Online Training Question #4: Abusive Men
Linking to the Literature Series
Question #4 - How can faith leaders assist men to “take responsibility” and “become accountable” for their abusive behavior?
Batterer intervention is the process of confronting abusers who use power to coerce, control, and engender fear in their intimate partners. Faith communities and faith based counselors have been slow to confront and hold batterers accountable. This has enabled abusers, who are most commonly males, to use Biblical texts to support their issues of power and control. Victims of intimate partner violence have been told that these texts support their victimization. Do the Biblical texts actually support male dominance and aggression or are they simply tools in the “wrong hands?”
In this article, the author explores his experience of working in a rehabilitation group for men who batter women, examining the problem of frustration with the processes of change for batterers and counselors. As men change, they feel a sense of increasing responsibility as they seek new ways of relating to women. He adapts the insights of Levina’s levels of moral responsibility that can provide insight and support for men through the change process.
Historically, the Christian church has excused men of faith who abuse their wives and girlfriends. Christian men who beat, cuss, rape, stalk, and even murder women have often escaped not only criminal justice, but also have not been held accountable for their crimes by Christian clergy and laity. In contrast, abused women have usually been blamed for their own victimization. The women are told by spiritual leaders and congregants that they themselves, through their actions and inactions, “provoke” the abuse and violence men perpetrate against them. This article examines incidents of woman-blaming, which are still prevalent within Christian congregations. Suggestions on how clergy and laity can better deal with Christian men who abuse their adult female intimate partners are also offered.
Time to reflect:
Responsibility and change are intertwined – without taking responsibility there will be no change. When confronted by interveners, men often do acknowledge responsibility, but they are careful to attribute their behaviour to some emotion arising from the relationship. Female partners of men who are unable to feel empathy and refuse to accept responsibility or become accountable in a meaningful way not only have little hope for change in their lives but they may in fact be re-victimized by continuing to be cast as the “cause” of their partner’s violent behavior. These elements are thus critical both for changing violent religious men and for offering hope. The first step in acknowledging responsibility is for men who have acted abusively to face the feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment which will accompany the process and “take an honest look” at one’s abuse (Jenkins 1990). Certainly being accompanied by their faith leader on the journey toward change can offer support for men.
- Going back to Rev. Ron Clark’s question “Do the Biblical texts actually support male dominance and aggression or are they simply tools in the “wrong hands?” examine several of the biblical passages that might be used to support victimization and consider ways of correcting any possible misinterpretations.
- As a moral leader within your faith community how might you best direct men who have acted abusively toward accepting responsibility?
- Carefully examine the suggestions offered by Rev. Al Miles regarding how clergy might deal with Christian men who abuse their wives. Develop a plan of action for dealing with these men who are members of your faith community.
Clark, R. R., Jr. (2005). Submit or else!: Intimate partner violence, aggression, batterers, and the Bible. Society for Biblical Literature, Philadelphia, PA.
Livingston, D. (2002). Infinite responsibility: A shared experience of batterers and those who treat batterers. Journal of Religion and Abuse 4(3): 29-41.
Miles, A. (2002). Holding Christian men accountable for abusing women. Journal of Religion & Abuse 4(3): 15-27.