Addressing the Root of Abuse

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An invitation to tackle domestic violence in the church

by Catherine Clark Kroeger

How much time we spend addressing and protecting the victims of domestic abuse, and how little time we spend addressing the root of the problem! Quite simply, the root problem is abuse, and Christians must deal with this evil in a biblical fashion.

Wherever there is evil, especially in the household of faith, believers are expected to resist it. All too often we hang back because we have no idea what to do or how to confront abusers within our own faith community.

Our first line is to understand that we have the problem and that we may look to God for answers. The Scriptures condemn many forms of abuse and offer us paths of transformation. Our stance must be prophetic: The Bible says abuse is wrong, and within our church we will have zero tolerance for such conduct. This must be proclaimed from the pulpit, expounded in Bible studies, and discussed in small groups. Study materials must be made available in both written and audio-visual form. It should be made clear that the Scriptures forbid leadership positions to those who mistreat their own families.

Our second line must be recourse to prayer, especially as we are made aware of abusive situations within our own faith community. While prayer is a mighty weapon and usually the most effective method, "just praying about it" is not enough. After we have asked God for wisdom, we must voice our concerns to the offender.

Many offenders are confused and frightened by their own behavior. Consistent, caring Christian guidance can be an invaluable help. If Christian leaders fail to confront the perpetrator, the individual may feel that his or her behavior is really not much of a problem after all.

"Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence" (Prov. 10:10-11).  This and many other scriptural texts call us to intervene rather than to ignore wrongdoing (Gal. 6:1; Mt. 18:15; 1 Thess. 5;11-14; James 5:20). This is not a pleasant task and may draw some very unpleasant consequences, but then the role of prophet has always carried with it an element of risk. The confrontation must be made with love and with the promise of support as the offender seeks to change his ways. Not all of the complex problems surrounding domestic violence can be adequately addressed by the church, and there are other resources available in the community that may appropriately be used.

Recent research reveals that abusers are more likely to complete a batterer intervention program if the client has been referred by the pastor or spouse. Early involvement brings a significantly better hope of altered behavior. Higher completion rates are found among clients who are still married. In short, the sooner the better.

Much can be gained by prayer support and demonstrations of care for the perpetrator as well as the victim. The Bible tells us that when one suffers, all of the body of Christ suffers. All of us are frail and sinful human beings who have been both victims and perpetrators, and we can stand with all who embark on a healing journey. Our aim is not condemnation but transformation!

There's an old jingle that says: For every evil under the sun, there's a remedy or there's none. If there is one, try and find it. If there is none, never mind it.

Most Christian approaches have taken the "never mind it" approach to the abuser because there appears to be so little that really can be done to intervene. But there are some faith-based approaches that appear far more effective than their secular counterparts, most notably those at Northwest Family Life and Christians As Family Advocates. Changing Men, Changing Lives is another excellent resource. Another is The RAVE Project, which exists to "bring knowledge and social action together to assist families of faith impacted by abuse." We must try to bring clinical know-how, biblical guidance, and moral suasion to deal with the root of the problem.

Most pastors have simply never had any training in ways to address domestic violence, much less to address the offender.

What a church believes exerts an enormous influence on, among other things, how men treat women. In Confronting Abusive Beliefs: Group Treatment for Abusive Men, Mary Nomme Russell identifies three relationship beliefs that must be transformed in order for abusive men to change their behavior:

  • self as central and separate needs to be transformed to self as connected,
  • self as superior needs to be transformed to self as equal, and
  • self as deserving needs to be transformed to self as mutually engaged.

In The Male Batterer, Daniel Jay Sonkin, Del Martin and Lenore Euerbach Walker offer the following goals for clergy and churches:

  • Decrease isolation and develop interpersonal support systems.
  • Increase feelings of personal control and power.
  • Increase feelings of self-esteem.
  • Increase his responsibility for behavior.
  • Increase awareness of the danger of violent behavior.
  • Increase acceptance of consequences of violent behavior.
  • Increase awareness of violence in society in general.
  • Develop communication skills.
  • Develop assertiveness skills.
  • Develop stress-reduction skills.
  • Develop the ability to empathize with their partners.
  • Increase understanding of the relationship between violence and sex-role behavior.
  • Develop control over alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Achieve/support other individual, couples or family therapy goals.

In When Love Hurts, Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis name these characteristics in an abuser's attitude: The abuser is central in, superior in, and deserving of many privileges within the relationship.Transformation involves connection, equality, and mutuality with their partner.

So how could we integrate the therapeutic and faith communities? We need to get on with ways of bringing healing where even the best of secular efforts simply are not succeeding. If Christians lagged behind in the shelter movement to protect victims, why shouldn't we blaze a trail in paths of transformation?

Catherine Clark Kroeger taught at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  She co-authored No Place for Abuse with Nancy Nason-Clark, and edited, along with James R. Beck, Healing the Hurting: Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women, and Women, Abuse, and the Bible: How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or to Heal, both published by Baker Book House.

Excellent resource: Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse: Churches and Their Leaders Look to the Future, Nancy Nason-Clark and Barbara Fisher-Townsend, eds.


Domestic Violence: It's All About Control by Kristyn Komarnicki.

October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month by Kristyn Komarnicki.

Terrorism in the Home: 11 myths/facts about domestic violence by Victor Parachin.

Power and Control: Domestic Violence in America is a documentary featuring interviews with survivors and other experts.


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