Focus on the Family wants women to believe that if they pray, men jailed for domestic violence can change.
Just before Christmas, on December 19, something super strange happened on the Focus on the Family Facebook Page.
They shared this story:
“My marriage was over.
Or so I thought.
My husband had an affair while I was pregnant with our fifth child, and was suddenly overcome with uncharacteristic rage that became dangerous. He went to jail, and my children and I left to live with my mom on the opposite side of the country.
I went through cancer treatment and watched my spouse destroy the life we had built over our 10 years together. I decided to move on. God was so close and so kind with me. He had me start praying and loving this monster of a man from a distance.
Searching for help, I stumbled upon some community boards in connection with Focus on the Family. I was encouraged to stand for my marriage. I then watched God work miracles on our behalf that resulted in my husband’s repentance, transformation, and gradually, the restoration of our marriage. Focus was instrumental during our journey by providing a counseling referral, Torn Asunder, and Love and Respect materials. Today my husband and I facilitate Love and Respect classes and share our marriage testimony. –Lisa, Oregon”
We know that for many people, Christmas is a battle to survive emotional chaos. We want to come alongside and pray with you and offer spiritual, practical help this holiday season. CLICK HERE to set up a call with a counselor.
They used this image to go with it:
I heard about this because a commenter left a link on a separate post, and I went to check it out.
I have two Facebook accounts: My page, and my personal account. They banned my page ages ago, but my personal account still worked. I wondered if I could get a comment through without them deleting it right away, so I left this:
Here’s a testimony that is just as good: A husband betrays a wife with infidelity and rageful abuse, ends up in jail, and then abandons her during her cancer therapy. She learns that she is precious to God and that Jesus wants to rescue her from abuse, not make her submit to it. She learns that she is free to leave! And Jesus provides a church community that comes alongside her, and doesn’t tell her that she needs to pray more for him, and doesn’t ask if she submitted enough or had enough sex, or ask doesn’t she realize what she is doing to her children by leaving? Instead, that church community loves that woman and is so happy she is rescued, and helps her with child care and finding a job and getting good legal help so she can keep the house.
It was immediately deleted and I was blocked.
I posted about this and told some friends, and within an hour hundreds of people were on the Focus on the Family page. Sarah McDugal shared this:
This makes me so very sad. Husband commits adultery, shatters both his own integrity, and his wife and children’s hearts. He’s violently dangerous during his wife’s fifth pregnancy in 10 years, which means she’s exceedingly vulnerable, and dependent on him for support both financially and at home with five precious Littles. His actions have proven that he doesn’t care one wit about being a safe, reliable, trustworthy, husband, or father. In fact, she says he’s a monster.
She experiences so much trauma, that she ends up with cancer while solo parenting five babies… Which means those babies are deeply traumatized as well.
Instead of being supported in her trauma, and reassured that his actions have utterly obliterated any marriage covenant that once existed, FOTF materials encourage her to cling from a far to a malicious, and evil partner, who has already abandoned her in every possible way.
This is a pathological refusal to accept the actions of someone who chose to walk away and immerse themselves in destruction, at the cost of health and wholeness for six other people.
This is not Christ like love.
This is what religiously-cloaked hatred for women and children looks like.
This is insanity.
And it breaks my heart.
Over the next three days, Focus on the Family edited their original story several times, taking out the bit about Love & Respect and about jail, and then putting it back in when people complained about the editing.
They added a bit about calling a domestic violence hotline, saying that if you’re in an abusive relationship, you really should call them. (Then why are they highlighting a woman in a domestic violence relationship who called Focus?)
Thousands of comments were left, many by abuse survivors saying how inappropriate and dangerous this story was. Most were blocked and deleted, until they just gave up about two days in and let stuff stand.
I wanted to write about this so that the incident was preserved on the blog.
Let’s go over what’s wrong with Focus on the Family’s approach.
1. People in jail for domestic violence very, very rarely get healthy.
It is very, very hard to go to jail for domestic violence. Seriously, abuse victims have such a difficult time getting the courts to take them seriously. The fact that this guy went to jail was significant.
And he physically abused her while she was pregnant with their fifth child. This is a terribly unsafe relationship.
The chance of someone like this becoming healthy, according to research and counselors I’ve spoken with, is less than 5%, and probably somewhere in the realm of 1-2%. This is bad.
Yet what does Focus on the Family do? Encourage women in these situations to pray, call them for materials (like Love & Respect!), and believe that the marriage can get better.
Imagine being on a ward for terminally ill children with cancer. And imagine a speaker coming in to talk to the parents about how she prayed and her child was healed! That would be a cruel thing to say, because what those parents need to hear is that you can treasure every moment now; that tears are okay; that life will go on, you will get through this, but you will be forever changed.
Well, women married to abusers like this need to know not that they should keep praying for restoration, but that it’s okay to move on.
2. The responsibility for healing the marriage is put on the wrong person.
Why is there no testimony from a husband saying, “I was abusive, and I realized I was abusive, and I repented, and I got therapy, and I regained trust over a period of years, and I have accountability, and I am trying to help my wife and kids get over the trauma I caused.”
Why is there no testimony from a man saying, “I learned that trying to control my wife wasn’t okay”?
Notice how these things are always aimed at the woman–the person who can’t actually make her marriage less abusive.
You know who can fix an abusive marriage? The abuser. That’s the only person. And that’s what people need to hear. The abuse victim needs to be told, “your safety matters most, make plans for the future, get safe, and if he ever actually gets better, then you can reevaluate. But for now, you move on.”
3. There is no expectation that rebuilding trust is up to him–and it takes a long time
Indeed, nothing about his recovery is really talked about. How long did it take? What did it look like? How did she know he is safe now? What safeguards were in place? There’s nothing.
In Love & Respect there are several anecdotes of domestic violence situations, including one where a man was jailed. And what does Eggerichs say about these? Nothing about rebuilding trust, but merely celebrating that the man “repented.”
And then what was the woman’s job? To learn never to mention the abuse again; to unconditionally respect him, remembering his fragile ego, so that he can be the spiritual leader; and to stop provoking his anger.
4. Focus on the Family thinks people jailed for domestic violence make great Love & Respect study leaders.
I’m amazed they actually admitted this in public, but they actually published a story where the “happy ending” is that the husband is now leading Love & Respect seminars.
So Focus on the Family thinks it’s appropriate for a man who has been jailed for domestic violence to now lead these marriage courses.
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5. Focus on the Family recommends Love & Respect for couples where an abuser has been jailed for domestic violence.
This has been a huge point of contention between Focus on the Family and me, because when I have raised issues with them about how the book enables abuse, they have told me that it isn’t meant for those in abusive marriages (even though the book talks about abusive marriages and how respecting him somehow cures this).
After this incident, I sent off another letter to Jim Daly, the President of Focus on the Family. I refer in this letter to emails that I previously published in my original open letter to Focus on the Family. (You can see those emails here.)
On December 19, you published on your Facebook Page a testimonial from “Lisa”, a woman whose marriage was marked by her husband’s infidelity and domestic abuse, for which he was jailed. At the time, she was pregnant with her fifth child. She later got cancer, and she was abandoned and alone, but she prayed and called Focus on the Family and you recommended Love & Respect resources. The marriage was restored and they now run Love & Respect classes together.
This testimony contradicts what Tammy Masters wrote to one of my readers on May 1, 2019, where she claimed that Focus on the Family does “distinguish between those resources that are aimed at fine-tuning relatively healthy marriages and those geared toward addressing troubling or even destructive patterns in a marriage.” In that email she acknowledged that Love & Respect was best for those without “significant issues threatening the marriage.”
Given these two contradictory statements, there are only three options:
- Focus on the Family does not consider being jailed for domestic violence to be a “significant issue threatening the marriage.”
- Different staff members of Focus on the Family give contradictory advice, and they are not aware of the official stance that Love & Respect is only to be given out when there are no significant issues;
- You actually stand behind Love & Respect in all cases (as your letter from Rebecca Marshall addressed to me, dated October 2019, intimated), and the letter you sent to my reader did not reflect Focus on the Family’s stance, but instead was intended to deflect criticism about how you recommend harmful resources to abuse victims.
At the time that I read Tammy Masters’ email, I feared that #3 was the case, and I had anecdotal evidence to support that fear, but nothing concrete. However, your organization has now admitted on social media that they recommend Love & Respect in cases where spouses have been jailed for domestic violence, and that they consider such spouses appropriate leaders of Love & Respect marriage courses.
Along with dozens of licensed counselors and abuse advocates, I find it very concerning that you would hold up this couple’s testimony as one to emulate, rather than telling women whose husbands have been jailed for beating them that their safety and that of their children is the #1 concern. You must be aware of how few abusive husbands actually change, as well as how many women are murdered by their abusive spouses every year. Murder is more likely the longer one waits and ignores red flags, and that is what you are encouraging women to do in this post.
Quite frankly, this is irresponsible and unconscionable, and I urge you to take the post down.
If you do decide to take down the post and issue an apology let me know, and I will post it on social media, thanking you.
And if you do believe that Love & Respect actually isn’t appropriate when there are significant issues in the marriage, as your organization did once say, then I would urge you to issue a memo telling your staff about this, because obviously not everyone understands your position. If you do this, I would, again, be happy to post about this and thank you.
I fear, though, given our past interactions, that you have shown you are more interested in escaping accountability and deflecting criticism than actually dealing with life-threatening issues in real women’s lives who are coming to you for help, and whom Jesus has entrusted to you.
I would take that seriously.
And this season, perhaps instead of “focusing on the family”, you could focus on Jesus.
Thank you. And again, if you do want to clear any of this up and issue any statements that correct your previous treatment of abuse victims, I would be happy to thank you publicly and post them as appropriate.
I have not had a response.
And as of this writing, the Focus on the Family Facebook post is still up.
If you recognize yourself in these stories, please contact a Domestic Violence Hotline
- Canada: 800.799.SAFE (7233)
- United States: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).
- United Kingdom: 08 08 16 89 111
- Australia: 1800 015 188
- New Zealand: 0800 456 450
- Kenya: 0-800-720-072
- Nigeria: 0800 033 3333
- South Africa: 0800 428 428
What do you think it will take for Focus on the Family to get it? Why are they so wedded to harmful resources and fairy tale endings, despite the evidence of danger and harm done? Let’s talk in the comments!
Other Posts about the Issues in Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Must Read Overall Synopsis:
- Download our One-Sheet Summary of the Problems with Love & Respect
- Our Rubric and Scorecard Outlining Why Love & Respect Scored 0/48 on Healthy Sexuality
- An Outline of How Emerson Eggerichs Misuses Scripture in Love & Respect
- I’m Passing the Torch on Love & Respect. 10 Ways You Can Pick it Up
Basic Issues with Love & Respect:
- A Review of Love and Respect: How the Book Gets Sex Horribly Wrong
- Love and Respect: Why Unconditional Respect Can’t Work
- The Ultimate Flaw in the Book Love and Respect: Jesus Isn’t at the Center
- Is It Okay if Christian Marriage Books are Just a Little Bit Harmful?
Problems with How Emerson Eggerichs Handles Abuse:
- Dissecting a Sermon Series where Emerson Eggerichs Gaslights Abuse Victims
- Love & Respect is Being Used by the BDSM Community to Convince Wives to Submit to Domination
- How Emerson Eggerichs Misses Examples of Marital Rape
Podcasts Discussing these Issues:
- Why Unconditional Respect Isn't a Thing (and how the verse the book is based on, and the survey data the book is based on, don't hold water).
- An Example from Eggerichs' blog of Eggerichs Gaslighting Women (we work through line by line)
- Dissecting Eggerichs' Love & Respect Sermons at Houston's First Baptist Church, with His Dismissal of Abuse
- How Emerson Eggerichs Ignores Marital Rape, plus our interview with The Woman Crying in the Shower
- How Emerson Eggerichs Misuses Scripture in Love & Respect
- Our Love & Respect Wrap Up