The following is a link to an article by Jim Newheiser who is now head of the counseling program at Reformed Theological Seminary. It is entitled Helping Churches to do a Better Job Handling Cases of Abuse. Read it for yourself at the link.
I have criticized Newheiser before for his abuser-enabling teachings on this subject. In this article, written just last September, he makes statements that might lead people to think he is a real ally to abuse victims. Be assured that he is not. “Biblical Counselors” work from a foundation theology that is unbiblical and erroneous. These people always attribute sin and blame and guilt to most anyone they counsel, including abuse victims. In addition, Newheiser continues to deny that divorce is the right approach to marriage to an abuser. He even accuses the victim of “hardening her heart” if she decides to do so and in connection with that accusation it is quite plain that he is accusing ministries such as A Cry for Justice of enabling victims to “harden their hearts” rather than remaining married to the abuser.
Just check out some of these quotes from Newheiser’s article and you can see for yourself what I mean. The first quote is how the article opens and the reader will think, “alright, he’s finally getting it.” But it’s not to be.
Sadly, I have been witness to a discouraging pattern in local churches as they handle cases involving abuse. It begins as church leaders are made aware of a situation in which a husband is acting abusively towards his wife, and it has been going on for quite some time. The abuse may include any or all of the following: coercion, threats, outbursts of anger, or some degree of physical force. Typically, church leaders get involved late in the situation because the victim is in fear of reporting her abuser, or perhaps thinks she is somehow to blame for his actions.
Church leaders often initially treat these cases as typical marital conflict, treating the sins of each party in a more or less equal way. They fail to make a sufficient distinction between the wife’s “misdemeanor” sins of provocation or disrespect, and the husband’s “felonious” sins of murderous anger. Abusive husbands intensify this problem as they manipulate the situation and focus their counselor’s attention on the wife’s faults.
But, alas, read on:
As the church intervention progresses, the relationship between the husband and wife continues to deteriorate. In spite of the husband’s promises to change, hateful outbursts of anger, intimidation, manipulative control and even violence persist. Church leaders realize the seriousness of the husband’s sin, and take steps to put pressure on him and to protect his wife and children. They counsel the husband separately with the hope that he will truly repent and the marriage can be reconciled. Sometimes at this stage the church leaders agree that a physical separation may be necessary for the safety of the wife and children.
When the pressure is ramped up, the husband willingly participates in counseling and is outwardly compliant towards church leadership. The wife, on the other hand, begins to be influenced by certain friends, family, and various victims’ advocates (online and in print) who tell her that her church leadership has failed and that she should divorce her husband. Her heart becomes hardened and eventually she announces that she is done and plans to leave.
Note two particular points (I bold-faced them). 1) The “let’s never talk about divorce as an option” language starts here. “Sometimes as this stage the church leaders agree that a physical separation may be necessary…”. Newheiser has always equivocated in this manner on this point. The fact is, he teaches that divorce is always a sin, never God’s will, even for the victim in abuse cases. 2) Secondly, note that Newheiser, incredibly, accuses the abuse victim who resolves to leave her abuser of having hardened her heart!! And of course it is obvious that Newheiser (who is no friend of mine or of A Cry for Justice) slams people like us for convincing abuse victims that they should not only leave, but divorce their abuser. So you see how deceptive he is being here as he claims to be an authority on how to help abuse victims!!
Now, here comes some more victim blaming by Newheiser:
Even if the wife is responding imperfectly to her husband’s sinful anger (Prov 22:24-25), her more common marital sins of selfishness and careless speech should not be treated as equivalent to the sins of violence, harsh verbal outbursts (Prov 11:9; 12:18), physical intimidation, and manipulative threats made by her husband. Abusers need to come under the discipline of the church and victims must be protected. Error on the side of safety.
Both the abuser and the victim need godly counsel. It is usually best to counsel them separately at first so that the wife’s abuser will not intimidate her during the session. She needs protection and healing. The abuser needs strong admonition and accountability. I highly recommend Chris Moles’ The Heart of Domestic Abuse, which takes a tough love approach with an abuser while also offering hope that he can be changed through God’s Word and Spirit.
See it? While there is a superficial facade of being an ally of the victim, the fact is that Newheiser and his school of counselors always, always, always tell people they counsel that they are guilty of sin. THEIR sin is the problem or at least a good part of the problem. Here, Newheiser so “generously” grants that the abuse victim’s SIN is not as great as her abuser’s! But she is still guilty of sin that has contributed the the abuse. That is what he teaches. He refuses to acknowledge that abuse is NOT the product of the abuser’s “buttons being pushed.” It is not an anger issue. It is the evil of lust for control and power which the abuser exercises and seeks and he would do so even if his wife were as perfect as Jesus Himself!!
Notice once again that in these paragraphs Newheiser, as he ALWAYS does, dances around the fundamental issue of the abuse victim’s biblical right to divorce her abuser. Why? Because Newheiser believes that God never desires divorce for abuse and that at best divorce for abuse is a sin that God will need to forgive.
Lest anyone doubt that what I am saying about Newheiser’s views on divorce for abuse, he convicts himself in the following paragraphs from his article:
Churches should handle situations in which the victim of abuse chooses to pursue divorce very gently and carefully. Abused wives often become hardened towards their husbands. They sometimes are critical and disrespectful towards those in the church who tried to counsel them. Church leaders may be tempted to react against this bad attitude by disciplining the wife for her hard-heartedness in pursuing a divorce without clear biblical grounds. Wisdom and compassion are necessary for a biblical response on the part of the church as well as the woman.
When a victim has given up hope of her marriage being reconciled it is prudent to ask for patience on all sides. Time should be allowed to see if the Lord might work to genuinely transform the abuser and to soften the heart of the victim. The abuser can demonstrate the sincerity of his repentance by patiently respecting his spouse’s need for time and space rather then pressing to be allowed to return home and have his full marital rights restored. The victim should be assured that she would not be pressured to go back to an unsafe situation.
In spite of the counsel of church leaders (who hope that the marriage can be restored), some victims are absolutely determined to press ahead with divorce. My understanding is that Scripture does not teach that church leaders are obligated to exercise church discipline in every case of divorce. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul tells a wife not to leave her husband, but then he says, “But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.” Paul cannot affirm her decision to leave, but rather than put her out of the church or treat her as an unbeliever; he speaks to her as a Christian sister and tells her that she must either be reconciled to her husband or remain unmarried.
Can you believe that? My, how gracious. Newheiser cuts her some slack and says, well, ok, let’s not hand her over to Satan via church discipline. Oh, and don’t miss that last statement: Newheisiier says we are to tell her she cannot remarry.
Jim Newheiser is no friend of those who are crying out for justice in Christ’s church. He is now the director of counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary and that should frighten us all. Jim, you have no right to exercise the kind of authority you are claiming for yourself over victims of abuse. They do not need to seek your permission nor their church’s permission to divorce. They have every right to remarry. And if you really wanted to help churches do a good job of helping abuse victims and dealing rightly with their abusers, you would see abusers for what they really are. Revilers. People we are not to try to fix, but wicked ones we are to put out of the church. We are not to even eat with such people. You will find that in Paul’s direction to the Corinthians as well.
**Neither myself nor our comrades at A Cry for Justice endorse the teachings of Chris Moles, who Newheiser recommends here. You will find the reasons why in an upcoming post at A Cry for Justice written by Barbara Roberts.