Why Pastors Struggle With Confronting Domestic Violence

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JG's picture

The author describes a very real problem. Pastors struggle with this one. Although it doesn't invalidate his main argument, he goes a little too far with this:

When a person is writing the real raw truth of their lives, their words take on a simple, clarion integrity that even the most accomplished fiction writers struggle to convincingly fake. There could be no doubting the veracity of these women's stories.

They are never lying? That's a dangerous position to take.

If a woman is making these accusations, something is badly, badly broken in the marriage, and the husband has obviously failed to love his wife in some rather severe ways. Exactly how it got to that point is not always as obvious as this man is saying. But once it is to that point, a wife may respond in a variety of ways, including false accusations.

He also gives the impression that it is all always a problem with the husband. This is rarely true. It is always a problem with the abuser, always. But pastors often are only able to counsel the person who comes to them for advice, and that is usually the person suffering the abuse. We then challenge that person, appropriately, to consider how they may have contributed to the problem and what, if anything, they can do to rectify it.

He seems almost to be advocating that the wife always leave.

A pastor advising an abused woman to just stick it out with her husband is actually being quite sweet. He's also being really stupid and harmful. But it's sweet, insofar as his advice reflects his love, hope, and belief in God.

Is it always really stupid and harmful to advocate staying together, reconciliation, etc.? To say that is, as he acknowledges, to reject hope and belief in God. God can heal these homes.

Someone who has been abusive will often express great remorse, and we should not lightly assume that this is not real repentance, and reject it.

The author also falsely says there is a gray area between submit and abuse. This is not sound at all.

The real problem here is that the world really offers only one alternative to wives (or husbands) who are being treated violently by their spouses -- leave and divorce. Pastors (as he acknowledges) find that a rejection of the work of God to heal a home. So they are left with wondering what should be done, and so often do nothing.

The man who habitually abuses his wife is a lawbreaker and should be reported to the civil authorities. Pastors don't want to do this, but we dishonor the government that we are told to honor if we don't. If we have certain knowledge of the crime, we have no more right to protect someone who assaults people than we do to protect bank robbers.

Almost always, church discipline is appropriate.

This is a complete violation of what marriage is supposed to be (Ephesians 5:29). A man who does it has broken his marriage vows just as completely as if he has committed adultery. It isn't acceptable to tell a wife to go back and just submit to it. If she has angered her husband, she needs to repent of anything wrong she has done that angered him (whether it be lack of submission or whatever), but he needs to be confronted about his wickedness, and if he won't repent, he is the one who is breaking the marriage, and he needs to be told that. If the only way he will receive the seriousness of his problem is for her to leave for a time, then that may be necessary. She isn't the one breaking vows, he is.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Shore's article is better than I expected.
I can relate to this...

Shore wrote:
Like all true evil, domestic violence is basically incomprehensible. Most people find it simply inconceivable that any man would systematically victimize his own wife and children. The monstrousness of it renders it unimaginable. So I think it's easy for pastors to, in fact, fail to imagine it.

The weird thing is, I have difficulty imagining that anybody is lying to me either. I guess I'm just deeply naive.

4. Pastors haven't thought enough about the gray area between "submit" and abuse. A lot of pastors hold to the traditional Biblical definition of the proper relation between a husband and wife.

This is often true... but happens in the other direction as well. I do know of cases where the word "abuse" was being thrown around in reference to what--until very recent times--would have simply been called leadership. Nobody was hitting anybody. But as far as social trends go, the term "abuse" continues to expand. "He looked at me mean" is now abuse in some circles.

6. Pastors simply aren't trained about domestic violence. A pastor faced with a domestic violence problem is like a football player faced with a curling stone: he kind of knows what to do with it, but not really. What do pastors know about domestic violence? They're not taught about it in seminary;

I think he's got a good point here, too. But again, there's a danger in the other direction. I do know of pastors who have been "trained" completely out of believing there are any spiritual issues and trained as well out of believing in the headship of husband and father.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

PLewis's picture

Rhetorical question really ..

The article seems to me to be referring to domestic violence ..

Aaron ... I have to agree with your statement:

This is often true... but happens in the other direction as well. I do know of cases where the word "abuse" was being thrown around in reference to what--until very recent times--would have simply been called leadership. Nobody was hitting anybody. But as far as social trends go, the term "abuse" continues to expand. "He looked at me mean" is now abuse in some circles.

I frequent a few "subject" boards (mostly travel) that have areas where people often .. let's say "emote" .. or post incredibly personal things.. Of course these are not "Christian" boards.. (much less "fundamental Baptist" Wink .. Women will post about separation / divorce / marital problems .. and suddenly there are a wealth of people telling them they are suffering "mental abuse" .. And it is ALWAYS the man's fault .. it's incredible to me that the concept that "all men are abusers" is so wide spread and accepted...

Of course I'm not a pastor - but I KNOW it is so difficult to sift through these types of arguments. Years ago (when I was in a LOW spiritual state ) there was a couple in our neighborhood. I considered them to be VERY close friends .. if anyone asked I would have said the husband was a "mental abuser" .. I was at their house EVERY day .. the man was MEAN .. the wife had an affair .. left the household (I was shocked and heart broken) .. and lo and behold his whole demeanor changed .. it was nearly unbelievable .. suddenly I realized I was truly looking at the situation from a totally one sided perspective .. I believed everything she told me hook, line and sinker.. and yet she was the one who did NOT want to change .. the husband had a true heart change I think.. actually I think he just came BACK to the Lord .. in talking to him I realized the problems in the marriage were SO complicated with MANY twists and turns ..

The point is I've NEVER looked at "abuse" situations the same .. I am sure there are times that one person is flat out the abusers ... but SO often it takes two to tango .. (or is that two to tangle? )

KeithK's picture

As I read the article, it seemed as if he were espousing an either / or situation. We either tell the abused to stay at home and live with it, or we encourage separation which necessarily means divorce.

I don't think it needs to be this way. If a person is truly a victim of physical violence, then we should be prepared to help separate them from the abuser and provide protection from the physical danger. At the same time, we should be bringing the power of the gospel to bear on the abuser, and addressing any sinful attitudes of the victim. We should not assume that physical separation needs to automatically mean divorce. We hope in the power of Christ to bring life and repenctance and healing of relationships. But I don't think it needs to be a terminal condition to provide protection of someone who is truly being physically abused.

I also find it interesting that the assumption is that the abuse is always the husband against the wife. Are women not capable of violence? What about single mothers who abuse their children?

And yes, I heartily agree that the term "abuse" needs to be defined before we jump on the accusation band wagon and rally around the "poor" victim.