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Considering the Duluth Model

Truth in Love 316

When dealing with problems such as abuse and injustice, believers should be zealous in searching the Scriptures for ways to act in a God-pleasing manner.

Jun 21, 2021

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me Dr. Stuart Scott. It is a very familiar name to so many of you who have been faithful listeners to the podcast and members of ACBC for years, or at least familiar with biblical counseling. Stuart has written so many books, contributed so much to the literature of the biblical counseling movement. He is a professor of biblical counseling at the Master’s University. He is also employed here at ACBC on staff with us as the Director of Membership Services. I’m so grateful for the personal relationship that I have with Stuart and how much wisdom he offers to me as a sounding board consistently. We have some really fun conversations, and today is not going to be any different. 

We’re going to have a good conversation about this model, the Duluth Model that is growing. We’re going to talk about this issue of abuse, and this is not a simple discussion to have, Stuart, right? We’re going to try and navigate this very carefully. We want to be wise in how we talk about these things, but so many people are running very quickly toward the Duluth Model. And I just want us to raise this issue to our listeners to help them to understand a little bit about this new model. Maybe you’re hearing it for the first time. That is an attempt to address issues of abuse. But before we get there, let’s talk just for a second about the issue of abuse. It is a real issue. It is something that we are facing in the church, and we could even argue maybe the church hasn’t done a good job in dealing with some of these issues. I think that’s certainly fair, but let’s talk about this issue of abuse. Abuse is used in a thousand different ways, and oftentimes, it’s sort of this enigmatic term that is broad, and we sort of speak it. We think we know what we mean, but often we mean maybe different things. Are we talking about physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse? All these different things where it becomes utilizing such a wide variety of ways. Talk about how abuse is becoming this overused and maybe under-expressed and under-defined term. 

Stuart Scott: Well, thank you, Dale. It’s always a joy to join you and discuss issues we’re facing in the church and our society, and I agree with you. This is a very serious issue. A true domestic violence is a very serious issue. It’s a real problem. And I think, for the most part, whether it’s in the church or outside of the church, most people who are in the area of helping people are sincere. They do want to help. We’re not looking at judging people’s motives per se. As far as the church, I think we’re behind, but we’re working on it. We’re addressing the issue or trying to look at what the Scripture says and the church’s role and responsibility. But yes, when you look at domestic violence and calling that abuse, it has morphed into emotional, societal, psychological, economic, verbal, sexual. It becomes so broad that now if someone just looks at you in a mean way, it’s abusive. The word has become like the word from a few decades ago—dysfunctional. It used to refer to a serious, messed-up home life in which someone was raised, and then it just became so generalized that it could refer to anything. Unfortunately, that really hurts the true victims of serious domestic violence, and we grieve for that. The ones who really need the help and assistance and are being violently reviled, would be a good biblical word for it—they just kind of get lost in the crowd of anything and everything out there. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s a really critical point that as we expand this idea of abuse beyond its intentional terms, we actually dilute the vitality of the problem itself. We sort of dismiss, and that’s not our goal ever. We don’t want to dismiss those things that are real issues that people are suffering with. It does seem as though we’re moving sort of in that dilution of the real problem. And it’s hard for us. People in what we just talked about relative to abuse and us wanting to make proper limitations on what is clearly defined as abusive type behavior, or as you describe domestic violence, we’re wanting to do that to be able to make sure we maintain clearly, what is it that we’re fighting against? How do we minister to those who are truly experiencing these types of things? I know that’s a hard discussion, but I think it’s a worthy discussion. Now, this is sort of the environment that we saw the Duluth Model come up and arise out of, it was trying to answer a real legitimate problem, and we’re not dismissing that at all. We’re not saying that their abuse is not happening. We’re not saying that abuse is not as bad as most people say; we’re not saying any of that. It is a real legitimate problem, and as you said earlier, no one goes into counseling or pursues this type of work because they hate people. That’s not how it works. We pursue this type of work whatever stripe we are because we love people and we want to help people, and the Duluth Model was born out of that desire in a lot of ways—we see a problem, we want to address it, we want to fix it, but we have to be cautious. Let’s talk about, first of all, what is the Duluth Model? We might be introducing that to so many people, and then we’ll talk about some of the specifics behind this model. 

Stuart Scott: The Duluth Model, which originated a couple of decades ago, in 1981, was primarily founded by a well-known feminist. Her name was Ellen Pence, and many of the different women who gathered to work on this program or project aimed to reduce domestic violence against women. The majority of them had been abused in that way with violence in the home but, for the most part, a very feminist agenda. As they’re working on this, not a Christian model in any way, they were just there. How do we help? And the design was a domestic abuse intervention project to reduce domestic violence against women. According to that model, the Duluth Model was formed and put together in Duluth, Minnesota. So that’s where it gets its name. They quote, from their material, that women and children are vulnerable to violence because of their unequal social, economic, and political status in society. Treatment of the abuse of men is focused on re-education, and they say, “we do not see men’s violence against women as stemming from individual pathology, but rather from socially reinforced sense of entitlement.” So you have critical theory of the oppressor-oppressed coming through. You also see this, no one is really the villain—even men, who are portrayed as all violent, they’re not even responsible. It’s society to blame. It’s really interesting—some of the ideologies that run through this whole project. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. That’s an interesting dynamic. The difficulty in what we’re trying to do right now is, when we see an issue that is a problem like abuse, and we see somebody trying to make effort, it’s always difficult to offer critique. But I think even some of the things you laid down to this point should make us cautious. We, in our human nature, have a tendency, when we see a problem to have a knee-jerk reaction, we overcorrect the wheel, we go from one side of the ditch to the other ditch on the other side, and we swing the pendulum often too far. And I think biblically, we need to be honest about mistakes that we’re making in not caring for those who have been abused legitimately well, but not try and run to this overcorrection. Part of the reason for that is some of the ideologies, as you sort of briefly alluded to. First, I think it’s proper, what are some of the positives that we can take away from a model like the Duluth Model? 

Stuart Scott: When I look at the positives, they always come with a “but,” or “however,” so some of these that I share as I’ve looked at the model, read through their presentation of their material, and how they go about helping the women, the children, some of the positives is they are addressing a real issue going on out there and bringing awareness to us. I say us in the church, Christians, that’s a positive. There’s a serious problem going on and often hid, or too fearful to talk about with those being abused. So it brings awareness. That’s a good thing. Another positive as it seeks to present men and women as equal as persons. Now it goes further than that; it gets rid of any kind of role and responsibility that Scripture teaches us about any kind of male headship and a companion, a loving companion. It goes further than that in a feminist way, but it does seek to bring men and women as equal as persons. That’s a good thing.

Another thing is they’re really trying to stop true violence, how they go about it, we may differ, but that’s a good thing. God is against oppression. Another positive thing is that they’re trying to hold accountable, trying to keep the victims safe and protect them, and that’s a good thing. So it’s the world trying to address a real problem, and thank you, but how they’re addressing it is void of God, the gospel, so many weaknesses that we see in the model. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and what they’re trying to restore back toward, right? And that is the picture of what God has laid down in Scripture as to what is a healthy relationship and what things should look like, and that is absolutely key. I appreciate the fact that we can look at any of these types of models and see some positive and good things. But there are some concerns, and we need to be eyes wide open about some of those concerns. You know, Stuart, these paradigms that we’ve talked about with the Duluth Model are very important; they sort of build the setting by which we think through in order to address a problem and some of those primary paradigms are done in the form of wheels. The way they are set up, particularly the most famous, I would say, is the power and control wheel, and there are other wheels, but I want you to talk for a second about this power and control wheel in that paradigm in the Duluth Model. 

Stuart Scott: Yes, matter of fact, a number of even biblical counselors have gotten into using this as their standard paradigm in how they’re dealing with violence, any kind of mistreatment in relationships with professing Christians. And there are numerous wheels. If you go to their website, there are numerous wheels. There’s the power and control wheel. There’s the equality wheel, and on it goes, but most are familiar with the power control. It’s one-size-fits-all and that’s problematic, and it’s all men are the perpetrators, women are never seen as perpetrators, which it’s not even based on good science and empirical data. It’s just not. Fifty-five percent of child abuse is by women. It misses so much of the empirical data. One psychologist in Indiana University said it’s a rigid treatment program based on ideology rather than on data. That’s their take on it. It’s not even used much anymore in the secular realm, they went to a cognitive-behavioral model, and they’ve gotten away from this more psycho-educational model.

What’s the positive thing about this power control? It just expresses some of the ways that our sinful flesh carries out what we do, both men, women, and children. You think of Genesis where part of the curse was that the man will rule over you, and it won’t always be right, with love, care, and tenderness. And her desire will want to rule over him. So it’s not just men. It was designed for just men—to help victims to explain: look how a man is manipulating you and how he’s working you so he has power and control over you. To that point, it shows some expressions of sinful flesh, but it’s not all the expressions. It’s not all of the motivations of the human heart. It only takes power and control and applies it to men. That’s the real downside when anyone seeks to use this as a paradigm.

Dale Johnson: That’s the primary paradigm, and it’s important for us to assess that first because any system is intended to be used just like that, as a system. And you cannot remove that paradigm without removing it from the cement that it sits in in its system, right? And that cement is the philosophy that creates it. And that’s a part of the difficulty it. And it’s not, as you mentioned, it doesn’t recognize some of the key sinful, observable expressions that men and women have in these types of issues, and those things are true. The problem is that paradigm is set into these philosophies, and those philosophies raise some other dangers and concerns. 

Stuart Scott: Yes. Some of the philosophies, ideologies. The very thing that Paul warns the Colossian church against don’t be taken captive by these human philosophies and ideologies, and then to take every thought captive in 2 Corinthians 10, these things are all inter woven in it. There are assumptions and presumptions, but the dangers, concerns, and weaknesses far outweigh the benefits of this model. It’s not Christian, obviously. God’s not even present in their teaching, their view of man. Man, as far as male, are the oppressors, and women and children are always victims. There’s no individual responsibility or culpability and then even blaming society for things. It goes in every different direction. It’s against God-given roles and responsibilities. It raises itself up against the knowledge of Christ, exactly what 2 Corinthians says, and it’s not a flesh-and-blood war here; this is a spiritual battle going on from God and His Word versus the world and its demonic teachings that come out of these ideologies.

I mentioned earlier the critical theory of two groups of people, the oppressor and the oppressed. We see that running through feminist ideology, and we see a standpoint theory ideology of my experience as the authority, not God’s Word. Void of Scripture, void of the church. It’s all about support groups, and usually, it’s a 26- to 52-week curriculum, and immediately the man is put out of the house. His authority is taken away, usually given to. The authority of the man’s position as a husband—he’s not using his authority right, but it takes his authority as a husband away and gives it to the wife or counselor. Again, the one-size-fits-all, the lack of science, effectiveness. It just misses so much. Some have referred to it as a trojan horse that it’s coming in with, “Let’s help the oppressed, the abused, those who are in domestic violence. Let’s help them.” But inside is wrought with these kinds of demonic—they’re not biblical—teaching. One of our students in our program has worked 12 years in domestic violence intervention at a state level. And she wrote and said one of the biggest critiques about the Duluth Model is that it makes the abusers better abusers. Now they change their tactics into a more legal abuse. She put that is one of the biggest critiques right now of the Duluth Model. 

Dale Johnson: That’s interesting because essentially what happens in moments like that is it makes the people more sophisticated sinners. We should take courage by that—we’re trying to address the heart. And again, we’re not always successful as we wish, we’re trying to use the gospel to assess the heart and address the heart, and anything we do that sort of band-aids or re-patterns outward behavior is essentially that. We’re creating more sophisticated sinners, and it’s interesting to hear a report like that from somebody who’s studied and work with this for over 12 years.

One last thing, before we shut this down today is, you mentioned that it is becoming pervasive in some places in biblical counseling, and I think we need to be aware of it. And, you know, we’re not dictating, “Oh, you can or can’t use it. We’re just saying: This is a point of wisdom and discernment.” Stuart, if somebody were to ask and say, “Hey, I’ve been reading this, I found some of it helpful, and I’m a biblical counselor, but I’ve noticed some different things.” What would your advice and cautions be to them as they consider trying to employ something like the Duluth Model or allowing it to be infused in some of the ways that they do their abuse-type counseling? 

Stuart Scott: You know, someone looks at that power and control wheel or the equality wheel, I think that Dr. David Powlison said it can provoke us to study Scripture. What does the Scripture say? Take us back to Scripture. That ought to be the first question any biblical counselor ought to be asking. Well, here’s a problem going on out here, the secular community is addressing it, but what does the Scripture say? It ought to take us from what they say about an issue to what God says. He is our authority. His Word is our authority. Can people use it? I would say, minimally referred to it. I would almost like to say don’t. You can read some of the manifestations of the sinful flesh, both of the person causing conflict or abuse, but also manifestations of the flesh of any woman or children. All people manifest the sinful flesh, and it can be in different ways. It’s not all the ways that are on that wheel, but it’s some ways, and that can be educational. It can flesh out what the Bible teaches about the sinful flesh. I think that was another thing by Dr. Powlison, is that the secular stuff and observations can flesh out what the Bible already teaches us, but we don’t need the outside teaching, it can be helpful, but be guarded. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. Be very guarded. I think that’s a good word of caution and especially as we consider the Duluth Model. One of the things that I pray and hope, and listen, guys, this has been an introduction to this concept. We could talk about this for hours, honestly, addressing the real issues of abuse and then ways not to address those issues. One of the things that I hope we can walk away from this discussion with is that it would make us zealous to search the Scriptures to deal with this very legitimate problem. We have to begin to see that we have been inadequate to some degree, and we need to confess and admit that, and it should drive us to be zealous to find out, “Okay. God, how do we handle this in a way where we address the injustice, the abuse that’s happening in an appropriate way that’s pleasing to you and for the good of the people who are involved?” I think this has been helpful. It raises awareness, I’m sure for so many, but I pray that it breeds a zeal in our heart to run back to the Scriptures to see the wisdom of God.

To read ACBC’s Statement on Abuse and Biblical Counseling visit our Committed to Care website.