Is Dr. James Dobson’s Advice to Abuse Victims Dangerous? Pt. 1

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Dr. Dobson is considered a leader in modern Christianity and his family advice is highly regarded.

However, I am very concerned about his advice regarding domestic violence. He makes some strides in the right direction, where other evangelical leaders have not. Unfortunately, regardless of good intentions, his advice still leaves abuse victims in life-threateningly dangerous territory.

I also want to carefully note that the Troubled With website by Focus on the Family, offers some of the most comprehensive acknowledgement and advice about the issue of domestic abuse that I have ever seen from a major, mainline Christian source. Unfortunately, this material copied below comes from the same website. And throughout, Dr. Dobson’s book Love Must Be Tough is referred to and recommended — which is where this advice I am addressing originates.

Here is the piece from one of Focus on the Family’s websites:

How should a wife deal with her husband’s abusive tendencies?

The principles of Love Must Be Tough offer the best response to an abusive husband. They begin with a recognition that behavior does not change when things are going smoothly. If change is to occur, it usually does so in a crisis situation. Thus, a crisis must be created and managed very carefully.

After moving out and making it clear that the woman has no intention of returning, the ball moves to her husband’s court. If he never responds, she never returns. If it takes a year, or five years, then so be it. He has to want her badly enough to face his problem and to reach out to her. When (and if) her husband acknowledges that he has an abusive behavior pattern and promises to deal with it, negotiations can begin. A plan can be agreed upon that involves intensive Christian counseling with a person of the wife’s choosing. She should not return home until the counselor concludes that she will be safe and that the husband is on the way to recovery. Gradually, they put their relationship back together.

It’s a long shot but one worth working to achieve.

Answered by James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
Excerpted from Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide by James C. Dobson Ph.D., published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.

I commented on this issue on another blog where it was brought up. I have compiled my comments, with some expansion and editing for clarification, as well as incorporation of some ideas mentioned by other commenters to the original post.

There were some points in here from which the church can learn. At the same time, however, Dr. Dobson leaves huge, and dangerous, holes which abandon an abuse victim in an extremely vulnerable position.

This original post ended up being extremely long, so I have divided it into twelve parts. To read them all, see Is Dr. James Dobson’s Advice to Abuse Victims Dangerous, Series. A link to the next article in the series appears at the conclusion of this one.

1. “After moving out and making it clear that she has no intention of returning…” In this statement (and its context) Dr. Dobson validates the power of the wife to be proactive and hold the line. He says she can make clear she is not returning.

In a significant break from common church teaching, Dr. Dobson does not question the wife’s claims of abuse. He doesn’t assume she is lying in order to secure a divorce. He doesn’t put qualifications on his comments, demanding that she produce whatever the church considers “convincing proof.”

I do not know if this is deliberate, or an oversight on Dobson’s part. But these common church attitudes toward abuse claims effectively remove the ability of most victims to secure validation in “Christian” abusive marriages, because the abusers are unlikely to leave evidence. They are usually more sophisticated than that, since their image in the church is far more valuable to them than their spouse is.

But here is a question raised by this statement. Does she really have the authority to say she will not return — and have that decision both respected and supported by the church? I have never seen that happen. Not to say there are not churches that won’t go there, but those who do are operating against established practice and theology among both fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.

You can see the entire original exchange and related posts here:

Advice that Can Get a Woman Killed

Response from Dr. Bill

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