November 18, 2010 by Stacy McDonald

What is Abuse?

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According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, the word abuse is defined as “ill use; maltreatment; misuse with bad motives or to wrong purposes.” It goes on to describe an abuser as “a ravisher or a sodomite.” Basically, to abuse is to use to the extreme something or someone (including ourselves) improperly, and to a bad end. To abuse is to “use wrongly.”

However, sometimes, when people use the word abuse, they mean other things. Today, the word abuse is used to describe everything from violence, rape, molestation, and verbal cruelty to any form of corporal punishment, hurting someone’s feelings, offending the religious views of another, or even “grounding” a child from something he wants to do. In society’s effort to extend the definition of abuse, the word has nearly lost its meaning.

In our upside down culture, parental authority is consistently questioned and undermined. Last year, a 12-year-old girl in Quebec who had been caught posting inappropriate pictures of herself online was grounded by her father from a three day school trip. Her response was to sue her father because “the trip was very important to her.”

Was her father being heavy handed? Was his decision abusive, cruel, or tyrannical? Apparently, someone thought so. The girl sued her father and won!

This young lady may have turned to her friends at school and described in colorful detail the moment she was told she couldn’t go on this much anticipated trip. She could have dramatically shared her pain and disappointment, describing the confrontation in colorful detail…right down to her father’s angry or (perhaps) poorly chosen words.

Or she could have gotten down on her knees and thanked God she had a father, as imperfect as he may be, who cared enough to set and enforce boundaries for her – a father who loved her enough not to allow her to exploit herself.

Unfortunately, there were too many people involved in that case who were more interested in helping this young woman focus on her own desires than on honoring her father, and respecting his decision.

Beaudoin, the father’s attorney, said, “He doesn’t have authority over this child anymore. She sued him because she doesn’t respect his rules…it’s very hard to raise a child who is the boss.” You can read the story HERE.

Are You an Abuser?

Rather than stretch the meaning of the word abuse (which has been redefined into oblivion) to include anything that offends our sensibilities, and instead of labeling anyone an “abuser” who gets in the way of what we want to do, let’s examine legitimate ways people harm one another, and discuss when and if the church or civil authorities must get involved.

First, we have a bit of a dilemma. Webster’s “maltreatment” definition may simply describe the way we all regularly sin against one another. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 that all the commandments are summed up in the two commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.

So, maltreatment (or abuse) could be described as failing to properly love one another. Of course, that means, to varying degrees, we all abuse one another, since we all fail to perfectly love. Defined this way, each of us has been abused, and each of us are abusers. “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

But, we must be careful not to shamefully detract from the seriousness of true abuse—the scary kind—the kind you read about in the news. We also need to not minimize other forms of real abuse…the kind that may not leave visible marks on the body, but instead leave lasting scars on the mind and emotions.

Obviously, there are varying degrees of harm people inflict upon one another, and sometimes the extremes create crisis. Insulting your spouse or criticizing him/her in a hurtful manner is a failure to love, therefore in a way it is abuse; however, it is certainly not the same as beating them with a chair or regularly shouting in their face.

It seems we need to find a way to separately define common abuse (a general failure to love as we ought) and damaging abuse (serious, habitual harm to another person).

Common Abuse vs. Habitual Abuse

For instance, if a man neglects or speaks unkindly to his wife (and this goes both ways) he has in fact abused her. She was given to him to love and cherish; yet, he has failed to love her as he loves himself. And in a husband’s case, he has also failed to love her as Christ loved the church. He has sinned. He should repent and work to win back his wife’s trust.

If a woman belittles, ignores, or rejects her husband (and this goes both ways) she has in fact abused him. She has failed to love and respect her him, which she is called to do. She should repent and work to win back her husband’s trust.

Still, most of us would not view either of these people as “abusers.” We can’t go around labeling every person who sins against others an “abuser,” unless we’re willing to claim that label for ourselves as well (Romans 2:1-3; Matthew 7:1-2).

However, when even verbal abuse becomes oppressive, habitual, or damaging to the health of the relationship or family, it is time (and maybe past time) to get help (Matthew 18:15-17). Enabling a brother or sister’s sin is not acting in love. See Domestic Tyrants. But remember, the goal is repentance and reconciliation. Be hopeful!

There are other ways man harms man—actions that are rightly called abusive: physical or sexual assault, spiritual exploitation (cults), harmful neglect of the helpless under our care, and cruelty to the elderly or infirm. More extreme situations call for more drastic measures, and some situations necessitate the involvement of civil authorities.

So perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish the different forms of abuse. I’ve attempted this here by breaking down abusive behaviors into four categories:

Abuse Types

Type A: A general failure to love as we ought, which is not habitual and which occurs within the context of an overall healthy relationship. This, at the very least, includes every one of us.

Type B: A habitual and ongoing failure to love as we ought that escalates to the point of damaging the physical or emotional health of those around us. Here is where relationships slowly erode and children are sometimes scarred because of a consistent pattern of unrepentant emotional assault or neglect, including: irrational, sometimes manic behavior; verbal attacks; unreasonable, controlling demands; and angry outbursts of wrath. It is imperative that those in this situation seek godly counsel.

Type C: This type of abuse includes physical or sexual assault, or serious wrongful neglect. This type of abuse is what generally comes to mind when the word “abuse” is used and usually requires intervention from the civil realm, as well as the church.

Type D: This type of abuse is sometimes (ironically) abused. It describes the behavior of groups which are marked by false teachings or a false teacher—a cult. Unfortunately, there are those who use the loaded term spiritual abuse to label true brothers and sisters in the faith with whom they doctrinally disagree.

True spiritual abuse occurs when individuals are deceived into believing they are following God, when, in fact, they are following a false prophet (2 Peter 2:1).

Of course, the most vile and reprehensible cases of abuse happen when one who is stronger (either in size, influence, or power) takes advantage of his/her position to harm those who are weak or vulnerable. We are called to defend those who are helpless. And Scripture speaks directly to those in positions of strength, authority, or influence, charging them with the care and protection of the weak:

“Rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (James 1:27)

“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel… (1 Peter 3:7)

“Warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak…” (Acts 20:35)

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:1-4)

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)

Vicious words and violent behavior may leave loved ones wounded and broken for years. When someone lives under a consistent spirit of anger and humiliation at the hands of someone who is called (and claims) to love them, deep hurts result.

So, yes, sin exists; there is no doubt. Husbands and wives fail one another. Pastor’s fail their flocks. We fail the widow and orphan. We are impatient, unsupportive, inconsiderate, thoughtless, selfish, negligent, and forgetful. We are sinners. Praise God we have a Savior.

The question is not whether or not abuse exists; we know that it does. It seems the real dilemma is how to differentiate between the extremes of random unkindness or common offenses and habitual cruelty, lasting harm, or assault. While both extremes are a result of sin, the levels of outside involvement necessitate highly varied responses. And evaluating all the levels in between may take the involvement of godly counsel.

Confronting Sin

In addition, since the word “abuse” is such an emotionally charged word, bringing to mind horrific assaults on the weak, perhaps one should simply name the sin (if it must be named), rather than categorize all offenses under the ambiguous word “abuse.”

There may be a question as to when and to whom sharing such details is appropriate, but to keep implications to a minimum, if one feels led to share, one should be more specific. Instead of saying, “My father or mother (or husband or wife) abused me,” be specific:

“My father resorts to name calling when he is unhappy with something I’ve done.”

“My mother refused to listen to my side of the story and disciplined me for something I didn’t do.”

“When he is moody, my husband often punishes those around him with silence, brooding, or harsh words.”

“My wife tries to manipulate the whole family with long tirades of screaming and name-calling.”

Depending upon the pattern, intensity, and frequency of the above examples, these abusive tendencies may be categorized under Type A or Type B, but should not be lumped together with the more dangerous and oft-thought-of Type C. Therefore, rather than inadvertently suggest that the wide range of serious sins covered under the single word “abuse” applies to every claim of abuse, it may be better to specify what you mean.

In addition, we should keep in mind our own sin against God…and each other. We all regularly violate the royal law by failing to love one another as we ought. Therefore, we should never exaggerate the sins of others and we should be very cautious about publicizing them. In a culture where people are often encouraged to view themselves as victims, it is important to be careful of using the emotionally charged word “abuse” to describe everyday domestic conflicts.

The Invincible Pseudo Victim

Every wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands. (Prov. 14:1)

Another type of abuser worth mentioning, one that usually falls into the category of Type B, is the Pseudo Victim. In some cases, this type of victim (abuser) may have been accidentally created by well-meaning, but misguided pastors or marriage/family counselors. Other times, false teachers do more harm than good by tickling the ears of those who are wounded or blinded from conflict and sin. With their philosophies on abuse, these teachers offer an already inflamed heart an excuses for unforgiveness, and feed bitterness, rather than promote peace and healing.

Unfortunately, this philosophy, leaves room for a seemingly invincible abuser. An abusive or controlling woman who wants to manipulate or punish her husband for his real or perceived sins against her is given an enormous amount of power – all she has to do is claim abuse and she calls the shots (and yes, this does happen!). The alleged victim (and possibly her counselor) puts herself in the position of  judge, jury, and executioner. She sets the boundaries, makes the rules, judges the motives, and executes punishment. She, on the other hand, becomes accountable to no one.

The wife may claim abuse and there is nothing the husband can do about it, except bow his knee to the commands and restrictions of her and her counselor. If he repents for any episodes of real sin, he will be told he is attempting to deceive the counselor by not admitting to more. If he refuses to repent for false accusations, this is seen as proof that he is a liar. If he becomes angry at the injustice of the impossible situation, this is viewed as confirmation of his abusive behavior. He is stuck.

In these cases, one party can easily get the upper hand in a marital conflict by claiming abuse. The accuser can deflect her own sin in the relationship by calling the other party’s sin “abuse,” and being allowed and even encouraged to focus only on that. Some false teachers even encourage those who claim abuse to view their alleged abuser as some sort of sub-human who is basically beyond the reach of the Gospel. They won’t say this directly, but the message is the same: “Abusers” can’t repent. And, if they try, they’re lying.

We need to learn to recognize this as an additional form of real abuse, and work to also protect the victims of this more subtle form of tyranny. It’s very important that, in our effort to help those in one type of situation, we don’t empower a different type of real abuser. We also need to be very careful not to place man’s philosophies above the Word of God, which is exactly what happens with some “abuse experts.” This is why the intervention of wise and discerning church elders is crucial.

Repentance and restoration should always be the goal. If repentance never happens, then that is a different story. But, counselors or pastors who treat alleged or repentant abusers as if they are perpetual liars, beyond the hope of the Gospel, are teaching a false doctrine and are dangerous to families.

Abuse is real because sin is real. Jesus died for all of us – even as we have abused the very breath of life He gave us. Regardless of the type of abuse we’re dealing with, we must remember that God’s Grace is greater than our sin. We should also keep in mind that many times those who have harmed or offended us may also be the very ones who have cared for us, nurtured us, and loved us deeply. And there may be ways in which we too have hurt or offended them.

We must always be willing to see our own sin and repent; that is why godly counsel and a teachable spirit is crucial. God can heal deep hurts, change hearts, and transform families! God’s Word is the light by which we must pursue peace. May we all be willing to see our own sin, extend grace, and pursue peace.

“For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:2

 

Resources for victims of abuse:

Recovering from Child Abuse: Help and Healing for Victims Pt. 1

Recovering from Child Abuse: Help and Healing for Victims Pt. 2

Domestic Tyrants

Should “She, Obey Him”?

What is the difference between loving and enabling?

Notes:

  • A genuine hope for repentance should always be present. However, in cases of physical abuse, great caution should indeed be taken until trust is rebuilt. This is not to say that emotional abuse is not harmful, or even more painful than physical abuse (sticks and stones may break bones, but words hurt the most); however, the risk of immediate physical harm must be regarded as priority.
  • True victims who are living in fear under a real tyrant, may be afraid to tell their story for fear of retaliation; so, some private counseling would be necessary. However, once the safety of such a person is ensured, the accused should eventually have a chance to face his accuser in a safe setting, hear the charges against him, and give his side of the story. Even in a court of law, one is innocent until proven guilty.
  • It is never your fault if someone sins against you. A Domestic Tyrant owns his own sin, and cannot blame his tyranny on anyone in his family. However, in marriage or family counseling, there is always plenty of sin to deal with on all sides. It should be a red flag if someone will not ever admit to any specific personal sin in a relationship.


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17 Responses to “What is Abuse?”

  1. Martha Artyomenko says:

    I am not sure though, Stacy. Often, I think the reason that true abuse victims tend to not share even as much details as you said to share is they pay for it.
    Usually the times when I have met people who have truly been abused, you can tell by their lack of openness about the details.

  2. Taunya says:

    Interesting article but what of spiritual abuse?

  3. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Taunya,

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. I referred to spiritual abuse as Type D in the chart:

    Type D: This type of abuse is sometimes (ironically) abused. It describes the behavior of groups which are marked by false teachings or a false teacher—a cult. Unfortunately, there are those who use the loaded term spiritual abuse to label true brothers and sisters in the faith with whom they disagree.

    True spiritual abuse occurs when individuals are deceived into believing they are following God, when, in fact, they are following a false prophet (2 Peter 2:1).

    If you’re asking me what should be done about it, I don’t know, other than to continue to reach out to people in that situation with the Truth of the Gospel.

  4. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Martha,

    You’re right. Those whom I’ve known who have been truly abused, don’t tend to like to talk about it. They may be wrapped up in a lot of fear and usually have to really trust you before they’ll share their struggles or ask for help. That’s why it’s so important to be in a solid church where the elders and others are involved in the life of the body.

  5. Taunya says:

    My point Stacy is that spiritual abuse is often hard to define and even harder to prove. Many who have been spiritually abused can not even put into words what has happened to them. When they do attempt to describe what they have experienced they are often not believed or said to be exaggerating. For this reason many don’t speak up or they do so anonymously.

    I think this is why we should show love and caring to a fellow Christian who is claiming to be abused. We should not assume the worst of them but attempt to help them work through what they are experiencing. We should not seek to further wound them by insinuating that their abuse claims are not valid when we have no proof that they are lying.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Problem is, while the secular world tends to loosely use the term “abuse”, the religious world underplays it and often ignores blatant examples of it. One woman’s family taught her that almost all wants, desires for comfort, and discontent with her heavy workload were sin. By the time she was an adult, she was almost too worn out to look forward to any further life. And even people who saw examples of how unhappy her heart was as a child openly doubted she’d been abused.

  7. Hi Taunya,

    I thought I would take a stab at this, as I am honored to serve the Body of Christ as a pastor. Wikipedia actually has a pretty descent definition for spiritual abuse. Here it is…

    Spiritual abuse occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or church or in the mystery of any spiritual concept. Spiritual abuse often refers to an abuser using spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim’s spirituality (mentality and passion on spiritual matters) by putting the victim in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority.

    And here is the beauty of Christianity. The Bible presents three primary spheres of jurisdiction – the home, the state, and the church. These spheres are not independent. They are interdependent. Thus, a person who is in a church that preaches and promotes this will be less likely to suffer abuse of this nature because there would be no “unquestioning obedience.”

    Yes indeed, spiritual abuse is very damaging. And the true church of Jesus will stand against it. (Matthew 7:15-20; 1 John 4:1–3; Colossians 2:8). And elders who follow Christ will have the same attitude as the Apostle Paul who said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

    I agree with you. Charges of abuse of any type should be taken seriously. But, they should not necessarily be believed at face value without thorough investigation and fervent prayer. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19)

    If we just take accusations as “proof,” we can end up with a modern version of the Salem Witch Trials.

    “The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)

    As an investigation proceeds, the accuser should be protected and counseled. But let the truth come out and then let the right be proclaimed.

    I hope that makes sense.

    By the way, I do not believe abuse is on the rise. Wicked men and women have taken advantage of others for centuries. This is nothing new. It is indeed the sinfulness of man since the Fall.

    Blessings to your household. Please say hello to Robert for me.

    In Jesus,

    James

  8. Sherrin Drew says:

    Thank you for the thought and effort you have put into this post. It is encouraging that you have taken the time to carefully define and consider these issues.

  9. Martha Artyomenko says:

    I think the problem is Jennifer says sometimes too. We see it among the Amish all the time, where incest, rape and other forms of abuse are covered up, the victims punished and the perpetrators never stopped.

    We don’t like to admit that in our fight to be different from the world though that sometimes we have created an environment that is extremely conducive to true abusers.
    Yes, all men and women who are conservatively religious are not abusers as we well know, but place a true abuser in the environment of where he is absolutely in charge, women are encouraged to do all the godly things and submit and you can have a recipe for disaster.

    I think that as godly pastors, this should be part of your training. To look for people that tend towards this and dig a little deeper in taking care of your flock and rooting them out or exposing them. I think that if pastors take this seriously, maybe the trend will stop a bit. I know three men who were serious abusers….meaning multiple victims etc and I am not talking Spiritual abuse. All three were highly, highly religious, 2 were Elders in the church, one held bible studies constantly…..I mean, you felt bad for saying something felt off. 2 of them have prison sentences now, but only after years of abusing others as it was not detected and at times the signs were ignored by the church.

    If the church was more pro-active, I think there would be less. I was reading God’s laws on some of these things and I think if they knew they would be killed, there would be a much less temptation to do so.

  10. Taunya says:

    James,
    Thank you for your comments and I will tell Robert you said hello.? Here is where I see a problem. Many of these families that become abusive are not members of a church. Many leave churches that they feel aren’t conservative enough. They go in search of a church with a better fit and end up home churching or attending a church that is so far away that they can not truly be members or in some cases just worshiping at home as a family.

    In these instances the family does become isolated and there is no one to report abuse to. Also I have heard of many cases where a wife or child goes to someone in the church and very little is done. These families are on their own. When young girls finally get a chance to run from these families many do and then some seek to extend a hand and try and help others in similar situations. For these precious daughters and sons the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives has been replaced by a parent. It is spiritual abuse at it’s worse and it is hard to prove. Their are no bumps, no bruises, no s*xual abuse and the person themselves may not be able to articulate exactly how the abuse was carried out.

    We should not discount these stories, we should guard against bearing false witness against a young adult who very well may be telling the truth. We should give them the benefit of the doubt and assist them in finding the help they seek. Understand I am by no means saying that abuse occurs in all families that seek to worship at home. I am just saying that in many of these abuse cases the family is not a member of a Bible-believing church that will step in when allegations of abuse are made.

    One more thing many children in these families are too afraid to go to a member of the church and complain. After all all the parents have to do is decide to leave the church and the child is on their own once gain.

    I am not saying that I have the answer here but over the years Robert and I have seen many instances of spiritual abuse in families that have simply “gone rogue” for lack of a better term. We are dealing with no less than three of these cases right now. It is sad and in every instance the children are suffering in one way or another but most importantly the entire families’ walk with the Lord is in jeopardy.

  11. Hi Taunya,

    Real quick, what you detail is why I am not a supporter of the independent home church movement. I do not see it as a biblical model.

    There are many potential problems therein. And, at the end of the day, we are not able to solve everyone’s problems. All one can really do is stand for the truth, encourage folks to join good churches, and let the Lord work out the details.

    Blessings,

    James

  12. Debby says:

    I have been emotionally, mentally, verbally, spiritually abused. Spiritual warfare is found all throughout scripture and its cruelty is evident in the endless laments found in scripture. Its damage is known by all of us and we are without excuse in protecting the victims of this, we are simply without excuse. In Isaiah, God promises to come in and take care of those whom are not helped by people, and are mishandled by the court systems and God is true to his word and I was not helped at all, by any organization, largely because of a lack of education and the incredible abuse that the legal system would have if they could “play” with emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is not something the courts nor the law enforcement agencies can deal with, because it is spiritual and only God, only the church and only the believer can be saved from this type of warfare. However, because there is a huge secular world out there, there are many steps that can be taken to protect our families from this very destructive and very real danger. Remember: hate in one’s heart is murder, so spiritual warfare is attempted murder if not murder it is a very serious matter…………..I have no prob talking about this abuse, but the listeners have problems listening to it and they will blame the victim rather than support and unless you have been victimized severely, you simply cannot relate, it really is one of those “had to be there” things. , OUR community is indeed complacent and indifferent…..I am healing, and I know I will be FULLY healed because the Lord promises this and faith does move mountains, it really really does. God takes what others mean for harm and he does turn it into good and so I am saddened to read above, that a full recovery is doubted. I am still very much in the middle of the abusers life, he still assaults but his blows do not possess their power as they once did, there is incredible healing with knowledge and while you never ever get use to abuse or accepting of it, there is a way to be shielded, to fight back spiritually (its useless to fight the man, it will only entangle you, so you seriously learn to disengage from him if you cannot get away from him) ; you can and will heal…you have to believe and you have to replace every stinking lousy thing the abuser did with God’s words, literally replace them and like any habit, you can do this with time. You can…Look, I have been to hell, it was so terribly bad, so vile, I would not wish this on my worst enemy ………..but you will also be lifted up, resurrected. Jesus did not die in vain, he did not and he can and will heal you.

  13. Jennifer says:

    God bless you Debby, I will pray for justice and your healing.

  14. Cindy says:

    I would contend, from personal experience, that long term emotional abuse is in your category C. The physical abuse was rare and I knew that was wrong. I did not understand how wrong the constant demeaning verbal assaults were. I did not understand when being told to submit and obey often contradictory tasks was abuse. I love your piece on the Domestic Tyrant. I lived with one for 17 years recognizing myself as an Abigail, walking through it with my true Bridegroom until He released me biblically when my husband had an affair. My pastor understands and is backing the kids and I, counseling us, etc. but my ex-husband’s pastor has believed his lies and re created history and is calling for me to be excommunicated.

  15. Lady Violet says:

    Stacy,

    Normally I agree with most of what you post, but I must caution you very much here, especially with what you say in regard to dangerous advice.

    This advice is just so horrible and would surely keep a truly abused woman from getting help. It is so hard for an abused woman to EVER tell anyone what is going on that if she is not believed, she most likely WILL NOT try again.

    True abusers very rarely do repent and often FAKE repentance–even the secular world knows this and encourages women to flee their abusers and divorce them. This is why there is an abusive cycle–the cycle of abuse, apology, abuse, apology. This is why victims think their abuser didn’t really mean to hurt her, is sorry, and will change.

    Someone accused of abuse should be handled differently, as they thrive on being manipulative (hence the cycle of abuse and fake repentance). There are examples in the Bible where different sins are handled differently–certain sinners were cast out of the church rather than following all the steps in Matthew 18. Also, you seem to treat emotional abuse as not that bad when, in fact, it can be just as or even more damaging as physical abuse because the woman may not even realize what is happening to her because there is no physical evidence of it.

    Couples counseling SHOULD never happen because a truly abused woman is not free to divulge what is going on behind closed doors, in front of her husband. And if she ever does, he will most likely go home and beat her more, and her honesty in counseling will only give him more fuel to be physically and/or mentally cruel to her.

    Nouthetic counseling IS useless in these situations because while yes, a wife sins, she is NEVER to blame for being abused. It is entirely the abuser’s responsibility for abusing his wife.

    A true victim of abuse should be believed, as she has no reason to lie. Yes, abusers ARE notoriously deceptive and are NOT truthful. Just as they manipulate their victims to get what they believe they are entitled to, they will manipulate and deceive others. Unfortunately they cannot be trusted.

    I do not have all the answers regarding divorce in these situations, however, I do not think it is right to tell a wife that she can never divorce her abusive, unrepentant husband. Just because he is willing to live under the same roof with her and physically or emotionally abuse her day in and day out, does NOT mean he is “willing to dwell with her”.

    And why should the victim of abuse not determine visitation? An abuser of his wife may not be physically harming the children, but he is STILL causing them great harm. Children fear for their mother’s safety because of witnessing what the abuser does to her and says to her. Even threats made are very real to a child and cause them to live in fear. No child should be forced to be alone with an abuser.

    A victim never lies? What reason does a victim have to lie? A true victim who is brave enough to come forward with her story NEEDS to have someone believe her, as I already stated earlier. Otherwise she will crawl right back into her shell, and right back into the “security” of abuse, unless she finally gets brave enough and goes to the secular world for help. They are usually more helpful than the church, unfortunately.

    I don’t write this to be disrespectful in any way, as I really love yours and James’ ministry. But I think you have made some errors in this post that can cause great harm and hinder abuse victims from getting help. The Church is sadly a great place to harbor abusers because of these errors. The Church should be a REFUGE for victims of mistreatment. I pray you will take what I’ve written into great consideration, but don’t take my word for it.

    A pastor of ______ Church has done an excellent series of sermons on this topic that is very educational and helpful to abused women and pastors and church members alike. I encourage you and all of your readers to listen to them.

  16. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Lady Violet,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I would like to answer your concerns below. First, I should point out that I removed your link and the church name you referenced. While I’m sure this pastor has been helpful to some women in truly abusive situations, I believe his teachings are causing harm in other families. I am very concerned that his sermons have the potential to be more destructive than helpful, since many of his teachings seem to put man’s philosophies above God’s Word. My husband has written a bit on this; I’ll see if he has time to share more later.

    In the meantime, I’ll try to answer some of your concerns below:

    True abusers very rarely do repent and often FAKE repentance–even the secular world knows this and encourages women to flee their abusers and divorce them. This is why there is an abusive cycle–the cycle of abuse, apology, abuse, apology. This is why victims think their abuser didn’t really mean to hurt her, is sorry, and will change.

    The statement “true abusers very rarely do repent” troubles me. Where did this information come from and who controlled and gathered the data? This may be someone’s opinion, but we need to be careful not to allow comments like this influence our attitude toward resolving family problems. To begin any sort of conflict resolution with this attitude creates an element of hopelessness.

    Someone accused of abuse should be handled differently, as they thrive on being manipulative (hence the cycle of abuse and fake repentance). There are examples in the Bible where different sins are handled differently–certain sinners were cast out of the church rather than following all the steps in Matthew 18.

    First of all, remember we are talking about someone who has been “accused” of abuse. While we can automatically put in place safeguards for the alleged victim while the truth is sought, we must not automatically assume without a doubt that the one who is accused is guilty. Imagine if you were the one accused! I mean really picture the scene. Elders and church leaders must use wisdom and discernment as they prayerfully investigate claims and carefully counsel with both parties.

    Also, you seem to treat emotional abuse as not that bad when, in fact, it can be just as or even more damaging as physical abuse because the woman may not even realize what is happening to her because there is no physical evidence of it.

    I’m not sure if you’ve ever read my testimony, but I assure you I do fully understand the devastating effects of long term verbal attacks. I was not minimizing that in any way; I was simply trying to point out other dangers.

    Couples counseling SHOULD never happen because a truly abused woman is not free to divulge what is going on behind closed doors, in front of her husband. And if she ever does, he will most likely go home and beat her more, and her honesty in counseling will only give him more fuel to be physically and/or mentally cruel to her.

    I agree that if someone is truly suffering from abuse, there will definitely need to be some private counseling (meetings where the domestic tyrant is not present to listen and later retaliate). However, to say that couples counseling should never happen is a recipe for disaster.

    First of all, again, imagine if you were the one who was accused of abuse. To say that there are times when abuse is fabricated or exaggerated does not in any way insinuate that the real cases don’t exist. But, even in cases of real abuse, the goal should be to work with both parties to bring repentance, healing, and peace.

    Also, how can the problems in any marriage be worked through with just one party present? Even, and perhaps especially, if the main perpetrator is the one who needs counseling the most. It’s impossible. And there are always perception issues that cloud the facts.

    The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17

    Nouthetic counseling IS useless in these situations because while yes, a wife sins, she is NEVER to blame for being abused. It is entirely the abuser’s responsibility for abusing his wife.

    Of course a wife is not to blame for being abused – ever! And again, remember, we’re talking about alleged abuse. But if there is going to be any hope for the marriage, she must also be willing to see and own her sin as well. Being a victim does not automatically make us immune to sinning. Each of us still sins and we all contribute to conflicts. In fact, responding biblically to the sins of others is probably one of the most difficult ways to walk blamelessly in a conflict.

    This does not mean we should own or take responsibility for anyone else’s sin. A Domestic Tyrant owns his own sin, and cannot blame his tyranny on anyone in his family. However, it should be a red flag if someone will not ever admit to any specific personal sin in a relationship, even if he/she is claiming to be a victim.

    A true victim of abuse should be believed, as she has no reason to lie. Yes, abusers ARE notoriously deceptive and are NOT truthful. Just as they manipulate their victims to get what they believe they are entitled to, they will manipulate and deceive others. Unfortunately they cannot be trusted.

    A victim never lies? What reason does a victim have to lie? A true victim who is brave enough to come forward with her story NEEDS to have someone believe her, as I already stated earlier. Otherwise she will crawl right back into her shell, and right back into the “security” of abuse, unless she finally gets brave enough and goes to the secular world for help. They are usually more helpful than the church, unfortunately.

    I realize you are speaking from the perspective of serious, chronic abuse; however, there are people who believe they are victims when in fact they are in very troubled marriages or families with major conflict; and clinging to victim status allows them to call the shots and ignore their own sin. This is one of the great dangers of the sermon series you referred to. In these cases (and I’ve seen a number of them over the years), a false accusation of abuse can be a weapon that makes one quite invincible, and may create a fairly hopeless future for the family. That breaks my heart.

    I do not have all the answers regarding divorce in these situations, however, I do not think it is right to tell a wife that she can never divorce her abusive, unrepentant husband. Just because he is willing to live under the same roof with her and physically or emotionally abuse her day in and day out, does NOT mean he is “willing to dwell with her”.

    In cases of serious unrepentant abuse, the church may rule that even though a domestic tyrant is willing to live with his spouse, he has actually abandoned her emotionally and spiritually; so, in that case, if there is no repentance, a woman may be free to divorce. However, again, this is where accountability and counsel from godly church leaders is crucial.

    And why should the victim of abuse not determine visitation? An abuser of his wife may not be physically harming the children, but he is STILL causing them great harm. Children fear for their mother’s safety because of witnessing what the abuser does to her and says to her. Even threats made are very real to a child and cause them to live in fear. No child should be forced to be alone with an abuser.

    Again, once serious abuse is confirmed, limited visitation can be determined by a civil court or through counsel with godly leaders. But, accountability and counsel are crucial. I know women in abusive situations and it is heartbreaking. It can also be very messy. Sin is messy. Be there for them. Listen to them, weep with them, point them to Jesus, point them to safety, love them – but love them enough to help them see that perpetual victim-hood is bondage. Help them to biblically confront sin, forgive, heal, and move on – whatever that looks like.

    I hope that helps.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Lady Violet, you may enjoy this book, which examines verbal abuse: http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Hedge-Waneta-Dawn/dp/1600343325/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347339677&sr=1-1&keywords=Behind+the+hedge

    It’s between a husband and wife, told by both their perspectives and examines the different positions and solutions in a marriage.

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