Rick Warren should probably stick to promoting himself, jet-setting around the world, and expanding his dingy pseudo-kingdom on Purpose Driven Drive. While Saddleback’s Teaching Pastor, Tom Holladay correctly teaches that divorce is not the first response a woman should take when her husband physically assaults her, and that separation with serious counseling CAN result in a reconciled relationship, he does so with the all the tact and sensitivity of an elephant fart. He could at least make an attempt at being pastoral.
Apparently Saddleback staff have their own definition of what constitutes abuse. “I don’t mean they grab you once. I mean they’ve made a habit of beating you regularly,” Holladay teaches in an audio clip on Saddleback Family: Bible Questions and Answers page (Question #32). That’s helpful. Only the woman who is smacked around every third Tuesday is justified in separating from her abusive husband.
This is a common misunderstanding of the nature and effects of abuse. It’s particularly disappointing that a pastor would express, much less hold it. But, some of us have heard similarly – and worse – from pastors.
The reality is that a husband doesn’t have to physically assault his wife in order for him to abuse her. All he needs to do is make her fear him and use that fear to control her. Sometimes that may involve beatings of one sort or another. Other times it may just mean making threatening gestures or destroying property in a rage or physically abusing pets. Or doing exactly what you tell him is something that scares you.
And abuse doesn’t usually happen “regularly”. The typical cycle of abuse involves three distinct stages – the tension-building stage, the explosion stage, and the “honeymoon” stage. This cycle can take place over months, weeks, days, or hours and minutes. And the abuse usually escalates over time. The victim of abuse can become desensitized to his behavior and he may need to do more to regain that control by means of fear in new ways.
I agree with Warren and Holladay, in that separation is a good way to take a breather, get much-needed counseling, and hopefully reconcile the relationship. But separation in an abusive relationship is rarely a mutually agreed-upon situation, and an abuser may resort to even more extreme and desperate acts to restore the relationship on his terms. Separation is often the most dangerous time for victims of abuse – that’s why women’s shelters are so secretive.
Unfortunately, the kind of separation that is often necessary to rebuild and reconcile a relationship torn apart by abuse is not over in a matter of weeks or even months. If things were bad enough that you had to separate households, it’s going to take time and energy – and a lot of it – to build up the trust again. Long-term separations are virtually unheard-of today. An abuser often gives up on waiting and trying and, ultimately, gives up on changing his abusive attitude of entitlement and does have an affair or accuses the victim of abandonment for remaining separated, or both.
Very few programs actually do provide the kind of counseling that abusers require (and even those realize that their success rate is very low), and the programs for victims of abuse are full of radical feminist ideology. Even fewer pastors understand the intricacies of providing psychological much less spiritual counseling in such a situation. It’s very discouraging for a victim to seek care from a pastor or counselor and hear all the arguments that her abuser makes to keep her under his control. She’s being too sensitive, she’s being too controlling, she’s holding a grudge, she’s being unforgiving, can’t she see that he’s really sorry??
No, she’s afraid for her life. She’s seen him really really sorry before. And yet she’s still afraid of her husband, the one person in the world who is supposed to love and cherish her, sacrificially caring for her as Christ does for His bride, the Church. She’s scared her husband will hurt her, and maybe even kill her.
I’d like to think that the lay counselors at Saddleback are truly qualified to provide counseling in such an intricate and tenuous situation. If what they are taught by their “Teaching Pastor” is any indication, victims are counseled to remain with their abusers and put up with the fear, pain, degradation, and risk to their own life because their husbands only beat the crap out of them – it’s not like they’ve slept with another woman or up and left them.
Divorce should be the last resort, after all attempts at reconciliation have failed, even in an abusive relationship. But Saddleback’s approach to pastoral counseling is anything but that.