Getting into very serious business in this post, part 6.
Again, this series is not the first time I have written in a way that touches on this topic of “heartless” homes. That, in fact, is why this series exists. You can read the first and second times I did so here and here respectively. And again, as a part of this 10-part series that examines the philosophies informing modern domestic abuse prevention, I am also talking about what I learned after posting those first two articles and from the responses of those who criticized me.
This post, specifically, will ask the question: “What do the authors and promoters of the When Homes are Heartless document believe about men in general and Christian men in particular when it comes to abuse?” Let me be clear from the outset. In one sense, it really doesn’t matter what the authors believe. What is most important—especially when it comes to the long term—is what finally made it into the documents produced by the authors.
That said, given the conversation I was in about this document that is certainly not all there is to say, and the things I think are worth exploring will be looked at closely in the next three parts of this series. Here I will specifically talk about some of the details about the deeper beliefs and commitments of the document’s authors and promoters.
Finally, in the last two posts, I will—utilizing the content from this and the next two posts (parts 6-8)—make a final evaluation on the usefulness of the When Homes are Heartless document.
Let’s jump to the …
Beliefs of the document’s main authors and promoters….
[please note: all of these beliefs cannot necessarily be attributed to all of the members of the Task Force creating When Homes are Heartless. What follows were opinions shared in the private online discussion group by persons countering what I had done with the document. These were contributing authors and informed supporters of the document. In any case, for whatever reasons, none of these comments were challenged, or held in check by, said authors and supporters]
The point of my initial post was to jump off the When Homes are Heartless document, which dealt with domestic violence, in order to raise awareness of another widespread problem: the willingness of many people, namely women who are not abused, to initiate the violence of divorce because they are unhappy in their marriage. If abuse is, as I heard from one commentator, “the breaking of a commandment grievously, consistently, and without true remorse,” (this person was speaking of domestic violence) what could be more abusive than severing and remaining severed from what God has joined together because one is merely unhappy?
Again, in doing what I have done here—this should be quite clear—I do not need to deny or minimize the importance of confronting domestic violence per se. Hence the point of my proceeding as carefully as I have thus far in this series, with my first five posts (part 4 most likely being the most upsetting so far). In like fashion, even as I am approaching this matter critically, it certainly does not mean I am asserting that more or less unambiguous situations of “domestic abuse,” which require outside intervention including the law, can never be discerned nor that they should not be dealt with in effective ways. I suggest that a simple acknowledgement of those facts could have made for a much more productive conversation.
One of the persons who was on the Task Force which produced the When Homes are Heartless document immediately responded to my post by saying: “Seriously? You equate *unhappy* spouses with those who are being abused?” Another, after hearing me talk about how I knew of no situations of domestic abuse personally, said, among other things “An unhappy marriage in no way equates to a violent marriage”. These, to say the least, are very strange reactions that are not easily explainable.
And I’d say things went downhill from there. In the process however, this is what I learned from the top minds behind the document – and those who vigorously promote it:
- “How common is domestic abuse? Very. 1:4 women and 1:7 men will be in abusive relationships.”
I was told: “….you admit your inexperience with the issue. Sorry, do you see how what you write continues to lack credibility as a result? The LCMS utilized CDC statistics, as they are considered reliable in the field.” The survey where this information comes from specifically says the following:
“About 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner (e.g., hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something) at some point in their lifetime” (2).
Besides the fact that the CDC notes the limitations of the available data on this issue, do those touting these statistics understand that those of us with a science background find good reason for agreeing with the “factual feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers that several of the numbers claimed in this particular survey cannot be justified? Among other things, Sommers is very critical of the way this study handles just one aspect of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, saying in the Washington Post:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study suggesting that rates of sexual violence in the United States are comparable to those in the war-stricken Congo. How is that possible?
The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that, in the United States in 2010, approximately 1.3 million women were raped and an additional 12.6 million women and men were victims of sexual violence. It reported, “More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hailed the report for giving “a clear picture of the devastating impact these violent acts have on the lives of millions of Americans.”
In fact, what the study reveals is the devastating impact that careless advocacy research can have on truth. The report proposes an array of ambitious government-sponsored “prevention strategies” and recommends “multi-disciplinary service centers” offering survivors psychological and legal counseling as well as housing and economic assistance. But survivors of sexual violence would be better served by good research and sober estimates — not inflated statistics and sensationalism.
The agency’s figures are wildly at odds with official crime statistics….
(Sommers debunks more feminist-inspired claims, including more having to do with domestic violence, in Time magazine)
Sommers, who is a political liberal and feminist, goes on to make some devastating arguments vs. the CDC’s “careless advocacy research”. Can one at least fully agree with her concerns and also not deny that domestic abuse is an important problem that should be dealt with? Is it important to engage her concerns and attempt to rebut her arguments? Or, is one taking her position simply invincibly ignorant—or worse—and worthy of scorn and contempt?
I read the entire 124 page study and thought that, overall, given its size, it should have provided a better and bigger picture of the issue, providing more information necessary for promoting intelligent and careful thinking. As it stands, I think the study leaves far too many questions and gives far too few answers.
For example, even if these numbers are to be trusted—something I again concede only for the sake of argument—why doesn’t it make clear that that even the relatively serious incidents of “domestic violence” included in the 1:4 and 1:7 statistic—perhaps being completely extraordinary and unique occurrences—would not necessarily earn the more serious label of “domestic abuse” (where an expert would insist that the recipient of the violence should involve outside authorities and secure ongoing help)? As it stands this is very confusing – as is clear from the quote I used to head off this section, even one of the authors of the When Homes are Heartless document was evidently thrown off by this. Again, to make this clear, the definition of domestic abuse that the Task Force is using hinges on a “pattern” whereas the CDC stats may involve only a single instance of violence sometime during one’s life.
And why is this study not at pains to make clear that the statistics do not imply that every fourth man or every seventh woman is a perpetrator of domestic violence (again, this might only be “situational violence” and not “domestic abuse”), which many more marriage-minded persons especially might assume after hearing such numbers? (multiple women may have experienced this violence from one man with serial relationships, for example).
Finally, what justification is there for persons believing that each kind of community one might imagine to survey will look more or less the same? (the impression given by the straight 1:4 and 1:7 numbers). For example, lesbian relationships tend to be the most abusive of all domestic relationships, and many of the 1:4 numbers for women can be attributed to these stormy pairings. Not only this, but what reason is there for believing that domestic violence occurs at rates in the church, or more specifically, the LC-MS, similar to the general population, even “though it doesn’t present itself nearly as much in the church as we wish it would due to guilt and shame” (as one told me)? One commentator made her opinion very clear: “I ask you the next time you sit in church just count out every 4th female and every 7th male. It is right under your nose.” And one of the authors of When Homes are Heartless made clear her unwavering conviction about the current statistics and their wide applicability as well: “What we have heard only scratches the surface of the true picture in the church. Sadly, attitudes such as are on display here [note: that would be me] only drive victims further underground within the church.”
- Divorce out of mere unhappiness is not necessarily abusive. Unhappy persons cannot be guilty of abuse qua their unhappiness. Real abusers do their deeds not out of unhappiness—or even anger—but only in order to gain power and control over the victim.
First, again, in order to understand this position we must note again that there is a critical distinction being assumed here between “domestic abuse” and “situational violence” (and both of these might be generically labeled “domestic violence” ; see part V) Again, “situational violence” is said to typically involve anger, come on suddenly and unexpectedly, and is not part of a pattern to control another person. And again, one might want to agree with the commentator who sensibly pointed out, “situational violence in a domestic setting is domestic abuse!” (and yet again, I nevertheless concede the language only for the sake of argument, but the *abuse* of the language here is worth pondering and I think may have deleterious implications).
Second, in addressing the main point of this position, the best response here is from Eric Phillips:
“If it tears someone’s heart out and turns his/her vows and fondest memories into a lie, that’s abuse, or the word doesn’t mean a thing. Not to mention, there’s almost always the _threat_ of divorce beforehand, which _is_ a continuing manipulation.”
One commenter on the thread also said this:
“The divorce isn’t used to garner power and control because once the divorce is final, there is little power or control to be gained… If you want to keep power and control, you stay married. This is why it is usually the victims who file for divorce and not the abuser….”
The empowerment, however, is believed to be in the autonomy. Not only this, but divorce laws favor women when it comes to both property and children. Therefore, it is misleading to say that the violence and abuse of unjust divorce is not about power and control at all. It may not be about attaining those things within the legally-constituted marriage as regards one’s spouse (at least insofar as we are talking about a direct kind of power and control) but it may very be about power and control. As an online friend noted to me, “Forcing a man to pay his ex-wife for the next few decades is a matter of power. Deciding when he’s allowed to see his own children is control.” This is very different from the power and control that takes place within a marriage where, according to the LC-MS training manual, it is possible that a man abuses because he “struggle[s] with a sense of inferiority and fear abandonment.” In this case, the abuser does abusive things (you know, doing stuff like breaking things, making her sleep on the couch, denying her sex, leaving with the children, or threatening divorce — oh, hold on a minute…) because he wants the marriage to continue.
- Even though a distinction between “situational violence” and “domestic abuse” is assumed (“Situational violence in a domestic setting is not domestic abuse. They are two different things and the dynamics of the relationships are also different”), there appears to be little concern that certain situations might be badly misinterpreted by purported victims without sufficient knowledge (and/or captured by their own illusions) or even maliciously taken advantage of by them
Bancroft notes that “it’s true that almost everyone does yell at one point or another in a relationship, and most people, male or female, call their partners a name from time to time, interrupt, or act selfish and insensitive” (123). The issue here is that even if situational violence—violent words or actions arising unexpectedly out of anger, for example—is not technically “domestic abuse,” it seems likely that it could potentially be construed as domestic abuse. One can see this in chapter 4 of Bancroft’s book where he provides profiles of different kinds of frightening abusers, some more frightening than others: the Demand Man, Mr. Right, The Water Torturer, The Drill Sergeant, The Terrorist, Mr. Sensitive, The Victim, etc. While I don’t doubt that these profiles could be helpful in some cases to help women recognize that they are in fact experiencing domestic abuse, in other cases it seems likely Bancroft’s generalizing could leave impressions that would, in the end, lead to the accusation of those who are not really abusers in the sense of “domestic abuse”.
Again, even if what some call “situational violence” is not technically “domestic abuse,” there is the potential for persons to insist that a relationship in which certain actions occur occasionally—just often enough to make an imaginable case for a “pattern”—is neither safe nor healthy. As Eric Phillips points out, “there is an objective difference between a tendency to make insensitive remarks and a campaign of remarks calculated to wound and degrade, but it would be very easy for an angry woman, knowing the former isn’t grounds for divorce but the latter is, to get ‘creative’ in her accusations.” And as Bancroft notes, even if your partner has never hit or sexually assaulted you, if you are frightened this is enough in some states to seek legal protection (162). As the LC-MS training manual on domestic violence states “[a]cts that cause the victim to fear for her safety count as physical abuse”. Bancroft again: “you will need to form your own conclusions about whether your partner’s mistreatment of you has become repetitive” (129).
I must be absolutely clear here. There is no doubt that many women and many men are abused in such a way that we should insist on outside intervention, even outside intervention with legal authorities. And, in this case, it is good that they do make this judgment, a judgement they we should all wish they would never have to make. This also means, for example, that the woman who says “He really doesn’t mean to hurt me. He just loses control” or “He’s scared me a few times, but he never touches the children. He’s a great father” (Bancroft, 3) may indeed be seriously underestimating her need for help. And here, several of the resources provided by the LC-MS, including the When Homes are Heartless document and more, contain very important information to have access to.
That said, let’s continue to think about these kinds of things very critically…
 Some, but not all of the beliefs discussed here are either repeated directly or alluded to indirectly in some of the LC-MS’s documents here. I have also done a post dealing with my concerns about the intrusion of feminist theology into the church through the domestic abuse issues in a post here.
 This was further explained:
“By piggybacking on the document and stating that the definition of abuse is completely subjective, questionable, and needs 2-3 witnesses to be even brought up…and then equating verbal/emotional abuse with God’s good law for us and being called “fat” by children, he does equate the two issues with one another.”
Another then defended me with these words:
“If there is an equation, it’s at most a partial one, since he explicitly said that divorce was an acceptable remedy against physical abuse. And if his main point is that unjustified divorce is _itself_ an act of abuse commensurate with many of the things the document discusses, the “piggybacking” makes sense.
He did not say that domestic abuse ‘needs 2-3 witnesses to be even brought up.’ That’s a misrepresentation, as far as I can tell. And perhaps the definition isn’t subjective, but it’s quite open to subjective abuse. Yes, there’s an objective difference between a tendency to make insensitive remarks and a campaign of remarks calculated to wound and degrade, but it would be very easy for an angry woman, knowing the former isn’t grounds for divorce but the latter is, to get ‘creative’ in her accusations.”
To this was met the following reply:
“And victims rarely seek a divorce eagerly, many have to be convinced to see the abuse in the relationship and to leave for their own safety. The decision to divorce is not an easy one to make even in that situation. Any angry spouse seeking to creatively justify their divorce would pretty quickly demonstrate their true intentions, I’d think.” (italics mine).
 We go on to read: “While slapping, pushing and shoving are not necessarily minor physical violence, this report distinguishes between these forms of violence and the physical violence that is generally categorized as severe.” Furthermore, “[n]early 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner and reported at least one impact related to experiencing these or other forms of violent behavior in the relationship (e.g., being fearful, concerned for safety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, need for health care, injury, contacting a crisis hotline, need for housing services, need for victim’s advocate services, need for legal services, missed at least one day of work or school)” (2). On page 8 we read that the survey “Gathers information from respondents on a range of long-term physical and mental health outcomes that may be associated with the experience of violence.” One is left unclear whether or not the study cares to know if any of these situations show an actual pattern of “domestic violence,” a.k.a. “domestic abuse,” or simply harsh “situational violence” — or how it might attempt to distinguish these two things.
More: “Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively)” (2). On page 10 we read: “Psychological aggression, including expressive aggression and coercive control, is an important component of intimate partner violence. Although research suggests that psychological aggression may be even more harmful than physical violence by an intimate partner (Follingstad, Rutledge, Berg, Hause, & Polek, 1990), there is little agreement about how to determine when psychologically aggressive behavior becomes abusive and can be classified as intimate partner violence. Because of the lack of consensus in the field at the time of this report, the prevalence of psychologically aggressive behaviors is reported, but is not included in the overall prevalence estimates of intimate partner violence. Expressive psychological aggression includes acting dangerous, name calling, insults and humiliation. Coercive control includes behaviors that are intended to monitor and control an intimate partner such as threats, interference with family and friends, and limiting access to money” (italics mine). What this means according to the methodology, questions, and answers obtained by the survey, of course, is that the actual numbers of people experiencing “domestic abuse”—that is, incident demanding outside intervention and the law—are in all likelihood much higher than 1:4 and 1:7 (the amount of people the survey says experienced at least one incident of serious domestic violence).
 From the executive summary of this study:
“Our understanding of [sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence] has grown substantially over the years. However, timely, ongoing, and comparable national and state-level data are lacking. Less is also known about how these forms of violence impact specific populations in the United States…”
 Another person on the task force, after reading my post, said that “I’ve got hundreds of stories to your 2 that have actually happened within the church. Sorry, your claims are still invalid.” My point here would be that it does not surprise me that this person, being at the epicenter of this issue, has hundreds of stories about domestic abuse. I don’t doubt this, and I don’t even need to doubt any of the stories she has heard in order to state that the “1:4 women and 1:7 men will be in abusive relationships” statistic is at the very best misleading, and is certainly liable to be abused in all kinds of ways (the undoubtedly higher statistics about other kinds of physical violence and “psychological aggression” as well could also potentially be used to argue for “domestic abuse” in order to justify unjust divorces). I maintain that the lack of caution in presenting these statistics by both the CDC and the task force only serves to discredit both groups, to make persons even more suspicious, and to throw the important information and accurate information that they do have and that we do need to hear into doubt.
 In the LC-MS training manual, we read “Situational violence can be quite severe, resulting in injury or even death. It also can cause serious damage to the emotional health of those involved and can cause severe harm to the relationship.” “Can” is the key word here.
Also note that while threats of violence may not be categorized as physical violence in this study, these can be categorized as physical or “domestic abuse” which, in many states allows victims to go and seek legal protection. Always watch your angry words, lest anything you say be construed as a threat.
 “Situational violence” is akin to the way most scholars used to understand domestic violence, prior to more recent theory. Leslie Vernick, writing in her book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, calls this “situational violence” “reactive abuse” and helps us to begin to understand the new distinctions:
“Reactive abuse occurs when a husband or wife or both are unable to manage their negative moods, the frustrations of life or their tempers in a mature way. As a result, when situations are provocative or there is stress, an eruption occurs. In reactive abuse, a person doesn’t stop to think about the wisest way to handle a difficult or irritating situation; he or she just reacts. We criticize, curse, yell, threaten, throw things, belittle, punch, slap, and even murder…(39) It can be difficult for pastors helpers, and even trained counselors to tell the difference between reactive abuse and…controlling abuse. The abuse behaviors look similar, but the underlying heart issues are not. An important distinction is that in reactive abuse the destructive person is not seeking to control his wife or to broadly exercise decision-making control over her. That does not minimize the lethality of reactive abuse. When we become flooded with negative emotions and don’t know how to control ourselves, we can cause a lot of harm… (41) Threats and force should never be used to make the other give in. When that happens, it is controlling abuse and it’s destructive” (42, see 42-43 for a good example of the kind of control she has in mind).
 “Really, divorce is often a legal formalization of the disintegration of the marriage that has already taken place.”
 The LC-MS training manual on domestic abuse says the following:
“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…”
 Lest anyone think that woman might actually do such things, one might consider whether we are better behaved in public vis a vis our spouses, for example, and take this situation into consideration.
 It goes on:
“This might include preventing a victim from leaving a room or the home, or locking the victim out of a room or the home. Threats of violence can be categorized as physical abuse. These include both verbal and nonverbal threats directed at the victim, such as threatening to kill her, pointing a weapon at her or pointing a fist in her direction. Abusers might threaten to harm children or her relatives. Abusers frequently threaten to harm or kill themselves (e.g., “If you leave me or if you tell anyone, I’ll kill myself ”).”