Dr. James Dobson, Love Must Be Tough, Domestic Violence, Spousal Abuse, Church, Jeff Crippen, Mike Sloan, Neil Schori
Recently, an article was posted at Dr. James Dobson’s website and Facebook page. The Facebook post received a lot of push back, and interestingly (but not surprisingly), the article, along with all of the comments, has since been removed or hidden. No comments are allowed on the blog page. The article was an excerpt taken from Dobson’s book, Love Must be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis.
I will just say at the outset that there is no hope that I can see for a victim of domestic abuse by following his advice.
This blurb was posted on Dobson’s blog to promote the book. In the context of domestic violence, this blurb is saying that it only takes one person to cooperate in a marriage to draw “your partner back into your arms:”
Unlike most approaches to marriage crisis, the strategy in this groundbreaking classic does not require the willing cooperation of both spouses. Love Must Be Tough offers the guidance that gives you the best chance of rekindling romance, renewing your relationship, and drawing your partner back into your arms.
In the excerpt from the book, we read a letter to Dobson from Laura, a victim of Domestic violence. She indicates she has been married for 12 year to a highly respected lawyer and church leader, but his behavior is different when he is home. Her husband has a violent temper and explodes once or twice a month, and the beatings are getting more violent and frequent. This woman still loves her husband:
I don’t know what to do. I really do love my husband. He’s a fine man when he isn’t mad about something. He never shows this side of himself in public, even when he is frustrated. No one has any idea he is a wife abuser. I haven’t told anyone, and my husband would blow up if I asked him to go with me for counseling. No telling what he’d do if he knew I was consulting you!
So what can I do? I don’t believe in divorce. I am trying to be gentle and cautious at all times, but inevitably I step on his toes and he explodes again. I’m so tired of being beaten and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises.
How do I deal with this situation?
Dr. Dobson said that he only saw four options for this woman. I’ve tried to condense the four points below:
- “Remain silent at home, walk on cracked eggs, and be the eternal conciliator.” Dobson acknowledged that Laura is already doing this and this is not a good long-term answer.
- Divorce her husband. Dobson said, “As a Christian, I agree with Laura that divorce is not the solution to this problem. Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.”
- The third suggestion is to remain married, but keep emotionally detatched and independent from her husband. Dobson calls this an “emotional divorce” and says that this “emotional isolation” will help to protect Laura from further pain, but the relationship will still be unhealthy.
- The last response Dobson gives is the tough love solution. Dobson suggests that this is the best solution:
This is risky and psychologically expensive, but it is my choice and my recommendation. In essence, Laura’s husband is emotionally blackmailing her. He is saying by his behavior, “Do what I wish or I’ll beat you.” She must break out of that tyranny while she’s still young enough to cope with the consequences. This might be accomplished by forcing the matter to a crisis. Change of behavior does not occur when waters are smooth, as we have seen; it sometimes happens after a storm. I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage. She should prearrange a place to go and ask friends or relatives to step in for assistance at that critical moment. Separate living quarters may be necessary until her husband settles down. He should be made to think that he has lost his wife over this issue, and in fact, I would recommend that she not return until there is reason to believe that he is willing to change. If that takes a year, so be it. When (and if) her husband acknowledges that he has a severe problem and promises to deal with it if she’ll come home, a period of negotiations should follow. One of the conditions for reconciliation is competent Christian counseling for the psychological problem that is now apparent to everyone but the husband.
Considering Dr. Dobson’s very wide audience, I found his words to Laura to be shocking and potentially harmful. Dr. Dobson’s words are respected far and wide and I wanted to hear what other church leaders had to say about his advice. I sought out three pastors whose ministries involve working with victims of domestic violence and abusers. These are men in the trenches who understand abuse, understand victims, and understand God’s Word on how to handle these life-threatening situations. I am very grateful that these men speak truth about abusers and how to protect women who are in harm’s way.
The first pastor who responded to my request was Pastor Neil Schori. I met him on Twitter and so appreciate what he is doing to help battered women. Pastor Schori went to Drew and Stacy Peterson’s home for a counseling session and undoubtedly, Stacy’s disappearance has made a big impact on his life and future ministry work.
I recently saw a post about domestic violence on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk Facebook page. At first, I was excited because so few Christian leaders are willing to even address the issue…but my excitement was quickly replaced with the sad reality of the status quo.
Dr. Dobson “fielded” a question from a woman whom was a victim of her horribly violent spouse. He was violent to her in every aspect of the word, as he filled her with fear and beat her with the same body that should have been used only to comfort and protect her.
She asked a vulnerable question, and got (sadly) the most typical response that I’ve seen from most Christian leaders: A wife’s purpose is “…to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.” Sadly, this is precisely why churches and pastors are NOT viewed as allies of victims and the first-line defenses (shelters and advocates) that assist victims of violence each day. This is also why there are still 8-10 women killed each day by their intimate partners.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Churches should be the safest places on earth for victims of all kinds. It can happen! My church is “safe place” and I’m working to help others become the same. It is time for leaders to stand up and recognize that Jesus always stood with the oppressed, and because of his lead, so should they.
If you are a church leader, or just looking to make a difference, please join us in our movement to take the power of silence away from abusers.
Pastor Jeff Crippen has been ministering to victims of domestic violence for a number of years now. This article, Abuse and Pastors: An Open Letter from a Pastor to Pastors, (which coincidentally was cross-posted here at SSB) explains Jeff’s awakening to domestic violence and the church’s response. He contributed his thoughts on Dobson and the Tough Love article:
What Dr. Dobson advocates here is sending a bloodied sheep back to the wolf. This man has shown that he is capable of life-threatening violence against her. She needs to get out with her children and her life as soon as she can. Telling her to return and force the matter to a crisis is recklessly endangering her life. There is no excuse for this and it betrays a lack of awareness of how domestic abusers typically operate. His behavior is criminal and once she is safe the police should be called. There is no doubt this road will be difficult, but at least this will allow her to an opportunity to escape this life lived under the shadow of terror. Dobson’s ministry should move to correct this potentially deadly counsel immediately before any more victims are harmed.
Dobson should know that in situations of abuse God calls his people to, “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:4) Abuse always involves a difference in power and unless someone more powerful comes in on the side of the oppressed they have only their tears (Ecclesiastes 4:1). God ordained civil authorities to bear the sword and punish evil like domestic abuse (Romans 13). This man needs to face the civil penalties for his crimes.
He also has growing ministry work in the following:
- DocumentTheAbuse.com: “Created after Stacy Peterson disappeared, our goal is to empower victims of domestic violence and help them document the abuse
SafeFaithCommunity.com: A challenge to the faith community to defend, protect, and support victims of abuse.
SafePersonProject.com: A challenge for anyone who wants to commit to defending victims of abuse.