Dr. Dale Johnson: This week, we have Reverend Chris Moles joining us. Chris is an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He’s also an ACBC certified biblical counselor, and he’s a senior pastor of Grace Community Chapel in Eleanor, West Virginia. He’s written a book called The Heart of Domestic Abuse, and it’s a resource for dealing with these issues of abuse and how to think about gospel solutions, particularly for men who often use violence and control in their homes. Chris is practical in this work, he’s helpful in this work, and I would recommend it to you.
This week, Sean Perron, who is our former Director of Operations and now serves as the Associate Pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville, caught up with Chris to interview him about this important work that he’s written. This is an important subject that we see is significantly impacting the culture that we live in. Listen to Sean and Chris as they talk about this important subject.
Sean Perron: Chris, thank you for joining us on the Truth in Love podcast today. We know that you have been doing ministry and counseling ministry to abuse victims for a while now. You have your helpful book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse, which Dr. Stuart Scott has endorsed. I’m curious, personally, what brought that book about? What ministry were you doing in your life that showed the need for that book?
Chris Moles: For me, my involvement in domestic violence prevention and intervention began about 12 years ago. I was already working part-time in criminal corrections. I had been teaching classes for a Day Report Center on the side. It’s an answer to prayer. I asked God for help to get engaged in our community. Being a part of a small church, we don’t have the resources to do much, and I got this opportunity to teach one day a week. It was in that context, about 12 years ago, that I was approached by the Day Reporting Center about a new program for men who had been convicted of domestic violence crimes. It was a part-time job to help supplement the income. I jumped into that work as a means of a little extra cash, and it turned out to be super influential as I learned about the problem of domestic violence.
It was a new issue for me 12 years ago. I had a wonderful childhood with incredible men. The Moles men are incredible people. I had no exposure to domestic violence, but working with these men informed me and educated me on the problem. Working with advocates and victims allowed me to see the significance of domestic abuse. It wasn’t long after that that I began working on my Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, and those two worlds collided perfectly because perpetrator accountability is not too far afield from biblical counseling with responsibility and accountability. I began writing my papers, and that’s where Dr. Scott, for instance, was reading and responding to my papers, and that helped get the book rolling.
Out of that experience of working with men, victim advocates, and victims, we produced the book. Since then, in addition to pastoring the church and working in corrections, I’ve been traveling around the country doing things like this and trying to educate the church. I believe that the church, and in particular biblical counselors, have the answers to see the church become the safest place on the planet, which has not been true.
Sean Perron: I’d like to ask you a couple of potentially hard questions, because we have a wide range of listeners in our audience—people who’ve been doing counseling for a long time and people who are new to the counseling arena. Let’s say someone is in a church and they have a couple come to them for counseling, or maybe it’s just the husband or just the wife, and they say, “I’m being mistreated and abused. I need your help.” What would you say to that counselor? What do they need to be thinking about immediately?
Chris Moles: We can’t exhaust this on the podcast, but one thing I would encourage biblical counselors to do is to revert to their training. One of the things that I value about biblical counseling is the emphasis on those essential elements. Let’s highlight a couple of them that I think will be tremendously beneficial.
Number one is data gathering, or gathering relevant information. It’s important to spend time with individuals who come forward with disclosure and to gather data. In cases of abuse, you rarely see what I call “the whole train.” You rarely see every element. You’re getting snapshots. For biblical counselors, they tend to want things packaged nicely as either sin or suffering, but abuse is this weird marble cake of sin and suffering. Everybody is sinning; everybody is suffering. You’re going to sin and suffer as a counselor trying to help. Data gathering is huge.
With abuse, Sean, one of the things you’re looking for is a pattern. Incidents are fine, but I’ve learned with perpetrators that if I address a single incident, they’re keen and willing to address that incident, but continue to use power and control. I say that we run the risk of creating polite abusers who commit acceptable sins once we call them to account. What I recommend first is to pull the rope, gather data, and get more information.
The second thing is to build involvement. I would encourage counselors to invest in that person and build that involvement.
Lastly, offer hope. Put hope where it belongs. That’s an issue that biblical counselors could do a better job of. We tend to offer hope in marriage-focused solutions, but in cases of abuse, we’re not dealing with a marriage problem, we’re dealing with a power and a heart problem: power. Put hope where it belongs, which is in Jesus Christ. I’m calling victims to the glory of God and conformity to Christ, and we’re calling perpetrators to the glory of God and conformity to Christ. Those two processes will look different as we confront the abuser and as we comfort the victim. I’m not opposed to hope in marriage. I want to see marriages restored. If we take our eye off the prize and if the marriage becomes more important than glorifying God, then we are destroying both the people and the marriage. We have our best chance at marriage restoration by addressing the sin and the sufferer.
Sean Perron: For a married couple, the wife is being physically abused by the husband, and she comes to you and says, “I want my marriage to work. I want it to last, but this is a problem.” Is it possible for the marriage to work? Is it possible for it to be restored? What would you say to that woman? She’s crying in your office, and she says, “Is this a possibility?”
Chris Moles: We do this a lot in biblical counseling, we redefine the goal. There’s a part of me that wants their marriage to work because I know that marriage restoration will include evidentiary repentance because a person has confessed and turned from their sin. I want that too because that’s going to be an indicator of a transformed life. Praise God for that. But like any biblical counseling session, I’m going to turn the goal to the glory of God. If you’re new to this movement, then you’ve probably already been exposed to 2 Corinthians 5:9. I make it my aim to please him whether I’m dead or alive, basically. Whether I’m with him there or down here, the idea is still the same.
For example, “Sally, I love you. I want to help. We’re going to be here for you. There’s been great wickedness committed against you. I want you to know that I’m going to use everything within my power in combination with the Spirit, the people of God, and the Word of God to draw glory to God. That’s my goal. Now, if your husband repents and it’s significant and evidentiary, then praise God. We’ll deal with the restoration.” I want to be honest with her about the problem in front of us. I would want to give glory to God first. That’s my primary goal, even though I love marriage, but the glory of God is first.
We don’t want to rush marriage reconciliation without having addressed the abuse. As we were wrestling through this and as I was writing the book, one of my friends, another biblical counselor, put it this way, “We want to do abuse counseling before we engage in marriage counseling.” That’s been a helpful standard. We want to address this fully and completely with the Word of God before we work on marriage counseling.
Sean Perron: Same situation, how can you keep that woman safe? What needs to happen?
Christ Moles: One of the things that I would recommend first is that we need to make sure that our interventions are consistent with two things. Number one is victim request. I want to make sure that she is giving me input and that I’m listening to her request. Is there an immediate threat of significant harm or death? I would recommend the biblical counselor is read on the lethality assessments and learn the risks, such as the presence of weapons, if the abuser is abusing pets, and things like that. We want people to be safe.
I also want the victim to have a say in that because they know the husband better than I’ll ever know him. In most situations, I recommend separation if there’s physical force. There are some situations where she feels much safer knowing where he’s at and our safety planning has to correspond to that. She might say, “Pastor, I would rather stay in the home,” because the uncertainty of not knowing where he’s at is harder than the certainty of being in close proximity to him. How can we come alongside her? How can we help?
Safety planning is a big piece of that. Safety plans can be as simple as, if an abusive episode happens or tension is building towards that point, asking who she will call, where she will go, does she have money available, and who’s picking up the kids? Help her structure that. I want her input.
The second thing is, if there’s criminal activity and law enforcement has been involved, there usually are protective orders in place like a civil order or a criminal order. I want to make sure any of our responses as biblical counselors are consistent with those orders as in Romans 13. If there’s a legal, civil, or criminal order in place that says no contact, then I want to make sure that we’re preparing to not bring them into the same room and insist on marriage counseling. Even worship services can be tricky in some places. I want to balance that out. The things I recommend are two-fold: her input is important, and take into consideration any input from civil authorities.
Sean Perron: We live in a culture where this is a very hot topic. What would you say to the biblical counselor who is scared about this? They’re scared that they’re going to say the wrong thing, they’re scared that they’re going to give the wrong advice, and they do nothing, or they do something drastic. Help biblical counselors think about it. They’re nervous. They’re afraid they’re going to get lit up online. They’re afraid that they’re going to get ousted from their position if they do this or don’t do that, and they don’t know what to do. Maybe that’s too broad, but what would you say?
Chris Moles: My first statement would be, you might be right, Sean. I love our movement, and I tried to make that very clear in my time this week how much I love biblical counselors. They’re my tribe. You guys are my people. One of the things that happens a lot at biblical counseling conferences, in particular, is I’ll be introduced like, “Chris talks about a very controversial subject.” It always strikes me as to what is controversial about wanting to protect women and children. What’s controversial about wanting men to live the way Christ called them to live if we claim to be Christians? What’s controversial about accountability? To me, this is what we’re supposed to be doing, but it does come with a price because we do live in a culture where this has been the most mismanaged and misunderstood problem by the church.
There are risks, and I’ve received the consequence of those risks. I’ve been lit up online. I’ve had things said about me that I don’t think are true. Nonetheless, we have to keep pursuing what Christ has called us to. That’s the number one thing. You have to weigh the risk, but know that the calling is more important than the risks.
Secondly, this is going to sound awful, and for some folks it can be hard to hear, but our momentary suffering of being questioned, critiqued, or blasted online is minuscule and nothing compared to the suffering that a victim is encountering on a daily basis in a coercively controlling power over relationship. I want to know Christ in the power of his resurrection. I have everything. I have Holy Spirit power and resurrection power. I want to know Christ in that, but I also want to know him in the fellowship of his suffering. If my momentary suffering in taking a stand gives me a taste, not even a full taste, but a little taste of what my sister’s been enduring for possibly decades, then I should be able to take that and run with it.
That would be my initial, gut response to that; it is hard work, and you will have some push back on it, but we have to keep moving forward because we know what’s true and what’s right. We want to be those Philippians 4 type of Christians who think in such a way that the God of peace will accompany us in that. We’re searching for peace in a world at war and peace in hearts at war. The gospel of peace is worth the sacrifice.
Sean Perron: You speak on this topic a lot. What are some ways in which you are misunderstood after you’re done speaking?
Chris Moles: It depends on the audience, because God has blessed us with a broad audience. Part of it is the time constraints. At a conference like the one we’re attending this week, you get 50 minutes, and you try to cram five hours of content in the 50 minutes. In those types of settings, some of the misunderstandings would revolve around my view of men and women, which is interesting. I hold a complementarian view of marriage. I think men and women have distinct roles as husbands and wives in the covenantal relationship. I hold men to a high standard.
I jokingly called complementarianism the “Spider-Man theology: With great power comes great responsibility.” Surprisingly, a lot of folks interpret that to mean that I’m saying that women don’t sin. Of course, that’s not true. Any wife would tell you that they sin, and most victims will be very eager to take responsibility and to claim their sin. What I tend to communicate is that because power is such a key player, men tend to be more likely to abuse their wives than wives abuse their husbands. Even with sinful behavior that’s committed by either party, it could be abusive if the man commits it because of the power dynamic. You do see a lot more of those tactics used by women against children, but you don’t necessarily see women using those tactics against their husbands in the same way. If they did, it would cultivate annoyance or frustration far more than fear.
In other contexts, the flip side is true. If I’m closer to a secular environment doing training with the Department of Justice or building a collaborative deal, then it is almost appalling that I’m complementarian. Many folks on the outside world, and even our egalitarian brothers and sisters, tend to view complementarity as the cause of domestic violence as opposed to sinning being the cause. A lot of that is our fault because we haven’t properly taught headship from Christ’s perspective.
I tend to talk about having a “Jesus hermeneutic,” understanding headship from the perspective of Christ. If we have a good understanding of headship, then we know that’s not a top-down, power-over process. It’s a bottom-up, power-under process where Jesus used His power to empower, not to diminish.
Many of our friends on the outside don’t see that. They hear the word “head,” and they think of the top-down domination type model. Those are areas where it’s nice to have time to nuance, but you don’t always have that time. In a setting like we’re at this week, you’re going to have some personal Q&A time, and that’s good so that you can nuance a little bit and say things like, “Yes, I do believe that women sin, but I want to hold men accountable to the ways in which they’re sinning in this topic.” Then in other settings, to be able to say, “Look, there’s more to complementarity.” This is good, because it’s amazing to see some of my friends that are more humanistic or feminist hear complementarity presented for the first time outside of this caricature of patriarchy.
Resources from Chris Moles