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The Abuse Pendulum Part 2

Truth In Love 371

What are some positive developments in the biblical counseling movement regarding counseling abuse cases?

Jul 11, 2022

Dale Johnson: And as we talked about last week, I wanted to invite back Dr. Jim Newheiser, he’s a director of IBCD, The Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. He’s the director of the Christian Counseling program at RTS Charlotte. He is also a full professor of Christian Counseling and practical theology at RTS Charlotte. He serves as a board member at both, the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and ACBC and for over 25 years, he served as a preaching pastor at Grace Bible Church in Escondido, California before he took the role to lead the Christian Counseling programs at RTS Charlotte in 2016. He and his wife, Caroline have been married for 42 years and they have three adult children. Dr. Newheiser, I want to get back to our discussion. Last time, we talked specifically about some of our failures relative to abuse, and they are many and we have to be humble in our acknowledgment of those. I want today for us to describe, talk about, if we can, a little bit about some of the positive developments that we’re seeing. I want to remind our listeners that we are putting in the show notes, a four-series blog, that Dr. Newheiser posted on our website, on the abuse pendulum. I think it is very helpful. It keeps us from some of the ditches that we can fall into easily in this topic, and helps us to think biblically on this topic.

I want to start out today talking a little bit about the misuse of headship, as we acknowledge some of our failures, as we talked about last week, but then also movement into positive developments. And again, sometimes this has been a misuse of truth from the Scripture where we apply things that are true, principles that are true in the Scripture, we have desires that are true and good relative to marriage and so on and even headship, but we’re applying it into a wrong context and we have to bring the whole council to bear here. I think about this in relation to headship, for example, there are really two ditches that we see, two sinful expressions of headship.

One of those, we see very early on in Adam, passivity. And we harp on those things and we should harp on those things. We should bring biblical truth to bear to talk about what a man should be in his service, to his wife, and to his family. But then, there’s a there’s another ditch as well and that’s tyranny where we see a man who expresses authority as if it’s absolute and his totally as opposed to him being a steward of what God grants to him. And that he will give an account to God for how he leads and much of that was a part of our discussion last week as we relate to some of our failures and right desire. So, we have to take good biblical truth and apply it appropriately in a particular, given situation.

Now, we have made some progress, thankfully and Dr. Newheiser, I want you to speak specifically to some of that progress or some of what we consider to be positive developments. So, in your estimation, what are some of the positive developments that you’re seeing in biblical counseling? And again, this is out of our discussion from some of the failures that we acknowledged last week.

Jim Newheiser: I think that we as biblical counselors including many of us in ACBC and related training organizations, and seminaries have done a much better job of identifying the various kinds of mistreatment that take place in marriage, not just blood and broken bones and bruises in terms of mistreatment. Saying horrible things, control through money, kids, sex, etc., threats and I think we’re doing a better job, a much better job of reporting in terms of child abuse or things that go on in the church sexually that are criminal matters. I think we’ve learned that we need to have a woman in the room, helping a woman, and sometimes we need to counsel them separately. We begin to understand how hard-hearted many abusers are and how they twist the Scriptures and the meaning of headship.

And like we’ve talked about the pendulums where I will acknowledge that secular people, and I know you’ve talked before on this about the Duluth power wheel and they talk about these different categories of mistreatment. We would acknowledge that they’ve made some common grace observations about the way wicked people, especially men, but I’ve seen women too, hurt each other, hurt other people. I think a concern would be they say it’s all about control, and I think that may be too simplistic, they don’t understand there’s sin. And I think they don’t understand that there’s sin on both sides, and I think sometimes it goes along with popular ideas as if all women in Christian circles that are complementarian are oppressed. All men are oppressors and rather than identifying what I was still say would be not totally rare. But I think the great majority of pastors like out of 13 million Southern Baptists, there are probably a lot of abusive men, and there are a lot of bad pastors. But I think there are millions of men who are trying to be godly husbands and thousands of pastors are trying to be faithful and they want to obliterate those distinctions that disabled because there are a handful of men who misuse the authority that God has given, or it could be a lot of men. But, you know, a minority, then all men are lumped into that category as having control they shouldn’t have, and all women are oppressed both in the church and in the home and that is in an intent, which is good to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable. Now they’re wiping out all gender distinctions in the home and in the church because they have an unbiblical view, underlying their system. 

Dale Johnson: And I think that’s really, really helpful. I want to talk a little bit more about some of the concerns that we see because, as you mention, it does seem that the pendulum starts to swing here where okay, we certainly acknowledge that there have been failures of the conservative church even in the biblical counseling movement, and the knee-jerk reaction is to swing the pendulum in a far opposite direction. And I think there’s danger in some of that as well.

I want to continue that discussion about some of the progress we make. And then I want to return back to some of the concerns that we’re seeing. I think I would agree with some of the progress that you mentioned. I think that’s very helpful, even back in 2018, we devoted an entire conference at ACBC to the issue of abuse and how to deal with issues of abuse and we gave six plenary sessions and lots of breakouts that were on this topic, and it was something that was acknowledged even at that point that we needed to focus in on. And then out of that meeting, even a year and a half two years ago, we decided you would fully understand this being on the board at ACBC that we talked about creating and developing an affirmations and denials relative to this issue of abuse because it was that important and guidelines, we are still in process. We’re wanting to do due diligence. We’ve assessed lots of literature and information, and it is still in the review process but it’s something that we’ve been working on for quite some time and we hope to develop that in a way that that’s helpful to our counselors and that we give better care.

So, we are seeing some acknowledgment. We’ve been doing this even before this massive, most recent explosion relative to the topic of abuse. We’ve been seeing some development where we’ve started to make progress in trying to address this, help our counselors not be confused about this pendulum shifting back and forth, how to think clearly about applying proper truth and proper context, and so on. And so, you were in the direction here of talking about some concerns, and I think that’s important for us, that we acknowledge the things that we’ve done wrong. And historically, even within church history, we see where there are often knee-jerk reactions, and we have a tendency to swing the pendulum into a completely different direction. Talk about some of those concerns, specifically directions some people are taking even within the biblical counseling movement that might raise an issue from our perspective. 

Jim Newheiser: Right. First, I just wanted to acknowledge the conference you mention that we had. We talked about the one of the most powerful moments in that conference was when a woman who had been horribly abused early in her life and she brought up something the secular folks ignore, which is redemption, and she’s not been identified and controlled by what happened to her when she was younger. She’s happily married. She’s serving the Lord because there’s something more to it than just the human level. That there is grace and hope for those who have been victims. And even for perpetrators who repent, and that’s something that’s left out of these secular models is the hope of redemption. Even in the encounters that I’ve had, where I’ve had to go back and confess where I’ve been wrong. There’s forgiveness and reconciliation in my relationships with some of those people. So, I think the secular model can identify some of what’s wrong, but they don’t have good solutions. They don’t have good interpretations.

In terms of the pendulum, one of the most common things that’s being said, is always believe the victim, and I realized why that can be important because we have often been guilty when we hear an accusation, we’re tempted to want to protect the institution or the leader who may be accused or the deacon, or our friend and say, do you realize if this is true or if you make this accusation, that is going to cause trouble for this person is going to cause trouble for the church. And so, the right way to say it is we should take every accusation very seriously. Also, realizing that many women who have been oppressed or children, it’s very hard for them to begin even to bring out into the open what has happened to them. They’re fearful they won’t be believed, so, we should take it seriously and not be skeptical. Our primary concern should be to protect the innocent and those who are hurt and not to protect institutions. And the failure to think this way is why so many have gotten into trouble.

But it’s unbiblical to say always believe the victim, you know, I’ve had multiple cases where alleged victims have lied because women are sinners too. And there are some who will want to cause harm. I had a woman who actually had another woman injure her then she called 911 and claimed that someone else had done it to her to get that person in trouble. And so, that’s where the paradigm of the secular methodology is wrong, is that it’s not that the victim is always good and the alleged perpetrator is always evil. There can be alleged victims who use this wrongfully and so, especially we can’t treat someone as guilty based upon anonymous or unproven allegations. The Bible as a standard that if they’re not multiple witnesses, or you know, there’s not clear and convincing evidence, you can’t treat someone as guilty. And so, if there’s an allegation, we can always try to make the victim or alleged victims safe, but we can’t treat the alleged perpetrator as guilty without proof. That’s even built into our jurisprudence as a nation. And so, this is one area where that is being tossed aside even judicially and in college campuses. And therefore, the rights of the accused are sometimes in grave danger of being abused as well. I’ve never been accused to my knowledge of abuse, but I have a policy of not meeting alone with a woman, and I hold it very strictly. So, I’ve been accused of being unfair to women because I won’t meet with them alone, but part of it is protection because one of the reasons for a pastor or a counselor not to meet alone is someone could walk out and say anything without there being a witness.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think everything that you’ve said has been so important, critically nuanced. I think for us to be wise to approach these things biblically, and these are places where we can acknowledge that the secular models have fallen short. They offer a paradigm that swings really too far from a biblical perspective. But I also acknowledge that some of the things you said are really difficult for many to hear. But I think we have to be wise enough and humble enough in our approach to again, what we tried to do acknowledge failures, but then also acknowledge what biblical standards are about how we sort through these things and doing it in a wise and humble disposition, and trying to have tender care for those who have been mistreated. And that’s really important, I think for us to move forward.

And listen, I think we can, we can have proper expectations. Sometimes we expect that everything should have been sorted out clearly, because of what we see in hindsight, we have to be cautious raising that level of expectation upon people because often what’s known in the moment is not what we know much later. And so, we have to be cautious about how we approach, wise in asking questions, and that sort of thing to sort out some of the specific details. And again, upholding a biblical standard in the ways, in which we approach the situation, knowing that it’s complicated with multiple people involved. And, you know, all that it takes an abuse victim to make a statement. We have to be cautious and handle those things wisely, seriously, and with deep care because we have responsibility to care for both parties well. Dr. Newheiser, I think that’s well said, and we have to approach it that way.

Now, I want to finish with a couple of final thoughts, on how we can best position ourselves to be helpful in dealing with these issues of abuse. And I think that’s really important because there’s a lot of work that has to be done on the front end in our preparation to even handle some sort of situation like this. So, what are some of the ways that we can best position ourselves to deal with these types of very, very difficult issues?

Jim Newheiser: I think we need to be humble for many reasons. One reason is because we haven’t always gotten it right in the past. We also need to be humble because we’re not all-knowing. We’re not omniscient. Even the Bible acknowledges there be times when God-appointed authorities won’t know what really happened. And so, we can’t act as if we know when we don’t know. There’s a case in the Old Testament law, where you’ve found a dead body and you couldn’t figure out who did it, you offer a sacrifice and so, I think we need to be humble about our limited knowledge. When we hear a particular description of a situation, our understanding of what’s happening. I’ve even used like a scale of 1 to 10, where it may sound like a 3 to me and maybe an 8 to the woman and a 2 to the man, but God alone knows how bad it is. God alone knows that different victim, and different women have different capacities. I use the example of the battleship game our kids play, as some can take a few hits and some could take five hits. And we just need to be humble and understanding.

Also, we don’t always know exactly what’s happening. We don’t always know how to interpret it. We don’t know what the future holds. If we’re going to err, we can err on the side of keeping people safe. Even if we’re not declaring that somebody else is guilty. You don’t have proof of guilt to keep someone safe and then you can sort it out. I think the level of compassion that I think when someone comes, we need to take it seriously and they hurt. And I think we need to slow down and again, that’s why women need to be involved when it’s women and listen and care. The most common thing for me is the poor woman has been suffering for a long time, silenced. She’d been told that if she were to tell anybody, she’d be by violating Scripture by defying her husband. She wonders if it’s all her fault because that’s what she’s been told. And so, I think she needs an immense amount of understanding and compassion and help to try to sort through what would God have her to do for His glory and for her good moving forward.

I think we also do need to hold men, especially accountable, be it from the pulpit to teach against the false, hyper-headship views. And then, in counseling, to admonish and even be ready to go exercise church discipline over men who are sinfully domineering even if there’s not bloodshed and so those are a few of the things.

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think that’s really helpful. I do want to make one point of clarification in your example, where you talked about the battleship, you aren’t talking about specific and literal hits on a woman, right? So I want to make sure that we’re clear there. You were giving an example where you were trying to say, you know, some women can handle much more relative to verbal assaults and that sort of stuff, as far as pressure and pain and difficulty and other women can handle more. So, it just depends. So, you weren’t you weren’t speaking. I don’t want that to be misunderstood, so just a point of clarification. 

Jim Newheiser: Yeah, I got. Thank you. That is exactly what I meant is that in my experience, anytime a woman would be hurt physically, I would encourage her to go be safe and have a safe house for her. But what I mean is there are selfish, angry, manipulative men, and women who try to make the marriage work, and some last longer than others under those circumstances. And some, I’ve even said, if you are my sister or my daughter, I would encourage you to go get away. Not to divorce right now. But I can’t make you, you have to make that decision. And that’s what I meant, that some are longer than others. 

Dale Johnson: Now, I that, I think it was clear based on the context, I just wanted to sort that out. I think this is a good example of how sometimes sides are misunderstood relative to when we talk about these things. Because we’re trying to put into words things that are often like super difficult to express and to talk about. Now, one of the things I want to finish with this is, that we cannot be afraid of the truth. You talked about in even last week, I mentioned a little bit at the beginning of this week, where, we felt pressure to some degree, to want to sort out some of the details of allegations and that sort of thing. And we need to do that biblically, we are called to do that. But sometimes, our preference is jaded in the direction of a friend, or of a mentor, or of an institution. We can’t be afraid of the truth and whatever the truth reveals, we have to be willing to allow that truth to stand in a way that’s God-honoring. And if it calls for repentance, we need to call for repentance, and in whichever direction that might be. And that’s what we have to be unafraid of is allow the truth to be the truth, and then, in a way that’s honoring to the Lord, respond to the abuse victim as it is. And to a perpetrator, in a way that is honoring to the Lord calling one to repentance and caring deeply in the suffering of the other. I think in those ways we can begin to make things much more clear in very complex and difficult situations, like abuse, not be afraid to let the truth be the truth.

Dr. Newheiser, thanks for number one, being willing to address this issue. Number two, thanks for being humble in your approach to this issue. We need more of that on this topic and number three, I would say thank you for for being willing to be clear biblically to say things that sometimes the Bible calls us to that are a little bit difficult and uncomfortable. But being willing to say those things with a humble disposition. We need to grow more in that and I pray this will be a continued call for us to do that. So, thank you, brother. 

Jim Newheiser: My pleasure, may the Lord help us to trust Him, no matter where that leads us.

Helpful Resources:

The Abuse Pendulum —a four-part blog series by Dr. Newheiser

ACBC’s Foundations Curriculum

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