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.


Book Review: Rid of My Disgrace – By Justin & Lindsey Holcomb

JandL Holcomb Rid of My Disgrace.pngletter-sSexual assault is not something that happens to someone, ends, and is over; rather, it has lasting effects that can have an impact on every aspect of the person’s life. In Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb seek to address shame and disgrace, particularly powerful and lasting influences on those who have experienced sexual assault. While these are real effects, there is hope for escape from them, and it is this hope which the authors seek to convey.

The authors go about addressing this in three parts. In the first part of their book the define sexual assault, analyze its effects (to include the trauma, negative stereotypes, and self-blaming), discuss the emotions which go along with it, and begin a discussion on how healing is to be found in the grace of God. The second part of the book focuses on how this grace is applied, with each chapter being preceded by the story of somebody who was sexually assaulted and gained the freedom of grace.

This section of the book seeks to address six ways that grace is applied: first in overcoming denial (facing the truth, admitting the damage, naming the evil, and seeking God’s presence); second in restoring the distorted self-image (through the renewed identity in Christ); third in defeating shame (through the biblical truth of its defeat by Christ on the cross, whereby shame no longer defines nor has power of you); fourth in removing guilt (through the biblical truth of the grace of God being applied; through the truth that you are accepted by God); fifth in assessing anger (realizing that anger is warranted and justified, and yet moving from this to find forgiveness); and sixth in escaping despair (through the hope of redemption in Christ).

This second section is the more practical application of theology portion of the book. In the third part they move on to a general presentation of the gospel of grace as particularly addressed to victims of sexual assault, and as seen through the lens of the Old and New Testaments, ending with a concluding prayer.

All in all, this text is an excellent presentation of the gospel’s power to overcome the shame and disgrace inflicted by sexual assault. While there is much other healing which may need to be done, the truths presented here are central to finding a solid basis on which the person may find freedom from their shame.

Memorable Quotes:

“What has happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame.”-p.15

“Grace is being loved when you are or feel unlovable.”-p.15

“the message you hear most often is self-heal, self-love, and self-help.”p.16

“Naming and describing the evil done to you does not ensure automatic personal healing. However it does provide clarity regarding sexual assault, and it allows for acknowledgement.”-p.35

“What you believe has a huge connection to how you respond to disgrace, violence, denial, shame, guilt…”-p.44

“Perhaps the greatest fear of a person marked by shameful defilement is the fear of exposure.”-p.102

“No longer do you have to hold your head in shame in prayer, but you can come to the Father with Christ-centred confidence.”-p.203

“Christ’s victory give us back our identity and restores our meaning.”-p.204

Book Review: Hope When You’re Hurting – By Larry Crabb & Dan Allender

Crabb Hope When Youre Hurting.png

Letter IIn the realm of counseling books, Dr. Larry Crabb is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. This is the second book which I’ve read by him. I picked it up one evening planning on doing some light reading before bed and ended reading the book through in one sitting, simply because I didn’t want to put it down.

As the cover text notes, the book is organized into four parts, each dealing with a one of a sequence of questions that hurting people ask: What’s wrong? Who can help? What will the helper do? What can I hope for if I do seek help?

In going through these questions Dr. Crabb doesn’t simply address one technique, but rather develops a narrative which discusses a handful of approaches present, each addressing an apparent cause of the pain, to include: spiritual warfare, psychological dysfunction, sin, biochemical disorders, undisciplined living, and deficient spirituality. Dr. Crabb notes the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches while also offering his own insights – it is these insights which will help the individual dealing with pain, while the overall discussion on the approaches will be helpful both to the one in pain as well as the potential counselor looking for which avenue to deal with their patients.

Dr. Crabb’s position might best be summed up in the notion that: “If some problems have no adequate explanations, and never will have, then we must come to grips with confusion and learn to live in mystery… We want to reduce mystery to a usable system. Mystery requires us to connect with someone, to trust. System allows us to follow a plan, to control… Unexplained problems put us out of control. As a result, the urge to explain becomes stronger than the urge to connect, so strong that it may be getting in the way of developing deeper levels of trust… I worry that, once we have a system, we’re in danger of placing more faith in a manageable plan with predictable results than in God, who is neither manageable nor predictable…

“The philosophy of individualism, in which noting is more important than the individual’s needs and rights, runs today’s world, at least in the West. God’s deepest passion, however, seems directed not towards individuals (though he numbers the hairs on our heads) but towards individuals-in-community… Individual fulfillment is never the point. It is the by-product of yielding oneself to the greater good of a community, first the community of the triune God(who is served by receiving glory) and then the community of God’s people…”

This is perhaps the key message to those who are hurting. The world is fallen; our pain will not fully cease in this life, and often we will not know the cause; it is this mystery in the case which drives us to trust in God and connect with fellow Christians in community and worship and pursuit of that God. When we simply seek an explanation or a cure then “we approach God, not to know him, but to secure his cooperation in solving our problems.”(p35)

Under-girding this discussion of pain is a discussion of which approach we should be searching for, which is the best to suit or needs, and what part the church should play in all of this. A main thesis of Crabb’s is that ideally, most counseling needs can be met “through the local church, through communities of God’s people relating meaningfully and healingly to one another as together they search for God.” (p10)

Or more fully:

“Those two realities – a hunger for connection with God and a resolve to satisfy that hunger elsewhere – lie at the very center of our souls. But we have taken those two realities and made things too complicated. We have gone beyond the idea of an image-bearing but fallen soul hungry for God but resistant to him and become enamored with the idea of a psychological self capable of being damaged, abandoned, manipulated, and unwisely defensive on it’s own behalf.

We no longer call the soul of a person to pursue God and forsake idolatry: instead, we now work to develop a healthier self… But if the internal roots of our personal problems lie simply in our unaroused hunger for God and our unadmitted arrogance that says we don’t need him, if dealing with life’s problems require that we face these two basic realities of the soul rather than all the complex dynamics of the self, then, I suggest, the community of God’s people is back in the healing business.”(p176)

This is Crabb’s underlying thesis, that of a need for a community centered and God centered drive for dealing with individuals within the Christian context, that is, not simply as individuals isolation but as children of God created for community and worship. On the one hand the ideas presented by Crabb here are meant to be of use to those going through pain themselves, and on the other hand they are meant to help instruct those working with people who are going through pain.

Memorable Quotes:

This is one of those texts which is absolutely littered with great quotes, here a few of them,

-“Speaking the truth in love does not give anyone license to share whatever he happens to think or feel.”(p14)

-“The principle is worth more thought: the problems we face, even big ones, aren’t so bad. It’s the unexplained ones that scare us to death. We’re not nearly so bothered by the size of a problem as we are by its degree of mystery. It’s not knowing what’s wrong that arouses the worst terror. Mystery scares us because it puts us out of control and leaves us with an option we don’t naturally like – to trust someone besides ourselves… Once we know what’s wrong, we feel back in control… Knowledge is the key. Explanation becomes our hope. We don’t need a person if we have a plan. Trust becomes unnecessary, a nice concept to talk about in church but one we don’t have to practice in real life.”(p22)

-“People can be divided into two groups: those who think that life works (or could work if certain principles were followed), and those who know it doesn’t.”(p23)

-“It is crucial to accept the limits of help… More often than not, the limit is due to the tension that we are made for heaven and all help is time bound and incomplete.” (p86)

-“Idolatry is not the by-product of forgetting God; it is the means by which we forget him.”(p96)

-“Our worst human relationship will determine the quality of our relationship with God, says John. In human relationships we see most clearly our deepest struggles with God.”(p99)

-“The real killer of the self and the real cause of all addictions is shame… Shame causes us to see our identity as flawed rather than seeing ourselves as having flaws.”(p107)

-“Love honors the other with a heart to do her good; it is not the avoidance of conflict, nor compliant servitude. Love is not making someone feel good; it is not avoiding conflict; it is not merely getting along. Love is a commitment to see Christ grow in the heart of the other by offering a strength that disrupts patterns of idolatry and a tenderness that invites reconciliation and hope. Love will be tender and long-suffering; it will also be bold and wounding. If it involves one without the other, then it is an offer of something less than God’s character. We are told that God is a God of mercy and strength (Psalm 62:11). To love other is to give them a taste of the full character of God.”(p113)

-“The soul will not be healed without relationship.”(p117)

-“When we understand who we are and what goes wrong in our lives, it becomes clear that we are not damaged things that need repair; we are rather disconnected persons that must depend on the gospel to reestablish connection.”(p170)

Specific Criticisms

I really can’t say I have any criticisms of this book, it is an excellent, insightful and moving read, and I suggest it to anybody whether you’re dealing with pain or not (though really, I’m not sure if anybody is ever not dealing with pain of some form or another).

Shame & Abuse in the Christian Home

Shameletter-given the fact of living in a fallen world there are many unpleasant things people have to deal with, things which cause varying types of pain. Things which must be confronted.

Within the Christian church, one such cause of pain which does not get the attention it needs is the abuse of women within the Christian home.

It is said that in the early eighties churches did not even realize that there was wife abuse within the Christian home; over thirty years later the church still seems to be struggling to bring this issue into the light and there is still the vast need for the church to realize the prevalence and severity of the abuse that occurs within its midst. It is a silence that needs to be broken, both from the side of the individual being abused and from the side of the church’s confrontation of the issue.

This silence is difficult to break, especially for the individual who lives within the midst of this abuse, because “for most couples, religious or not, violence is a strongly guarded secret.” If the church is to minister to those suffering from abuse within the Christian home, it is imperative that those in the church become familiar with what it is that keeps the abused silent in their suffering.

One of the key factors which keeps the abused wife silent is the shame that she struggles with, a shame which is further complicated by teachings that women receive in many churches. By examining these shame dynamics surrounding the abused wife – both the shame that she feels from the abuse and the confused messages that she receives from the church – church leaders can begin to understand and minister to these women. As has been noted by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, the “shame and humiliation in which she [the abused wife] has been engaged render it well nigh impossible to speak.” If this silence is to be broken one must first understand the shame and also understand the ways that the church has addressed many of these situation; with this done one may then proceed in the first steps of breaking the silence with much greater understanding of the abused woman.

What Shame Is

It has been stated that if a person has never heard a victim disclose “it is nearly impossible to comprehend the shame, or the fear, or the impact” of abuse. If one is going to understand the shame that the abused wife feels, one must first come into an understanding of what this shame is.

Shame itself is an often nebulous idea; Sandra Wilson describes it as a “strong sense of being uniquely and hopelessly different and less than other human beings.” Shame is often confused with guilt, yet Wilson distinguishes shame from guilt in that while guilt tells the woman that she made a mistake, “shame shouts that I am a mistake.”

In this way the feelings of shame are not merely surface level emotions that the abused wife is dealing with, but are rather deep-seeded dynamics that affect her very identity as a person, as a woman, as a wife, and as a child of God. It is not merely her emotions that she must overcome in order to break her silence, but the entire false identity that has been forced upon her.

This sort of thing does not appear out of nowhere. Indeed, Neil Pembroke explains that shame “arises when the self evaluates itself as flawed, defective, inferior.” The evaluation does not stop there; because she exists in community, shame is not merely the personal evaluation of being inferior, but also exists as the fear that these “sensitive and vulnerable aspects of the self” might be exposed. Yet even unexposed, this shame can and does “burn secretly within.”

It can thus be stated that shame is something that affects the very identity of the woman, something arising from being made to feel as if she is inferior and being complicated by a fear of this being exposed.

Where This Shame Originates

Upon concluding that shame arises when one evaluates oneself as flawed or inferior, it must then be asked where this evaluation comes from. In the case of wife abuse within the Christian home, two primary sources may be identified. The first of these sources originates from the husband, the second from the woman’s interactions with the faith community.

Shame from the Husband

The most direct cause of shame for the abuse wife is her abuser, this is one of the things that makes him an abuser. The evaluation that one is without worth is in large part a reaction to the lies that the wife has been fed by her husband. One aspect of many abusive marriages is “the deliberate humiliation of one’s spouse,” and this shame is one of the “immediate responses to the hurt and humiliation” to which she has been exposed.

This hurt and humiliation comes in a wide variety of forms: she may be belittled, called names, threatened, isolated, disrespected, ignored, embarrassed, or she may be blamed for all the family’s problems; she may be told that she is stupid, fat, ugly, incompetent, or incapable of taking care of herself. While sexual abuse is the most shaming of all the types of abuse, it is important to be aware that abuse can come in this wide variety of flavors, including not just sexual or physical abuse but also verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse.

The result of this is that many abused wives end up feeling so poorly about their own identity that they begin to believe that they actually deserve the abuse they receive, and due to the threats and psychological abuse are often too fearful to attempt to do anything about it.

Shame from the Faith Community

While the abusive husband is the most immediate cause of the shame which the abused wife feels, it is important to note that the relationship does not exist in a vacuum, especially when the family is part of the Christian community.

On the one hand this is important because the fear of exposure is one of the defining aspects of shame, yet it is important for more than just that. It is also important because it is the faith community that defines much of the world that the marriage exists in and what ideals it is expected to live up to. Thus the second source of shame – as noted by Pembroke – stems from judging that one has “fallen short of a cherished ideal.”

This is especially relevant when the ideal that the woman perceives she has fallen short of is a false ideal. While this ideal may also be tied back to the husband – in not being able to live up the standard which he holds his wife to – but it also comes from the husband and wife’s interactions with the faith community; indeed, the husband may have gained the false ideals he holds his wife up to from the faith community.

One of the key ways that the faith community can instill false ideals and other ideas which may foster abuse is in the way that they talk about the wife’s submission to the husband, in the way they make sense of those passages in Scripture that discuss submission. These sex roles are used as measurements of perfection.

In the past, many churches have taken an extreme stance on the issue, such that the wife essentially was felt to be owned by the husband – not in any legal sense, but in his superiority within the family unit. In such faith communities as these when problems arise within the marriage the abused wife is often blamed for not submitting to her husband well enough.

This idea of absolute submission where the husband rules over his wife is one such false ideal which the faith community has been known to communicate.

The woman is then made to feel as if the abuse is somehow the result of a lack of pious submission on her part, a notion which then seeps into the way she understands her own identity.

While the dynamics of submission are one of the most easily critiqued ways that the faith community might mislead the family, this is not the only ideal that they are prone to put forth. A broader ideal that the faith community sets is the pedestal that they place in the intact family on. The failure of this family unit is seen as a personal failure on the part of the wife, focusing on the wife’s responsibility for her husband’s behavior while failing to call the abuser to accountability.

It is for this reason that James and Phyllis Alsdurf note that “Christian women have been told too long that keeping the marriage together is their responsibility.” These women feel that the failure of their family is their own fault and face the fear of rejection at church when attempts to repair the relationship fail.

Because of this abused wives feel pressure from family, society, and the church to ignore or suppress the reality of their situation.

Church leaders, in turn, often take the path of least resistance when dealing with these situations by simply refusing to look at the wounds that are there. In these contexts divorce is seen as failure, which even further limits the options that the abused wife sees as being open to her.

These varying sorts of twisted theology, from false ideas of submission to placing the intact family on a pedestal to placing the responsibility for maintaining the relationship squarely on the shoulders of the wife due to the inability to divorce all have the potential to wreak enormous harm on the already hurting individual.

Shame from the Self

While the shame that the abused wife feels is most directly the result of the husband, it has been observed that this shame does not exist in a vacuum; rather, the faith community also plays a large role in the formation of this shame. Yet not only do these women feel pressure from the faith community, “they also place incredible pressures on themselves.”

This pressure comes in a variety of forms, and while some of it is the result of the woman trying to live up to the false ideals of the church, some of them are more directly personal and tied to the very way they function psychologically as women.

Thus, it can be noted that the sensitivity that women have to the needs of others and the way they “assume responsibility for taking care of others” can often “lead women to listen to voices other than their own.” This psychological dynamic is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but this perceived responsibility affects the moral lens through which women interpret a situation and can thus lead them to assume more responsibility than they should, responsibility for things which are beyond their control.

The way this plays out is perhaps most summarily stated in the idea that “women tend to define themselves in terms of relationships, and they also evaluate themselves morally in terms of their ability to care.” This dynamic plays a large part in the way that the wife views her own identity, her own worth. If her relationship is failing it may likely be seen as a shortcoming in their own ability to care, thus she may view the relationship’s problems on their own moral failings. The result of this is becoming guilt-ridden and seeing her own amount of endurance as representative of her moral strength, perhaps even going so far as to feel that it is their responsibility to save their husbands from themselves.

This dynamic of how women interpret relationship is important because it is more deeply rooted than merely a false ideal set up by the church or the slanderings of her husband. Instead, perhaps it might be argued that the reason why the false ideals of the church and the slanderings of the husband affect the abused wife in such a deep way is because it hits on a dynamic of the woman’s psychology which is already prone to read the problems of the relationship in that way.

The difference here is that while it is not bad in and of itself that the woman’s moral categories work in that way, it is bad when she assumes responsibility for things that are in fact beyond her control and allows those things to then reflect back upon her self-worth and cause her undue shame. The abused wife must take a pivotal step of making the inner choice to begin to “embrace personal autonomy and to refuse the victim role” and in this way realize that while she cannot control the abuser’s behavior, she can control her own and “refuse to function from a victim stance.”

Taking all of this into account, there are various responses that need to be made, responses which include the faith community, the religious leaders, and the individual herself.

Necessary Responses

The shame that the abused wife feels must be confronted if she is ever to regain any semblance of her former self. As Larry Crabb notes “the basic personal need of each personal being is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being.”

This regard is the opposite of shame. Although secular programs may be of much help to the wife who has suffered from abuse, it is within the context of the faith community and of proper religious teaching the process of gaining this regard may begin, and in order for this to happen the faith community and the religious leaders must send the appropriate messages, messages that let her know that she does have the ability to change her circumstances (for this is often something that they do not believe is possible).

From the Faith Community: Regaining the Body of Christ

The faith community is of key importance in the life of the believer, and it should therefore serve a key purpose in the helping and healing of the wife who has suffered abuse, for “God has designed the local church as the primary vehicle through which people are to exercise their significance-providing gifts.” Often the messages are not helpful; indeed, the message they hear most often is “self-heal, self-love, and self-help.”

This false do-it-yourself message must be countered with the fellowship of the body, because without this sort of support “an abused woman may have great difficulty believing that anybody cares.” Indeed, one of the main reasons it is important for the faith community to come alongside the victims of abuse is because every abused woman feels abandoned and afraid.

This process of aid from the faith community begins with them recognizing the truths which surround the abusive relationship, many of which have been outlined above. The first and foremost of these comes in the community acknowledging openly the sinfulness of that state of affairs; thus “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.”

Making this first step is perhaps not as hard within mainstream Christianity as it was thirty years ago, but in areas where the misconception still holds power it is a necessary step.

The faith community must aid the wife who has suffered abuse in realizing that she is not alone, that the body of Christ is there to stand with her. As they come alongside her they must do so realizing the difficulty of what is happening in her life, avoiding giving over to the cynicism which assumes she is at fault or that it is not a big deal or naive questioning which can only think to ask why she doesn’t leave, not knowing the fear of leaving or responsibility for staying that she feels.

The church family must understand what it is that the woman feels so that they may dispel the myths that she believes about herself. The church would make a great step to work to remove the stigma of silence surrounding the issue, helping the woman to realize that it is not her fault and that saving her husband is not her responsibility. In this she may not want to shame her husband, yet it must be said that he must take responsibility for his actions and for his sins.

From the Pastor: Regaining Her Identity in Christ

As the faith community changes its false conceptions surrounding domestic abuse in the Christian home, the religious leader is of pivotal importance. It is the religious leader who has perhaps the greatest ability to influence the beliefs of the congregation and of the woman who is suffering from abuse. It is the pastor who is responsible for guiding his flock in what to believe, and “what you believe has a huge connection to how you respond to disgrace, violence, denial, shame, guilt, [etc].” As has been noted by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, those who suffer from abuse often report that “simply hearing their pastor or religious leader condemn the abuse they have suffered aids in their healing.”

Perhaps one reason for this is that it affirms for them that their pain is justified, that the things that they feel are not just in their head but that they are real and the church and God hates what is going on just as much as she does.

Apart from correcting false ideas, the pastor also has a direct duty to respond responsibly to the domestic abuse situation. Historically pastors have tended towards wanting to save the marriage at all costs and to go for quick-fixes, yet neither of these is ideal when dealing with an abusive relationship.

Rather than trying to save the marriage at all costs, the pastor needs to be willing to recognize when a marriage is beyond repair and when a woman needs to get out for her own safety. The pastor should realize that many times “letting go, not hanging on, is the difficult issue.” For the pastor who seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures this requires wrestling with the Biblical warrants for divorce, which are typically seen as nothing more than either abandonment or infidelity.

Bradshaw helps in this dilemma by defining ‘abandonment’ in such a way as to include all forms of abuse. Alsdurf similarly helps further by explaining how if the faith community were to understand fidelity as implying more than simply sexual faithfulness but also encompassing “the honoring of one’s partner in a life-giving way” then “marital violence becomes a manifestation of infidelity.” Kroeger his perhaps most helpful here when she notes how in seeking divorce it is not the wife that has failed her marriage; rather “husbands who abuse their wives have already broken the sacred covenant of marriage,” abandoning them emotionally, and thus “the wife’s declaration of divorce merely makes public what has already been done by the abuser.”

It is quite possible that the man will not change, and in such circumstances the woman needs the hope that she is not doomed to live a life of shame and torment, that there is indeed a way out.

A final way in which the pastor can aid the wife who has suffered abuse is by providing her with a proper theology through which to interpret her experience. Thus the pastor can help her reflect on the nature of God, on her need of God, and on God’s ability to meet her need. Most importantly, he can help her in regaining her identity in Christ, so that she may be no longer bogged down by the shame of her experience but can gain life anew. She must know that she has gained victory in Christ and been cleansed through him, able to come to the Father in a Christ-centered confidence. Rather than see her shame, God sees her “as complete and perfect.”

Thus, “Christ’s victory gives us back our identity and restores our meaning.” It is this identity – found in Christ – which will be pivotal in overcoming the shame which the abused wife has acquired, of defeating the lies which she has been fed by her husband, the world, and by Satan. When she is able to stop believing the lies the first hurdle is overcome.

From Herself: Breaking the Shame

Pride is often a counterpart to shame, and it is this pride which in part contributes to the silence of the abused wife. Pride doesn’t want that which it perceives to be the truth to be exposed.

This is one reason why exposing that what the abused wife believes about herself as not being the truth is important. Yet as was noted above, the common message that abused wives get is often “do it yourself,” which is a command that is not merely external but also plays off of the internal environment of the wife; as Nason-Clark and Kroeger point out, “most of us have a strong streak of independence: we want to do it by myself.”

She must realize that she cannot do it by herself, indeed, bringing this knowledge to people is one of the chief benefits which God brings out of trials; through trials God lets his people know that they cannot do it on their own, but that they need to rest upon him.

As was noted above, it is important for the abused wife to be clear about her limits, about what she is and is not responsible for in the relationship. While she is not responsible for those things that are beyond her control, she must accept responsibility for those things that she can do. After-all the “gift of the Spirit includes self-control, not control of others or events.” Being soaked in a proper fellowship of the body and in right teaching will help in allowing her to break the fear of shame which serves to keep her in silence.

What to do…

It is imperative that Christians not be poorly informed about the nature and prevalence of the abuse that is present in churches, in their churches.

As long as the church is quiet in while women are being abused it is failing in its ministry. It is important to remember in this analysis that women are not generic, each is facing their own individual circumstances with a unique set of contributing factors; what has been outlined is not a strict rule, but a general idea of what women in abusive relationships face.

The women who face these situations need to be equipped with the tools required to overcome their shame and break their silence, and the groundwork for this is something that the faith community and the Christian leader can do before they are even aware that any particular woman is being abused.

By fostering an environment in which abuse is condemned, which exonerates the woman of responsibility for things beyond her control and which minimizes the undeserved shame that the woman will face upon coming forward (although this shame may not be able to be completely eliminated), the church can move well on its way to being able to effectively help wives who face abuse within Christian homes and elsewhere.

Without these things it will be near impossible for the woman to find a positive solution. If men and women are faithfully taught of the realities of abuse within the church many of factors contributing to abuse may be put to rest before they are able to find root; a key step is naming the sin of abuse and bringing it out of the dark corner which the church has banished it to. If the faith community and the pastor are doing the jobs that they are supposed to do then the woman will be able to grab ahold of these realities, even if no-one is initially aware of her abuse.

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.

Book Review: A Grief Observed – By C.S. Lewis

cslewisC.S. Lewis is one of those authors who I know I can always go to for a good read. Sometimes – many times – I disagree with him, but it’s always a good read, and most times he has some brilliant insights. But most of the time he’s writing in the style of an academic, which I also like; The Problem of Pain is a good example of this type. A Grief Observed stands against this trend. The Problem of Pain is academic. A Grief Observed is raw.

For context, A Grief Observed is Lewis’ journal following the loss of his wife to cancer. It’s visceral, and lucid. It’s Lewis figuring out how to process his wife’s death, how to process the things he knew as fact in The Problem of Pain but had never had to really deal with personally – those things he knew theoretically but not existentially – which now that they have hit home take him to the point of questioning his faith. It’s a guided tour through the testing of his faith, and you watch as he comes to terms with the pain and loss and finds healing.

The most hitting part of the book is that every now and then a lone line will be directed towards his wife (always referring to her as “dear” at these points), and then it’s like a punch in the gut, and you remember even more clearly that what you’re reading are the personal journals of a man in incredible pain.

The text is wonderfully moving, and has some of Lewis’ most brilliant insights into the faith, into grief, and into life in general.

A Grief Observed is now my favourite book by Lewis, and I highly recommend it (whether you’re dealing with loss or not).

Memorable Quotes:

(there are a ton of great lines in this book)

“One thing, however, marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few y ears H. and I feasted on love, every mode of it – solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who’d bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? But that isn’t what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another – quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want.”-p8

“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”-p10

“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters.”-15

“The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant – in a word, real.”-19

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you… Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief… I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.”-22, 23, 37

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”-25

“He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”-38

“Thought is never static; pain often is.”41

“The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good.? Have they never even been to the dentist?”-43

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.”-52

“Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process… Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench. But is isn’t. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.”-59

“There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”-62

“Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them – never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?”-64

“[God] is the great iconoclast… All reality is iconoclastic.”-66

“We all think we’ve got one another taped.”-67

“If you’re approaching [God] not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.”-68

“Look your hardest, dear. I wouldn’t hide it if I could. We didn’t idealize each other. We tried to keep no secrets. You knew most of the rotten places in me already. If you now see anything worse, I can take it. So can you. Rebuke, explain, mock, forgive. For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives – to both, but perhaps especially to the woman – a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

“Intelligence in action is will par excellence.”-75


This review has also been republished on Presbyformed.