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

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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.

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