Domestic Abuse: No Quarter in Biblical Counseling
Recently, I read an article at the site of a counseling ministry that addressed a wife whose husband had the whole family "walking on egg shells" due to his explosive behavior. While actual, physical abuse was not alledged, there was clear indication the family was suffering emotionally at the hands of a husband and father who was choosing to subject his family to fits of anger.
Reading this wife's story was disheartneing, but not surprising. Socially, we know that domestic abuse is now and has been for many a debilitating, sometimes years long reality. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, in their book, "Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence," wrote the following:
Abusers often find ways to hurt the whole person. They shred their victim’s sense of self-worth, crush their wills, and violate their bodies. The effects are widespread and catastrophic—including physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage. If left untended, these effects will be ongoing, no matter how long ago the abuse happened. This is why it is important to deal with them honestly now.
I would like to think that these truths are not novel to anyone in counseling or pastoral ministry, but there's a reason many keep pounding the drum.
We Don't Question Victims
"I don't know whether you're a great wife or your kids are angels..."
The line you just read was included in the counselor's response to the same wife who was so exasperated at her husband's erractic and sinful behavior that she sought wise counsel from a third party. This is no small thing. We cannot afford to miss an opportunity to come to the side of an abused wife or child. Frankly, we may not get a second chance.
Often times, wives and children suffering at the hands of a manipulative tyrant are too overcome with fear to reach out for help. Perpetrators of domestic abuse often convince their victims that to seek help is to risk much more in retrobution and fallout than they might wish to endure (i.e. severe physical harm, loss of children, loss of finanical support, etc.).
Counselors, especially those who serve the church in any official capacity, must be aware of indications of domestic abuse, and must be resolved to never tolerate or give quarter to an abuser or their abusive behavior, regardless of the consequences that follow. Where marriage and family is concerned, biblical counselors must be resolute about this: In the life of the family, domestic abuse, in all forms, is anti-gospel and anti-Christ.
We Comfort Victims
This makes questioning the personal, in-home performance of potential victims of domestic abuse a potentially grievous error, as it shows a lack of care, compassion, and concern for the safety of those involved. It threatens to re-victimize them by sending them into an emotional retreat, potentially convinced of their aggressor's lies that help is out of reach.
In sum, it shows a lack of understanding and preparation to work with and provide care for victims of domestic abuse. These descriptions must never be true of those who serve as biblical counselors. Biblical counseling, as well as the church proper, ought to represent one place where perpetrators know, without question, they cannot hide their sin.
Domestic abuse represents a dynamic milieu of emotional and spiritual issues. Although a marriage may be involved, addressing the victim and aggressor in the posture of marriage counseling is not the proper place to begin counseling.
In domestic abuse, the problem is not the victim's alleged shortcomings or even their own sin. The problem to be addressed in counseling first is the condition of the aggressor's heart that gave rise to abusive behavior in the main. This issue is second only to securing the victim's safety, a paramount concern.
Biblical Counselor Brad Hambrick writes, "Until safety is no longer in doubt, other concerns should be only a way of understanding how to create a safe disposition or environment for the individual."
Biblical counselors and those in church ministry must be unwavering here: personal sin and shortcomings are never an ocassion for another, especially one's own spouse or family member, to engage in acts of domestic abuse.
Whenever and where ever biblical or pastoral counselors suspect domestic abuse, let them trust that this is the first issue to be addressed in counseling. And, let the manner in which they counsel speak hope to victims, repentance to perpetrators, conviction to the church, and the gospel to the culture.
Other Resources for Victims
Join the Discussion
- What action steps can the church take to communicate to perpetrators of domestic violence that their sin will not be kept hidden?
- What action steps can the church take to proactively minister to the domestic abuse victim?