Published by P & R Publishing on September 16, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Marriage
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God does not intend for marriage to be a place of oppression. Providing practical tools and exercises, biblical counselor Darby Strickland prepares potential helpers to pick up on cues that could point to abuse and investigate them wisely. You will learn how to identify a range of abusive behavior and better understand the impact of abuse on victims--particularly wives. Ultimately, you will become equipped to provide wise and Christ-centered counsel while navigating a difficult and complex situation.
Understanding oppression: Is it abuse? --The helper's calling --The dynamics of abuse --Understanding the impacts of abuse --Helping the oppressed --Uncovering oppression: Uncovering physical abuse --Uncovering sexual abuse --Uncovering emotional abuse --Uncovering spiritual abuse --Uncovering financial abuse --Upholding the oppressed: Helping mothers and children --Supporting steps toward freedom --Appendices: A safety plan --Ten ways to educate your church --Detecting red flags during dating --Premarital abuse assessment --Abusive argument inventory --Who are domestic abuse experts?
This incredibly thorough book addresses the topic of domestic abuse from a biblical lens, helping Christians understand the dynamics of abuse so that they can help women who are suffering in oppressive marriages. Darby A. Strickland first became involved in this form of ministry when she became aware of subtle, secret issues in a friend’s marriage, and since that time, she has counseled many victims and helped them make decisions for their future. Previously, Strickland has shared her wisdom with the church through other writings and presentations, but this book is her thorough and intensive approach to helping Christian friends, counselors, and pastors understand abuse and help victims.
Strickland uses the language of “oppression” as a biblical way to understand abuse, drawing the reader’s attention to different Scripture passages about God’s heart for the oppressed. She dismantles culturally Christian views of marriage and submission that distort the Bible and enable oppressors, and challenges her readers to reconsider any beliefs that would cause them to blame victims, fail to hold oppressors accountable, or keep abuse invisible and ignored in their churches. She also includes information in the appendices about resources that people can access, emphasizing that caring friends should never try to handle everything on their own, but should reach out to professional and legal aid when necessary.
During the first part of Is It Abuse?: A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims, Strickland focuses on explaining abuse and providing resources for helpers. She encourages her readers to consider their own well-being to prevent burnout, and shares from personal experience about how important it is for helpers to get support, and to make sure that they are only assisting victims in ways that will support their ultimate flourishing. Throughout the book, she shares anecdotes about her own missteps along the way, showing what she has learned from women who have challenged her on ways that she might take over, push them too far, or express personal opinions that they feel bossed or controlled by. She emphasizes the importance of restoring a victim’s agency, instead of making decisions for her or telling her what to think, and emphasizes the long-haul process of abuse recognition and recovery.
Strickland explains that because victims may hide the true nature of their marriages out of shame, or may not understand how abnormal or unacceptable their husband’s behavior is, it is vital for helpers to ask assessing questions on a regular basis, building their understanding of the marriage over time. She encourages helpers to avoid labeling a marriage as abusive early on, since victims may not be ready to acknowledge this, and explains that helpers need to look for ongoing patterns of coercion and control. Even though it can be difficult at times to distinguish garden variety marital problems from abuse, when helpers ask the right questions, they can identify patterns of coercive power that indicate a larger problem.
Different Forms of Abuse
Strickland provides examples of probing questions that helpers can ask, and in the second part of the book, she addresses how Christians can uncover and deal with physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, and financial abuse in the lives of victims. She includes case studies from women she has helped, and even though these chapters can be very difficult to read, they help readers understand the devastation that oppression causes, and the long-term and escalating consequences of living with a spouse who disrespects your boundaries, exploits you for their own gain, and uses cruelty and threats to keep you under their control. Strickland emphasizes the importance of developing a safety plan, and includes a possible template among the different appendices in the back of the book.
She also writes about the difficult decisions that women have to make. and even though she urges anyone who is facing escalating physical violence to develop a safety plan and escape as soon as possible, she acknowledges the financial and social challenges that women face when leaving an abusive marriage, and writes about women who choose to stay. Strickland addresses how churches can confront spouses and try to call them to repentance, showing that even though spouses often refuse to acknowledge their sin, manipulate helpers, and are unwilling resolve their issues, women often feel freer to end their marriages once they are sure that they have done all that they can do. She also notes that in some rare cases, oppressive husbands truly do repent and change, but she encourages churches and helpers to continue monitoring the situation and remain involved for the long haul.
Another chapter addresses the complications that women with children face. Strickland shares advice for how helpers can support mothers, and includes diagnostic questions related to whether or not the children have experienced abuse, are aware of the abuse that their mother is facing, or have witnessed violence in their home. She details the possible consequences that children from troubled home environments may experience throughout their lives, ensuring that people are aware how serious the situation is, but she also encourages readers that children can overcome these risk factors through appropriate counseling and support. This chapter is primarily directed towards the mother, not to helpers, but the information and perspective are helpful for both.
Strickland also writes about ways that helpers can promote awareness of abuse, get their churches involved, and deal with situations where pastors and church leaders disbelieve women or are unwilling to support decisions for divorce. However, Strickland’s personal experience has primarily involved supportive and helpful churches, and I wish that she had included more information for people in hostile church environments. Also, even though Strickland provides accurate interpretations of Bible verses that people commonly misuse, explaining why it is never acceptable for a church to counsel a woman to submit to abuse, her writing about divorce is fairly brief. Given what an obstacle it is for many Christian women to think of ending their marriages, I wish that she had provided even more information and an even fuller biblical perspective on when divorce is appropriate.
What About Abused Men?
This book exclusively addresses female victims. At the beginning, Strickland explains that because domestic abuse is a “gendered” problem, even though men can be abuse victims, she only focuses on women throughout the book. She backs this up with statistics and her own experience, but because men are less likely to report abuse, much less approach a female counselor about it, her experience doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of abused men in her church and community.
In the introduction, she says that churches can also use this book to help men, but I am concerned that this side-note will get lost in the rest of the material, and that if pastors and counselors learn to always see the man as a problem without any countering examples of female abusers, it will be even more difficult for an abused man to seek help. In a less comprehensive book, this wouldn’t matter as much, but Is it Abuse? is so incredibly thorough and detailed that a church could build a domestic violence ministry around it, and I am concerned that such a ministry could have significant blind spots to male victims.
Absolutely, men are far less likely to be victimized than women, but there are ways to acknowledge their experiences without deflecting attention from female victims, and I wish that Strickland had included at least one chapter about male victims, or brought up female-on-male oppression in the chapters about emotional and spiritual abuse, which men are more likely to experience than physical forms of abuse. Even though Strickland does acknowledge abused men in the introduction, she does not share any illustrative examples or address how churches can approach marriages with female abusers. This is why I am giving this book 4.5 instead of 5 stars.
This is an incredibly thorough resource that will define domestic abuse in the minds of many Christians, and I am thankful that Strickland has shared her expertise and wisdom with the church. This book will help friends, counselors, and pastors understand the dynamics of oppression and assess troubled marriages for warning signs, and provides detailed guidance for how they can support abuse victims over the long haul. I wish that this book had addressed the experiences of male victims, and am concerned that the exclusively female focus may make male victims’ experiences even more invisible, but this book is an excellent guide to a deeply important and threatening problem facing both society and the church. Even though this book is imperfect, as any guide to such a complicated topic would be, it is incredibly thorough and wise, and I highly recommend it to Christian readers.