful. The implication is that if it were a stranger doing such things to you—-well that’s a different story. You have no personal relationship with that stranger, so what they have done to you makes it so much worse.
When you know your abuser, the idea is that you’ve done something to provoke or trigger being abused. How many times is abuse wrongly labeled as “marital strife” or “marital woes”? We keep hearing terms like “it takes two to tango” so how in the world can you be guiltless? You’re only guiltless if you are abused by a stranger—-someone who you couldn’t possibly have provoked or initiated strife with?
These are the sorts of people to run AWAY from. They have no idea about anything, frankly. I can’t tell you how horrible it felt to know that my own father was physically and verbally abusing me. And then the implications that it wasn’t so bad because of his ethnicity, his unsaved status, or whatever other excuses that were thrown at me.
Please keep sharing as you have. You do a wonderful job when you do!
Clarke is not in touch with victims of abuse if he really considers this to be a realistic expectation. In many / most situations the victim is expending her / his energies just getting through each day. The desire to be healthy is in the heart of a victim. Unfortunately, the way to get healthy can only occur after getting out of the toxic relationship.
Seriously???? Get financially healthy behind his back??? How, pray tell, does a stay at home mom with multiple children do that???
Exactly, Abigail. Thank you for the warning ACFJ, and to the added commenters.
Janet Parshall (of “Janet Parshall Live”) has also had him on their radio program. He says he has never recommended divorce and he won’t start now.
Thanks, Sh. Good to know this!
And welcome to the blog. 🙂
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Sigh. How disappointing. I find it already frustrating that it is hard to find churches where the leadership have any real understanding of how to open the Scriptures and teach the whole counsel of God at some depth level in a way that their hearers come away knowing how to apply truth to their lives and experience effective growth and closeness with God. It amazes me how some just seem to assume that finding a godly woman or godly man for mentorship is like picking low hanging fruit. How much more difficult is finding a leader who can see and understand what is going on, and is not blinded by “Pollyanna” brands of faith that just say things like “That’s all right dear, you just love him to Jesus”.
The godly and mature who walk in discernment and truly know and hear God do NOT grow on trees. So this fellow blithely assuming that it’s just that easy —“walk into your church and tell the truth and you will instantly receive the proper help” — is naïve and clueless to say the least. There seems to be a great deal of denial about the state of the church today and the lack of truth at a depth level hurts people temporally and eternally.
David Clarke’s advice is the exact opposite of what it needs to be. How on earth can anyone after years of being put down, confused, controlled, and fearing for their safety ever have the strength to get it all together BEFORE they leave the situation! That’s stupid and it’s impossible.
However after I decided I could not live with that anymore, I was able to hide away about two dollars a week in a pair of socks, until I had enough money to put fuel in the car and get away. That was one little thing I could do to help myself, and then the rest followed bit by bit. I was well looked after by Centrelink [part of Services Australia]. The lady at the front desk only asked me 2 questions. “Do we need to call the police?”, and “do you have anywhere to stay?” I answered “no” to both and was quietly ushered to a side room, where another woman talked with me for nearly two hours. She got someone to bring me sandwiches and tea. And I walked out of there with money to use on food and rent for a couple of weeks. That was the first of a two meetings with her to get myself sorted. It was only then that I began my shaky journey to safety and well-being.
That was [not many] years ago, and these days I have peace in my life for the most part. Although I would not say that I am emotionally or mentally healthy yet. But I do have my voice back, and I’m better able to think for myself. For me a big freedom is being able to buy whatever food I choose! During the first couple of months on my own, as I walked through the supermarket I’d often catch myself asking out loud, “Am I allowed to buy this?”
[Years airbrushed for protection. Editors.]
Agree wholeheartedly with what has already been said about the impossible burden placed on an abuse target’s back when told she “has to” be financially, spiritually, and emotionally “healthy” before she can leave the abusive person and situation.
Also want to say that I am mistrustful of anyone who would publish / promote a book called “I Don’t Want a Divorce: a 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage”. Imagine those who richly deserve to be divorced picking up such a title. There are some who need to hear: “YOUR wants are NOT all that matter. Every marriage should not be saved. There is no easy three month checklist of FOF-approved things (tricks) to do that should be used to convince (fool) your spouse into staying.”
Or imagine the long-suffering victim of an abusive spouse who has been molded into blaming herself and definitely does not want divorce in the abstract sense, but for whom it would be a great mercy in reality. Titles that imply one person alone can save a marriage with certain behaviors are deceptive and burdensome to the one who already does all the trying.
The comments here have been wonderful. Especially pointing out the how they could choose a title like that: not wanting a divorce. Right away, I was on edge. Right away, I felt the burden being entirely dropped into the victim’s side of the court.
Perhaps a title like “WE” don’t want a divorce might have been less stressful. But that sort of title would not apply to abusive marriages, however. Abusers don’t care about their marriage. But there are couples who do go through serious and rough patches that are NOT because of abuse. And if there was a book that BOTH persons could read and extract some wisdom from in order to work things out—-that might be a bit more constructive.
I only read the post itself and did not read the links with all the details. But the subject matter (how to leave an abuser) touched a nerve.
I learned more than I ever dreamed of from reading Clara Hinton’s blog, who was married for 40 years to a pedophile. Her writings are remarkable. They are now divorced.
I was a child when I was being abused, not an adult. But in her writings, she seemed just as child-like in her marriage, even though she was a grown woman. Almost entirely dependent on her spouse, hadn’t worked for (I believe) the entirely of their marriage—so there were no personal finances. Treated as property by her then-husband—-much in the way abused children are. She wanted his love and approval so badly, much as I did from my father. She believed that he was her authority and she needed to submit—much in the way a child is expected to obey and submit to parents.
Bear in mind, my experiences only paralleled hers. They were not exactly the same, but I saw some of myself in her. Her vulnerability, being his wife and sadly, feeling very inferior to him—-also mirrored how I felt with my father.
It’s a strange paradox when the one whose love you desperately want, is also the one who makes you feel the worst about yourself. You’re always being looked down upon, but maybe you could live with that as long as he would just show some love towards you.
She graciously tried to describe why she stayed, to educate and open the doors for others to speak up as to why they stayed (mission accomplished by the way).
The Lord opened doors for her to find work and leave her spouse eventually, but for actual children—that’s not an option. All they can do is try to inform an adult outside of the family, but I could go on and on as to why I didn’t confide in one—-not in a way where I pleaded with them to get me away from my father.
It is so difficult to make anyone understand that what we might call “logic” just doesn’t quite work in abusive situations. You’re being abused? So the answer is: leave and fend for yourself? Run for you life, literally? Go into hiding? A child cannot do that. And again, as I’ve heard over and over again from adults being abused—“it’s not that simple!”
I wish it WERE that simple. But now I frown upon those that try to simplify something so serious, and complicated as leaving an abuser, or going to an adult with your abuse story.
One of the things that is a major mark against abuse victims, is that there is a high probability that he or she won’t be believed. I certainly didn’t think anyone would believe me. Or, they would believe my statement (I was abused), but not take me seriously (there is a difference).
For example, I can read in the paper—so-and-so was victimized in a particular way. You’re reporting facts. This person was mugged, and their wallet or purse was stolen, and they suffered some bodily harm. Okay, that’s horrible. I believe their story. I am more than likely only somewhat moved, however.
But when I read that victim’s personal narrative of what it was LIKE to be mugged and beaten up—-the fear, the trauma, the uncertainty if they would killed or harmed in more serious ways, the story comes alive in a whole new way. Now I know way more than just the facts. Now I understand that there was real trauma involved. I don’t need to question why they didn’t just run, or fight back or plan a way of escape. They helped to put me in their shoes.
I appreciate that churches are trying to offer something hopeful to abuse victims. The effort matters, and means something. Perhaps they are waking up to the fact that abuse is real. But it’s obvious they lack a LOT of understanding. Perhaps they should start by listening to people tell their stories, before trying to draft plans as to how to tackle something they seem to know very little about in the first place.
I tried for over two years to follow the advice in “I Don’t Want a Divorce.” To be fair….it does have a plan BEFORE starting those “couple talk times” to address abuse in the marriage….but it doesn’t clearly enough identify what abuse other than sexual infidelity & physical abuse are. I so desperately wanted my marriage to be saved!!! It took going to my pastors in the Matthew 18 approach and them telling me that my marriage was toxic and I just needed to get out as soon as possible (kudos to them!!! And they’ve been SUPER supportive of me as I’m moving toward divorce.) for me to accept reality.
When I saw that chapter from “When Enough is Enough” where it says that 95% of abusers will not correct their behavior….I felt very angry. He’s selling HOPE with the “I Don’t Want a Divorce” book. How many people would buy the book if they knew the plan has a 95% failure rate?
Thank you, Just Jenn — what a great comment!
And welcome to the blog!
I heard Clarke talk recently. Some of this is inaccurate. He cautions women when they seek counseling that they need to find someone “who gets it”.
Hello, Kofi, I have several responses to your comment. Firstly, it was me who wrote the post and I am a bit offended that you bluntly told me “some of this post is inaccurate”. As far as I was aware, the post was accurate in January, 2019 when it was written.
Secondly, perhaps David Clarke has become more wise in the last three years, but in my opinion the evidence you give for his increased wisdom is not very strong. You say he is now telling women that when they seek counseling for abuse they need to find someone “who gets it” —— but he needs to be explaining what he means. What I would be looking for is whether he has addressed the substantive issues I raised in the post. For example, is he now informing his audience about how abusers cunningly recruits allies so the victims will not have a support network? Is he giving a robust definition of abuse? Or is he still giving the impression that abuse is only physical violence?
One of my friends had personal conversations with David Clarke. Barbara’s post is spot on. Oh and by the way, not once did he ever refer to the Bible in these conversations.