Book Review: Battered Into Submission – By James & Phyllis Alsdurf

battered-into-submission-alsdurfLetter WWhen this book was first written in the late 80’s the phenomena of spousal abuse within the Christian home was something that was unheard of – not because it didn’t happen, but because it was something that the church as a body was either not aware of, refused to confront, or in some cases had such warped views regarding it that they did not see for the abomination it is.

The chief goal of this book was to bring to light the fact that domestic abuse does indeed exist within Christian homes, to call the church into action, and to communicate a proper understanding of what is happening in those homes, for “As long as the church is quiet in a world which resonates with the cries of abused women, it is failing in its ministry of reconciliation.”

The authors begin their task by communicating the stories and detailing the experience that some women face within their homes, and the ways that the clergy has failed in their responses to these women. Their next task is to discuss the psychology of each spouse. They first discuss the psychology of the battered woman, what they are thinking, why they are so prone to stay or stay silent, and the messages that they are receiving from the church and society. There they make various observations, such as that “There is not clear­cut answer why a woman remains in an abusive relationship since the ‘why’ consists of a web of interrelated factors – emotional, legal, religious, psychological, economic, familial… Out of guilt, fear, a sense of religious duty, helplessness or just a lack of options, battered women generally stay with their abusive husbands long after it is safe or reasonable to assume that change will come.” Other noted reasons include viewing divorce as a failure on their part (because they have been told that keeping the relationship together is their responsibility), feeling blame for not ‘submitting’ to their husbands, and the way that culture has trained women to be relatively forgiving and passive in the face of threat.

Perhaps the more enlightening points that the authors make here are in noting some of peculiarities of the abused woman’s psychology in relation to her abuser. The authors note that many women have rescue fantasies regarding their abuse – not of their own rescue, but of being able to rescue their husband from his behaviour. Many women believe that they can change their husband’s abusive behaviour; and not merely that they can change it, but that they have a responsibility to change their husbands and save their husbands from themselves (seeing their own endurance through abuse as an evidence of moral strength).

With this they move on to the psychology of the batterer, the tactics they use, and a brief survey on how to treat them. After analyzing the psychological dynamics of the wife and her abuser, the authors go on to discuss the evil of abuse (in order to subvert the views at the time which may have seen it as acceptable), and then confront false views which have stemmed up with regard to abuse, such as blaming the victim and the need for submission on the wife’s part. Finally, the authors move on to discuss the process of reconciliation, what steps to take and what steps to avoid; that is, what things will help, and which things will inadvertently facilitate further abuse.

This includes discussions of the question of divorce, and challenging the church to become engaged in reworking the normative views on the topic of abuse (ie, to acknowledge that it exists, that it is a sin, and to begin doing something about that). With regard to divorce the authors argue that “The dilemma facing the woman and her church is not one of deciding whether it is right for her to suffer, but rather, whether God is asking her to stay in the relationship” and that “If we understand fidelity to imply much more than sexual faithfulness and to encompass the honoring of one’s partner in a life­giving way, marital violence becomes a manifestation of infidelity.”

Moving on finally to the relationship of the body in all of this, the authors note: “One giant step toward rebuilding the shattered self­-esteem of Christian battered women would be made if the church acknowledged that wife abuse is a sin.”

While dated, this book still offers much insight into the reality of abuse as well as the psychology surrounding it and the way it is has been traditionally addressed in the church. At just over 150 pages it is a fairly short and concise read, and many of its points still hold true for today.

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