Spousal Abuse, Pastoral Theology, and Pastoral Practice: The First Step.

August 17, 2017

by Mark Garcia

In preparation for an upcoming full Greystone course in Domestic Violence in Theology and Ministry, I’ve been working through a pile a volumes on the topic that I’ve read over the last decade or so. Some have been truly helpful, many less so, and more than a few have been misleading, even dangerous. With precious few exceptions, all of these books have been written in the mode of the counseling movement and its often frustratingly thin thinking, or written for a general audience interested in social or relationship issues. Only a negligible number are written in a mode that recognizes the issue of domestic violence as a properly theological issue requiring serious biblical, historical, and theological work. This unfortunate blind-spot–combined with the increasing frequency with which I am asked to assist other pastors, church sessions, and church bodies with domestic violence, divorce theory, and related challenges–prompts the Greystone initiative reflected in this upcoming class (Spring 2017), as well as the three-course credential to which it will belong.

For far too long, many have approached these questions within the ambit of that poorly disguised and misnomered field of inquiry, “practical theology,” where so much is “practical” and so little is “theological.” But domestic violence is in fact a rather prominent biblical theme, requiring serious exegetical labor if we will hear the Word faithfully, and it is also a densely theological subject area, involving various commitments in theological anthropology, Christology, and ecclesiology. How the material and immaterial facets of the human person relate, how to characterize and quantify non-physical forms of abuse or misuse in light of the human telos, the nature and purpose of marital and other domestic relations, and so on: they seldom enjoy a serious role in the go-to book in the minister’s library on how to think about bad marriages, spousal abuse, or personal oppression. Sociologically, I have found that much of this subject area spooks confessionally Reformed folk because the vocabulary is foreign or seems to recall pop psychology, humanistic social theories, or the no-fault divorce culture. But the eye-opener that the Scriptural witness can be as it confronts us with these questions, and learning that the Reformed tradition has been far from silent on them…this disturbs the comfortable, and in life-giving way.

The first volume in this subject area that I will note my next post is a very slim one and, like all the examples I will survey in the days and weeks to come, it has its strength and weaknesses. But before we turn to that book for the first time, there is something else that requires mention. It will embarrass me, since few enjoy pointing out personal errors, especially consequential ones, but I hope my failure will serve as a useful lesson for others, even a warning.

The Discovery, Too Late, of a Classic Profile

Recently I was able to take a small step toward righting a wrong, a wrong of my own doing from many years ago. In my first encounter with a form of domestic violence, I failed. Badly. And it has haunted me with alarming regularity ever since.

In a former congregation that I served alongside another pastor, the session and pastor of that church leaned on me for help interpreting and assessing a situation of spousal abuse. I was unprepared for what I faced, unprepared for the timely, urgent, important service I was rightly expected to be able to render. Only later, and much too late, did I learn that the characteristics of this situation were not only far from unique, but that they remain frighteningly common to the point of providing a predictable profile for abusive husbands in church contexts. In this case, as in very many, the husband was a publicly magnanimous, generous, respected, amiable, and visibly earnest or sincere fellow; he had been through some seminary education and was on a ministry track, and was being considered for church office; he wore his allegiance to (his version of) Reformed theology loudly and publicly; he was active and energetic in contexts of service and visible support of the work of the church; and he was also especially eager to develop and strengthen close friendships with those in positions of influence in the congregation, particularly the ministers…

Continue reading at The Quarry.


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After Patriarchy, Part 2: The Story of a Model

July 07, 2016

by Mark Garcia