Biblical Counseling, Christian Marriage, Complementarianism, Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence and Churches, emotional abuse, Gender Roles, Marriage, Religious Power and Control, Spiritual Authority

ACBC’s Consideration of the Duluth Model

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP) started in 1980 in response to limited options for women who experienced abuse by their intimate partners. DAIP developed the Duluth Model in which the primary focus is supporting women who experience domestic violence and men’s intervention programs. Does this mean that men are not abused or women are not perpetrators of domestic violence? Absolutely not.

Part of the Duluth Model is the Power and Control Wheel and Equality Wheel. These Wheels reflect common abusive tactics in interpersonal relationships, and contrasts equal relationships. Even with the female pronouns, these are effective tools for any victim to recognize domestic violence in a relationship. While there is some critical review of the Duluth Model, the Wheels are recognized nationally and around the world by law enforcement, advocates, counselors, and intervention programs.

Duluth Power and Control Wheel
Duluth Equality Wheel

Dale Johnson and Stuart Scott of Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) recently discussed the Duluth Model in a podcast. Both provide a couple of positive aspects to the Duluth Model. However, the primary focus of the podcast seems to be criticism, whether it be any that you can find by doing a Google search, or their own opinion. They don’t really provide good enough reason to advise caution in using the Power and Control Wheel or the Equality Wheel.

The fact that Johnson and Scott never provide a definition of abuse is concerning. They acknowledge that abuse is an issue, that it occurs in the church, and admit that the church has not dealt appropriately with domestic violence. So, why the vague, circular talk?

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?

The reason why they cannot provide a definition, even for someone who is “truly” abused, is that they think the word is over generalized. Meaning, if anyone can claim they are abused, then it’s difficult to define.

…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.”

Please note that “serious domestic violence” is never defined. Why? Defining abuse isn’t really that mysterious or difficult. One only has to look at legislation or to experts who work in the field of domestic violence for definitions. Or, maybe consider looking at the Power and Control Wheel for examples to gain an understanding of different components of abuse.

I think there are two main issues that Johnson and Scott have with the Wheels: 1) the lack of mentioning the Bible and God when addressing the sin of abuse and, 2) the Duluth Model’s method of holding men accountable for their abusive behaviors.

On the first issue, Scott states that demonic ideologies such as the Duluth Model will not address the spiritual battle of domestic violence. It is mentioned that some biblical counselors are using the Power and Control Wheel. Imagine being one of those counselors and hearing that this is a demonic ideology. They even throw in the words “critical theory,” which I think was a great way to gain an emotional reaction and associate the Duluth Model with Critical Race Theory. ACBC is making a very strong statement on whether or not the Wheels should be used in a biblical counseling session.

Johnson ends with, “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.” Yet we are left leaving this discussion without any searching of scripture to address the problem of domestic violence. How helpful is that?

In regard to the second issue, Johnson and Scott view the Duluth Model as a feminist answer to a problem that only causes more problems. The ultimate sin is that the Duluth Model does not acknowledge the headship of men in marriage, and this is problematic for ACBC.

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.

Could the real reason for this podcast be that ACBC counselors are finding something useful from an outside source when talking to victims of domestic violence? If that is the case, then ACBC is attempting to rein in their counselors. Overall the Power and Control Wheel and the Equality Wheel does not fit the ACBC narrative of the Bible having answers to everything and the gender role structure of marriage. Time to rein in the counselors so they don’t wander too far away.

8 thoughts on “ACBC’s Consideration of the Duluth Model”

  1. I’m not interested in listening to the whole thing, but I wonder: During the podcast, did these two ever label the Duluth Model as “Marxist”? That word seems to be a popular thought-stopper among evangelicals these days, and a handy means of scaring believers away from attitudes of compassion and empathy.


  2. They can’t admit that men supposedly having ‘authority’ like this over their wives is abusive in and of itself. And that there is really no safe level of being the boss for ever and ever according to god.


  3. Serving Kids – The typed out blog post is a transcript of the podcast. They did not label the Duluth Model as Marxist. Good thought, though! It surprises me that they didn’t given throwing out the evil F word and sliding in “critical theory.”


  4. What really bothers me:
    1. Why can’t they provide definitions for different types of abuse? These are educated men who are training counselors. And they can’t provide a definition for abuse? They have such a flippant attitude toward the word and this impacts those who suffer at the hands of an abuser.

    1. They talk that abuse is a “real issue.” If this is a real issue that their counselors are seeing in their clients, then why aren’t they providing tangible resources to the counselors? Everything is so vague…”search Scripture.” Well, the Bible doesn’t talk about technology abuse and stalking. So what do counselors do with that?

    2. The fact that they can’t see the Wheels as an effective tool for anyone experiencing abuse shows that they have trouble thinking outside absolutes. Even though the female pronoun is used doesn’t mean that the Wheel is not helpful for a man experiencing interpersonal violence.

    3. But what about the women who abuse children?!! Nice straw man argument.

    4. Get off your high horse hierarchy argument. These two educated men say they care for abuse victims, but they show that they only care about status. Hierarchy contains elements of power and control – the driving purpose behind abuse.


  5. The guys on the podcast did not give their own definition of abuse. For those who are interested, here is the definition of domestic abuse which I use at my blog A Cry For Justice.

    DEFINITION OF DOMESTIC ABUSE: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his* target subordinated and under his control.

    Key phrases:
    mentality of entitlement
    pattern of coercive control
    power and control

    The pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.

    Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self. It is not just the person’s bodily integrity which is violated but also their human rights.

    DEFINITION OF AN ABUSER: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.

    *Sometimes the genders are reversed. See posts about male survivors.

    Source: https://cryingoutforjustice dot blog/how-can-i-identify-an-abuser/
    URL altered so this comment does not automatically go to spam.


  6. This is another typical play by the authoritarians. If they define abuse, then someone can take the definition of abuse to them and say, “my husband is abusing me.” If instead abuse is a vague concept that is not understandable by us mere mortals, then guess who owns the definition? Yup, the pastors and elders. So, then you have to go to the pastors and elders to make your case, and they get to decide whether it’s abusive (obviously not for most cases).

    Look at Willow Creek. Bill Hybels set up a system where the Elders were afraid to confront him because “you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry”. Instead, they refused to investigate allegations, stalled, covered up and redefined “abuse” to be a misunderstanding.

    These men are doing nothing more than claiming the right to control the narrative. Nothing in the Bible says that the Elders get to decide what is truth, nor can they tell people to keep silent about their story, but that is precisely what they are proclaiming in the name of Biblical Counseling.


  7. @Kathi:

    The fact that they can’t see the Wheels as an effective tool for anyone experiencing abuse shows that they have trouble thinking outside absolutes.

    “Only a SIth deals [exclusively] in Absolutes.”


  8. @Mark:

    Look at Willow Creek. Bill Hybels set up a system where the Elders were afraid to confront him because “you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry”.

    PASTOR Hybels was proclaiming himself God, exalting his throne above that of the Most High.
    “The Fear of The LORD (Hybels) is the beginning of Wisdom.”


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