By / Apr 26

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.

By / Feb 14

One obstacle to receiving care for current victims and survivors of past abuse is the tensions that emerge in the public discourse about abuse. While this obstacle exists in almost every setting, it is uniquely present within the church and Christian communities. 

Many factors contribute to the difficulty talking about abuse. In this article, we will look at two or three. If an obstacle you face is not discussed, please do not take that to mean the obstacle is not real. In a brief article, there is a limit to how much can be covered.

Questions framing the conversation

One challenge is that people often don’t start with the same question guiding the conversation. Two questions can frame conversations about responding to a report of abuse.

  1. How would I want an abuse claim handled if I were accused?
  2. How would I want an abuse claim handled if I were the person disclosing my abuse?

These questions lead conversations in different directions. 

  • Question one frames the conversation from the perspective of the accused. Therefore, it views the report as a potential threat. 
  • Question two frames the conversation from the perspective of a victim. Therefore, it views the report as a cry for help. 

When conversations devolve into arguments between leaders of an institution (such as a church) and victims or advocates, the difference in these two questions captures much of the tension.

For a variety of reasons, institutional leaders have far less fear of being the victim of abuse than being accused of abuse. A false accusation is how they could be most negatively affected by abuse. A false accusation would be damaging to their life, family, and vocation. They frame the conversation to try to ensure false accusations do not happen.

By contrast, victims, survivors, and advocates approach the subject of abuse with question two at the forefront of their minds. For them, the conversation is not based on what might happen. It is based on what has already happened in their life. Hence, they frame the conversation to try to ensure their experience is believed and doesn’t happen to anyone else.

The starting point for these two questions is so different that each side begins to view the other with suspicion as soon as the conversation begins. A debate emerges as each side tries to get the other side to start with their question. Whether these are public discourses in social media or private conversations about how an institution will be governed, these two questions result in what feels like an unnavigable impasse. 

When these two questions are put side by side, most people agree that question two is the proper starting point. I agree. We should prioritize the most vulnerable. If that position is taken, it also seems reasonable to most people to then ask, “If we prioritize the most vulnerable, how do we protect against damage from false accusations?” Being for question two doesn’t mean being against question one.

The legal system and the court of public opinion

This is where another dichotomy emerges. 

1. In the legal system, where “innocent until proven guilty” guides the process, the burden of proof is on the victim. Because abuse almost always occurs in private, this is a high bar to clear. It is exceedingly difficult for victims to establish their case by a legal standard. Even the more casual standard often used in the church of “giving the benefit of the doubt” favors the aggressor over the oppressed. The benefit of the doubt is given to the one accused (i.e., presumed innocence), not the one claiming to have been harmed (i.e., presumed truthfulness).

2. By contrast, in the court of public opinion, where people are strongly prone to interpret new claims based on a myriad of factors unrelated to evidence, confirmation bias dominates. There is a group that defaults to assuming the claim is true and a group that defaults to assuming the claim is false. We can usually identify these “teams” before a claim is presented.

The problem is, both systems are flawed; as any human system inevitably will be. In the legal system, “not guilty” verdicts don’t always mean “innocent.” Frequently, “not guilty” means there was not enough evidence to clear the threshold of establishing guilt or that too much time transpired for the legal complaint to remain valid. Many abusers have been declared “not guilty” because of a technicality. That does not make the initial claim false.

In the court of public opinion, far more people hear and give weight to the initial accusation than hear the outcome of an investigation (if one occurs) and change their opinion accordingly. The attention span of our modern culture means that accusations are headlines, and the results of investigations are too often back-page news. 

Here again, we see the tension between the two “sides” (I put sides in quotations because I wish this conversation was not as teamed as it has become). One side says, “Can’t you see how hard it is for those who have been abused to prove what happened and get any kind of justice? The person who has been abused is not usually the person who can afford the better attorney.” This is an important question that needs to be heard.

The other side replies, “Can’t you see that if falsely accused my reputation would be gone and the damage would be done long before the results of any investigation occurred? I don’t fear unnecessarily going to jail. I fear unnecessarily losing the ability to do what I love and feel called to do.” This is an understandable fear. We need to know the probability of the “if” to vet the concern properly.

This is the point in most articles where an author proposes to remedy the tension that has been defined. Some “third way” is articulated to avoid the weaknesses of the other two options. I’m afraid, at least to my awareness, there is no easy third way here. Even when we prioritize the vulnerable (as I believe we should), we will not make the uphill journey of abuse victims level ground. The difference between the legal system and the court of public opinion means that significant damage can be done to leaders who are proven innocent (not just “not guilty”).

Two proposals for these conversations

So, where do we go from here? I would make two proposals. 

First, we need to weigh the concern about false accusations of abuse against the prevalence of false claims. Where data can be found, we shouldn’t regulate our emotions based on hypotheticals. Reputable studies on this indicate that only between 2-7% of abuse claims are false. Further, those familiar with the process of investigating abuse claims indicate that false claims fall apart early in the investigative process. It is far more likely to have a true claim of abuse that is unprovable than a false claim that results in legal consequences.

This does not eliminate the concern of church leaders who fear they could lose their opportunity to do ministry based on a false accusation. For the 2-7% of individuals who are falsely accused, that is 100% of their experience and what determines their future. But we should also recognize that for the 93-98% of valid claims, their only hope for justice is if their claim is taken seriously. 

What does that mean? It means we should hear the person reporting abuse and care for them as if their report was true. We should take steps to ensure their safety. If what is being reported is criminal, we should trust the appropriate Romans 13:1-6 authority to vet the claim. The weight of the claim, not the role or reputation of the accused, should determine who vets the claim and how.

This isn’t declaring the accused “guilty.” It is deferring to the people God gave jurisdiction over criminal claims. As we ask people to trust church leadership to handle something well when God places that matter under our jurisdiction, we should trust the appropriate Romans 13 authority to handle well what God has placed under their jurisdiction. 

If we, as church leaders, are the accused we should cooperate with the appropriate legal process in the 2-7% of false claims for the sake of the 93-98% of victims that will not have access to care or justice if we do not. As a matter of faith in the biblical division of jurisdictions, we should trust that doing so will, in the end, increase (not decrease) our credibility. Those who abuse, protect their power; those who are true shepherds, prioritize protecting the vulnerable. 

Second, we need to “de-team” the conversation. As long as there are “sides” in this conversation, like political parties, mistrust will exacerbate the tensions described in this article. Pastors and church leaders must stop viewing victims and advocates as threats. We should repent whenever this posture is present. Those who have been abused are not “potential liabilities.” They are people, made in God’s image, who have been hurt and people for whom God intends the church to be a place of refuge.

As long as victims and advocates must demand to be heard a combative atmosphere will remain. That is not the fault of those who have not been heard. It is not the fault of social media, which has (sadly) done more to give survivors and advocates a voice than the church. 

In the same vein, the concerns of pastors and church leaders should not be dismissed as if these concerns are only an excuse for passivity and maintaining the status quo. Most of us, if we were faced with a choice that had a 7% chance of costing us our livelihood, would be hesitant to make that choice; especially if we did not understand the choice better than most ministry leaders understand the experience of abuse and the challenges of seeking justice after abuse.

If we are going to have a fruitful conversation about abuse, which is what I believe that most people who would take the time to read this article want, both question one and two, and the implications of the legal system and the court of public opinion must be taken into account. If either side dismisses the other, then trust will be broken, and the tone of an adversarial debate will reign over what must eventually become a hard-but-needed profitable conversation. 

If the debate remains adversarial, who loses? Answer: everyone, but especially current victims who are considering whether they can trust the church to help. If the concerns of the 2-7% reign over the concerns of the 93-98%, current victims realize the church is not prioritizing their care and safety. When this happens, the church is not the refuge for the vulnerable that God intends his church to be. 

By / Sep 24

This month two SBC committees, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Board of Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), held meetings in which they addressed concerns related to sexual abuse. 

During the recent 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, a motion was made calling for an “audit and assessment of sexual abuse within the SBC.” That motion was referred to the ERLC. Acting ERLC president, Brent Leatherwood, said the ERLC was the appropriate entity to initiate the assessment, and that the staff were eager to begin work on the project

The trustees voted unanimously to move forward on the motion by saying, “We wholeheartedly support the intent of this motion and are committed to taking the necessary steps to secure the best oversight team and funding required to complete a comprehensive and thorough assessment, including the allocation of ERLC reserve funds to help offset the costs as needed.”

The ERLC board allocated $250,000 as a “first commitment” toward the project and assigned the ERLC staff with three tasks: 

  1. Present for approval by the full board an advisory committee with broad representation to help oversee and execute the study process;
  2. Begin working with other SBC entities and organizations to develop partnerships and funding for the study; and 
  3. Develop a scope of work, for approval by the full board, and gather proposals from qualified independent firms to complete the study.

At the Annual Meeting, the messengers of the SBC also called for an investigation into sexual abuse responses by and coverup within the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (EC). Although the EC had commissioned its own independent inquiry through Guidepost Solutions, the messengers made a motion to transfer oversight of that investigation or launch an additional one to a new task force. On Sept. 9, 2021, the task force announced that Guidepost Solutions was retained to conduct the independent assessment and investigation regarding the EC. 

The mandate, as directed by the SBC motion, is that Guidepost will investigate:

  • Allegations of abuse by Executive Committee members
  • Mishandling of abuse allegations by Executive Committee members between Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
  • Allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee members from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
  • Patterns of intimidation of sexual abuse victims or advocates from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
  • Resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021


The messengers at the 2021 Annual Meeting instructed the EC to abide by the recommendations of Guidepost, up to and including the waiver of attorney-client privilege.

This week, the EC held its first meeting since the Annual Meeting in June. The EC is tasked with carrying out the work of the Convention and promoting the general work of Southern Baptists in the interim between the annual meetings. 

Although the EC does not control or direct the activities of Convention agencies, such as the ERLC or IMB, it reviews their financial statements and recommends the Convention’s annual operating budget. In addition, the EC receives and distributes the monies given in support of denominational ministries, acts as the recipient and trust agency for all Convention properties, and provides public relations and news services. 

The EC is composed of 86 representatives chosen from qualified states and regions. Officers of the EC are elected from these representatives. To carry out these duties, the EC also employs an executive and professional staff in its Nashville offices.

In this week’s meeting, following hours of deliberations, several significant actions occurred. A vote to waive attorney-client privilege failed 55-20, raising concerns the board had undermined the “will of the messengers.” The EC eventually authorized funding the Guidepost budget of $1.6 million. A request by the EC was also made for the Task Force and EC officers to agree on a contract in seven days, which will be September 28th. The motion said this was to be done “without waiving complete attorney-client privilege at this time” but is “being fleshed out through negotiation.”  

A motion was approved to get an outside legal option to look into the conflict of interest regarding the Convention and EC lawyers. The law firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark was retained to study these potential conflicts of interest in relation to the SBC’s legal counsel. Another law firm, Locke Lord, was also hired to aid with the forthcoming independent review. Additionally, the EC approved a motion to fund the SBC Executive Committee legal fees related to the independent investigation from the committee’s operating reserves. The approval was for up to $500,000 with the requirement that the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development must be notified when half the funds have been expended.

By / Sep 22

Let’s start this chapter by admitting that we like to use hyperbole — extreme examples to clarify our points. We Christians may be particularly fond of it when we’re illustrating an important theme of the gospel, such as forgiveness.

Is hyperbole bad? No, Jesus used it (Matthew 5:27–30). Can it be used poorly? Yes. But before we get to the problem, let’s consider the purpose of illustrations. We use illustrations to make points clearer. If illustrations don’t make our point clearer, then they’re not good illustrations — they’re distractions. Sometimes this just results in ineffective teaching. Other times, it can be harmful to those being taught.

Imagine a father explaining forgiveness to his son. He uses the illustration of when his wife (the child’s mother) forgave him for having an affair. The dad may be making theologically rich, well-articulated, and skillfully applied points about forgiveness. But the illustration is a distraction. All the kid can think is, “Are my parents getting a divorce? Are we going to have to move?”

This is what we frequently do when we use criminal or traumatic offenses1Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses. as illustrations of what it means to forgive. When we recount the testimony of someone who has been raped, beaten, or similarly offended forgiving the person who abused them, we are putting every survivor who hears us in a comparable position as the son in the illustration above.

When, in a ministry context, we talk about someone forgiving their rapist, we are not providing legal or counseling advice on how to respond to the experience of rape. When we give an example of someone forgiving an abusive spouse or parent, we don’t explain what happens when you call Child Protective Services (CPS) or how to make a safety plan.2For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com But because survivors only hear their experience discussed in church as an illustration of forgiveness, they begin to think “just forgive” is the only guidance God has for them.

A good rule of thumb is don’t use these kinds of illustrations if you do not have the training or time in your sermon/lesson to provide substantive guidance on how to respond to a criminal or traumatic experience. If we are going to use illustrations of this emotional weight, we must be willing to devote the time the subject matter requires. It is pastorally irresponsible to do otherwise.

Illustrations with criminal offenses

When using an illustration or testimony involving a criminal offense, the following points would need to be made (this list is representative, not exhaustive):

  • It is right and God-honoring to report such an offense to the authorities (Romans 13), that is, the police.3If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • If children are not involved and the thought of reporting is hard, it is wise for a survivor to talk to a counselor experienced in working with abuse/rape survivors because these are legitimately difficult decisions.
  • Choosing to pursue legal action against criminal activity is not an expression of bitterness or unforgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is one part, and usually not the first part, of the healing journey after the experience of abuse or rape.
  • When you reach the point that forgiveness is the next part of God’s healing process for you, forgiveness does not mean trusting or placing yourself in the position to be vulnerable again. If the person who hurt you demands trust or leverages the Bible against you, they are continuing to be abusive.

These points take time in a sermon or lesson. Admittedly, they steal the thunder from a point about forgiveness. But realize, without these clarifications, the “thunder” of your message will be haunting to someone who has not had the opportunity to process their experience.

Illustrations with traumatic experiences

When using an illustration or testimony involving an offense that is traumatic, the following points would need to be made (this list is also representative, not exhaustive):

  • Painful memories are not the same thing as bitterness.
  • Hypervigilance after a traumatic experience is not the same thing as a lack of faith.
  • Flat emotions after a traumatic experience does not mean you’re unloving, apathetic, or not worshipping.4If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • Seeing a counselor experienced in working with trauma survivors can help a survivor learn to manage the emotional fluctuations that often occur after a trauma.
  • Forgiveness does not erase memory. For offenses that are disruptive when remembered, Miroslav Volf’s book The End of Memory can be a helpful discussion of forgiveness.

Again, these kinds of points do break the momentum of your sermon or lesson. But to the person who has experienced the kind of things you are using as an illustration, that “momentum” feels like an avalanche. To the person who is learning to manage their trauma, slower is safer. If we are going to speak of their life experience, then we should do so with the tenderness that experience requires.

This chapter forces us to consider again where we began this book — forgiveness means someone has been hurt. Criminal and traumatic offenses mean that there are more consequences to this person’s pain.5If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.  We need to take this into account when we teach on or talk about forgiveness.

Considering these things, take a moment to read Psalm 23:1-4:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (emphasis added)

Why did I choose to emphasize the word walk? It is a pacing verb. It reveals the pace at which the Good Shepherd is willing to go. The Good Shepherd moves at the pace that is best for the sheep. The scary setting — the valley of the shadow of death — does not rush the pace. The health and ability of the sheep set the pace. Sheep with a limp traverse the valley more slowly.

If we are going to be accurate ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, we must prioritize our ministry efforts the same way. We cannot let our zeal for the destination cause us to harm the sheep who have been entrusted to our care. That is what this chapter has been about: helping us pace our illustrations about forgiveness to the needs of those who have been hurt.

Questions for reflection

1. When have you seen an illustration become a distraction? If it was around a sensitive subject, how did it detract from the care agenda of the person teaching?

2. How does the pacing verb “walk” of the Good Shepherd help you understand the pastoral significance in discussing criminal and traumatic offenses in the holistic manner recommended in this chapter?

Excerpted from Making Sense of Forgiveness © 2021 by Brad Hambrick. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.

  • 1
    Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses.
  • 2
    For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com
  • 3
    If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • 4
    If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • 5
    If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.
By / Jun 9

When we encounter abuse and grapple with the evil it perpetrates, many people often wonder, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Sometimes the question comes with the judgment “It’s her fault if she doesn’t” The question is better framed as “Why is she choosing to stay?” There are 4 reasons why I have seen women remain in abusive marriages. As we consider each, I will suggest things Christians can do to support victims.

1. Victims can struggle to see the severity of the abuse or the danger they are in. 

This is very common since oppressors use a cloud of confusion, blame-shifting, and manipulative tactics to maintain control. The result is that victims believe the abuse is their fault, isn’t that bad, or doubt their own memories. Or sometimes, victims wrongly attribute their husband’s behavior to stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors. Discerning the presence of abuse is hard for everyone- harder for those living amidst it.1Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.

Victims need our help to understand both the dynamics of abuse and the specifics of how they are playing out in their marriage. Here are a few ideas on how to patiently and gently share these critical insights. 

  • You might help a victim track incidents of abuse by keeping a log or encouraging her to journal. 
  • Lead her to see that the abuse always serves a purpose for her spouse- like when he flashes anger, he gets his way. 
  • Show her where scripture calls abusive behaviors sinful and speaks to how oppression violates God’s design for marriage.
  • Complete a safety assessment with her to discern her level of danger.2https://www.dangerassessment.org/uploads/pdf/DAEnglish2010.pdf

It can take months, even years, for her to see what you see, so continue to find creative ways to guide her to make an accurate assessment of her situation. 

2. The victim lacks family, community, and church support

They have likely floated the idea of leaving to their trusted circle or have heard teachings frowning upon divorce. The result is that many victims fear that if they separate from their spouse, their faith community or friends and family will judge them. Not only is it difficult for victims to lose friends and familial relationships, but the disapproval of others often results in paralyzing shame. Sometimes victims already find themselves alone since abusers work to isolate their victims. Being devoid of community means she will not have the support she needs to meet future challenges like single motherhood, income loss, divorce, and healing from trauma. Or worse, suppose her faith community has imprinted on her heart that seeking a divorce is sinful. In that case, she will fear that leaving means even God will not come to her aid.  

This is where faithful friends and church leadership can step in. They can help her search God’s word for what it says about his hate of oppression, his promises to rescue his people from oppressors, examples of godly people (David, Abigail, Paul, and Jesus) fleeing danger or teaching on when divorce is biblical. 

Not only is the church equipped to help her answer her spiritual questions they are also able to bless her with the needed resources and personal support. Diaconal funds are one way a church can help. But they can also provide things like babysitting, prayer support, intentional friendships, or needed guidance with surprises like car repairs. When churches lovingly participate in the rescue of a victim, it showcases the Lord’s heart for her. It also puts it on display for her children and other victims who are similarly wrestling with staying or leaving. 

3. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman

Victims instinctively know that if their abuser senses he is losing control, there is the potential for him to go to extremes, which can even mean killing her. In one study, researchers interviewed men who murdered their wives. It found that threats of separation or the act of separation were the precipitating event. Moreover, victims might not just fear for themselves. Many abusers have threatened to kill themselves, the children, or a beloved pet if she leaves. Find out what she is afraid of by asking her directly what she thinks will happen if she goes. You can help connect her to a Domestic Violence expert or shelter.3Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections (www.thehotline.org). You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse? They can develop a plan to remain safe both while she remains in the home and if she flees abuse. When there is the potential for danger, leaving can mean going into hiding or taking months to plan. All of this is daunting; hence some women choose not to take risks and remain with their abuser. If she decides to stay, continue to care for her, keep reviewing her safety plan and remind her you are willing to help if there is a day she wants to make the choice to flee. 

4. Leaving abuse is extremely difficult and costly. 

Usually, victims agonize and pray over what to do for weeks, if not months and years. Fleeing abuse brings victims new and intensified challenges with their income, children, stability, and other relationships. So, after thinking over the potential costs to them and their children, they choose to stay. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Financial challenges (Their abuser might control the finances, provide the only income, or have destroyed her credit.)
  • Many women fear leaving their children alone with an abuser as joint custody is usually awarded. Additionally, they may fear of losing custody or anticipation parental alienation
  • The belief that two-parent households are best for children
  • They feel that the good times outweigh the bad times. 
  • They have nowhere to go or lack resources. 
  • The effects of trauma on a victim (depression, anxiety, PTSD) might be overwhelming.
  • They have hope that their spouse will change.
  • They believe that divorce is not an option.
  • Fear of not being believed or that the justice system will not rule in their favor

Seek to understand why a victim is choosing to stay. It is easy to think, “I would never put up with that!” or “I’d be out of there.” But until you live under the crushing terrorizing reality of abuse, you really do not know what you would do. Every choice comes at a steep cost. In some cases, you might be able to help ease the suffering, for instance by helping her find a job or housing. If a victim chooses to stay based upon her convictions or children, she will continue to need your support. 

While these are the four main challenges that impact a women’s decision to stay, they are not exhaustive. But they help us see that any step a woman takes to address her abuse will, at least temporarily, make her and her children’s lives more difficult. The very act of sharing her story with you is a tremendous act of courage. It signals progress is being made as evil is brought into the light. This allows you to connect a victim in her anguish to God regardless of whether she stays or goes. 

I know how hard it is when walking with a victim to fear for her. Pray, and patiently persist with a victim until God grants her clarity. Seek to extend her the same patience that God has extended to you (Ex 34:6, 1Tim 1:16), but also entrust her to God. He is always on the move rescuing his people from oppression (Ps 9:9; 72:4; 103:6; 147:7-9).  

  • 1
    Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.
  • 2
    https://www.dangerassessment.org/uploads/pdf/DAEnglish2010.pdf
  • 3
    Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections (www.thehotline.org). You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse?