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Edwin A. Shei 
Edwin A. Shei (BMEd, VanderCook College of Music; MDiv., Alliance Theological Seminary; DMin., Asbury Theological Seminary) has been married to Vickie for thirty-six years.  He has been ordained with the Christian and Missionary Alliance for fifteen years and served as a pastor for eleven.  He was a workshop presenter for Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH).  His dissertation “Persuasion and Church Ministry as It Relates to Woman Abuse: An Evaluation of No Place for Abuse on the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior of Asbury Theological Seminarians” is accessible via http://www.asburyseminary.edu/dmin/current_students/research/dissertations/shei_e.pdf


Review of No Place for Abuse

by Edwin A Shei

Woman abuse in the United States is a crisis that tends to set secular caregivers at odds with local churches.  Citing patriarchy and subordination as the “seeds of wife abuse,” R. Emerson and Russell Dobash maintain, “This structure and ideology [patriarchy and subordination] can be seen most starkly in the records of two societies that provided the roots of our cultural legacy, the Romans and the early Christians” see Dobash and Dobash pp. 33-34).  More and more Christians are supporting this premise.  For instance, Alsdurf and Alsdurf state, “The connection which many battered women make between their ability to suffer violence from their husbands and their Christian commitment reflects, we believe, what is widely taught within evangelical churches about the submission of women in marriage” (see Alsdurf and Alsdurf p. 82). In view of the claim that churches are part of the problem, the chances may seem slim that churches can become part of the solution in eliminating woman abuse. 

Kroeger and Nason-Clark argue that not only can churches play a role but churches also have a responsibility in stopping woman abuse.  Recognizing the complex nature of woman abuse and reflecting on the evangelical Church, through No Place for Abuse, Kroeger (a church historian) and Nason-Clark (a sociologist) challenge Christians to stand in opposition to woman abuse, to promote nonviolent family living, and to work in tandem with secular caregivers to eliminate woman abuse.  Along with sociological evidence revealing the prevalence and severity of woman abuse, including a penetrating look at woman abuse in Christian homes, a primary contribution of this work is its discussion of various doctrines in relation to woman abuse, such as the patriarchy and subordination cited by Dobash and Dobash. 

The first four chapters of No Place for Abuse address the prevalence of woman abuse in the world and churches at large while the last nine chapters of the book present a biblical basis for and a discussion of relevant theologies in condemning woman abuse.  The last chapter challenges churches to take their rightful place among secular caregivers in spreading a message of hope and healing to female victims.  The final 20 percent of the book is a compilation of six appendixes:

(1) God Speaks Out against Abuse: Scripture Passages & Principles
(2) Scriptures That Condemn Abuse & Offer Comfort to Victims
(3) Intervention Resources for Pastors
(4) Educational Resources
(5) Bible Studies for Groups
(6) Resources for a Congregation

Reading No Place for Abuse can be painfully convicting.  Utilizing global statistics the authors clearly demonstrate the sorry phenomenon that woman abuse is no small matter around the world, including woman abuse in the United States.  Compounding the pain is the reality of woman abuse in evangelical homes.  According to Kroeger and Nason-Clark, though no multinational studies providing specific statistics on the prevalence of woman abuse among evangelical believers exist, evidence that woman abuse occurs in evangelical homes is all too common.  In support of this premise and operating under the belief “that once people of faith and church leaders have been confronted with the wrenching reality of the prevalence of violence, they will want to do something about it,” the authors provide examples throughout the book of woman abuse in evangelical settings.  Along with the prevalence of woman abuse, topics such as why men abuse and why women remain in abusive relationships, how churches might respond (including a list of unhealthy responses) in caring for abused women, along with confronting perpetrators make up the first two chapters of the book. 

Readers under conviction for churches’ failure to minister to abused women are encouraged in the third chapter to learn that contrary to a number of woman-abuse studies, pastors actually do more than pray with victims and then send them back to their homes.  Also a factor involving churches that is insightful and significant for the elimination of woman abuse is data that clergy are one of the few groups who report having counseling access to male perpetrators.  In short, churches have a prominent role to play in preventing and eliminating woman abuse, but at the same time churches need to come to terms with the reality of woman abuse in Christian homes and the reality that the problem is too big and too complex to be tackled by churches alone.  Consequently, along with an inventory for “Ensuring Care and Compassion in the Congregational Setting,” chapter 4 seeks to build bridges between churches and secular caregivers in eliminating woman abuse. 

Reading No Place for Abuse can also be doctrinally challenging.  As with the abolition of slavery, woman abuse challenges churches to examine certain doctrines.  Comprising nine of the book’s thirteen chapters, the theological discussions housed in chapters 5-13 make up the book’s primary contribution to churches, in particular, and to woman-abuse literature in general.  For churches to minister effectively to abused women and to become a dynamic force in stopping woman abuse, they need to be aware of relevant doctrines and understand their effect. 

Of first importance is the knowledge that siding with the oppressed, God opposes the oppressor.  Not only is the female victim hurt by the perpetrator’s abuse, but the perpetrator himself is adversely affected in his relationship with God and others.  Furthermore, woman abuse, having a generational component to it, harms the couple’s children.  Marriage, affording the most intimate of human relationships, is in God’s economy intended to be a lifelong male-female relationship between equals, characterized by mutual respect and sharing.  Thus along with marital rape, not always viewed as part and parcel with sexual abuse, is the use of manipulation or coercion (common in Christian homes).

A common misinterpretation of Scripture having devastating effects for victims of woman abuse is the teaching that a wife’s suffering brings her husband to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  In reality, the thinking that suffering domestic violence is redemptive serves to keep women in abusive relationships while enabling their abusers to carry on in their sin.  According to Kroeger and Nason-Clark, rather than an exhortation for wives to endure abuse, submission in 1 Peter 3:1-4 “involves scrupulous fulfillment of all legitimate obligations of marriage while upholding freedom to serve Christ.  The aim is not subordination but conversion, not by enabling what is wrong but by persisting in what is right" (see Kroeger and Nason-Clark p. 95).  Also of interest here is the authors’ comments on Sarah’s obedience to Abraham (1 Pet. 3:6) and Jesus as the Christian’s example (see chap. 7).

Challenging to the family nostalgia popular in America’s Christianity is the revelation of God at work in some of the most dysfunctional families imaginable, including separated and divorced families.  Piggybacking the Christian’s fascination with the ideal family is the reality that denying, ignoring, or minimizing woman abuse for the sake of holding a family together obstructs the work of the Holy Spirit.  “The Scriptures,” Kroeger and Nason-Clark maintain, “offer the hope of healing for troubled families, but it requires honesty, faith, hard work and the support of the believing community " (see Kroeger and Nason-Clark p. 101).

In the context of America’s quick-fix society, some elements of forgiveness and repentance that will undoubtedly be disturbing but nevertheless needful considerations in the context of woman abuse are the realities that forgiveness is a hard road, and forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  Forgiveness, rather than a simple act of human will, is a gift of enablement from God.  Repentance is the reality of a changed lifestyle.  According to Kroeger and Nason-Clark, “Too often Christians demand that others forgive immediately, before it is appropriate or advisable, before there can be adequate contrition, reflection or amelioration.”   Besides rushing forgiveness, five other errors commonly associated with woman abuse are

(1) denial
(2) concealment, secrecy and silence
(3) presuming on God’s protection
(4) discouraging a victim from finding shelter
(5) boycotting available resources. 

Amid these challenges is the good news that abusers can change.  Therein, however, the reader discovers yet another challenge, that is, change for perpetrators of woman abuse does not come easily.  Though tempting, helping abusers escape the consequences of their sin can be counterproductive.  To date, group therapy and tough love are the most productive means for the transformation of attitudes in perpetrators of woman abuse.  Violence is not to be tolerated.  Abusers cannot properly hold church offices, and Christian perpetrators unwilling to change are to be excommunicated (Matt. 18:17).

Finally, churches are faced with the challenge of divorce as it relates to cases of woman abuse.  Though divorce is clearly the least desirable option, divorce is, nevertheless a biblical option that may be necessary in wife-abuse cases.  While the first half of Malachi 2:16 reports the Lord’s hatred of divorce, the second half of Malachi 2:16 reports the Lord’s hatred of “a man’s covering his wife with violence as well as his garment.” Common in cases of wife abuse, seven other things the Lord hates according to Proverbs 6:16-17 are “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family” (NRSV).  Insightful and crucial to the divorce issue are the authors’ discussions of the breaking of the marriage covenant and the meaning of Jesus’ use of porneia  (translated unchastity) in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 (NRSV). 

Though at times painfully convicting and doctrinally challenging, reading No Place for Abuse can ultimately be rewarding, as the closing statement of the book contends:

The Bible consistently pronounces God’s judgment on those who use their power to inflict suffering on others.  Conversely, great blessing is promised to those who use their power to alleviate the oppression and suffering of others.  How will we respond to the challenge? (Kroeger and Nason-Clark 143)

Great reward awaits those willing to rise above the pain of conviction and meet the doctrinal challenges presented in this book in relation to woman abuse.  The testimony of Mary Nella Bruce, whose small church rose to the occasion by establishing refuge houses for abused women and their children, is a case in point:

The Jubilee House and the WellSpring House helped us grow in our faith as a local church.  We could see in visible and dramatic ways the results of our standing with the oppressed, abused, widows, and orphans.  We heeded the words of James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27, NRSV), and we discovered that when you set yourself on the side of the weak, God makes you strong  (see Bruce, p. 173).

In overcoming the pain and wrestling through the challenges presented by No Place for Abuse and to keep from becoming defensive or entertaining the notion that evangelical bashing is occurring here, the reader does well to remember the preface, which notes that this book was born out of a request before the Women’s Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF):

The Women’s Commission of the WEF was asked to form a task force on violence against women and to consider how the evangelical church worldwide could offer compassion and healing to [woman abuse] victims.  What is the extent of the problem of abuse? How are evangelical churches responding to the suffering caused by violence in the home? What theological principles can help the church offer hope in the midst of crises, to families both inside and outside the fold? (see Kroeger and Nason-Clark p. 8)

My only regret in reading this book is the same I have in reading woman-abuse literature in general, that is, the imago Dei, the most crucial of doctrines in dealing with human abuse, is but a mere mention in the space of the book’s two hundred pages.  Essentially the whole of the imago Dei doctrine is contained in a single sentence where Kroeger and Nason-Clark write, “In the creation story, male and female are made equally in the image of God, as woman is drawn from the very substance of man, to share his dreams, his intellect, his emotions, his spirituality” (see Kroeger and Nason-Clark p. 85).   This description is much too short as the imago Dei is the prima facie theology supporting non-abusive human relationships (see Clines 53; Henry 546; Matthews 164).

WORKS CITED__________

Alsdurf, James, and Phyllis.  Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1998.

Bruce, Mary Nella. “Creating Healing Environments for Abuse Survivors.” Women, Abuse, and the Bible: How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or Heal. Eds. Kroeger and Beck. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996, 161-74.

Clines, D. J. A. “The Image of God in Man.” Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968): 53-103.

Dobash R. Emerson, and Russell Dobash. Violence against Wives. New York: Free, 1979.

Henry, C. F. H. “Image of God.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter E. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984. 545-48.

Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989.

Kroeger, Catherine Clark, and Nancy Nason-Clark.  No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

Matthews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary: Genesis 1:11:26. Vol. 1A. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996.

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