Book Review

When home isn’t safe

A review of “When Home Hurts: A Guide for Responding Wisely to Domestic Abuse in Your Church”

April 26, 2022

My deepest wounding and my deepest healing have both come within the church. I know what it’s like to be afraid of shepherds, wounded by thoughtless words about abuse and trauma. And I hear countless stories from dear men and women who have been harmed beyond words where they should find safe refuge. A survivor of such abuse may sit in the pew beside you.

Ignorance is not bliss

Church leaders can avoid addressing abuse because of the challenge of its complexity. But if we think abuse, particularly domestic abuse, is absent in our local churches, we are deeply misguided. One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men report experiencing physical violence from an intimate partner. Brad Wilcox writes, “Domestic violence is still present in church-going homes, and Christian clergy, counselors, and lay leaders need to do a much better job of articulating clear, powerful messages about abuse and, more generally, married life.” 

There is a high likelihood that some in your church have experienced immense suffering in their homes due to domestic violence, not to mention the evil of emotional or spiritual abuse. Lack of discernment in these dynamics may cause additional damage –– or even place a victim in danger. When Home Hurts by Jeremy Pierre and Greg Wilson aims to inform church leaders and congregants alike. It is a helpful catalyst to these vital ongoing conversations. They grapple with important questions, like what is abuse?, what does the Bible say about it?, and how do I confront someone who’s been accused of abuse? (11).

An informative framework

Half of pastors say they “lack training in how to address sexual and domestic violence.” When Home Hurts is a must-read for those seeking to care well in domestic abuse cases, from laypeople to pastoral staff. If you don’t know where to start in the process of learning, consider this book a helpful launchpoint. Pierre and Wilson call those walking with an abuse victim to “the privilege of displaying the heart of God––kind, stable, self-giving––to people who’ve had the opposite displayed to them” (20). How can someone practically reflect this love? 

First, we need to recognize that “a theology of suffering without considering God’s view of, and response to, violence and oppression can lead to reckless care and harmful counsel” (42). We must reflect the strong care of our Lord, who is a stronghold for those oppressed (Psa. 9:9). The writers delineate words like oppression, referring to “not generic suffering, but a unique form of suffering involving the intentional sin of those with greater capacity against those with less” (39). 

They particularly point out not only that abuse “is a dangerous reversal of love,” but the impact of abuse on personhood. The imago Dei is desecrated under the tragic weight of abuse. Even abusers themselves experience this twisting of the imago Dei, as a person made in God’s image “using his God-like capacities to diminish those capacities in others. And by doing so, he diminishes his own personhood” (41). As a result, the abusive person can use Scripture not to submit to God, but to “force submission from others” (49). 

The writers include important insights like acknowledging that abusers are often those we might least expect, for their seeming benevolence and charisma. Additionally, abuse is often underreported, so Pierre and Wilson are careful to caution helpers to not dismiss abuse disclosure. 

Each chapter lists practical aspects or challenges of navigating a case of abuse, including questions to gently ask a victim, identifying possible abuser blame-shifting, and including the appropriate authorities. Pierre and Wilson take care to touch on nuances and provide a framework for what steps of safety, support, and accountability might look like. The writers mention they are not trying to “provide comprehensive care strategies” but “biblical guidelines for ongoing care” (145). They list many additional resources that should be engaged with for more in-depth understanding.

A balm for the broken

Trauma’s shattering impact can be confusing to those who don’t understand this unique suffering. C.S. Lewis reflected, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”

Pierre and Wilson sketch common patterns seen in trauma survivors, and again point to other resources for continued exploration. The authors are mindful to acknowledge the staggering weight of domestic abuse, without reducing the personhood of victim or abuser to this distressing reality. While more specific and concrete examples would be a benefit to the section on victim care, good specifics are present in the section on the abuser, in the writers’ call for time-tested repentance. 

When Home Hurts truly excels at naming beliefs and perceptions that affect both abuser and abused. “What makes domestic abuse a particularly cruel form of violence is that the home is supposed to be the place where personhood blossoms into its greatest potential” (45). This unspeakable suffering understandably leads to a fractured sense of self, God, and the world. 

It takes tremendous tenderness and patience to walk with someone through the journey of rebuilding after abuse. This is a thoughtful and gradual process, and one that should not be rushed with a combination of Scriptural imperatives. A caregiver should seek to be an “empathetic witness,” as the truth is “modeled for [the victim] in relationship” (158–159). 

Cultivating careful wisdom

As it seeks to encourage awareness of abuse dynamics and a framework of loving action, When Home Hurts provides a valuable starting point, informing church leaders and congregants alike. I hope those who take the time to engage with the content here are empowered to cultivate wise advocacy and discernment.

Pierre and Wilson cast a hope-filled vision for church spaces that protect the vulnerable and hold oppressors accountable — that in darkness, the church might truly be a beacon of Jesus Christ’s light.

Photo Attribution:

For The Church

Carissa Early

Carissa Early is an editor and counselor with Gospel Care Collective. She focuses on providing a compassionate context for people to explore their stories and encounter God's tender mercy. Carissa writes on the complexities of faith and suffering at Chasing the Light.  Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24