GRAPEVINE, Texas (KT) - “Domestic violence is not a marriage problem. It is a problem of the human heart,” said Chris Moles, senior pastor at Grace Community Chapel in Eleanor, West Virginia, and a biblical counselor. Moles and Leslie Vernick, best-selling author and Christian counselor, spoke about domestic violence in marriage to a standing-room-only session at the 2019 National Conference of the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Vernick encouraged pastors and church leaders to be more active in supporting victims.
“We have to see it,” she said. “We have to name it. We have to be truth tellers. We have to offer treatment options.”
The breakout session offered advice on recognizing signs of domestic violence that may be confused for routine marriage issues. “Listen for a consistent lack of mutuality. Is she allowed to respectfully disagree? Listen for a repetitive disregard for her desires or needs,” Vernick offered.
She said a destructive marriage differs from a difficult or disappointing marriage because one spouse is being destroyed in sways.
Moles said that while he agrees a complementarian view of marriage is the biblical model, it is often misused allowing or even excusing abuse in the home. “Jesus promotes power under, not power over.”
In addition to being a pastor, Moles works for a local corrections facility helping batterers turn from their violent ways. “Abusive men need a redeemed view of power, position and leadership,” he said.
He called on pastors to look for ways to be a wiser advocate for victims of domestic violence. “Repentance is not about what is produced from the eyes, but what flows from the heart,” he said.
“When we have spoken honestly into an abuser’s heart, God can restore the marriage. When we whitewash the problem, it doesn’t change,” Vernick added.
Moles recommended church leaders become familiar with the Duluth Model for power and control. The model was developed in the early 1980s listing the most common abuse tactics and behaviors in domestic violence.
He said church leaders must look for the signs of abuse to discern that it is taking place. “In West Virginia we have a lot of trains pulling coal cars. I may not see the whole train, but when I see enough of the cars, I know a train is passing by. There may be too many obstructions to see the whole train, but I know it’s a train.” He says abuse can be observed in a similar fashion.
Both counselors warned that church leaders need to be careful to view themselves as the survivor’s advocate rather than their savior. “If a pastor helps in the wrong way, they’ll put her at greater risk. She already has a savior in Jesus Christ,” Moles said.
He recommends pastors be ready with listening ears, a believing heart and willful hands.
Vernick says pastors could serve survivors well by gathering and vetting local resources to help a battered spouse when they’re ready to seek help.
“Become friends with your local law enforcement agencies,” Moles said, “This will allow a pastor to talk through scenarios with them even before they occur. That way they’ll know the right way to be an advocate for a survivor.”
The counselors recognize men can be the recipients of domestic violence as well. According to the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention about 8% of the annual reports of domestic abuse are men.
The Caring Well conference was Oct. 3-5 in Grapevine, Texas, has been hailed as the largest event the ERLC has hosted in the five years the organization has been holding national conferences.