Book Review: Refuge From Abuse – By Nancy Nason-Clark & Catherine Kroeger

51L0GS0C+gLLetter Nancy Nason-Clark and Catherine Kroeger are perhaps the subject matter experts in the realm of abuse within the Christian home and have written various books on the topic. This book is one of the more pointed and concise books that they have written, and is written directly to abused person, with a strong focus on need for pastoral support.

Refuge From Abuse is divided into eight primary parts, each addressing a question that the abused woman may be asking herself, and each ending with a piece of spiritual reflection for the reader.

The first of these questions is ‘how do I know I need help?’ Here the authors present a few stories of abuse, define what it is, and dispel some of the myths about abuse. Once it has been established that the woman is in need of help the second question may be asked, ‘how much of my story should I tell?’ Here the authors address how the reader may go about breaking the silence of their abuse. This breaking of the silence is perhaps the hardest part for the woman who has been abused, given that “shame and secrecy are the immediate responses to the hurt and humiliation of victims (p.41)” and that “every abused woman feels abandoned and afraid (p.50).” Too often these women avoid self-reflection because it causes too much pain and too much despair (p.15).

With the breaking of the silence, the third question naturally follows ‘where do I find support?’ Here the authors focus especially on the spiritual issues related to abuse and the language of the spirit which the pastor should be speaking into the lives of these women. This chapter addresses issues of abandonment, the beliefs about the Christian life held by abused women, beliefs about marriage, separation and divorce, and attempts to find meaning. Through these discussion the authors attempt to dispel many false assumptions that the victim may have about these subjects.

While looking for support the authors do not limit this help to the church, but ask further ‘what help can I find in the community?’ The authors thus note the potential need for things such as police protection, therapy, lawyers, community resources, etc, in cooperation with the spiritual help and guidance of the church. The guidance of the pastor is still important, for they are one of the primary figures who can correct false views which the victim may have (the pastor can thus offer reflections on nature of God, on the victim’s need for God, and God’s ability to meet their needs; he may further offer condemnation of the abuse, recommend the use of secular resources, and offer support of church). Thus, “For the believer who has been abused, the language of the spirit has to come alongside the language of contemporary culture in the healing journey (p.48).” This is an important discussion because church leaders too often take the path of least resistance by refusing to look at the wounds altogether (p.46). This chapter also notes various resources and preparation to consider, such as potentially leaving home, creating an emergency kit, getting a restraining order, etc.

With these more practical steps covered, the authors move on to the questin of ‘how do I get started on the healing journey.’ In beginning the journey to healing, there are five hurdles which must be overcome: the lie of worthlessness (“One of the first hurdles for an abused woman is the lies. But letting go of lies is much easier to say than to do. You may have been told for a very long time that you are stupid, ugly or useless. It is a lie. Stop believing it (p.88).”), the fear that the future could be worse than the past, the difficulty of taking action, the reluctance to figure out what’s wrong (such as looking for signs of abuse), and the struggle to figure out what help you need.

Once the healing journey has begun, the woman may address the question of ‘what steps do I take to get on with my life?’ Here the authors lay out three steps: 1) dare to dream, 2) find a listening ear, 3) accept help, and begin the long journey of forgiveness,.

In guiding the woman on this healing journey, the authors also address the question of ‘how can I understand what help my abuser needs?’ This is especially important if the woman chooses to stay in the relationship, as the authors place a strong focus here on repentance, describing what repentance is and especially describing what repentance is not (such as: how much emotion the abuser shows; giving gifts; pretending it never happened; etc). Here the authors also discuss what programs are available to the abuse, what works and what doesn’t, and note especially that it is not the woman’s responsibility to help the abuser, it is her responsibility to take care of her own safety; his help is his responsibility.

Finally, the authors address the question of ‘how do I learn to trust God again?’ Here they focus on the power of faith and how to deal with anger. Two followup chapters give the reader some resources on finding healing for their husband, and offer a selection of Bible verses for God’s patter of living for the Christian home and for personal healing worship.

Overall, while the aim of this book is to directly help those who have faced or are facing abuse, it is also a very enlightening read for those who are unfamiliar with what those who face abuse go through and what they need. It is no doubt an invaluable resource for understanding how to help women facing this pain.

Memorable Quotes:

“If a person has never heard or seen a victim disclose, it is nearly impossible to comprehend the shame, or the fear, or the impact.”-p.17

“Since [abuse] involves betrayal and humiliation, often it leaves the woman with little sense of self-worth. You have no doubt blamed yourself for the violence you have suffered… Like many abused women, you probably feel trapped, isolated and guilt-ridden.”-p.73

“It is is important for women to maintain a realistic view of what is happening in their life. There can be terrible consequences when a woman reproaches herself, feels that she is to blame, and accepts the abuser’s evaluation of her as stupid, incompetent, crazy or unbalanced. All of this makes it impossible for her to find a positive solution.”-p.100

“Most of us have a strong streak of independence: we want to do it by myself.”-p.106

Specific Criticisms

My only real criticism of this book is a slight lacking in the theology category, which is perhaps best seen in its support of Rabbi Kushner‘s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which is perhaps easily the worst example of theodicy out there. The god of Kushner may be able to sympathize with the woman who has been hurt, but that is all that he can do. He cannot help, and he cannot offer hope.



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