Domestic Violence, Dobson and Denial
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 05:26:56 PM EST
Dr. James Dobson and Dr. John MacArthur, two influential evangelical family counselors, 'blame' battered women for their plight, says Christian evangelical author Jocelyn Andersen.

While domestic violence -- also known as intimate partner violence -- is in no way limited to any particular race, religion, ethnic group, class or sexual preference, author Jocelyn Andersen maintains that for far too long too many evangelical pastors have tried to sweep the problem under the rug. According to Andersen, the problem of physical, as well as emotional and spiritual abuse, is being exacerbated by the outdated teachings of several high-profile conservative Christian pastors.

In the introduction to her new book "Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence" (One Way Cafe Press, 2007), Andersen points out that "The practice of hiding, ignoring, and even perpetuating the emotional and physical abuse of women is ... rampant within evangelical Christian fellowships and as slow as our legal systems have been in dealing with violence against women by their husbands, the church has been even slower."

Andersen maintains that domestic violence in Christian families "often creates a cruel Catch-22 as many Christians and church leaders view recommending separation or divorce as unscriptural, but then silently view the battered woman, who chooses not to leave, with contempt for staying and tolerating the abuse. Victims quickly pick up on this hypocritical attitude and either leave the church altogether -- or begin hiding the abuse. Either way they are giving up the spiritual guidance, and emotional support, they desperately need."

Are high-profile evangelical leaders endangering victims of domestic violence?

"The secular medical world has had to reach in to advise and help women from the church see the truth of their situations, get shelter, and inform religious leaders about the need to accept medical and clinical facts about physical and mental abuse," -- a news service of the American Family Association -- reported in late June.

"Secular organizations are constantly addressing the religious aspects of domestic violence," Andersen told the news service. "Christian women struggle with it and the secular organizations see what Christian women go through and religious women go through. They have set it up as their goal to educate spiritual leaders on the spiritual aspects, and the different aspects of domestic violence so they can give good counsel to the women coming to them. It's a big issue."

Andersen's book discusses why women who are victims of domestic abuse stay with their abusers: "The third chapter of [the Book of] Genesis give us a clue, when the woman is told, 'your desire will be to your husband' -- and he will 'rule over' you. The clue right there is no matter how he acts, her desire is often still toward him. She loves him. She responds to the abuse with an even greater determination to try to resolve the situation ... and make it better."

According to OneNewsNow, "Andersen never advocates divorce -- yet she says after domestic violence enters the marriage picture, there must eventually come a point where a Christian woman decides what the will of God is for her in the face of the dangers of abuse. And that is where Andersen says the woman will likely conflict with pressure from the church to stay, no matter what."

Dobson is dispensing life-threatening advice to abused Christian women

Andersen, whose account of physical abuse by her husband makes for a harrowing first chapter, says that the problem is exacerbated by misguided advice and use of outdated information in the writing of Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Dr. John MacArthur, a pastor-teacher at the Sun Valley, California-based Grace Community Church. "We do see some very big-name evangelical leaders blaming the battered woman for the abuse," Andersen explained. "You know, talking about how she may provoke her husband into doing it; or that her poor, non-communicative husband can't handle maybe what she's trying to communicate to him and he lashes out and hits her -- [that] shifts the blame right off him and to her."

Via several emails, Anderson told me that the work of Dobson and MacArthur perpetuate the problem of domestic violence among evangelical Christian familiess.

She chose to look closely at their work because of the "scope of influence" they wield "within the Christian Community." Both men are "prolific writers with best-selling books," and the both "have large listening audiences for their radio broadcasts," which "have been staples of Moody Christian Radio for years." Millions of people listen to the broadcasts weekly, she said.

"Both Dobson and MacArthur are high-profile evangelical leaders with enough influence and ability to make a positive contribution to the plight of battered women which would result in lives being saved." Instead, "their words are often used to send Christian women back into the danger zone with counsel that encourages them to try and change violent husbands or return to violent homes as soon as the 'heat is off.' The last time I looked, assault was a crime, but Christian women are generally not encouraged to report that crime."

In her book, Andersen cites an incident in which a battered wife wrote to Dobson telling him that "the violence within her marriage was escalating in both frequency and intensity and that she feared for her life." Dobson "replied that her goal should be to change her husband's behavior--not to get a divorce ('Love Must Be Tough,' (1996) [this is the edition that was being sold as of March 2007])."

"He did suggest leaving as a temporary solution, but only as a way of manipulating the husband's behavior. I found it inexcusable that not one note of real concern for this woman's immediate physical safety was sounded in his response--in spite of the fact that she clearly stated she was in fear for her life."

"Dobson counseled her to precipitate a crisis in her marriage by choosing the most absurd demand her husband made, then refusing to consent to it. This was not only absurd advice in a domestic violence situation, but life-threateningly dangerous as well, and very telling of the fact that, in spite of over 1,000 deaths per year due to wife-beating, the wife beater is not generally viewed as a real threat to his wife's life or safety. "

Andersen also takes on MacArthur: According to a tape titled Bible Questions and Answers Part 16, a member of Grace Community Church asked MacArthur how a Christian woman should react "and deal with being a battered wife."

MacArthur's answer contained "some very dangerous advice to battered wives. He said divorce is not an option to a battered wife, because the Bible doesn't permit it." While saying that it was okay "for the wife to get away while the pressure was on" it was with the understanding that she would return. "He warned wives to be very careful that they were not provoking the abusive situations. Because, he said, that was very often the problem."

"Three years later, MacArthur said essentially the same thing (softened with a few disclaimers) in a booklet he still distributes today titled 'Answering Key Questions About the Family.'"

"How many thousands of pastors, leaders and lay Christians have been and are still being influenced through the writing of James Dobson, John MacArthur and others who share their views?" Andersen asked.

Andersen says that both of these pastors "admit they believe a large percentage of battering cases are instigated and provoked by the wife." While Dobson "described the issue of domestic violence as a problem of 'epidemic proportions,' in 'Love Must Be Tough,' only five-plus pages are devoted to the subject. And he used over half those pages to highlight a case in which a wife deliberately provoked her husband into hitting her so she could gain her 'trophy' of bruises which she could then parade around with in order to gain sympathy."

While those incidents happen, Andersen points out that "the bulk of the research about domestic violence refutes the myth that battered wives enjoy being battered or deliberately provoke the violence in order to gain some moral advantage. That unfair example in no way typifies the face of domestic violence."

"If a Christian Leader blames a woman for the violence in her marriage and neglects to encourage a battered wife to use the legal resources available to her in order to preserve her physical safety, that leader is not only sanctioning the abuse but perpetuating it as well," Andersen maintains.

"Many wife-beaters who are church-goers, professing Christians, even pastors and leaders of churches are getting the message loud and clear that their spiritual leadership is not so concerned with the fact that they beat their wives as they are concerned that wives should be submitting to their husbands and not seeking legal protection or divorce."

"Telling a woman to leave while the heat is on with the intention of returning is not uncommon advice among evangelicals. It amounts to no less than sending a battered woman back into a violent home. With a violent spouse when is the heat ever really off? This is sin and, in my opinion, it is criminal."

Thus far, Andersen hasn't received any grief for the charges in her book. She said that she received a request for a review copy of her book and a media kit from a news correspondent at Family News in Focus -- a Focus on the Family news service -- which she mailed several weeks ago, but hadn't yet heard from them again.

Both Hindu and Muslim women can be at risk, since religious authority tends to blame the woman or emphasize that the woman must submit even to an abusive husband. I understand that specialized support and escape groups are available in some places in the USA for these women, generally led by lay or counselling-degree women from the community. Many abused Hindu or Muslim women are unwilling to "air dirty laundry" outside the community, and are not likely to use standard battered-woman services.

by NancyP on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 06:21:15 PM EST

Abusive relationships can be physical, psychological, or spiritual. It is imperitive to recognize that most pastors and chruches will find themselves in the middle of this situation and tempted to treat the problem quickly, quietly, and without any public embarrasment. Often both parties are involved in leadership, and public desplays hid the underlying climate of abuse. A wife and mother can not be helped by encouraging her to a child-like compliance attempting by some favorable actions to prevent bringing abuse on herself. This is usually an already attempted and failed stragety, and repeated abuse has already weakened self-image and confidence. When physical harm is involved, help can only come after strong intervention, that seperates and protects the victums. Divorice is not the scandal, public humiliation is not the worst thing that can happen, rather it is the coverup and condoning of abusive behavior which is the scandal of the Christian community and an embarrasment. May God give pastors and churches wisdom to help, to heal, and to restore these broken relationships

by chaplain on Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 02:06:29 PM EST

    I wrote a long post on this at My blog

Child Abuse is an important source of RWA pathology, and that very fact makes those who have grown up with it, favor it more, as it produces better Stepford followers for them.

Alice Miller puts a fine point on the problem

  .... However brutally these people were brought up, they showed no immediate signs of the harm done to them. On the contrary. Many of them grew up into seemingly well--adjusted young people. But sooner or later, usually one generation later, when the tormented children had themselves become parents, the former victims did the same with their children as had been done to them, with no feelings of guilt. It was the only thing they knew, after they had repressed and denied their own pain.


 Studying child abuse confronts us with the astonishing fact that parents will inflict the same punishment or neglect on their children as they experienced themselves in their early lives. But as adults they have no recollection of what they went through. In the case of sexual assault on children, it is quite usual for the perpetrators to have no conscious knowledge of their own early life--history or at the least to be cut off from the attendant feelings aroused by those experiences. It is not until they are in therapy<always supposing they are given any<that it transpires that they have been reenacting what they went through as children.</p>

  The sole explanation I can advance for this fact is that information on the cruelty suffered in childhood remains stored in the brain in the form of unconscious memories. For a child, conscious experience of such treatment is impossible. If children are not to break down completely under the pain and the fear, they must repress that knowledge. But the unconscious memories drive them to reproduce those repressed scenes over and over again in the attempt (and with the false hope) to liberate themselves of the fears that cruelty and abuse have left with them. The victims create situations in which they can assume the active role in order to master the feeling of helplessness and escape the unconscious anxieties.




  Why were there people brave enough to risk their lives to save Jews from Nazi Persecution? Much scientific inquiry has been expended on this question.




  Almost all rescuers interviewed reported that their parents had attempted to discipline them with arguments rather than punishment. They were only rarely subjected to corporal punishment, and if they were it was invariably in connection with some misdemeanor and never because their parents had felt the need to discharge some uncontrollable and inexplicable feeling of rage on them. One man recalled that he had once been spanked for taking smaller children out onto a frozen lake and endangering their lives. Another reported that his father had only ever hit him once and apologized afterwards. Many of the statements might be paraphrased thus: "My mother always tried to explain what was wrong about whatever it was I had done. My father also spent a lot of time talking to me. I was impressed by what he had to say."

 What a different picture we get from the reports of the persecutors and hangers--on: "When my father was drunk he took the whip to me. I never knew what I was being beaten for. Often it was for something I had done months before. And when mother was in a temper she tore into anyone who got in her way, including me." ....

So child abuse and neglect produces high RWA's and child protection produces low RWA's, and not surprisingly they translate their ideas born of abuse (or lack of it) into their political philosophy and even religious doctrine.

by FreeDem on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 04:50:28 PM EST

Never strike a woman, even with a flower.

Hindu proverb

by sulphurdunn on Fri Aug 03, 2007 at 05:14:34 PM EST

This is so true. Just last evening I talked with a woman who is contemplating marrying a guy from her church. It was my understanding from her that it is an evangelical type of church. According to her, she feels that she is being emotionally and spiritually abused by this individual, but her church says it is she that is abusive and in the wrong. She actually believed that. Since she approached me, I felt it important to impart to her that there is never an excuse for any abuse, ever. After we had talked for awhile, she was beginning to see the pattern that abuser's use whether it be an individual, organization, government or church. It's about having control over, usually through fear in one form or another, causing the abused to submit to the needs of the abuser. It's a cruel and undermining way of debasing a person's core beliefs and to have that person give up those beliefs, and to then digest all of the teachings of the abuser.

by kclaf on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 05:41:20 PM EST

I became aware of the "blame the victim" tendency within certain Christian groups during my CPE training. Long story short, a woman had carried 25 years of unmitigated guilt and self-loathing in her back, despite two wonderful children and an adoring husband, because her pastor had told her that if she left her first husband, it would be an irredeemable sin and God would never love her again - despite the fact that her first husband had on two occasions beaten her unconscious and raised blisters on her son's buttocks beating him one day. The guilt and self-loathing from finding the courage to get out of the situation anyway burdened her so badly that she spent years undergoing surgeries and therapy. When I saw her, she was to have extensive back surgery that would require 6 months of rehab, if she could walk afterward.

The only words I could find after she told me her story were something to the effect that God loved her and that she had done exactly what she was called to do as a mother - protect her children. Far from being a sin, getting herself and her children out of danger and into a positive, loving relationship with her second husband was exactly what God wanted her to do.

The change was incredible and had I not seen it for myself, I wouldn't believe it. Her surgery, anticipated to last all day, took 3 hours, and she walked out of the hospital 5 days later. Her surgeon told her she had received a miracle, and showed us the before and after x-rays to prove it. Ever since I saw what damage had been done by a minister and what good came from someone letting this woman know that what she did was right and proper, I have been hyper-aware of how I talk to people about abusive situations, particularly when religion comes into the discussion.

The mindset about submissive women puts all of us at risk by objectifying us. I don't consider myself a feminist, but I certainly will not perform a marriage ceremony for a couple if there is a dominance issue - either way. Genesis 1 rather than Genesis 3!

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Aug 05, 2007 at 08:23:05 PM EST
RevRuth, you rock, not only for doing so much to help this one woman, but for this:

I certainly will not perform a marriage ceremony for a couple if there is a dominance issue - either way.

If only more clergy members were so wise.

by anomalous4 on Mon Aug 06, 2007 at 06:14:31 PM EST

.............all of which makes it an even more frightening precedent that some people are taking their kinks and deliberately cloaking them in the garb of a Christian institution:

Christian Domestic Discipline: Loving Wife Spanking in a Christian Marriage

..........complete with trashy softcore porn-in-all-but-name novels for women (with ratings like "mild to moderate spanking"......but tell me, wotthebleep is "mildly severe spanking"?), crotchless pantaloons ("will keep you cool and comfortable while making your husband very happy"), and Maintenance Diaries ("a system for those interested in maintenance based on behavior").

OK, lots of people like to play a little slap-and-tickle now and then. It's not my cuppa, but if it's mutually agreed on in an otherwise more or less equal relationship, honi soit qui mal y pense. (Doing it in the street and frightening the horses is optional.)

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but as I understand it, in ordinary concensual BDSM, the M is ultimately in charge and has the right to call a halt if things threaten to get out of hand. OTOH, CDD strikes me (no pun intended) as having a lot of potential for real harm, since one partner has all the power in the relationship and can bully the other into "consenting" by holding the "God" card over her head. CDD coyly skirts that issue:

Though we believe the Bible gives a husband the authority to use spanking as one tool in enforcing his authority in the home with or without his wife's permission, in today's world we recognize the legality that mandates that all CDD must be consensual. Therefore we will do not[sic] condone nonconsensual CDD as a rule. [my italics. ---a4]

[Pesky question: If a husband is supposed to "love his wife as his own body" but thinks that allows him to hit her (spanking, schmanking, let's call it what it really is: hitting!), doesn't it follow that his body could go for a few whacks too? The Golden Rule and all that, smack unto others as you would have them smack unto you.......... ---a4]

CDD's site includes links to the owners' personal blogs. The belt makes regular appearances. Oh the pain, oh the tears, oh the screaming, but it's all right because that way I know my husband loves me enough to keep me on the straight and narrow, and it's God's will for me, and anyway the pain goes away after a while............. One blogger emphasizes "trust" (and the coyness-and-naïveté quotient goes into outer space):

The trust element is also of utmost importance in knowing that the person I am trusting to discipline me will not take advantage of that power.

Yeah, that's the whole trouble. Who's to say that that bigger-and-stronger-than-you guy (who may well have been drawn into the relationship largely because of the opportunity to dominate) is always going to know his own strength, will never decide on his own to turn the heat up, and will never lose control and do some real damage?

Take the wifely submission admonition (almost always out of a context in which far more emphasis is placed on the husband's obligation of sacrificial love "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her"), add the insane notion that "it's part of the husband's job" to hit his wife in a "Christian" marriage, and it's not all that hard to set up a potentially deadly double whammy. Not only is she supposed to submit, but he's explicitly allowed and perhaps even expected to hit her and is following God's will by doing so. Now, not only is she "running away" from "ordinary," run-of-the-mill abuse, she's "running away" from explicitly God-ordained abuse.

There are times when I (almost) think I'd like to see the advocates of staying in a dangerous home environment given a taste of the results, but for now I think I'll just go wash my gray matter out with lye soap. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR.............

by anomalous4 on Mon Aug 06, 2007 at 01:11:32 AM EST

...............I meant "slightly severe spanking." Same diference, but getting it right matters. (Still haven't a clue what it means. A slightly bigger belt?)

The "Christian" family abuse in God's name thing isn't just a Protestant-Fundy problem. I'm currently working with a friend of mine to try and get his girlfriend out of an abusive home situtation. Her dad is a fanatical Roman Catholic extremist who practically runs a mini-Inquisition. He beats her (I've seen some pretty spectacular bruises), shuts her in her room for days at a time and only lets her out to go to school (an old-style hardcore school with a "13th grade" - I thought those were long gone!), locks her out of the house and then punishes her for "not coming home," beats her mom, has turned her kid sister into a vicious animal who's likely to bite anyone who makes her angry (!), and generally jerks everyone around. And he does it all for supposedly religious reasons.

Thankfully, she's just turned 18 and can legally get out. A couple of her friends are getting an apartment soon, and with any luck she'll soon be living with them. Getting up the guts to do it is the big problem right now. (Not only is she afraid for herself, but she's the "responsible" one in the household, and she's afraid for the rest of the family if she's not there to watch out for them.)

I told my friend to tell her to pick a time when she knows her dad's going to be out of the house for a while and stage a commando raid. Get 10 friends and a U-Haul (a nice theatrical touch - I intend to contribute to the cost of the rental and go along), "storm" the house and get all her stuff out of there, and leave a note that she's somewhere safe and will call in a couple of days (preferably from an untraceable pay-as-you-go cell phone at a remote location) to let everyone know she's OK.

We'll see what happens...........

by anomalous4 on Mon Aug 06, 2007 at 01:10:44 PM EST

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