Pastoral Care & Counseling

After Domestic Violence, Why Should a Christian Wife Call the Police, Not a Pastor, First?

After Domestic Violence, Why Should a Christian Wife Call the Police, Not a Pastor, First?

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today (Jan/Feb 2015).

Following an act of violent abuse, a Christian wife should first turn to the police. We definitely support calling her pastor, too, but only after calling the police.

“Violent abuse” refers to physical assault or battering, which is a crime. The police have the power to protect victims from physical attack. And victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and any children involved.

The police are the best first responders because they understand that an act of violence is a crime. They understand that without proper intervention, this crime will most likely occur again. It is rare for pastors and their churches to have relationships with a domestic violence shelter, the police, or the public health department. What a Christian wife needs after an act of violent abuse is immediate intervention, emergency shelter, medical care, and legal support.

About one in four American women experiences violence from her partner at some point in her adult life, according to credible national surveys. And research shows that Christian women stay far longer in the abusive context and withstand far more severe abuse than non-Christian women.

One researcher states, “A woman is hit an average of 35 times before she calls the police, and she will leave her abuser 5 or 6 times before she leaves for good.” Psychologist Lenore Walker writes, “Women with strong religious backgrounds often are less likely to believe that violence against them is wrong.” Abused women who are Christians may try to understand their suffering by believing it is “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life.” Yet we believe this runs contrary to the biblical image of a kind, merciful, and loving God who promises to be present to us in our suffering.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey concluded that women who reported their abuse to authorities were far less likely to be assaulted again than women who submitted to the abuse and did not contact the authorities. Specifically, the survey found that 41 percent of wives who did not report their abusive husbands to the police were attacked again within 6 months. By contrast, only 15 percent of abused wives who reported the abuse to authorities were assaulted again.

The justice system is not an absolute guarantee. But if an abused wife is honest and upfront about the danger her abuser poses, the police can be a key to safety. If she takes that first step, the police can offer her resources—including people to talk to and make plans with—that can make all the other steps easier. They’ve done it before. An abused wife is not alone.

Are You Prepared to Minister to Those Suffering Domestic Violence?

Are You Prepared to Minister to Those Suffering Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is extremely prevalent and damaging, but frequently hidden.

Intimate partner violence is pervasive in U.S. society. One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Nearly three out of four of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Questions

These statistics don’t begin to reveal the darkness and grief experienced by the women themselves. Those suffering domestic violence are in the midst of a whirlwind of emotions and have serious and important questions. Here are some of the most frequent questions we’ve been asked:

  • Does the grace of God apply to me?
  • What does the Bible say about women?
  • What does the Bible say about violence against women?
  • What does the Bible say about God delivering victims?
  • Does the Bible say I should suffer abuse and violence?

My wife, Lindsey, and I wrote Is It My Fault? for those suffering domestic violence to answer these questions and to offer accessible, gospel-based help, hope, and healing.

Those suffering abuse need to know that God sees their suffering and that God cares about them and hears their cries and prayers. He cares for them so much that He wants them safe and delivered from threat and violence. But even beyond physical safety, God wants them to heal from the many ways they’ve been hurt and wounded.

Healing In Community

Because the healing process is best aided in the context of community, Is It My Fault? is also for the family, friends, clergy, and ministry staff who want to love and support victims of abuse.

Many people want to help those in their family or circle of friends who are being hurt by domestic violence, but they don’t always know how. They are often overwhelmed by the seriousness of the situation and feel helpless to lend adequate support. But here, they couldn’t be more wrong. Friends, family, and ministry members can offer immense help and support to victims of abuse.

The alternate effect of this, of course, is that some “help”—if misapplied—can actually hurt. Unfortunately, many ministry leaders are woefully under-equipped to deal with domestic violence. Platitudes, prying questions, and shallow “biblical” answers, for example, do more harm than good for a victim who feels stuck in a desperate situation. In fact, many victims believe clergy have the most potential to help them, when in reality they are too often the least helpful and sometimes even harmful.

If you are a leader in ministry, statistics tell us there are people under your care 
that have suffered—or are currently suffering—from domestic violence. This is particularly tragic because part of God’s mission for the church is to proclaim God’s healing and to seek justice for everyone it encounters. And this book is to help equip you in doing just that for women in abusive situations. It is also a resource to give to women being abused as well as their support network of friends and family.

We believe that the deepest message of the ministry of Jesus and the Bible is the grace of God to all of us because we are all broken people in a broken world. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness.

“Your Story Does Not End With Abuse”

Those suffering domestic violence need the good news of the grace of God applied to the effects of the abuse. Our hope is that ministry leaders clearly communicate and care for them with this message:

“Jesus responds to your pain. Your story does not end with abuse and violence. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, fear, anger, and confusion. The abuse does not define you or have the last word on your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story.”

In Jesus, the God who delivers us from evil also offers us a path to healing. And it’s time to let this truth transform the shape of our own stories and how we minister to others.

10 Practical Ways to Care

If you are a loved one, friend, or minister serving a woman suffering domestic abuse, here are some suggestions on how to best care for her.

1. Let her know the abuse was not her fault. Communicate clearly: “You do not deserve abuse. And the it is never your fault.”

2. Listen. Don’t judge or blame them for the abuse. Research has proven that victims tend to have an easier adjustment when they are believed and listened to by others.

3. Don’t minimize or deny what happened. The fact that the abuse was not physical doesn’t make it any less painful, and it doesn’t make it any less wrong. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, they can run very deep, and they are not to be minimized. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.

4. Reassure her that she is cared for and loved.

5. Encourage her to talk about the abuse with an advocate, pastor, mental health professional, law enforcement officer, another victim, or a trusted friend.

6. Encourage her to seek medical attention if needed.

7. Fight on her behalf against the lies that the abuse was her fault, that she is to blame, that she is a failure, or that she deserved abuse because she is a bad wife, mother, girlfriend, woman, or Christian.

8. Take care of yourself. As a support person, you need to be healthy in your caregiving role.

9. Avoid placating statements as an attempt to make her feel better.

10. Take time to notice where she is in the healing process and do not rush her through it. Help her keep moving through it at a pace comfortable to her rather than trying to force progression to a different stage immediately.

Grace Motivates and Other Things I Wish I’d Known…

Grace Motivates and Other Things I Wish I’d Known…

About Leadership

Grace is not the opposite of strong leadership, but the heart of it. This is important for leadership in all realms, and especially in ministry.

Insecure leaders worry about power dynamics and control. They worry about losing. Or as my friend Steve Brown says, “Real pastors worry about people and their walk with Christ. Wolves in sheep’s clothing worry about power and control.”

Because of their misunderstanding of people and leadership, weak leaders manipulate instead of persuade. But strong leaders know that grace motivates.

Grace is not the opposite of strong leadership, but the heart of it.

Mature leaders are secure enough to be insecure. We get this from Jesus, who demonstrated his power by death on the cross. Following him, Christian leadership looks like suffering and self-sacrifice in the service of others as we give ourselves unconditionally to the aid of others. Mature leadership is built on trust, empowering others, and a deep sense of security, not in self, but in Christ.

Carl Trueman explains powerfully the implications for this new understanding of Christian authority: “Elders, for example, are not to be those renowned for throwing their weight around, for badgering others, and for using their position or wealth or credentials to enforce their own opinions. No, the truly Christian elder is the one who devotes his whole life to the painful, inconvenient, and humiliating service of others, for in so doing he demonstrates Christlike authority, the kind of authority that Christ himself demonstrated throughout his incarnate life and supremely on the cross at Calvary.”

About God’s Sovereignty

The sovereignty of God is not just some abstract principle—it should be understood in the context of the character of God. The God who is sovereign is the same God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty (Exod. 34:67). God is merciful, compassionate, loving, holy, and just.

Weak leaders manipulate instead of persuade. But strong leaders know that grace motivates.

God’s sovereignty is not merely a technical, abstract, theoretical concept but a truth about God and how he relates to his creation. It is a description of the God who Jesus teaches is also my “Father” who loves, protects, and provides. Sovereignty should be understood in a more robust manner than the mechanical and sterile way some talk about it.

God’s sovereignty should bring believers comfort. Here are two examples.

First, Article 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion talks about God’s sovereign grace in a powerful way:

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Put most simply, God’s electing grace should lead us to focus on Jesus’ cross, not the doctrine of election. To focus on the latter at the expense of the former leads to either despair or pride.

God’s sovereignty should bring believers comfort.

Second, the “Prayer of Humble Access,” a prayer said before communion, brings together to majesty of God and his mercy: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” The God “whose property is always to have mercy” is also the one who is your advocate, Father, and judge.

Because God is more sovereign than my sin, suffering, and stupidity, it means that he also cares more than I do about the things that burden me. God’s sovereignty means that God is “the One who loves in freedom.” This sovereign grace is about God overcoming the sinner’s resistance with divine love.

About Counseling

Listening is more important than you think. If listening is just a skill or technique, it is more about you coming off as a good or wise counselor. But listening is a ministry. Ann Long describes the ministry of listening as a gift, hospitality, and healing. Almost anyone can give advice, and most people give way too much way too early.

Listening is a way to serve someone humbly, love them well, and share their burden. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, “The beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. Thus, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes. The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions from family, friends, loved ones, and society have a harmful effect on victims.

Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized in American society, many victims suffer in silence, which only intensifies their distress and disgrace. There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. One rationale is that this provides nonvictims with a false sense of security if they can place blame on victims rather than on perpetrators. Research findings suggest that blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only erroneous but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Victims experiencing negative social reactions have poorer adjustment. Research has proven that “the only social reactions related to better  adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others.”

This post is an excerpt from Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Books and articles on protecting children, training them, and caring for abused children.

The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the U.S. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

The campaign this year is child sexual abuse prevention. Here are some resources I wanted to make available on this issue.

Rid of My Disgrace

In honor of SAAM, the ebook edition of Rid of My Disgrace is available for $0.99 until Monday, April 8th.

Posts On Protecting Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused

Resources From GRACE

I serve on the board of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Their resource page has some helpful articles and videos:

The Respond Conference

Matt Chandler, Greg Love, Paul Tripp, and myself will speak at Respond—a free, one-day conference at The Village Church advocating a biblical response to sexual assault.

 

 

 

 

5 Ways You Can Teach Your Children About Their Sexual Development

5 Ways You Can Teach Your Children About Their Sexual Development

This post is by my wife, Lindsey.

As a parent, modeling respectful behaviors and boundaries and sharing age-appropriate information can counter unhealthy social norms around sexuality and relationships. Children are constantly learning social norms from peers and the media and it is your job to teach them what is expected or appropriate in interactions and relationships.

From infancy you can start talking about healthy childhood development. This may not be something natural for you, so you will need to learn about healthy childhood sexual development and age appropriate behaviors to better discuss unhealthy behaviors or abusive touch with your children.

To help get you started, here are five ways you can teach your children about their sexual development:

1. Create safe, positive, and open communication patterns, especially around sexuality and development. Your children will have lots of questions about their bodies, other people’s bodies, and life in general. Answer their questions with age-appropriate and candid responses. This will build confidence and trust with your child. Teach them that there are no secrets in the family and that they can always ask you anything and tell you everything. Instead of the word “secrets” use “surprises” when necessary. Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise.

2. Teach and use correct names of body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts, bottom. You can begin this from infancy. It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

3. Initiate conversations with your child about relationships and their body. “When I was a little girl I had a lot of questions about my body parts and other people’s body parts. Do you have any questions you want to talk about?” Or “I know you like to play dress up at school or your friend’s house, but it’s not okay to take off your clothes to put on a costume unless you are at your house with mom or dad home. Do you understand why I say that?”

Also, let your child know they can tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them.

4. Promote healthy behaviors by praising your children when their behaviors model healthy friendships and respect for personal boundaries. “Brian, that was great when you listened when Sara said she wanted you to stop hugging her. That was a good way to respect your friend’s boundaries and stop when she asked you to.”

5. Model respectful boundaries with your children by teaching them from a young age that they are in control of their bodies and have a responsibility to respect the boundaries of others. “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s okay. You have a right to personal space, privacy, and boundaries. Let me know if anyone—myself, family member, friend, or anyone else—touches any part of your body or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

If your son or daughter does not want to kiss or hug you or someone else do not force the exchange. Instead teach them to say, “No thank you.” They can give a high five or wave hello or goodbye. Encourage your child to seek help when something feels uncomfortable for them. It may take awhile for extended family members to catch on to this new trend in relating, so you as your child’s advocate will need to explain what is allowed and not allowed.

GMMcover

Pre-order our children’s book: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The below is an abridged excerpt from “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit,” a chapter that Mike Wilkerson and I co-authored in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, which was just released yesterday.

It’s About Engagement, Not A Process

Life is a mess of sin and suffering. When people find themselves in over their heads, they come to us the counselors, and quickly we’re in over our heads with them.

What do they want? Often they want relief from the pain or practical advice for how to break sin patterns. Sometimes they’re aware that there’s more to it, something deeper.

We can’t go far without prayer and Scripture.

What do we want for them? If we’re thinking biblically, then we’ll want to provide some immediate, practical help. But we also know that the roots of their problems are likely deeper than they are aware, and that God is often up to something greater than merely cleaning up the messes as we see them and in the ways that we would clean them.

We know that biblical counseling will involve prayer and Scripture—we can’t go far without those. Yet if we’re not careful, even prayer and Scripture can be deployed in the counseling process as mere techniques (the technologies of biblical counseling) rather than as means of engaging with the living God, who alone is sufficient for the needs at hand.

It’s The Holy Spirit’s Counseling

Rather than asking about the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling, we should be asking about the counselor’s role in the Holy Spirit’s counseling! Yes, there will be Scripture. Yes, there will be prayer. Yet, it is good for us to focus on the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, agency, and efficacy. We should not reduce him to the topic of “prayer in counseling,” nor to “Scripture in counseling.”

By taking this more personal approach, we’ll be reminded that prayer is not just a technique of spirituality—it is conversation with our Redeemer, a person.

The Holy Spirit is the primary counselor.

Further, the Spirit is at work even before we pray and in ways for which we may not even know how to pray. He does more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We’ll also be reminded that the Scriptures are not magical formulas that work apart from our understanding; they are meaningful communications from a personal God about himself that we might know him. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to know God through the Scriptures.

Counseling that lacks this dependence on the Holy Spirit ceases to be Christian. Jay Adams is emphatic here:

Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and his Word without grievously sinning against him and the counselee.

 

Siang-Yang Tan agrees:

The role of the Holy Spirit in counseling is therefore a crucial one. He is the ultimate source of all true healing and wholeness. All true Christian counseling needs to be done in the Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, truth, and love, under the Lordship of Christ, and to the glory of God

It’s A Trialogue

If the Holy Spirit is the primary counselor, then biblical counseling is not merely a dialogue between a counselor and a counselee. Rather. It is a trialogue in which a counselor participates in the Spirit’s work already underway with the counselee. The Spirit is actively engaged in counseling, working directly on the counselor and the counselee, and through each to help the other.

 

Download the entire chapter

 


 

Copyright © 2013 abridged expert from Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, James MacDonald, Bob Kellemen, and Steve Viars, eds. 

 

Protect Your Children

Protect Your Children

Great Advice On Protecting Your Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused