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.