Alright – enough with the “thought-provoking” quotes and trigger warnings! Get to it already, right?
In this post we are beginning the process of getting down to some brass tacks.
First, it is true that when Christians have intended to write in creative, insightful, and most importantly, helpful, ways about domestic and sexual abuse, they have often fallen very short (my response to that post here).
Second, even as I say the above (I suspect that what follows will be interpreted not only as a red-herring but a bomb toss as well by some…), I begin this post with one of the more interesting comments that appeared in the private online discussion group discussing my original article dealing with the When Homes are Heartless document… as well as some of my own thoughts on the comment.
It went like this:
“My mother has verbally abused my father every day for probably 15 years. You have not known a venomous tongue until you have been in my house for a couple days. That being said, they are still together, and will never get divorced because, as my [insert nationality here] mother puts it, ‘only white people get divorces.’
I won’t say the family chaos is pleasant. I will say that I find it much preferable to having no family.”
The first thing to point out is that I am sympathetic with the opinion of Dr. Eric Phillips about the use of the term “domestic abuse” in general, and the reality to which he points. He states that “[c]larity in this conversation is not helped in any way by the fact that something pathological and nigh-incurable is being given the broad vanilla label of ‘domestic abuse.’” As people like Jordan Peterson have made us more aware of the critical importance of language, this is an exceedingly good and important point. Nevertheless, only for the sake of argument, I acknowledge that this is how the language is being used today and move on.
The second thing to point out is that many advocates of domestic abuse victims today say, seemingly contra what the expert Lundy Bancroft wrote sixteen years ago in his still widely-read book Why Does He Do That? (2002), that men also experience a large amount of domestic abuse. Namely, we are told that during the course of their lives, one out of every four women and one out of every seven men have experienced not “domestic abuse” per se (keep reading the series—official “domestic abuse ” technically must be a “pattern”), but a situation involving at least one act of serious physical domestic violence.
In any case, given what we are told about the harm which can also be caused by things like verbal and psychological abuse—perhaps a case like the one described above is nevertheless one which we should be concerned about.
It appears that in this case, assuming that it is accurately reported, there is indeed a discernible pattern where there is a persistent effort to denigrate and demean the husband. One might also reasonably say to hurt and diminish the husband. Is this abusive – official “domestic abuse”? Probably “domestic abuse”? Is it only this if the one receiving the actions feels intimidated, hence just “abuse” (with the quotation marks being used here indicating not an official term but a lack of seriousness)? Is it only “domestic abuse” if there really is a “systematic” effort to gain some kind of power or control over the husband? If this is the case, is intimidation really essential? And does this effort have to be fully conscious for it to earn the “domestic abuse” label?
Are these important questions to consider? I certainly think so! We will talk about all of this and more in this series.
In any case, let’s begin to really break down this current example: let’s assume this is a situation that qualifies (however it is made to qualify based on the things just mentioned above) as verbal abuse, which is illegal in several states. In other words, it can officially earn the dreaded “domestic abuse” label. The implication of this, if we go by the logic of the When Homes are Heartless document (see page 3, near the end of “Sin and the Family”) and the materials that support it, is that the husband can divorce his wife here in a clear conscience, and let’s say that this is exactly what he does. More – let’s say he argues, again on the basis of the “When Homes are Heartless” document, that the abuse he suffers is simply evidence that the divorce has really already occurred because of his wife’s ongoing behavior. He is simply going to formalize this.
I’m just going to be very honest here. That seems like a load of crap to me.
Frankly, I could never respect a man who took such a route. I would, however, respect him if he made every effort to not only improve himself (yes, even though I know persons insist that this kind of thinking should not be applied in cases of domestic abuse—at least when it comes to women—but perhaps there really are bad things he regularly does which help contribute to much of his wife’s anger) but also, importantly, to better learn how to manage his household well.
In any case, it is very important to note what we learn from the most prominent abuse literature (like that from Bancroft), namely that when it comes to dealing with matters like this, the abused person is never at fault (or, at the very least, when dealing with the problem of the abuse, it is never time to deal with the victim’s faults). So, this being the case, this man appears to be a legitimate victim.
Who, among the advocates of those who suffer domestic abuse, is going to eagerly come to this man’s aid, providing him with resources for how to create a more harmonious situation? He might not get domestic abuse shelters and other programs devoted to him with government dollars, but just what kind of serious help can he expect? And, importantly for Christians who advocate for those who suffer abuse, who is going to give his family the resources they need so that what the Apostle Paul describes below can also describes the home of this abused man?
This man who is to operate as the head of his home in the fear of the Lord and His word?:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might [g]sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, [h]of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The nerve, thinking that this passage is as important as it is…
Perhaps after reading this, you are thinking “Well, he just confirmed all the concerns I had after he shared all those critiques of him from that private online group conversation!” “Why?”, you might be thinking, “is he bringing up issues like this in the context of domestic abuse?” “Doesn’t he know that men who practice domestic abuse only get worse when they are catered to?” “Doesn’t he know that many women who are abused have done their dead-level best to submit to their abusive husbands, thinking it will make things better, and have done so at tremendous peril to themselves and their children?”
Yes, I know these things, and I am not denying that there is much truth in those last two sentences.
A couple things though. Note, first, the context in which I bringing up this passage – we are talking about the difficulties presented to us in the situation above. Second, we also can see that many in our society today, even many Christians, would consider it borderline abusive for a man to point out that Scripture says a wife should submit to her husband! (I mean, let’s be honest: the passage says a lot more than that of course, speaking about the responsibilities of both husband and wife, but that particular verse about submitting is the one that makes it hated today).
After all, the reasoning among contemporary Christians when it comes to this seems to resemble what Radical Lutherans (i.e. those following Gerhard Forde) say about Christian sanctification in general: if we do believe a Christian wife should submit to her husband, shouldn’t such submission be more or less effortless – as the wife eagerly responds only to the Holy Spirit working though her husband who communicates a Christ-like example — and not any efforts on his part to encourage, guide, or even teach her?
I wonder what Dr. Luther would think about that?
Well! All I can say at this point is that if you are someone who has been offended by this post, I hope you might nevertheless join me for part 5, which I think, given its content, has a very good chance of connecting with persons like yourself.
 This helpful compilation of evidence comes to mind: http://www.aliesq.com/2017/03/23/women-initiate-domestic-violence/
“In contrast to physical and verbal abuse, which are explicit and hard to deny, emotional and psychological abuse can be subtle, allowing the abuser to deny or disavow its cruelty and hurtfulness (e.g., “You’re too sensitive” or “You misunderstood”). It might entail comments that are somewhat plausible and can be attributed as mere “truth telling” (e.g., “You’ve gained a lot of weight” or “You’re not as attractive as your sister”). It might be unnecessary or relentless criticism…”
It also shows that in some states abusive language is criminal: “Some abusive behavior is not against the law in all states, such as verbal abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse. However, physical and sexual assault are crimes in all states, as are threats of bodily harm (i.e., “terroristic threats”)” (12).
 I make this admission also not wanting to deny the power of the Gospel to not just begin to change but to even radically change and re-orient violent and abusive hearts—even the most “pathological” ones—when and where it pleases God.
 This may be at the hands of other men if they are in a homosexual relationship. In like fashion, situations of domestic abuse are the most common among lesbian couples.
 Not controversial enough for you? Then let’s not forget about Paul’s word’s here either:
3 … teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. – Titus 2:3-5
And then Peter!:
3 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the [a]incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.— 1 Pet 3:1-6 NKJV
If anyone is wondering about the significance of Ephesians 5:21 here, I point them to Thomas Winger’s Ephesians commentary where he discusses “the oxymoron of ‘mutual submission’” (669, see also 639-646).
 Lundy Bancroft says that “couples counseling” alone for abusers doesn’t work: “He says, or leads you to believe, that ‘If you stop doing the things that upset me, and take better care of my needs, I will become a non-abusive partner’” (352)