Ordained Episcopalian priest and professor at Gordon-Conwell Theologian Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary Justin Holcomb has authored a book domestic violence with his wife Lindsey Holcomb, who has worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In their latest book, Is It My Fault? the Holcombs share the "good news of the Gospel" with victims of domestic violence. In the second of the three-part interview, Justin spoke with The Christian Post on how women can decipher if they are in a violent relationship, his beliefs on divorce in this context and if the book addresses male victims.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
CP: What are the signs that you are in a violent relationship?
Holcomb: It's helpful to look in a few different directions both at what your partner's behavior is and what are the effects for you: your thoughts and your feelings and putting them together because it is a relational thing that is happening because some of the stuff is really obvious.
We went through and made a list. These are eight different categories or personas that abusers commonly exhibit. Is he a bully or is he a jailer that isolates you? Is he the headworker who is emotionally, psychologically abusive and is always putting you down? Is he the persuader, who's always manipulating and trying to turn the kids against you or threatening to kill himself? Does he lie all the time? Is he just a horrible father? Is he a domineering king of the castle or is he the sexual controller?
Looking at the behaviors objectively, they can fall under numerous different categories. Is he yelling at you? Does he embarrass you? Is he blaming you? Are you not allowed to disagree? Does he view you as a sexual object or in addition does he think he's entitled or has any type of ownership of you in anyway? Does he try to belittle you and blame you for things? Is he really possessive? There's a checklist on pages 33-35 that we give people.
And then, looking at different categories. Okay, physically, how does he interact with you? Sexually how does he interact with you? Emotionally and psychologically and spiritually? Financially? Does he physically harm you? That's an obvious one. What kind of verbal, psychological, financial, sexual and others?
Then, looking at the person. Are you walking on egg shells around this person? Are you afraid to disagree? Do you feel emotionally numb or helpless? Are you afraid of your partner's temper? Do you avoid certain topics because you're afraid of angering him? Are you afraid of your partner most of the time? Do you feel like you are going crazy? That actually sounds really silly, but there were five key experiences that women across the board have in common: fear, shame, guilt, anger and what they call the nameless feeling of "going crazy." If you're thinking about your relationship and there's lots of that, that's also helpful to know.
CP: In the context of domestic violence, what do you believe about divorce?
Holcomb: We believe that separation or divorce is an option in abusive relationships. We don't agree with those who say there's no reason for divorce ever (and some people believe that) or that it's only in issues of adultery. We're not convinced that Jesus was being comprehensive when he said there are these reasons for divorce. We also believe that marriage is a covenant and divorce is the breaking of that covenant and that when a man chooses to be abusive he breaks that covenant. Therefore we believe that an abusive man forfeits the right to remain married unless the wife wants to stay married. If the woman chooses to divorce him, she is making public his covenant breaking and this does not go against what the Bible says about divorce.
CP: Why do believe that Jesus was not being comprehensive in his divorce teachings?
Holcomb: I like Craig Keener on this. He argues that physical abuse is essentially a form of infidelity that breaks the marriage contract. I think that's helpful…I think that First Corinthians 7 and Exodus 21 argues that emotional and material abuse and neglect are a breaking of that contract. That's from David Instone-Brewer. I don't think that pornia, which is the word that is used, is only specifically sexual infidelity. I don't think it has an exclusively sexual reference. I don't think he's trying to be comprehensive.
If you think that Jesus is comprehensive, then the Bible is certainly contradicting itself with the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul talks about one reason for divorce and then you have Jesus talking about this other one and I don't think they're being comprehensive — here's the whole list of reasons why you can't be divorced. Now they are against this kind of simplistic divorce culture. That's kind of obvious. The Bible is clear about that. God does hate divorce. God also hates the abuse of women.
CP: What do you know about male victims of domestic violence?
Holcomb: I don't know many of them. I do know of some. We talked about this in the book, where we said men predominantly are the abusers and women are predominantly the abused. The whole issue of men being abused by women or being abused in general is a very important and sensitive subject, but we're going just going to take the pronoun she and her because it is dominant, especially in the church. We were assuming the religious audience; we weren't just trying to have a broad audience.
In addition to married couples in which the man can be the victim, there's also same-sex couples and partnerships. In same-sex partnerships there's actually an added dimension of suffering, because there can be the threat that one will out the other person, if he or she hasn't already come out of the closet — another added point of leverage. While the culture is changing on this issue —pretty quickly, especially regarding marriage — there still is a general cultural disapproval, it hasn't changed all the way at least.