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?
By / Dec 17

Clearly, abuse is not something new or modern. It has been one of the results of sin in our fallen world from the very beginning. Tim Lane and Paul Tripp write, “The Bible is not about an idyllic world full of noble people who always make the right choice. The Bible describes a world we recognize, where very good and very bad things happen, and where people make wonderful and horrible choices. The Bible describes a world that sometimes makes us laugh, but often makes us cry.”1Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2008), 98. 

The Bible condemns abusive violence of all kinds. The Bible not only describes abuse and narrates tragic stories of abuse, it also clearly and unequivocally condemns abuse of all kinds (cf. Ex. 21:12–27). Abuse of authority or power is always a sin. It is never an acceptable dynamic in any relationship, especially a marriage relationship. The psalmist writes, “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion” (Ps. 11:5). Does that language surprise you? Aren’t we told hate the sin, not the sinner? Not always so. Here the Bible speaks loud and clear—God hates those who love violence. 

The Bible speaks honestly of abuse, condemning abuse and those who practice violence. But most importantly—and what your counselee needs to hear—is this: God hears the cries of the abused, the oppressed, the torn down, the battered, and the beaten.2Cf. Abigail and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25:3, 17, 24–25, 38 and the Israelites in Jeremiah 50:33–34.  Psalm 10:17 states, “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” The abused have a God who is never deaf to their cries for help.3Cf. Psalm 5, 7, 10, 55–57, 140.  Ed Welch writes, “If she [he] looks for words to say in the Psalms she will find that God especially invites those who have enemies and oppressors to come to him.”4Edward T. Welch, “Living with an Angry Husband,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 24, no. 4 (2006): 47.  

Indeed, our Savior is someone who understands what it means to be afflicted and oppressed: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isa. 53:3). 

In marriage, all forms of abuse must be addressed and taken seriously by the counselor. As referenced in chapter three, when abuse is taking place in a marriage, the marriage counseling needs to come to an end. At this point, individual and separate counseling for the abused and the abuser is necessary.5The level of competency needed to address issues like domestic violence and abuse are most likely beyond the scope of the average pastor. That does not mean the pastor is absolved of responsibility, but in instances of abuse, pastors should probably help develop a network of care, accountability, and counsel.  Winston Smith writes, “It’s important to identify the presence of abuse in marriage because, undetected, these patterns can sabotage the counseling process. A fundamental dynamic of marriage counseling is helping spouses examine their own behavior so that each understands his or her contribution to shared problems, but this very process can unwittingly play into patterns of abuse rather than stop them.”6Winston Smith, “When NOT to Do Marriage Counseling,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 27, no. 1 (2013): 73–74. 

In counseling husbands who are abusive, it must be made absolutely clear that biblical headship does not entitle a husband to treat his wife in a violent or oppressive manner. At the heart of most domestic abuse is the sinful use of a husband’s leadership to exercise control over another individual.7One of the dynamics that can lead to outbreaks of domestic violence in marriages is an upside-down view of complementarian headship, i.e., that the husband is the head of the wife. A husband can wield such authority in an ungodly way. Jason Meyer states, “Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.” Jason Meyer, “Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church,” April 28, 2015. The Gospel Coalition: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2015/04/28/ hyper-headship-and-the-scandal-of-domestic-abuse-in-the-church/. Another dynamic that can lead to women being called to submit to such abusive headship is a high view of marriage that leads to a “marriages must be saved at all costs” mentality. Both must be balanced by a biblical understanding of Scripture.  Biblical headship is described as sacrificial servanthood, not unlimited authority (Mark 10:42–45). Let’s not confuse terms—when a husband demands his own way or dominates his wife, we do not call this biblical headship, we call it what it is—selfishness and abuse of power. 

In light of this, what should we do as counselors? Two immediate priorities emerge: identify immediate needs and plan for long-term care. 

Identifying Immediate Needs

The first immediate need in any domestic violence situation is to prioritize the safety of the abused.8Brad Hambrick has a helpful post on the triage of complex counseling cases: http://bradhambrick. com/triage2/.  Often this is primarily a matter of physical safety. Make sure they have emergency contact numbers at hand. As a counselor or pastor, you should not be their first phone call in case of emergency. Here are a few helpful numbers and tips. 

  • Emergency 9–1–1 
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1–800–799-SAFE (7233) 
  • Know the number for your local law enforcement.
  • If they are there in the office with you, offer to help make the call with them. 
  • Pastors and ministry leaders should be familiar with local women’s shelters and emergency personnel in their area.

If they are in an abusive relationship, help them develop a personal safety plan. Here are several helpful templates available online: 

Seek an assessment of the situation to differentiate abuse from everyday relational conflict. Using the definition of domestic violence provided by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, a number of issues can help you understand the difference between abuse and everyday conflict:9Holcomb and Holcomb, Is It My Fault?, 57–58. 

  • Intentional: The abuser is willfully using abusive tactics to get what they want. 
  • Methodical: Abusers steadily increase abusive behaviors to get what they want. 
  • Pattern: Abuse is not a series of isolated events, but an overarching pattern of behavior designed to inflict harm on an individual. 
  • Tactics: Shaming, exploitation, threats, intimidation, and self-pity are all common tactics used by abusers. 
  • Power: The abuser uses power—physical, emotional, financial—to achieve control over their spouse or other victims. 
  • Control: By whatever means necessary, abusers want their spouse to be under their control—physically, emotionally, financially, and even at times, spiritually. 
  • Desires: The abuser wants what the abuser wants. Any outside needs or concerns are discounted at the expense of what they desire. 

Understand that abuse typically escalates. Yes, there might be days and weeks when the abuse recedes into the background, but over the balance of the relationship, abuse tends to escalate and intensify without intervention. Make sure you are not sending the abused back into an environment unprepared. 

Planning for Long-Term Care

A second priority is planning for long-term care. In cases where physical safety is a concern, a physical separation is advised. However, encouraging the abused spouse to separate from their abusive spouse must not be done lightly. “When church leaders act too quickly, questioning or confronting the abuser before the victim is ready, they can cause more harm than good, even putting the victim in greater danger. The victim may be silenced and punished by the abuser who now knows she spoke to an outsider. Ensuring the immediate safety of the victim is essential, but so is securing her long-term safety.”

Darby Strickland reminds us, “Keep in mind that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is fleeing abuse. There is no room for optimistic and naive thinking when it pertains to safety issues. It is incumbent upon us to be educated.”10Darby Strickland, “Counseling in the Brambles: How to Help Oppressive Marriages,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 30, no. 3 (2016): 37.  This is not a time to deliver a theological argument about divorce and remarriage. That can come at a later point. Right now the immediate need is the care and support of the abused.11For additional reading on the topic of divorce in abusive marriages, I would recommend Jim Newheiser, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers, 259–65; and David Instone- Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities, 93–106. The scope of this chapter does not allow for questions related to the biblical arguments for/against divorce/separation in cases of abuse. 

Yes, God calls us to endure suffering. Yes, he can redeem us through suffering and hardship, but those principles must be balanced and read in relationship to all of Scripture. God cares about the oppressed and seeks to deliver them. God cares for the individuals in marriage as much as he cares for the institution of marriage. You do not have a “high view of marriage” if you encourage spouses to endure abuse. This is actually a low view of marriage. 

Ask questions to help you gain a better perspective and understanding of the situation.12The Holcombs have a list of questions in their book Is It My Fault? on pages 32–35. Leslie Vernick has a downloadable survey you can use at her website: http://www.leslievernick.com/pdfs/Relationship -test .pdf.  At this point, some counselees might be fearful of retribution from the abusive spouse or feel they are betraying their spouse by answering your questions. Help the abused understand that sharing their story is not a betrayal of their spouse. Ed Welch notes, “It is not a betrayal of the perpetrator. Instead, one goal is to bring the perpetrator’s sin to light so he has the opportunity to turn to God and, as a result, turn away from God’s wrath.”13Edward T. Welch, “Living with an Angry Husband,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 24, no. 4 (2006): 48. 

If the abused decides to leave the abuser, utilize all the resources at your disposal (e.g., benevolence fund, deacon fund, etc.) to help them find food and shelter. Remember that our faith is an active faith, so wise words should be accompanied by good deeds (James 2:14). 

It is important that you do not handle this situation on your own. Early on, you will need to identify and get help from a variety of people, including: medical professionals, legal professionals, counselors, law enforcement, etc. 

And you should pray with your counselee. It might seem inconsequential to you, but this powerful act of prayer is most likely something they haven’t experienced before. Pray specifically, powerfully, and expectantly for God to draw near to the abused. 

Heavenly Father, 

I come to you this afternoon and ask for your help in the midst of Lucy’s trouble. Father, you know her, you created her, and you love her. Help her right now in this moment to sense your presence and care. I pray that she knows that you see her, hear her, and have a plan to rescue her from evil. 

Amen. 

When Spouses Remain in Abusive Relationships

What should you do with spouses who choose to remain in abusive relationships? First, do not condemn or shame. The dynamics of seeking to separate from an abuser are incredibly complex. Leaving an abuser does not necessarily mean that the abuse ends. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb note, “Domestic abuse does not end immediately with separation from the abuser. Over 75% of separated women suffer post-separation abuse.”14Holcomb and Holcomb, Is It My Fault?, 64.  

While separation from the abuser is recommended, that is not always what the abused chooses. Chuck DeGroat writes, “A decision to stay in a relationship with an abuser requires significant spiritual/emotional strength. They have an internal strength and sense of identity (rooted deeply in Christ, not in the devastating “arrows to the heart” from the abuser). This choice often comes after significant self-assessment in relationship with wise counselors and pastors. It also comes in the context of the community looking in on her well-being. When or why she should stay is not answered by filling out a checklist, but by working through some pretty heavy questions and with very wise counsel.”15Chuck DeGroat, “Identity, Abuse, and Cruciformity: Does ‘Being Like Jesus’ Mean Staying with an Abuser?,” May 25, 2005. https://chuckdegroat.net/2009/05/25/identity-abuse-and-cruciformity -does-being-like-jesus-mean -staying-with-an-abuser/. 

Abuse of any kind—emotional, spiritual, physical, sexual, economic—is evil and wrong. Pastors and counselors must be unequivocal in condemning such behavior as it is entirely opposed to the sacrificial love of our Savior. Counseling those in abusive relationships is one of the most difficult situations we encounter in counseling, and it requires a pastoral counselor to marshal all the resources at their disposal to bring help, hope, and healing to bear. May God equip us well for this task.

Taken from Counsel for Couples: A Biblical and Practical Guide for Marriage Counseling (pp. 179-183, 186) by Jonathan Holmes. Copyright © 2019 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. 

  • 1
    Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2008), 98. 
  • 2
    Cf. Abigail and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25:3, 17, 24–25, 38 and the Israelites in Jeremiah 50:33–34. 
  • 3
    Cf. Psalm 5, 7, 10, 55–57, 140. 
  • 4
    Edward T. Welch, “Living with an Angry Husband,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 24, no. 4 (2006): 47. 
  • 5
    The level of competency needed to address issues like domestic violence and abuse are most likely beyond the scope of the average pastor. That does not mean the pastor is absolved of responsibility, but in instances of abuse, pastors should probably help develop a network of care, accountability, and counsel. 
  • 6
    Winston Smith, “When NOT to Do Marriage Counseling,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 27, no. 1 (2013): 73–74. 
  • 7
    One of the dynamics that can lead to outbreaks of domestic violence in marriages is an upside-down view of complementarian headship, i.e., that the husband is the head of the wife. A husband can wield such authority in an ungodly way. Jason Meyer states, “Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.” Jason Meyer, “Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church,” April 28, 2015. The Gospel Coalition: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2015/04/28/ hyper-headship-and-the-scandal-of-domestic-abuse-in-the-church/. Another dynamic that can lead to women being called to submit to such abusive headship is a high view of marriage that leads to a “marriages must be saved at all costs” mentality. Both must be balanced by a biblical understanding of Scripture. 
  • 8
    Brad Hambrick has a helpful post on the triage of complex counseling cases: http://bradhambrick. com/triage2/. 
  • 9
    Holcomb and Holcomb, Is It My Fault?, 57–58. 
  • 10
    Darby Strickland, “Counseling in the Brambles: How to Help Oppressive Marriages,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 30, no. 3 (2016): 37. 
  • 11
    For additional reading on the topic of divorce in abusive marriages, I would recommend Jim Newheiser, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers, 259–65; and David Instone- Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities, 93–106. The scope of this chapter does not allow for questions related to the biblical arguments for/against divorce/separation in cases of abuse. 
  • 12
    The Holcombs have a list of questions in their book Is It My Fault? on pages 32–35. Leslie Vernick has a downloadable survey you can use at her website: http://www.leslievernick.com/pdfs/Relationship -test .pdf. 
  • 13
    Edward T. Welch, “Living with an Angry Husband,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 24, no. 4 (2006): 48. 
  • 14
    Holcomb and Holcomb, Is It My Fault?, 64. 
  • 15
    Chuck DeGroat, “Identity, Abuse, and Cruciformity: Does ‘Being Like Jesus’ Mean Staying with an Abuser?,” May 25, 2005. https://chuckdegroat.net/2009/05/25/identity-abuse-and-cruciformity -does-being-like-jesus-mean -staying-with-an-abuser/.
By / Jul 9

Out of the abundance of caution,” is the familiar phrase that preceded numerous statements of change enacted due to COVID-19. One after the other, the announcements rolled out. School closures, businesses required to shut their doors, and recreational activities halted. Then came the announcement of executive orders to stay at home. It is still hard to believe that the nation, and even the entire world, is shut in by a microscopic attacker. 

Many people have found the COVID-19 stay-at-home regulations to be challenging for various reasons. While it is necessary to stay at home to in order to be healthy and safe, for others, staying home brings inescapable threats. Stay-at-home regulations, while helpful to prevent the spreading of the virus, can increase the emotional and physical danger for those living in abusive relationships.

While it is encouraging and necessary to focus on keeping everyone safe from this virus, COVID-19 has brought another ongoing and sobering reality to light: sometimes the most dangerous threats are unseen. 

Areas such as China and France saw elevated incidents of domestic violence and abuse during the period stay-at-home regulations were enacted. We have good reason to be concerned that this is the reality in the United States as well. National and local domestic abuse hotlines can provide support and resources, but what can the church do?

How the church can recognize abuse 

Caring for those who are in abusive relationships is tricky enough; add in strict regulations on social engagement, and it gets even trickier. One of the best things the church can do is become aware of signs of domestic abuse, and when we see it, do something. Abuse can be hard to spot. Knowing what to look for is the first step in caring well for those who are facing danger at home while in isolation. The following signs are evidence of power and control in abusive relationships. 

8 signs of the abuser:

  1. Isolates their partner from friends and family. During stay-at-home orders, this may be noticed via monitoring their spouse’s communication with family and friends.
  2. Postures themselves to have power over their partner. Blocks or restrains them from leaving a room or a conversation.
  3. Controls what their partner wears, what they eat, and how they spend money.
  4. Humiliates or puts their partner down both privately and publicly.
  5. Continually blames.
  6. Threatens their partner or what their partner values (sentimental items, pets, children1).
  7. Yells at their partner.Throws or hits things in anger.

8 signs of the abused:

  1. Exhibits low self-esteem.
  2. Thinks they are the crazy one, feels they can’t do anything right, or believes this situation is their fault (i.e., “I should be more careful. Why I am so stupid?”).
  3. Frequently feels afraid of their partner.
  4. Avoids things that may upset their partner, and manages their environment to keep their partner happy.
  5. Engages in self-harm.
  6. Has PTSD responses.2
  7. Feels emotionally helpless or numb.
  8. peaks of forms of relational dishonor as “normal” or references them as though humorous or their fault (i.e., “you know how spouses can be”).

How the Church can help 

If you have seen these signs in someone’s relationship, what should you do? The following tips will help you as you seek to care for the person.

8 things you can do to help the abused:

  1. Confirm they are not crazy.
  2. Be supportive. Listen to them, and let them make their own decisions.
  3. Check in on them frequently. Be committed to being with them for the long haul. Be careful what you put in email or text-based messaging. These may be monitored. On the phone, ask “yes” or “no” questions until you know your friend is safe to ensure answering your questions does not put them at greater risk.
  4. Empower them with a plan. Even a packed bag can give a sense of having options. However, this must be kept secret and safe. Making plans to leave often makes the abuser feel threatened and elevates potential threat. You can read more on forming a safety plan visit http://bradhambrick.com/safetyplan/.
  5. Help them focus on healthy behaviors and self-care. Even the smallest thing like taking a walk around the neighborhood provides a little reprieve.
  6. Help them lean upon the Lord. Pray for them. Pray with them. Send them regular spiritual encouragements. Confirm to them that the Lord is for the oppressed, sees their plight, and is moved with compassion for them.
  7. Affirm to them that wanting to get out of an abusive situation is appropriate and normal and the Lord agrees with their desire for relief.
  8. Don’t overpromise, but give the help you can. Avoid rushing a victim if they don’t accept help right away as that can create a sense of guilt.

If you are aware of a situation where stay-at-home measures may be putting someone at greater risk, stay connected to that person. Know the number to your local domestic violence hotline, and share it with them.3

Abuse can be hard to spot. Knowing what to look for is the first step in caring well for those who are facing danger at home while in isolation.

Prayerfully consider other ways you may be able to provide help. Having emergency housing options like a prepaid hotel room can be a way to provide safety and protection in cases where being at home is too dangerous. I have known churches to cover the cost of a hotel and provide emergency overnight bags for those who need to spend a few days away to ensure safety. Establishing code words or code messages that can be sent to alert caregivers that help is needed are valuable avenues of protection. Sometimes just knowing they have someone willing to help brings great encouragement to an otherwise hopeless situation.

During these difficult days, the church must be on the frontlines in unique ways. But these are things we should be aware of, care about, and act on in every season. While awareness is helpful, ultimately, we must align ourselves with the heart of God. The Lord advocates for the cause of the oppressed, and so should we. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psa. 9:9 NIV). 

God’s Word says we ought to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression (Isa. 1:17). This does not have to be in grandiose actions. The simple confirmation of a friend that “you are not crazy” can do good. The recognition that it is a normal and healthy response to want to get out of an abusive situation can be the start of great relief. The reality that you are not alone can bring incredible hope. 

Domestic violence is often a missed issue in times like these. And one reason is because it can be hard to spot, especially when we are no longer able to engage in one another’s lives as closely as before. While it is encouraging and necessary to focus on keeping everyone safe from this virus, COVID-19 has brought another ongoing and sobering reality to light: sometimes the most dangerous threats are unseen. 

For further help on recognizing abuse and helping those in abusive relationships consider the resources are below.

Resources:

www.thehotline.org/help/
www.chrismoles.org/
www.darbystrickland.com/resources/
www.leslievernick.com/free-resources/


Note: This article was focused on domestic abuse and violence. Abuse against children is likely to also see a significant increase during stay-at-home regulations. If you suspect child abuse of any kind, consider yourself a mandated reporter. Many states name specific professionals as mandated reporters, but you do not have to be a professional to make a report. If you suspect abuse of a child, contact your local department of social services for help in reporting child abuse. Contacting CPS is not pressing charges. Even if CPS chooses not to investigate, they can help you learn more about what to look for.)


  1. This article speaks to how to help adults who are experiencing domestic violence. If children are at risk, you should immediately contact Child Protective Services. To learn more about what happens when you report or the differences between ministry responsibilities when caring for a child versus an adult, please see lessons 3, 4, and 7 of the curriculum at churchcares.com. For further guidance and support or to better understand reporting, you can speak with an experienced caseworker anytime day or night by calling the National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
  2. You can learn more about signs of PTSD here: http://bradhambrick.com/13-types-of-impact-frequently-experienced-after-a-trauma/.
  3. National hotlines are also helpful in connecting you with an experienced caseworker any time of the day or night for support and guidance. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or 1-800-787-3224.
By / Apr 29

The coronavirus has disrupted the world, closing schools and businesses, and sending us to our homes to wait out the pandemic. Many of us are learning to work and worship online, while balancing e-learning, kids walking in on video conference calls, and having cabin fever for those of us still seeing cold temperatures in a time that should be the warmth of spring.  

We are so focused fighting COVID-19 that we have lost sight that all wars have multiple fronts. As a former violent crime detective, I have been in many volatile situations that exploded—weapons drawn or fired, victims barricaded with the perpetrator—seconds turned to hours as I became focused on the threat. Police officers, like soldiers, are trained to manage tunnel vision and to not lose sight of the whole picture, which includes additional threats that often present themselves during a dire situation. One that many have not considered, but that is very real, is the fact that being sequestered in one’s home is not a safe place for all women and children. 

We know that 1 out of 6 American women have been the survivor of rape or attempted rape. Since 1998 the total number has reached an alarming 17 million American women. And, just as horrifying, 80,000 children per year (reported cases; the actual number is much higher) are the survivors of rape and sexual assault. For those at risk, sheltering in place at home is the most dangerous place on earth for them. 

Sexual assault is not just statistics for me. 

God blessed me with great parents who worked in the criminal justice system—my father, a police officer, and my mother, a survivor’s advocate in the local prosecutor’s office. We lived in a small town, and our door was always open for those in need, day and night. I cannot count the number of wives fleeing domestic violence or the mothers protecting their children from abuse that sat at our kitchen table in the middle of the night. 

My education on sexual violence started when I was a teenager. One afternoon I came home, and my parents met me outside and explained that they had temporarily given my bedroom to a young girl who was being sexually abused by her father, a schoolteacher and member of our church.  It was shocking to me. This was somebody I knew very well. The continued threat was so real that my parents opened our home to protect her. I thought of her last month when we shut the country down and sent everybody home. Home is not a safe place for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

I was impacted throughout my childhood and teen years by seeing crimes and injustices committed against vulnerable people. That is why I chose to dedicate my life to the injustice of domestic violence and sexual assault and helping in Nashville, Tennessee, to develop and implement the largest law enforcement-based domestic program in the United States.

Sexual abuse is not a stranger crime.

One of the most common and dangerous myths is that sexual violence is a crime committed by strangers. We do a huge injustice to our children if we teach them to only fear the boogeyman. The sad truth in our culture is that our children are much more likely to be hurt by someone they know than by someone they do not know. Ninety-three percent of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the survivor. 

As a young detective focused on domestic violence, I learned that violence is about power and control. In fact, domestic violence is not “out-of-control” behavior but the opposite—very controlled behavior. Domestic homicides revealed to me the level of thought and planning that went into a murder. The outward appearance of losing control was merely another tactic used by abusers to instill fear and take control of the situation.

It is a fact that sexual violence is common in violent relationships. A husband can rape his wife. Most of the sexual violence has nothing to do with sex but is a tool of violence used to control and exert power over someone. The most power one person can exert over another is to take their life. The second most powerful control someone can exert over another person is to sexually violate them.

Sexual abuse is often not reported.

When I read statistics that report there are more than 400,000 survivors of sexual assault in the United States each year (Department of Justice 2018), I immediately know that these numbers are probably much lower than the reality. 

Why is sexual assault highly underreported? Statistically we know that:

  • Only 23% of survivors of sexual assault report it to the police.
  • Less than 5% lead to an arrest.
  • Less than 1% are referred for prosecution.

Survivors have no reason to trust the criminal justice system because the track record for keeping our promises to survivors of crime has failed. Survivors who courageously speak up are often, sadly and shamefully, not believed.

How do you report and who do you report to if you are the survivor of child sex abuse, especially if the perpetrator is someone in your family? Or you are an adult and it is your spouse or partner who is abusing you? Now with the home isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, how can these abuse survivors have a voice or get help?

There is an increased risk of abuse when sheltering in place.

Sadly, while sheltering in place helps a certain portion of the population, for those suffering abuse, sheltering in place plays right into the hands of perpetrators. Isolating their victims is the tactic used by abusers, and now the stay-at-home orders have created the perfect incubator for sexual violence to occur.

Add to this, surging unemployment and increasing thoughts of suicide, which are correlated with higher levels of abuse and increased lethality, and the risk to survivors is compounded the longer we are isolated at home.

Unfortunately, for many American women and children, sheltering in place is a perfect storm for increased sexual violence. 

What is the role of the church and Christians?

God has called us to protect those that cannot protect themselves. Proverbs 31:8 states, “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” So, how can we do that? 

  • Pray for those trapped at home. We may not know specifically who we are praying for, but God does. And statistically there are many survivors in your church today.
  • Create a Caring Well Team. The Caring Well Challenge walks you step by step through the process of creating a team and the roadmap and recommendations for helping make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 
  • Create a culture of safety for survivors to report. Victims are hesitant to report because they have been told that they will be physically harmed or socially discredited if they tell someone, not to mention their distrust of a criminal justice system that has let them down. The church must become the anchor of support, encouragement, and protection for survivors—a sanctuary where they can disclose and heal.
  • Use this time wisely to review policies and procedures. Make sure your volunteer program is not the path of least resistance. Statistically, 99% of sexual abusers will never be prosecuted, and 95% will not have a criminal record. Church leaders need to understand that those who harm children seek access to our kids. Background checks are critical, but they are not all created equal, and they are not enough. To learn more about background checks, reference checks, and reviewing and updating your policies see The Introductory Guide to Caring Well.
  • Train, train, train. This is the perfect time for online training. You can access free video training and download free copies of the training handbook for the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum here.

Use this time to engage with your staff, security teams, and volunteers while you have their undivided attention. Empower your staff and volunteers to connect with families that you know are in crisis with a phone call or online meeting, and let them know they are not isolated and alone. This will go a long way toward raising the rates of reporting and healing within our communities.

Though we are in challenging times, it is also an opportunity. My prayer is that this will awaken believers, and the church as a whole, of the reality of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual assault that goes on too often in our own community, and that we will be equipped to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us. 

By / Apr 16

When we think about caring for people during the COVID-19 crisis, many of us think about widows, the elderly, or those already battling severe medical conditions. Pastors and ministry leaders may think about children’s ministry, streaming services, caring for people at a distance, and what weddings and funerals should look like in this season. But there's a demographic in your church who are in really difficult situations and likely won’t speak up. They're not going to reach out, because they're in an oppressive situation.

In the amount of time you read this article, approximately 170 adults will experience abuse at home.[1] We already saw these statistics played out in situations as counselors, but with people being isolated, losing jobs, financial concerns, fears, and ways of escape blocked by restrictions to contain this pandemic, domestic abuse and violence will be amplified. Those who might speak up and seek help are limited in doing so as they are stuck in the same home with their abusers.

The sad reality of the increase of domestic violence has already been seen worldwide in this pandemic. At the end of March, calls to the domestic abuse hotline in the United Kingdom went up 65%. The United Nations has called for “urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence.” As the virus has spread in China, there has been an uptick in domestic violence reports. We should expect the same thing here domestically. In fact, Seattle has seen a 21% increase in domestic violence reports, and the local CBS news station in Sacramento reported that domestic violence calls had skyrocketed as victims have been forced to stay inside with their abusers. This is a heavy topic, in the midst of a heavy season, but we want to care for the vulnerable who are stuck in unsafe homes.

Perhaps as you read this, you are already thinking of one to two people you have a burden for. Maybe they have shared with you or maybe you’ve just noticed some things that leave you concerned. Here are some steps to provide the best level of care to the people who are increasingly vulnerable to domestic abuse during this time. 

1. Be aware: It’s easy in a season of chaos and confusion to be focused on how that affects you—your family, your home, your situation. We are to care for those things, but God also calls us as Christians to care for those who are oppressed, who don't have a voice for themselves. Start by asking God to help you be aware. In this season where we are seeing people less, we don’t want what is out of sight to be out of mind, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable. Let’s be thoughtful and praying to see opportunities to help. Reading this article is a step toward raising your level of awareness.

2. Be present: A lot of people are out in front of their houses and walking in this season. Even being visible and making our presence known is helpful so abusers don't feel as safe hiding what they're doing. In a time like this it would be really easy for them to assume they have even more control and ability to do what they want. It also allows vulnerable people stuck at home to know they aren’t alone, and that the windows aren’t all shuttered cutting them off from their neighbors. Spend some time on your driveway or porch; go for a walk on the street; be present.

3. Reach out: Even as counselors, we rarely have a woman say, “I'm in an abusive relationship.” Sometimes they are silenced by fear and shame, and at other times, they don't even realize they are in an abusive relationship. But she might disclose a small bit of the abuse by telling you what her husband did when he didn't like how dinner tasted. She might recount the incident as a normal occurrence. Hearing her story, you might realize that's not normal and not okay.

Times like this can push us to grow in our skills to care for people—in our question asking, listening, or moving toward the most vulnerable in some of these situations. Maybe call a woman from your Bible study and say, “Hey, I haven't heard from you in about a week; that's unusual. I know this is an unusual time, so I just wanted to check in. How are things going?” Ask simple but inviting questions to draw people out. 

As you talk on the phone with someone whose safety you are concerned for, ask yes or no questions. She may not be free to say very much. We may need to carefully think and prepare ahead of time to allow her the opportunity to acknowledge that something is going on that should concern us. 

Every situation is different, so you need to take great care to know the best ways to communicate. Take your cues from the vulnerable person. For some people in abuse situations, a phone call may be the best form of communication. For others, digital forms of communication might be easier to access than a phone call. For others, even private messages may be seen by the abuser. If you don’t know what are safe forms of communication, be thoughtful to keep up with them regularly in general during this time.

4. Form a safety plan: If the situation allows and it is safe to do so, ask, “What are one to three different practices we could have in place to make sure you are safe?” Safety plans are important to have before things escalate. Brad Hambrick shares how to create a safety plan on his website.

A safety plan may include helping the vulnerable person come up with a safe word. That way, if they're having a really difficult day or there is a heightened incident, they would have a word to send you that would let you know they need you to respond right away. Or, maybe it's a particular codeword you've set beforehand to indicate you should call 9-1-1. Creatively think about how you can help them signal, “I’m in distress and need help.”

Safety plans often include practices that are limited in this pandemic. Depending on where we live, our movements may be significantly restricted by the government or by wisdom in trying to keep from spreading COVID-19. Access to cash may be restricted; hotels may be closed. Developing a safety plan may take some creative problem-solving and service, but it is vital.

Safety plans will vary according to each case and available resources. Do they have family or friends nearby that would be able to be a safe place for them to go? Is there a couple in your church who has an Airbnb that isn’t being used in this season? Are there any hotels they could stay in and where you could drop off toiletries and nonperishable food? Are there resources available through a church benevolent fund? What things would they need to leave quickly?  Should they text or call someone, and when? 

As believers, we might be thinking, “What can I offer?” Maybe we don’t have finances available because we are out of work, but maybe we have extra items that someone who is fleeing in a hurry can use, or maybe we have a place for them to stay for the long haul. This isn’t just a pastor’s responsibility. We need church members with an all-hands-on-deck mentality. 

5. Provide respite: In a season like this, often an abuser’s desire for power and control are amplified, and a person who is abused has fewer opportunities for peace and shelter. Normally a wife might have eight or nine hours where her husband's not home. She may normally have opportunities to go to church or to see family as a break from the hostility, but that has changed in this season, too. The mere presence of an abuser, because of the history of volatile and harmful behavior, can be difficult. Imagine constantly being afraid of being attacked, with nowhere to go. Here are some possible ways for someone in that situation to pursue and receive a period of rest and relief.

  • Help them brainstorm when they could go into another room and spend some time alone for even 15-20 minutes. Perhaps it is going to the basement to pray, to the back porch to read, or doing a quiet activity with the kids.
  • Stop by for a welfare check while practicing social distancing.
  • Where it is appropriate, a pastor or a friend could reach out to invite the abusive spouse for a walk or a meet-up while practicing social distancing. This can get him out of the house to provide a brief window of relief for the family at home.
  • Host a virtual book club or something similar. An abusive spouse may be concerned or forbid a spouse from attending Bible study or some events, but may not be as restrictive about a virtual book club. It could be a potential time where a woman would be able to access community.

6. Educate yourself: This is a great opportunity to begin preparing and educating yourself. Do some research. Have the numbers of local women's shelters on your speed dial. Familiarize yourself with their websites. Reach out to local domestic violence shelters, and ask what someone who leaves home quickly for a shelter is going to need. When an immediate crisis presents, you don’t want to find yourself needing to do hours of research to figure out how to help. Vulnerable women and children will need a rapid response. Don't find yourself unprepared for a crisis. These are things we, as ministry leaders, should know anyway. If COVID-19 gives us the time and forces us to do this work, then many families in our church will benefit in the future.

7. Reporting when children are involved: Many domestic abuse situations can include children. If you have any reason to believe a child is in danger, contact Child Protective Services immediately. Remember, when you call CPS you are not “pressing charges.” You are merely getting an “expert second opinion” as you allow someone experienced in abuse cases know what you know and do a risk assessment based on that information. Beyond your legal responsibility as a mandatory reporter, please don't let your fear keep you back from doing something that at the end of the day might protect a child. 

To learn more about a wise response when abuse occurs against an adult, rather than a child, key responses to physical abuse, and what happens when you call CPS, see Lessons 3, 6, and Lesson 7 of Becoming a Church that Cares well for the Abused. If you are unsure, the hotlines below can connect you with an experienced caseworker any time of the day or night, provide guidance regarding the local authorities’ role in preventing and investigating abuse, and provide support:

  • The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) or 1-800-787-3224.

Even a call over something that seems suspicious may help provide some measure of relief in a situation that might be far worse than what we've even observed. Even if CPS chooses not to investigate, they can help you learn important risk factors to look for and provide guidance on how your church can help the family.

You will likely not be able to provide all the resources and support those who are experiencing domestic abuse need, but you can recommend resources and people to meet those needs. You can be aware, present, reach out, and provide respite. You can prepare beforehand by educating yourself, knowing how to help them form a safety plan, and by being prepared to make a report when needed. Our role is to be aware and alert, asking the God who is our refuge, strength, and an ever-present help in trouble to open our eyes to the vulnerable among us and to use us to care for them.

By / Jun 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 6, 2019—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, along with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, announced today the launch of the “Caring Well Challenge,” a unified call to action designed to confront church sexual abuse.

The goal of the challenge is to provide churches with a clear pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. All Southern Baptist churches are invited to join as an important first step in addressing the issue of church sexual abuse. The ERLC and Sexual Abuse Advisory Group are thankful to welcome many partners alongside this initiative already—every Southern Baptist entity, over 35 Southern Baptist state conventions, as well as many Baptist associations and colleges—are encouraging the effort of the Caring Well Challenge.

Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, comments on the launch of the challenge. 

“There is no quick fix for an issue as complex as church sexual abuse,” Moore said. “But this initiative is an outstanding step designed to join our churches together in a common cause. Over the last year, I’ve spoken with hundreds of pastors and leaders who are determined to make this issue a priority in their churches, but are looking for tools and training. That’s exactly what this challenge is designed to provide. It has been a joy to partner with so many survivors and experts across many fields to design training that will give churches tools to act immediately.”

Churches who commit to take the challenge will commit to work through the following eight steps over the next year:

  1. Commit – Commit to the Caring Well Challenge
  2. Build – Build a Caring Well Team to lead your church’s effort
  3. Launch – Launch the Caring Well Challenge on August 25, 2019 or a similar date
  4. Train – Train your team at the 2019 ERLC Caring Well Conference
  5. Care – Equip leaders through Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused
  6. Prepare – Enhance policies, procedures and practices related to abuse
  7. Share – Dedicate Sunday services on May 3, 2020 to address abuse or a similar date
  8. Reflect – Reflect on the Caring Well Challenge at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting

Resources for the initiative are available at caringwell.com.

By / Mar 6

It happened during a road trip to church summer camp. I was about 16 years old, and we stopped for the night at the home of a pastor who had a beautiful house in the country. After a lazy afternoon playing in the swimming pool and eating burgers on the patio, everyone went to bed. I was too excited to sleep and got up for a glass of water. On my way to the kitchen, there he was, reading on the couch.

“Oh Jennifer,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

In my mind I thought, “Oh good, a pastor. Perhaps I can tell him about my abusive dad. Perhaps he’ll understand and protect me. Perhaps I can even stay here.”

Those hopes were quickly dashed.

“When you were in the pool,” he said, “I noticed you acting very sexually. Boys your age are just starting to understand body language. When you tread water in the pool—your breasts protruding under your suit, your figure out there for everyone to see—it catches their attention. You make them think about sex.”

I felt that familiar awkwardness set in; the knowing that something was wrong, the confusion over how to make it stop. The pastor chattered on as if everything was normal. He explained that he’d had this conversation with his own daughters, and it was for my good. When we know our vulnerabilities, he said, we can protect ourselves against them.

“So,” he said, “what would it take to get you to spread your legs for a man?”

I was stunned. For a moment which felt very long, I said nothing, and he stared at me, smiling.

“I don’t feel comfortable with this conversation,” I finally said, and excused myself.

A few weeks later, when I returned home, I told my parents what had happened. “If the pastor won’t protect me from my dad,” I thought, “perhaps my dad will protect me from the pastor.”

Again, my hopes were dashed.

My dad invited the pastor to our home. They had a long talk by themselves. Then I was called to sing a song for the pastor. I played a hymn, and they clapped. It was never spoken of again.

Around this same time, I became friends with a good pastor. He was the kind of teacher you could email theology questions and get brilliant replies. He listened to my teenage problems and made me feel heard. “Perhaps,” I thought, “I should tell him about dad.”

I told him I wanted to discuss college and boys, so he suggested we go to lunch. After placing our orders and making small talk, I said, “My dad has anger issues. Last week, he threw an iron at my head.”

He sat there, stunned, over a bowl of Thai soup, apparently unable to register what I'd said. He knew my dad. They were friends. He said we should pray for my dad's temper.  So, I didn’t even bother trying to tell him what else was going on at home: The domestic violence, sexual abuse, and harassment. As far as I’m aware, he never questioned my dad or contacted authorities.

The fallout

Often when I tried to tell people I was being abused, I felt like I was speaking a different language. My family referred to my dad’s violence as “anger issues,” but when I used that phrase to outsiders, they thought I meant something trivial, not something chronic or dangerous. Nobody asked, “What do you mean?” Nobody dug deeper. My family’s coded language protected my dad from exposure.

But more than any pastor, more than any unseeing friend, my dad dealt the most damage to my spiritual state. He taught me that fathers were violent, apathetic, and perverse. He taught me that men were lustful, angry, and domineering. How could I understand what God meant when he called himself my Father? How could I feel comfortable with the fact that God the Son became a man?

A friend of mine who used to be a pastor experienced similar emotional fallout. After being raped by a professor in seminary, he battled alcoholism and depression, never once telling anyone what had been done to him. To this day, he struggles to remain sober, cannot attend college or trust ministers, and has severe anxiety that prevents romantic relationships. He’s stopped attending church, yet clings to threads of faith, knowing Jesus is faithful and able to heal.

As Jesus says in Matthew 18,

If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine and go look for the one that wandered off? And when he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander. In the same way your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of his little ones should perish.

Our Good Shepherd is faithful to rescue his lost lambs, whether they wander off or are frightened away.

What is a Christian anyway?

For years I struggled with my faith. I wrestled with God and found attending church to be anxiety-inducing. Sometimes, on Sunday mornings, I’d grow so apprehensive I’d throw up. Sometimes I’d make myself throw up, so my husband would think I was sick and suggest we stay home. People who should have exemplified Jesus’ love to me had betrayed my trust over and over, until they’d driven a wedge between me and God.

But abusers and false teachers are not representatives of Christ. As Jesus explains in Matthew 7:16-21, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit . . . Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

In other words, not everyone who calls himself “Christian” is a Christian. Not everyone who calls himself a pastor represents the ultimate Pastor. Not everyone who says he loves Jesus is loving. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, and there are many wolves in shepherd’s clothes. Understanding this helped me overcome my anger at God and the church.

Because you see, it’s easy to get sick of the house when it’s infested with rats. It’s easy to fear the pasture when it’s haunted by wolves. But understanding that evil people—those who bear bad fruit—are not of God, and do not represent him, helped me see past their sin. Those who leverage his name to prey on his sheep enrage him. Realizing that he is even angrier than I am at those who abuse his children helped me relinquish my rage. I can trust God with vengeance, because he is just.

Every time my faith faded, he rekindled the embers. Every time I gave up hope, he sought me out like a wandering sheep and placed me on his shoulders. Every time I thought, “I can’t do this anymore,” his words held true: “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Deut. 31:6), “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

While abuse scandals rocking the church are harrowing, and demand action, they are no new thing. Long has Christ’s Bride been persecuted, infiltrated by evil men, corrupted, and slandered. Yet Christ will triumph over evil. He will gather up his children and judge the wicked righteously. There is no statute of limitations in his court. In that courtroom I will not be asked to prove that I was abused, because God was there, and God is my witness. While we strive and hope for justice now, we are assured of justice in the end.

In the mid 1800s, Samuel Stone wrote of the church, “Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed; by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”

Whether you are horrified by the revelation of abuses in the church, or are unsurprised because you have fallen victim yourself, you can rest in the knowledge that this present evil age is passing away. Our true home is Heaven. Justice in this world may never come, and will be elusive at best. Healing in this world will never be complete. But there is a day coming when justice will be full and fair, and healing will be total and eternal. My hope is not in the church, though I do still have hope for the church. Ultimately, my hope is in the Jesus who is Lord of the church, and who knows his true church. As Helen Lemmel wrote in 1922, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

You can pre-order Jennifer's book "Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor" here.

By / Oct 1

Multiple domestic violence cases in the NFL in the past few weeks have caused outrage in the media, throughout the league, and among the fan base. Many fans and media outlets appear to be just as outraged by the way the Commissioner initially handled the earliest reports of the recent domestic violence cases. Consequently, the Commissioner’s critics continue to call for his resignation, which he currently refuses to give.

Far too many women suffer from domestic violence regardless of their race, social status, or geographic location. Growing up as a child, I witnessed my mother in my early pre-teenage years suffer domestic violence at the hands of her husband—who was not my father. I witnessed firsthand the ugliness of this gross sin and the emotional trauma that it causes a child. However, I also know very well that the fundamental solution to the sin of domestic violence, which is not limited to the NFL, is not merely policies, procedures, training, rules and regulations.

The solution to domestic violence, just as any form of discrimination and injustice, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As I saw my mom beaten by her husband, there was no law or policy that could make his spiritually dead heart want to stop kicking her in the head after he threw her on the ground, or from smacking her in the face, or from hitting her till she was severely bruised. Even when people in my family came to my mother’s rescue with violent threats and defensive actions against this coward of a man, he eventually returned to his violent actions against her after protective family members were no longer a threat to him. The only solution to his cowardice, to his rage, to his violence, and to his sin against my mom was the transforming power of the gospel—a gospel which this man did not personally embrace and obey.

And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the real solution to the problem of domestic violence in the NFL.

As I listen to and watch the talking heads offer various criticisms and solutions to the problem of this domestic violence, I have heard very few offer ridiculous excuses for the players (e.g. bad social environment, difficult home life, etc.). However, I have heard both unhelpful and helpful solutions to rectifying this problem within the league. I have not yet heard anyone on ESPN or in the mainstream media offer the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution to this egregious problem.

Regardless of how much money NFL football players make, how famous they are, how difficult their childhoods were, and how much God-given talent they have, we must remember that they all are totally depraved sinners and guilty before God because of their sin, just as every other son and daughter of Adam and Eve. Many of these men are simply spoiled, violent, entitled, and self-worshipping idolaters, just as Adam, Eve, and their descendants (e.g. Gen. 3:1-7; 4:8). And many of them overtly practice the sins within their own hearts by doing what is right in their own eyes because of their spiritual deadness (Gen. 6:5; Eph. 2:1-10).

As a result, these men do not fundamentally need rehabilitation or parental or marital classes—although these things can be helpful—as though these actions will by themselves change the evil within their violent hearts and that shows itself via their violent actions toward women. Instead, they need to hear, believe and be transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to hear and respond by faith to the gospel message that a Jewish Messiah violently suffered the wrath of God on the cross and resurrected from the dead for sinners who were alienated from God and one another so that those same sinners would be peacefully reconciled to God and one another by faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).

These men need to repent of their sins, embrace Jesus Christ as Lord by faith, and seek to live in faithful obedience to him in their social interaction with the women in their lives.

The reason some of these men in the NFL beat their wives, beat their girlfriends, are bad fathers, and live as irresponsible citizens is not fundamentally because of their race, their society, or their environment, but rather because of the spiritual deadness of their own hearts (Eph. 2:1-10).

Yes, one’s environment affects how one acts, but sin makes one’s environment sinful. The gospel can radically transform these men. If the gospel can transform a violent persecutor of the church like Saul of Tarsus into the greatest missionary in the history of Christianity (Acts 7:58-8:3; 9:1-31; Gal. 1:12-16), it can transform an unregenerate domestic violence offender in any sports league.

To clarify, my point is not that the NFL is filled with domestic violent offenders. There are many good men in the league (e.g. Peyton Manning). Furthermore, my point is neither that only Christian NFL players are law-abiding citizens. There are non-Christian players who love their wives and their kids. And my point is not that one’s embrace of the gospel will automatically result in peaceful relations with one’s wife. Christians fail daily to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Unfortunately, some Christian men have even sinfully committed domestic violence against their wives.

The point that I’m accentuating is that the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform the human heart that is dead in sin.

It provides the solution to the problem of sin and the provision for how sinners can be saved from God’s wrath (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-4:25; 5:6-10). It will supernaturally enable Christians to pursue love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) and put away enmity, strife, and fits of anger (Gal. 5:19). By the Spirit, it will enable Christians to avoid the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:10), one of which is domestic-violence.

I hope the NFL will quickly take the appropriate actions to rid its league of domestic violence offenders. In addition, I hope that the league will take the measures to allow their Christian chaplains to have even more freedom to preach boldly and freely the gospel of Jesus Christ to these men so that they will be transformed and be divinely enabled to love and follow Jesus and to love their wives as Christ loves his church (Eph. 5:21-33). And I hope that gospel-believing players, coaches, and owners will use the horrible reality of domestic violence in their league as an opportunity to proclaim the violent gospel of Jesus Christ that accomplishes peace with God and with one’s fellow-man. It’s the only eternal solution.