In the last post in this series, I ended with a rather radical statement which could be re-formulated into a claim or thesis (just take out the “it appears that” and replace “what really seems to be”, with “what really is”):
When it comes to what we label “domestic abuse,” which should involve outside help and legal authorities, it appears that in the minds of many (not all) what ultimately matters is not any particular kind of behavior that would qualify as abuse. On the contrary, what really seems to be at issue is whether a person gains “power and control” over situations in the domestic sphere, which in male-female relationships of course often includes one’s partner’s emotions, behavior, etc.
What are some of my reasons for thinking this? First of all, popular and respected domestic abuse advocate Lundy Bancroft spends no time in his book helping persons to decide what are the markers of situational violence vis a vis domestic abuse. This, however, is fully in line with the philosophy of the Duluth Model (see my recent post on this model here), which is the most commonly used method law enforcement uses to deal with domestic abuse issues. As Dutton and Corvo state:
“mandatory arrest policies [where the man is assumed to be the predominant aggressor] are a product of the ideologically driven view that since domestic violence is always strategic, always intentional, always unidirectional, and always with the objective of female domination by men, that it must be contravened by the power of the state. Once one removes this ideological presumption, the rationale for mandatory arrest disappears.”
In addition, Bancroft also tells us that abusers who feel remorse for their actions do so, in part, for an unsatisfactory reason: because they feel they “should be able to control [their] partner without resorting to abuse” (132). Not only this, but Bancroft also says that since a man is unlikely to be harmed, intimidated, or frightened when a woman slaps him, for example, such an act has nothing to do with control and therefore does not qualify as violence or abuse (129, 161). One of the authors of When Homes are Heartless simply states that domestic abuse “is identified by its effects more than certain behaviors” (note the image that led off part 6 as well, from the LC-MS training manual on domestic violence).
The practical effect of this is to be perfectly in sync with the Duluth Model’s primary goal. This is not to stop all actual violence or all forms of behavior that might seek to control others but rather to “change societal conditions that support men’s use of tactics of power and control over women.”.
And this is the critical point. Again, no one should deny that abusive individuals desire a distorted and unsavory kind of control—one which subjugates others primarily by intimidating actions, even by threats and promoting fear. And yet, note well that in the popular framework that has been established for determining domestic abuse, it is easy to see how simply being effective in gaining control of situations, and hence, to some degree, of ideas and people, might also appear to be abusive. Perhaps, as one man has put it “…the intention to degrade another person’s decision-making situation…is…the essence and the essential immorality of manipulation” (italics mine). .
To some degree, of course, it is entirely understandable that human beings are on their guard about this. We live in a fallen world where people do not act as they should. In an ideal world—and Christians know in the world to come—there would be no need for someone to attain a “good control” and order—which cannot but subjugate—because all would not only know what makes for good order, harmony, etc., but would also be eager and able to do it in Christ’s strength. Even when hierarchies of this or that sort in heaven will certainly still be involved (as we will remain creatures and not all heavenly rewards will be the same!).
So, we see that this issue of control is absolutely critical. In that case, work with me on this for a minute…
Is it not a good thing that we will be in awe of a person, even fear a person, who can effectively handle and master this or that? And don’t all of us, men and women, seek out others who will help us get our lives under control? Who will help us create the conditions of salutary order and harmony that we long for, what the Old Testament calls “shalom”?
And going along with this, does this not mean that we all need certain persons, at this or that time in our lives, to help us get control of ourselves? To snap us out foolish thinking and attitudes, helping us make better or even the right decisions? And isn’t it easy to see how any parent—and hence any spouse—might be tempted into a particular behavior whereby it seems all the persons around them are able, somehow, to find peace, quiet, and order?
And isn’t it easy to see how men specifically might fall into traps whereby they look more to “control” than “manage” (is this just a clever synonym for control the patriarchy uses? What am I–evil man that I am perhaps!–doing right now?) the household, not excluding their wives? Especially when there are in fact Christian wives among them who really are not eager to show them respect (you *aren’t* worthy!), listen to them, uphold their honor and goodness in the eyes of others, apologize for their own selfish and controlling behaviors, etc.?
And, again, to ask all of these questions is by no means to justify the kinds of horrific violence that sometimes takes place in homes, earning official labels like “domestic abuse”. Nevertheless, even when we who practice wisdom do have a situation that most all of us agree needs outside intervention (by the way, who is the wisdom of the “wise ones,” who controls the controllers, if not God?), the following question arises:
Is what is classified as domestic abuse usually really about controlling another person, or is putting the matter like this really just a way of masking the real issue?
Is this ultimately about control or is it ultimately about one’s desire for some kind of status and respect, even if it is, to say the least, an unhealthy desire for status and respect—one that is out of all proportion and leads to all kinds of evil?
Now might be a good time to briefly address this important issue of respect. After all, in reading a book like the one from Lundy Bancroft, it is likely the devout Christian reader will be confirmed in the conviction that a) all persons need respect but it seems to be especially important for men, and b) men infected by sin crave respect in both disordered and inordinate senses: many give into their flesh and not only often want respect for actions that are sinful or less than ideal, but also think it is their due in amounts that are out of all proportion.
For example, Bancroft writes that abusers assault their partners’ self-esteem, attempt to control their behavior, undermine their independence, and show them disrespect (77) all in order to meet their need to be brilliant and charming (111). They want to be desirable and the sole object of attention and service for a fantasy woman of their own imagination–not wanting her to really be “an independent human being” in any sense (118, 141 ; see also 148, 154). And again, abusers are largely unaware of these “self-focused fantasies” themselves (111) or their own insecurity for that matter (117).
Even so, even in light of all of the above, one would also be wrong to say that there is something wrong or sinful with men wanting respect. Or for that matter, saying there is something wrong with the abuser’s conscious or unconscious recognition that it is very difficult for a man who is not only skilled in provision, but also strong, desirable, and impressive to have or gain the respect of a woman, be she pagan or Christian. Especially in this day, when voices in the church increasingly exalt women and degrade men (see Mother’s Day vs. Father’s Day sermons for example), warn women of not submitting to their husbands lest they make them an idol (see here to), and teach that Christian women will tend to be attracted to best Christian men (see here also… not so much movie stars or romance novel heroes I guess!), men have an uphill battle on their hands.
Therefore, if any man senses a lack of respect or even contemptuousness from a woman what should he do? It is a difficult question, but it makes sense to a) think about how men, in general, display value, hence earning respect from others and increasing their attractiveness (while there will be variations on themes from culture to culture, there are indeed themes rooted in the fundamental essences of male and female), b) search the Scriptures to seek clues about male-female and husband-wife relationships (and wise Christian men as well), and c) to pray for faith and wisdom for one and one’s spouse or future spouse.
I am not going to deny the importance of a) (and c) but for this series of posts, as can be seen, I have largely been making allusions to b).
And it will be alluded to in the next post as well, as we begin to talk about the implications of being controlled by this mindset that abuse is really all about control.
 Also, notice how one of authors of the When Homes are Heartless document defines domestic abuse:
“Domestic abuse is a deliberate pattern of behavior used by a person in an intimate relationship to intimidate his or her partner and thereby gain or maintain power and control over the other person.”
This person points out that [this is] also the definition of abuse that the task force uses in the referenced paper[, that is, Where Homes are Heartless]. It appears in other documents on the LC-MS website as well.
In the fourth post of this series, I gave an example, shared in a private online discussion group, of a situation where a man was verbally abused by his wife, who clearly intended to “denigrate and demean the husband. One might also reasonably say to hurt and diminish the husband”. Even though this was a pattern of abuse, it seems that in a case like this the critical point is that any control that is achieved is not achieved by intimidation.
This person who defined “domestic abuse” as such also further explained by saying: “It doesn’t quite work to say that ‘namecalling’ is abusive, because sometimes it is not. When it is done as part of a pattern of behavior with the intention to denigrate and demean someone with whom you’re in an intimate relationship with, it’s probably abusive.” I note the “probably”. Presumably, from this, we can say that, a) it is often (but not always) the case that an intention to “denigrate and demean” one’s partner is usually done with the intention (consciously or not) to intimidate and thereby gain power over them, or b) a) name-calling of husbands is not always abusive because they may not be intimidated.
Another core question is this: can the browbeaten man who, finally deciding to stand up for himself, restrain his wife from hitting him by grabbing her wrist? One would think. Still, Bancroft says that restraining someone or grabbing them is “physical aggression” and “even if it happens only once” it should be reported immediately (128), and this kind of language is found in some state laws. Note also that in Bancroft’s view that men who say they are battered most often are the perpetrators themselves (45, 97). His view is not unique. This is in fact the assumption of the Duluth Model, the most widely used model for law enforcement intervention when it comes to domestic abuse.
 From the AlterNet.org article: Here’s How to Tell the Difference Between Persuasion and Manipulation
“Complementarians endorse wives smashing the family china (a “godly tantrum”) or threatening to leave and take the children, or using denial of sex (here and here), in order to gain power and control in marriage. Wives who do this are presented as being forced to take drastic measures by their disobedient husbands. Yet these very same acts would be considered abuse if a husband were to do them. The difference between abuse and he had it coming comes down to who both the Duluth model creators and complementarians think should rightly be in charge. The fundamental difference between the two groups in this respect is the Duluth model creators are honest about their feminist objectives, while complementarians claim to support biblical headship.”
 Here is evidence from Bancroft that this is, for him, the main issue: “Abuse is the product of a mentality that excuses and condones bullying and exploitation, that promotes superiority and disrespect, and that casts responsibility on the oppressed (386)… abuse comes from…one person’s decision to claim a higher status than another” (387). We must teach equality” (388).
 As one person on the thread put it:
“I think I disagree with part of the link’s description of domestic violence in that it argues that the primary element in it is power. Power, of course, does play a role, but psychologically [–] I do not think that it does subjectively. Violent men rarely do violence because they generically wish to ‘exert power’. Usually they are violent because they interpret slights, small insults, perceived acts of deferment etc. as somehow insulting, and respond to such insults with a demand for respect through violence. This is why men are violent to other men, and I reckon they are violent to women for similar reasons” (italics mine).
 We are told that abusers typically have a real sense of superiority. That said, it is also said that:
“Alternatively, the abuser might have a deep-seated sense of inferiority. Perhaps he was abused as a child, with the result that he has difficulty making friends or seeing himself as worthy of love. This type will have a tremendous sense of worthlessness. He may have difficulty believing he has attracted this spouse. His sense of worthlessness will lead to tremendous fear of abandonment. He will be constantly on the alert for signs of her unhappiness or any indication of discontent, which would confirm that she doesn’t actually love him and will soon be leaving him. Her unhappiness enrages him (confirms his fear). His abuse is an attempt to convince her that she is worthless, so that she won’t leave him (8, LC-MS Training Manual).”
Of course, a “sense of worthlessness” and a “tremendous fear of abandonment” will also tend to feed off and reinforce one another. Not only this, the problems created by this downward spiral will no doubt be worsened by the fact that women tend to not be attracted to men who lack confidence, are afraid, or even, are not exciting enough: who are too predictable (boring) and do not vigorously engage–and perhaps even steer–the world as they know it the way they would like them to (wait – “does that not sound like the typical abuser?”, you might think…)
What Leslie Vernick writes about in her book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage is hardly uncommon:
Anna perched on the edge of her chair, her hands folded neatly in her lap. When I asked her to tell me why she’d come to see me, tears sprung to her eyes. Embarrassed, she grabbed a tissue and dabbed her lashes so her mascara wouldn’t run. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” Anna stammered, her lip trembling. “I should be more happy. I have a great life. My husband is good with the girls, generously provides for our family, and is overall a nice guy.”
“So what’s the problem?” I asked.
“I guess I thought we’d have more of a connection. I don’t feel that spark for him. I don’t know if I ever did. And…maybe…I wonder if I had waited, I could have done better. Now I dread the thought of spending the rest of my life with him.”
As Anna and I talked, I learned she grew up in a tumultuous home filled with chaos and conflict. When she met Mark, he personified stability, strength, and security—something Anna never experienced growing up. Mark was a committed Christian, which in Anna’s mind made him magnificent husband material. She loved being taken care of and feeling safe, but she hadn’t considered some of his other qualities like his reserved nature, his quietness, and his lack of adventure. And now, although she’s snug and secure, she feels lonely, bored, and trapped.
Anna’s marriage is not destructive, but it is disappointing and painful for her. She’s not sure how to continue or even if she wants to. Yet she knows to end her marriage for these reasons would crush Mark and her children, as well as dishonor her vows to God and to her husband. Anna feels vulnerable and confused and miserable. She wants to trust God and she desperately wants to be happy in a great relationship. She can’t imagine having that with Mark…” (7-8, bold mine).