Focus on the Family’s Scary Stance About Men Jailed for Domestic Violence

by | Jan 22, 2024 | Abuse | 31 comments

Focus on the Family Handles Men Jailed for Domestic Violenc

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.

Focus on the Family

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.

Sarah McDugal

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.”

She Deserves Better!

Because we all deserve a big faith.

Your daughter deserves better than what you likely grew up with in church.

What would it look like to prepare the next generation without toxic teachings about modesty, sex, or consent, and instead set her up for a big faith?

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.)

Dear Jim,

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:

  1. Focus on the Family does not consider being jailed for domestic violence to be a “significant issue threatening the marriage.”

or

  1. 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; 

or 

  1. 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.

Sincerely,

Sheila.

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

How Focus on the Family Handles Domestic Violence

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

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Problems with How Emerson Eggerichs Handles Abuse:

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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31 Comments

  1. Jane King

    I wish it was surprising that Focus on the Family prioritized the idol of marriage and male privilege over this brave woman an her precious children’s safety and well being. But it’s another day, another dollar for FOTF. Guys who abuse a pregnant woman are so dangerous. And in his case, the court recognize that and put him in jail.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, the court saw it and Focus didn’t! And imagine thinking that this guy made a good marriage leader?

      Reply
      • Jane King

        Well he’s had all that experience abusing… I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

        Reply
        • Lisa Johns

          Well, your comment made me laugh! But it is a horrible situation, and what kind of minds do they have at FOTF that thought at this point (after all the interaction over their stance on DV) that it was even OK to mention L&R?

          HUH??

          How clueless can they possibly be?

          Reply
          • Carla

            Sadly, not clueless at this point. It’s intentional and insidious.

        • J

          FOTF counselors talked my uncle out of divorcing his wife. She was/is an addict, an alcoholic, verbally abusive, and a compulsive liar. Her behavior harmed my whole family, not to mention the damage she had done to my uncle and their kids. Thanks to her, my mom hasn’t spoken to her brother and I haven’t seen my cousins in 15 years. If FOTF had offered him legal support and counseling for separation/divorce, maybe things would be different. Instead, they helped break up an entire generation.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s so heartbreaking, J. I have heard so many similar stories.

  2. Nessie

    I think fotf and others use the illusion of “control” to reel us in. I like to think that I can control my household- we can manage money, health, etc., but at the end of the day, it is an illusion. Ask Job- he took care of his household and things turned horrific quickly. In an immediate-gratification and perception-based society, we need to feel we have control.

    I honestly think fotf won’t “get it” until it hurts them financially. They can continue riding along, telling themselves they are doing good works (and some probably are for the smaller things) while pridefully feeling good about themselves. In their interpretation of religion, there is so much fear of punishment and shame. I think they don’t feel God’s love actively enough so they need to create their own feel-good moments to carry them along.

    Reply
  3. CMT

    Oh man. We evangelicals do love a good miraculous transformation story, don’t we?

    I actually really hope for this woman and her kids’ sake that this story is true as she tells it, and he did do the work and become a safe person. She just… left out all the parts about her husband’s abject apologies, years of intense counseling, and labor to heal and make amends without expectation of reward. I hope.

    The thing about miracle stories, or testimonies, or whatever, is that even when they are completely true, they shouldn’t be viewed as a model of “this is what you expect and strive for as a Christian.” Wisdom doesn’t hold out for the 1%, best case scenario, especially when the more likely alternatives are so horrendously costly for vulnerable people. Statistically this

    Reply
  4. Laura

    I don’t think FOTF will ever change. I wish I could believe that one day they will realize the harm they’ve caused for many people. As for these testimonies, I am in Celebrate Recovery and from the testimonies I have listened to, it takes lots of work to get to a place of healing and a changed life. Some of the men I know who were once abusive were that way when they were active in their chemical dependency addictions. Once they got clean, they began the work to stop abusive behaviors. The many men who abuse their wives, I wonder how many of them are alcoholics or drug addicts. Substance abuse and domestic violence seem to go together, at least from what I’ve noticed from hearing testimonies in Celebrate Recovery.

    Of course, there’s no excuse for abusive behaviors. I wonder if the husband in that FOTF testimony was alcoholic or drug addicted. In my case, my ex husband was neither. He was just immature and thought he was an entitled male who was influenced by typical evangelical teachings that FOTF endorses.

    As much as I believe in the power of prayer, you just cannot keep yourself in an unsafe situation or hold onto a toxic relationship hoping that all the prayers you pray will make the other person change. The only person you can change is you. Sometimes that may mean leaving. I have zero regret leaving my ex 22 years ago. I don’t know if he changed for the better but I was not going to waste my life on praying to keep an unhealthy, unsafe relationship that FOTF does not seem to acknowledge as toxic.

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      Thanks for exposing this toxic message.
      You’ve mentioned some of this before, but I can’t stress enough that the magical redemption message can be particularly dangerous because coercive control often doesn’t look like all violence, all the time. Instead, it can look like some outbursts of violence, combined with declarations that they didn’t mean it and really love the person and need them to come back immediately. That doesn’t mean the problem is fixed, it means that there is a cycle of abuse. The cycle also works to make it harder for the victim to get help, since family and other supports can be alienated, and there can be pressure to drop criminal charges or recant evidence of abuse. This can then be weaponized against the victim if they seek help again (although courts are social workers are starting to get better at knowing how the cycle of abuse works).

      Reply
  5. Amanda Cawvey

    I may just be restating what you, Sheila, and others have said, but I think FOTF is too afraid to admit that they’re wrong about this issue because it would mean that they’d actually have to deconstruct their beliefs about who Jesus is, what the Bible actually says about divorce, and so on. I don’t know if their egos will allow them to undergo this process, because it would mean that they would have to admit that a lot of the content they have produced was harmful and ungodly- and of course, it would mean admitting that they were wrong.
    I don’t want to go on a long tangent, but as someone who was married to an abusive man, I, like many women who are looking for help, turned to FOTF for answers. All I heard was the same old story, “Give him unconditional respect,” “Give him more sex,” “Don’t provoke him”… you get the idea. I tried molding myself into who my abuser wanted me to be to make him happy, because that is basically the advice that FOTF gave me from their podcasts, articles, blogs, etc. Of course, this failed miserably and my now ex-husband declared one day that I wasn’t what he wanted in a wife. I’m sharing this to confirm what many abused wives already know- FOTF is dangerous and has harmed so many people. I sincerely hope and pray that they will one day repent, but I’m finding it difficult to believe they ever will.

    Reply
  6. Andres

    I woudn’t be surprised if that woman contacts you eventually, like the one from the other horrible story, the one who was crying in the bathroom and ended up on your podcast. You are a safe space for FotF refugees.

    Reply
  7. JG

    What happened to freedom of speech? I thought that in the United States we had that freedom. But maybe it works at Focus as with other organizations like them that freedom exists as long as you “agree” with what they say. And they complain about cancel culture that happens to Christians. It seems to me that they are doing their share of cancelling others.

    Sorry for the rant. I get tired of being treated like this when what I say doesn’t mesh with someone else’s opinion.

    Reply
    • Anonymous305

      Freedom of speech is about what the government can’t do, so technically, FotF can use its free-speech rights to show the comments it wants to show and hide the comments it wants to hide. It wouldn’t be illegal unless the government told them what to censor.

      However, I do think it’s sleezy. Sleezy and not illegal.

      Reply
  8. Jo R

    Wow, what job would that abusive husband be qualified for if he’d actually murdered his wife? Senior pastor? Seminary president? 🤮

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Okay, that one made me laugh out loud. you have to laugh or you would cry!

      Reply
      • Sue

        Not so far fetched, JoR. ‘Tennessee Pastor Who Allegedly tried to Kill His Wife Plants New Church’ headline at Julie Roys Report.

        Reply
  9. Karena H

    Sheila, while it is disappointing and distressing and infuriating that FotF blocks you and your fellow authors/therapists/experts, and that they delete the comments of many of you, I went to the post just to see how the comments were going. I was delighted to see that there are HUNDREDS of posts calling out how terrible this entire post is, how it entraps women in abusive marriages, how rare it is that abusers actually truly repent and change, what are some of the more helpful and safe resources for women in abusive situations, etc. There is a general, widespread and loud uproar of women (and men!) in the comments who have not yet been silenced! I added to the avalanche with a few comments and correctives of my own. Linking arms with you in your mission, sister!!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you! Yes, they gave up deleting comments after a few days of deleting and blocking. So now there are just hundreds there calling out this post!

      Reply
  10. Nessie

    Guessing you couldn’t do a “Fixed it for you” on that Christmas image, and replace it with things like: For Christmas I want… “My husband to stop breaking my nose with his fist.” “My husband to stop m*lesting my child.” “My wife to stop verbally abusing me,” etc.

    Or simply, “Christian organizations to treat me with the same compassion with which Jesus treated the woman who was about to be stoned to death.”

    Reply
    • Jo R

      Sarah McDugal did dozens on her FB page.

      Reply
      • Nessie

        Great! I don’t use socials but I’m glad she did those! 🙂 Though it’s sad so many could be made.

        Reply
          • Nessie

            Unfortunately when I click the link, it says I must create an account to view those. But thank you greatly for trying to help out! 🙂

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I was pretty impressed with them all!

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes indeed!

      Reply
  11. Perfect Number

    Wowwww that Focus on the Family post is really bad

    Reply
  12. Anon Former FOTF Employee

    Worked for FOTF for a few years. Learned a lot while I was there, mostly about things I disagreed with. So many things. I was young and naive.

    Reply
  13. Jade

    Thank you for such a well written response. Couple of things:

    1. I am tired of seeing posts that encourage primarily the wives to stick it out and pray no matter what, and then at the very bottom or the beginning of the post, they throw in a quick disclaimer saying “of course, this doesn’t apply to abuse.” Yet, they never explain what domestic abuse all entails, and their post still includes very confusing language for a woman/man in an abusive situation.

    2. “A little leaven, leavens the entire lump.” There are so many more issues with FOTF. For example, their view of children and how to “discipline” them. It’s the same demonic spirit and attitude towards children that they hold toward women in my opinion.

    Reply

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