“Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence” by Steven Tracy

I found this excerpt at A Wife’s Submission. It is excellent. I also did a little poking around the site and was impressed by what I read. I’ll be digging in some more to see what else she has to say.

The following is an excerpt from “Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence” by Steven Tracy


Clergy often state or imply that the woman is partially responsible for the abuse….

Research on domestic violence in fact reveals that the woman’s behavior actually has little bearing on the abuse. That is, abusive men ultimately do not abuse because of what their wives do or do not do; they abuse because of complex internal pathologies beyond the wife’s control or responsibility….

clergy who have not experienced abuse will not intuitively recognize many of the needs of battered women. Furthermore, since battered women have been systematically devalued, demeaned, and stripped of power…

I believe it is particularly important for clergy to understand the characteristics of abusive men. One of the greatest misnomers about abusers is that they look a certain way, so “you’ll know one when you see one.” Thus, clergy often are in deep denial when one of their members is charged with abuse, for the accused seemed like such a nice person and did not look like anyone who could abuse. In fact, abusers cannot be visually identified, but they do have some notable behavioral characteristics. The first and most consistent characteristic of physical abusers is a pervasive denial of responsibility. They simply refuse to own their destructive behavior. They do this by shifting the blame for their abuse, and/or by minimizing the abuse itself. For example, in one study of physically abusive men who were in mandated counseling researchers who interviewed these men cataloged dozens of rationalizations and minimizations for their abuse such as: “The booze made me do it.” “My wife verbally abused me.” “She was the provoker and I had to defend myself.”“I never beat my wife. I responded physically to her.” “Women bruise easily too. They bump into a door and they bruise.”

Over the years I have heard every imaginable excuse and minimization for abuse, yet rarely have I found abusers to condone abuse in general. They say that abuse is wrong but what they did was not abuse. Or they say that their wife forced them to hit her by being such a nag, by disrespecting their authority, by not meeting their sexual needs, etc. Pervasive denial of responsibility is exactly what we see in the life of King Saul, a physical abuser whose heart so displeased God that God rejected him from being king.

Before I clarify this point I should note the seriousness of clergy overlooking violence or absolving abusers of their sin. Scripture declares: “acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both” (Prov 17:15, NIV). God severely judged the prophet Eli because he refused to stop his sons from abusing men and women in the temple (1 Sam 2:16, 22; 3:13).

Holding abusers fully responsible means refusing to accept any excuses or minimizations for violence whatsoever. If clergy accept abusers’ blame shifting or minimizations, this inevitably serves to strongly reinforce the abusers’ pathological beliefs and actions. It is also profoundly harmful to battered wives….

Holding batterers fully responsible and accountable for their violence is not only necessary for the sake of the victim but also for the sake of the abuser. Pastoral counselor and abuse expert Carol Adams argues that abusers batter their wives because it works. They will often attempt to manipulate their minister, counselor, and friends to avoid something worse (such as jail time or having their wife leave).

So the best potential for abusers to genuinely repent and avoid the judgment of God is when clergy (and others) hold abusers fully responsible and accountable for their actions. In the context of holding batterers responsible, clergy can then begin to consider others ways of ministering to abusers.

Thus, clergy must take seriously all reports of domestic violence, must never minimize abuse victims’ concerns, and must be willing to boldly confront abusers and offer practical assistance to victims. This includes helping victims of domestic violence develop a safety plan, access safe housing (community shelters or a family in the church) and assist with financial needs.

Prioritizing protection certainly includes encouraging and supporting women to separate from abusive husbands. While an abused woman with no children has strong biblical warrant to flee an abusive husband she has additional warrant (even a mandate) to do so if she has children. Jesus pronounced the most severe judgments on those who cause one of the little ones (children) to stumble (Matt 18:1-10). Abusive husbands cause tremendous long term physical, emotional, and spiritual damage to children…

Separation from an abusive husband is also ethically important for the well being of the woman, because domestic violence creates serious physical, emotional, and spiritual damage. And Scripture does not commend enduring avoidable suffering. Christ repeatedly avoided physical assault by hiding (John 8:59), by maintaining physical separation from his abusers (Matt 12:14–15; John 11:53–54), and by eluding them (John 10:31, 39). Other godly individuals in Scripture, such as Paul and David, also repeatedly fled physically abusive civil and religious authorities (1 Sam 19:12; 27:1; Acts 9:22–25; 14:5–6; 17:8–10, 14). Following the example of godly individuals in Scripture, clergy should advise battered wives to flee from their abusive husbands and should assist them in every way they can to find safety and physical security.

Paige Patterson On Domestic Violence

The Southern Baptist Outpost has an article with an excerpt from audio recordings and transcripts from a conference in 2000, in which Paige Patterson explains the counsel he gave one battered woman. Here’s the quote the Outpost posted:

I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”

And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came. And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front. And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.” And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?” And he’s a great husband today. And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis. And remember, when nobody else can help, God can.

And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him. Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.

Now, the gross – and offensive – errors in this quote seem obvious to me. But just in case anybody doesn’t see them let me point out some things.

First, there’s an appalling brassy arrogance just in the repetition of this story and the verbage of its telling. It is all about Patterson patting Patterson on the back. Look what he did! Isn’t he so wise and a literal miracle-worker! Applause, applause. This tone is one of the things that in many people, particularly victims of clergy abuse or of clergy who have failed to stand up for them in domestic abuse, generates a nearly visceral reaction of disgust and repugnance. It can become virtually impossible to sit through church services because of this one “little” thing.

Second, this was spoken by a man who is adamantly insisting he has done nothing wrong in his part of the handling of the breaking SBC scandal of clergy sex abuse. This text is being used in examining an entirely separate issue — what he has or has not done to “bring Southwestern Seminary in line with the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention, as they relate to women’s roles.” This excerpt clearly shows Patterson’s attitude toward women and his view of their position in subjugation to men. A man who has this general attitude toward women is not going to view clergy sex abuse as a terribly relevant problem. At best it would deserve a slap on the wrist; tsk, tsk. Women (and children, since they are even “less” than women in a hierarchical system) are not as valuable as men, especially clergy who trump the average male on a power/importance scale. God’s work and God’s workmen are more important than “that little thing that happened to you back then.”

In this excerpt Patterson says, “…you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him…” He believes submission of the wife is paramount. According to Patterson, woman’s submission is the most important factor in marital success. If only she will submit enough, God will be able to change her husband. That is what he said.

Patterson is also expressing that the abusive husband is still deserving of elevation! The abuser is to be elevated regardless of whether he beats the life out of his wife. Shoot, compared to that, what’s a little clergy sex abuse? Elevate that man!

He sent a domestic violence victim back to her abuser, knowingly putting her in harm’s way. He felt it didn’t matter that she would be abused even worse than before; he expected that to happen. It was completely fine.

But it was all worth it because, since that women subjected herself to an abuser, prayed for him on her knees by the bed, and took another beating, God brought her husband to his knees in a dramatic, miraculous, life-changing conversion! Amen! Or not. Let me break it down.

While I don’t want to accuse Patterson of lying, this story has all the earmarks of one of those pastoral embellishments used to illustrate or emotionally manipulate the audience into “feeling” his point. Everyone wants miracles like that story. Since pastors believe God can and will do things like that, they can get a little generous with their “true” stories.

The fact is, this type of miraculous transformation does not happen. There’s a reason. The problem with an abuser is not just a matter of getting “saved.” There are deep-rooted issues behind and underneath the behavior. While accepting Christ might motivate a man to find out why he is making the choices he is and might open his eyes to see the value of his wife, it’s going to take a lot more than a single spiritual experience to transform an abuser. Not maybe; definitely.

Another problem is that this story demonstrates a commonly taught mistaken belief that God will force an abuser to change his behavior because you prayed about it (see my article God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages for more on this subject). If Patterson told this woman to do this, he was operating on erroneous theology and should be held accountable for the physical abuse she received. This is just as wrong as letting clergy sex abusers slide, and comes from the same root attitudes and beliefs. This is one example of why I feel the issues of clergy sex abuse and clergy overlooking domestic violence are fruit of the same tree. And in using this supposed event as a sermon illustration he is perpetuating a dangerous bit of wrong theology on his audience and on anyone they, in turn, encourage to do the same thing. It is not an overstatement to say someone could get killed trying to be obedient to “God” per Patterson, et.al.

In telling this story, Patterson is also perpetuating his horrific acceptance of domestic violence and subjugation of women to his audience, and through them, to how many others? This man is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is in a position of authority. People look up to him and follow his example. This is one seriously bad example to follow.

Now, I’m going to give Patterson one out. The ideas and theology he verbalized in this excerpt are not an expression of his own that he came up with single-handedly. I have heard this type of teaching from many preachers for many years, in a variety of churches and denominations. He is just one voice of many harmfully negligent voices speaking about the subject of abuse in the pulpit and in pastoral counseling. That doesn’t mean we can judge every preacher as being the same. And certainly, a large subset of preachers are not to be confused with God Himself. Again I will reiterate – God is not the problem. What these preachers are teaching is not even remotely what God and the Word teach. It has to be exposed and highlighted if it is ever going to stop.

Christians and Psychology

I found an excellent blog post at Counseling Notes by Bowden McElroy regarding Christians and psychology. I am excerpting part of the post below. I’ve been thinking about writing something along these lines, and here someone has already done it. 😉 As a devout Christian who is also pursuing a career in the field of psychology, the dichotomy between the two is an issue of which I am extremely aware. This post describes, in part, how I see psychology and why I find value in it as well.


Psychology is a mixture of science and philosophy. One function of psychology is theory construction. Psychology attempts to formulate theory to explain man’s behavior, his nature, and how he lives, changes, and develops disorder. This is an area of psychology that clearly overlaps the field of theology. It is in this area that psychology most displays its inadequacy. Traditional psychology is a science that is desperately looking for a world view, while actively rejecting the Christian world view. Psychology attempts to construct a secular religion defining the nature of man.

It is our view that only the bible holds the answers to the true essence of who man is, his needs, what is truth, what is moral, and what is right. It is the bible alone that holds the answers to man’s deepest needs. It is only in the bible that we find that the nature of man is sinful and that man has a God-shaped vacuum within. It is only in the bible that we learn of man’s need for God, and that abundant and eternal life can only be achieved through reconciliation with God. It is only in the bible that it is revealed that Jesus Christ is the answer to man’s sin problem, and that his sins can be forgiven only through the acceptance of Jesus Christ’s provision of salvation and eternal life. Following the acceptance of Jesus Christ, grace transforms the Christian into a new creature. Day by day throughout the rest of the believer’s life, God gradually transforms that person into the image of Jesus Christ. It is the scripture alone that offers answers to problems such as guilt, our need to be forgiven and our need to forgive others, and it is only the bible that gives us guidance about our priorities, and what is a healthy lifestyle.

Psychology at the end of the twentieth century has endorsed the philosophy of post-modernism. The post-modernist perspective suggests that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative. What is true and right can only be determined in a particular context and circumstance. The field of psychology has also embraced pluralism, holding that society is a mixture of distinct ethnic religious and cultural groups, and that we are to live in harmony and give up notions that would separate us. Both pluralism and post-modernism hold that no single philosophical system or world view holds the answers to the complex questions and nature of our social and physical world. We believe that post-modernism is in direct conflict with a biblical Christian world view. Psychology alone does not hold the answers to men’s purpose and is not the answer to mans moral dilemmas. Post-modern psychology is a dangerous philosophy on a collision course with Biblical Christianity.

The science of psychology is the more useful part of psychology for Christians. The scientific study and systematic observation of human behavior has produced vast knowledge about man’s problems, what factors contribute to such problems, and strategies for helping individuals overcome them. It is this aspect of psychology that we embrace. In all cases, we filter psychological information through the grid of scriptural truth. What fits consistently with the scripture is useful, and anything that conflicts in any way is discarded. Psychology has given us great insight into such subjects as the nature, causes, and treatment of depression. Psychology and psychiatry have also assisted us greatly in distinguishing which disorders may have a more psychological root and which may have a more biological root cause.