By Danni Moss
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I just read an op-ed piece where a Christian mentioned in passing the “…demon of abuse…” This is one of the bits of wrong theology held by some Christians regarding abuse. If you believe abuse is demonic, then it can be exorcised. The antidote to abuse is to cast it out and all will be well, the end.
However, the huge hazard in this theology is that it makes the abuser a victim of demonic oppression or possession. It implies they are helpless in the control of a demonic power. And, most critically, it relieves them of personal responsibility for their choices and their consequences.
Abuse may be rooted in any number of “causes.” But everyone, unless they have had brain trauma that destroyed their capability of impulse control (which is possible and requires permanent institutionalization) has a choice when it comes to abuse. I understand completely there can be contributing factors. Any number of mental illnesses, which are completely ligitimate, can contribute to uncontrolled behavior. There are developmental disorders which lend themselves to abusive behavior. There are psychological disorders that can contribute to abusive behavior. And people who grew up in abusive homes often automatically repeat behaviors they learned by modeling. But there is always personal choice involved.
How is it that several children who grew up in the same abusive home don’t all grow up to be abusers if there is no personal choice? How do others rise above those circumstances and stop the cycle? I know it can be done; my parents did it. Granted there were some other patterns of behavior, particularly victim mentality, that was passed along unknowingly. But my parents never, not once, digressed into violently abusive behavior. (One of my husband’s contentions was that my family was dysfunctional because my parents never fought; he said anger is healthy because people are being honest about their feelings – of course, he was the only one allowed this luxury. I got the strong impression that this philosophy was overtly shared by his mother, though I can’t remember her specifically saying so. She did say my family was dysfunctional because my parents never fought. Yes, our family does tend to submerge emotions and not communicate well and, that’s not healthy. But abuse is not a good balance!)
When developmental, psychological or mental illness factors are involved there is still personal choice. There is therapy and treatment to enable a person to exercise self-control. At one point Gary was diagnosed as manic depressive by a psychiatrist (who saw him for 30 minutes, one time). He took the meds provided, which ultimately made his violence worse. A year or so later when I was literally afraid for our lives I asked his nurse (who did all his 10-minute med checks) and another nurse who was also a Christian, whether his behavior could be excused because of his diagnosis. Was he truly incapable of acting differently, as he claimed? They both said he was not excused because of his diagnosis – a diagnosis which turned out to be wrong anyway. The med-check nurse told me there were plenty of people with far more serious issues than him, such as bipolar disorder (which he was not diagnosed with) who participate with therapy and medication and learn how to be responsible for their actions. She said it is still an issue of personal responsibility. Perhaps people with these various disorders/conditions would be unable to control their behavior without medication and/or specific training in how to work with the way they are wired, but they can choose to be responsible.
Yes, I think someone who is abusive may be allowing themselves to be controlled by a spirit of anger, violence, even murder. But not in the sense of demon possession, to the point they are helpless in its grasp. Nor will a prayer or a really fantastic exorcism change the behavior. Only an abuser can change his behavior. He may need help (he will almost certainly need help) but he has to make a choice to get that help and cooperate with it.