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I have written many articles on abuse and counseled scores of abused people during the past twenty-five years. I also come from several abusive situations. My father was an abusive alcoholic. I was part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, working alongside an abusive pastor. My early Christian experience was with a heavy-handed, fundamentalist, authoritarian culture. As many of you know, two of my brothers were murdered ten years apart.
Through my personal experience, academic training, and counseling experience, I have observed an overcorrection in the abuse culture that is alarming, and it will not end well if we continue to teach and counsel abuse the way we have, assuming unity in the church and healing in lives and families are the goals. Thankfully, many Christians are helping victims and envisioning the church exceptionally well. However, there is a sub-culture within Christiandom that is not doing well, and some of those folks are abuse counselors, authors, and teachers.
I will address five of the more common mistakes that I have seen among this group. As I talk about these things, there is nothing I will say here that means, implies, or suggest that abuse is not real. It is real. It happens every day. It’s devastating to too many souls. However, part of the solution is not negating how our soul care training and counseling are, in part, inadequate. We must deal with these things fairly, thoroughly, courageously, and compassionately.
There are times in a sincere desire, we can overreach so that we distort the truth. Concern and emotion may override the heart when we want to make a difference in a person’s life.
“This is a sad reality when it is believed that domestic violence is just as prevalent within the church as the culture at large.” – Abuse Author
Hurting people need more than our understanding. Though we must enter their story to know what they know, we must also move the story God is writing to a redemptive conclusion.
Part of our “over-caring problem” is that we call everything abuse, which opens the door to an abuse claim when there is a better way to think about what is happening while bringing more effective solutions.
When we broaden the category of abuse, anyone/everyone can fit within the category.
“If the heart of the matter is pride that seeks to control we should expect a considerable amount of resistance as abusive men attempt to maintain control by hiding information that may produce additional scrutiny, consequences, guilt, or added embarrassment. In addition, we can expect men to work hard at protecting their image.” – Abuse Author
“Intimidation may include behaviors such as certain looks, action or gestures designed to make the victim afraid.” – Abuse Author
If we don’t move beyond understanding and carefully categorize abuse, we can unwittingly weaponize victims, blinding them to morally sanitizing all their words and deeds.
“The dark side of victimology is how it moralizes power. Victimology takes the truth, that it is wrong for people to be victimized, and distorts it by going a step further. Victimology asserts that victims are inherently good because they have been victimized. It robs victims of their moral agency and creates double standards that frustrate any attempt to criticize their behavior even if they are behaving in self-destructive, antisocial ways. Such reasoning is obviously faulty. It purifies victims of all badness, and it insists that pure victim goodness can only result in more good things, never bad ones. Such a view is obviously wrong, but by appealing to emotion, victimology overrides reason and logic.” – Michael Shellenberger from San-Fransicko
Part of the weaponization is that we reinforce and affirm their victim identity. You’ll hear this as they talk about themselves as survivors. It’s an identity issue similar to AA—once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
Some counselors conflate cause and contribute, rather than separating them and dealing with them alone and on their merit. Victims never cause abuse, but are we teaching them how they might contribute?
“In fact, as I have talked with pastors and biblical counselors, many have, in so many words, articulated a belief that the victim has contributed to or caused the abuse.” – Abuse Author
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Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).