We are still here

1774882252-still_hereFor the past month or so, I’ve taken a necessary step back from social media and from posting on the Lydia site. This is partly due to responsibilities I have in my academic post. But also I’ve been overwhelmed and discouraged by the gravity of the issues facing women in the Christian church and more widely. And those feelings haven’t gone anywhere. A few weeks ago, I had a panic attack in my office and then, the week before last, I broke down giving a short presentation on my research to my colleagues. Last week, I attended a conference in Holland on marital captivity and learned about the global scale on which women, including Christian women, are abused, held captive, humiliated, and debased. I talked with a new friend there about the strange guilt we felt at our own deep sadness. What right had we to talk of our feelings, knowing what we do of what our sisters suffer? We who have been given so much.

I write this to say we at the Lydia Center are here, we are listening, and we are working, slowly as it may go. I delivered a more polished version of my paper on divorce sermons at the conference last week, and I am moving ahead with getting that work published. I am preparing a grant proposal to expand the work on sermons, to look more broadly at how pastors talk about divorce as well as womanhood, marriage, and the like. I have collected around 400 texts on consent which will make explicit how the Christian community talks about marital rape. Mark is continuing his research on a major volume dealing with gender and marriage from a theological perspective. The Lydia Symposium talks are now completely edited and will be available shortly. We are also slowly building up contacts which will help the Lydia Center get to grips with these complex issues. Work is slow, but it is steady. We at the Lydia Center may go quiet from time to time, but we are still here.

How to be a friend to someone facing abuse: Guest Post by Alice Childers

a-cord-of-three-strandsOpening Remarks to the Guest Post

The words of our enemies aren’t as awful as the silence of our friends.

Daisy Coleman

Last weekend, I watched the documentary Audrie and Daisy, which explores the ‘public square of shame’ of young girls who have been sexually assaulted. While this documentary is a powerful expose of rape culture (in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence towards women is normalized), it is also a disturbing portrait of secondary victimization via bystanders. When a victim of some kind of gender-based violence (whether that be physical or psychological) reports her abuse, the response of those around her can either be a source of great comfort and empowerment or they can be themselves a form of violence.

The devastating effects of secondary victimization are well-documented (see Chapter 8 of this book for a start). However, also worthy of attention is what some call the ‘friendship protection hypothesis‘. In short, when the friends, family, and acquaintances of a victim and officials tasked with responding to sexual assault, bullying, or other kinds of intimate partner violence believe, support, comfort, encourage, and assist, victims of such crimes, good things happen. Not only are victims better equipped to heal from their trauma, but they are less likely to be re-victimized.

Mark and I had the great privilege of meeting two ladies, one a survivor of spousal abuse and the other her friend, at the inaugural Lydia Symposium a few weeks ago. Both drove a long distance to attend, and having heard their story, we asked the friend to write a guest post for us in response to the question: What does it mean to be a friend to someone facing abuse? We are grateful to be able to publish her account in her own words here.

How to be a Good Friend to Someone Facing or Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Walking with someone who is coming out of an abusive relationship will not be like any other situation you have faced.  At least, this is what I have found.

I have learned throughout this experience with my best friend, that there are a number of things she needs.

First of all, she needs to be believed. This may sound trivial, but there will be many people who will not believe her, or will minimize what she says or what she has been through.

She also needs to hear you say you will never leave her.  You should show her this with both words and actions.  For my friend and me, this means having my cell phone near at all times, especially by my bed at night, when her fear is often the greatest. She needs to be reassured and listened to.  Her fear is very real and at times almost unbearable. You can be that calm voice to reassure your friend she is not alone.  She will have triggers, memories that come back which have been suppressed, sometimes for years, because of the fog she has lived in.

Listening and praying, reading scripture and reminding her of truth; these are ways my friend has needed me.  Encourage your friend and let her know this did not happen overnight, and won’t change overnight.  Patience is key.  Leaving an abusive relationship is a huge life change for her. But you being there as a faithful, consistent presence will make the journey so much easier and better for her.

Incorporating things which might give a sense of normalcy to her life, is another important thing I have learned. Planning fun times like shopping, going out for coffee or a movie, or whatever your friend enjoys, is another way you can help her feel like she is moving on.  Laughter, music, time with other friends or family can all be a blessing, as well as healing, for her. Supporting her in different ways will be essential.

Leaving an abusive relationship is a very courageous thing to do.  But it is also scary and creates more fear in your friend’s life. Validation is so important.  Love her.  Respect her. Treat her with dignity.

My friend is not a victim anymore.  She is a survivor.

I believe one of the most important things to give her is unconditional love. I have spent many days listening, praying, and often, crying with my friend.  She has had so many emotions; grief, anger, despair, shock, betrayal, and a host of others.  Unconditional love is vital.  She will need it in your hugs, and by holding her hand when she finds out yet another lie.  Through it all, you can tell her and show her that you will stand with her and weather the storm together.

As a friend who has walked closely with someone who is leaving an abusive marriage, I can tell you that God has taught me in a whole new way, what it means to bear another’s burdens.  Don’t be surprised when your friend is accused or not believed, over the one who is abusing.  Even you, as her friend, may be ridiculed or talked about badly if you support her.  All the more reason you must stay with her and stand by her side.

Supporting my friend has been humbling and life changing for me, in a very good way.

It truly is a privilege to be the hands and feet for my Savior.  At times, to be the anchor, and to remind her of God’s precious truth and His sovereignty over all these things.

How can you help a friend who is facing or leaving an abusive relationship?

Take her hand, look into her eyes, and tell her, “Friend, we will get through this together.  I am here, and God will see us through.”

Alice Childers


The Lydia Symposium 2016: A word of thanks

John 4: The Woman at the Well

This week (I hope), I will be writing a summary of and reflection on Lydia’s first symposium last weekend. In advance of that, we at the Lydia Center owe a great debt to those who attended, listened, asked engaging questions, offered suggestions, shared stories, and laughed, talked, and cried with us. Some attended at great inconvenience to themselves, and we are grateful for your time, effort, and enthusiasm. In connection with that, in the next few weeks, we plan to publish a post from one of our attendees, whom we hope will take us up on our offer to do so.

Thank you also to those who prayed and donated to make this event possible and fruitful. Our work is not possible without you.

We also want to thank our special speaker Dr. Becky Josberger, whose talks were as engaging as they were scholarly. We hope to facilitate the dissemination of her very important work to as wide an audience as possible.

Finally, please note that we video recorded all of the talks and will be making those available as soon as possible to those who could not attend.

Co-Addict or Trauma Victim? Secondary abuse of spouses and partners of sex addicts


I wish someone had warned me that both COSA (Co-dependents of Sex Addicts) and S-Anon (a sister organization to Sexaholics Anonymous), the two largest 12-Step programs supporting the partners of sex addicts, subscribe to the notion that we partners are “co-addicts” or “codependents.”  The emphasis of their programs is our “recovery” from co-addiction. If you tell them that you are not a co-addict or codependent you are told that this is a typical response from a co-addict, as we are always in denial to begin with. In other words, we have no insight into our behavior and are blind to our illness.

Living with a Sex Addict

Not all help is helpful. Sometimes the best-intentioned efforts to help one spouse hurt the other. This is especially true for the surreptitious yet destructive phenomenon of victim-blaming.

On 6 August, The Grand Opera House in Oshkosh, Wisconsin aired a documentary entitled The Heart of the Matter about Christians addicted to pornography. Describing it as ‘a film documentary offering a compassionate response to Christians addicted to pornography and sex’, Chelsen Vicari writes,

The issue of pornography and its devastating impacts has certainly gained wider attention in our culture. From the pulpit to the blogosphere, we’re hearing more and more conversations about how porn harms people.

In a similar vein, this past Friday, Christianity Today published a piece singing the praises of ‘Celebrate Recovery,’ a Christian program for addicts developed 25 years ago by John Baker. According to CT, 29,000 churches host CR meetings, and 100,000 pastors have been trained in its 12-step recovery process.

These two recent examples are part of a growing effort to raise awareness about addiction among Christians and to combat the culture of shame that surrounds it. Hundreds of thousands of individuals struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive sexual behavior, compulsive gambling, and other serious problems, have benefited from Christian support groups, websites, articles, pamphlets, and books offering encouragement, exhortation, and advice. Many of these materials are written by recovering addicts themselves, who talk openly about their process of recovery. However, in many circles, those advocating for addicts are excluding and harming some of addiction’s other victims: the spouses and partners of addicts.

Blaming the Victim

… very often innocent victims are treated as if they were responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. This means that, besides having to deal with the negative consequences arising from the event that victimized them (primary victimization… ), they are victimized once again (secondary victimization… ), which also implies an absence of the social support which research has shown to be so crucial for the victims’ physical and psychological well-being.

Isabel Correia and Jorge Vala

Victim-blaming is both widespread and deeply anti-Christian in its philosophy. The number of studies documenting its nature, causes, and pervasiveness exploded after Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons published their seminal 1966 work, ‘Observer’s Reaction to the “Innocent Victim”: Compassion or Rejection’. In it, Lerner and Simmons provide compelling evidence that we have a propensity to believe in a just world, where the innocent do not suffer unjustly and where the guilty get their due punishment. When faced with injustice, they argue, many of us are tempted to devalue and reject innocent victims to maintain our belief in a just world. This secondary victimization is particularly exacerbated when an innocent victim’s suffering is ongoing, with no end in sight (see here).

Cited by nearly 1,000 studies to date, Lerner’s and Simmons’ findings were more recently re-confirmed and extended by a study by Isabel Correia and Jorge Valaaside entitled ‘When Will a Victim Be Secondarily Victimized? The Effect of Observer’s Belief in a Just World, Victim’s Innocence and Persistence of Suffering’. Correia and Vala examine the relationship of three factors which existing research has demonstrated tend to influence reaction to a victim:

  • the observer’s belief in a just world,
  • the innocence of the victim, and
  • the persistence of the victim’s suffering.

They find that for those who believe in a just world,

the most threatening victim is the innocent victim whose suffering persists.

Victim-blaming persists in a wide variety of contexts, including the Christian church, directed towards, for example, such victims as sexually abused women and children and women battling other forms of domestic violence. For the majority of these women and children, their suffering persists because the violence is still ongoing and/or the physical and psychological aftermath of such violence continues to cause suffering.

Those who have endured victim-blaming often report that such secondary victimization is even worse than the initial abuse itself. Confirming the significance of secondary victimization are studies which have demonstrated that rape survivors who suffer victim-blaming, for example, have much higher levels of PTSD than do those who are not re-victimized in such ways. In short, victim-blaming is itself a form of violence. Though it would require fuller development elsewhere I suggest, too, that it is rooted in a belief about the world that is not found in Scripture, where God, in His great mercy, demonstrates that

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

Victim-Blaming in Sex Addiction Therapy

While victim-blaming has attracted worthy attention by those examining the forms of abuse mentioned above, comparable research and discussion, among Christians and otherwise, about the primary and secondary victimization (often by therapists) of spouses and partners of sex addicts is noticeably absent.

My interest in the topic of compulsive sexual behavior (often called sex addiction) began a year and a half ago when a friend mentioned to me, off-hand, that I might want to look at the literature on sex addiction therapy. I asked what he meant, and he explained that it had something to do with how such literature talked about women. He couldn’t put his finger on it, he said, but something wasn’t right. At that time, I did a little looking around and read a few articles which piqued my interest. I was busy with other projects, though, and had to put it aside.

But a few months ago, hoping to further my understanding, I read Ashamed No More, by T. C. Ryan. I was surprised by how little Ryan–a Christian, a recovering sex addict, and a leader of a ministry for sex addicts–talks about the spouses and partners of sex addicts. I paid attention to the few instances where Ryan mentions those he hurt with his addiction, noting that his descriptions of such wrongdoing were remarkably vague and brief, particularly in comparison to his lengthy and thorough discussion of himself, his personal history, and his own suffering. I took copious notes on his book and compiled and examined word lists and keyword lists as well as key semantic domains, noting the prominence of, for example, first person pronouns and other inward-focused language (self-destructive, self-loathing, self-worthlessness, etc).

I looked for other books written by Christians against which to compare it, compiled some lists, read a few, and began to notice and understand the pervasiveness and potential destructiveness of the concept of the co-addict and the way this label influences language about spouses/partners of sex addicts. I learned that T. C. Ryan is far from alone in his language about spouses/partners. Celebrate Recovery, for instance, the ministry I mentioned at the start of this post, publishes an informational pamphlet for spouses entitled ‘Co-dependent Women in a Relationship with Sexually Addicted Men’. And lest you think this is aimed at a subset of female spouses, the checklist of ‘symptoms’ contained in the pamphlet specifies that a woman need only have a spouse who exhibits compulsive sexual behavior.

Stephanie Carnes, fellow proponent of the co-addict model and writer of Mending A Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, explains the concept of co-addict.

A co-sex addict is someone who is married to, or in a significant relationship with a sex addict and demonstrates a common set of behavioral characteristics.  These characteristics include: denial, preoccupation, enabling, rescuing, taking excessive responsibility, emotional turmoil, efforts to control, compromise of self, anger, and sexual issues.

Many have credited Dr. Patrick Carnes (father of Stephanie Carnes) both with the identification of compulsive sexual behavior as an addiction and with the now widespread labeling of partners and spouses of sex addicts as co-addicts. Carnes’ model is based on the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has itself been criticized by Christians and non-Christians alike. Carnes writes in his 1983 book Out of the Shadows that his 12-step model for sex addiction therapy, now espoused by T. C. Ryan as well as countless others,

can restore the capacity for meaningful relationships by developing in addicts and co-addicts new beliefs to replace dysfunctional or faulty beliefs.

Note the language ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘faulty’. The co-addict model frequently paints the spouse/partner as (often purposely) enmeshed in an abusive relationship, needy, controlling, fearful of being alone. Spouses who protest against such broad-stroke characterizations are simply in denial. Speaking about so-called co-addicts, the International Service Organization of COSA puts it this way,

One of the most difficult aspects of what we call co-sex addiction or sexual codependency, is grasping and facing the truth of our own condition. Another is admitting our powerlessness over the addict. The continual attempt to affect or control the sex addict renders our lives unmanageable.

A growing number of spouses of sex addicts have publicly described the co-addict model and its approaches to therapy as a type of secondary abuse, a re-traumatization of already victimized individuals. Some critics have gone so far as to describe it as patriarchal and narcissistic in scope (remember the inward-focused language I mention above?).

Likewise, a small but increasing number of both Christian and non-Christian psychologists, counselors, and therapists have challenged the prevalent addict/co-addict model. Among these is Omar Minwalla, who argues instead for a model that acknowledges more consistently the trauma that sex addicts have inflicted on their spouses/partners. Minwalla writes,

Sexual acting out disorders are not just sexual behaviors (Minwalla, O., 2012), but are also abusive behaviors, which include deceptive compartmentalized sexual-relational realities and systems of abusive covert management (Jason, S., 2008; Minwalla, O., 2012).  These are patterns of methodical planning over time, careful constructions of manipulation of others, and thought systems well maintained in order to keep a compartmentalized reality protected from discovery (Jason, S., 2008).  Managing a secret sexual life and reality takes profound energy to maintain, requiring pre-meditation and an ongoing commitment and intent to deceive, hide and violate others.

Though Minwalla writes from a non-Christian perspective, his views are echoed by Christian critics of co-addiction as well. Dr. Barbara Steffans, for example, notes the misunderstanding and victim-blaming she has witnessed in the co-addiction model, which she argues disrespects the mental health and experience of the spouse/partner.

Let me be clear. The many Christians among us struggling against sex addiction require our love, our time, and our compassion as fellow sinners in need of Christ’s saving grace. However, in my view, this cannot come at the expense of our acknowledgement

  1. of the traumatic effects of sex addiction on the addict’s partner or spouse and
  2. that one of the prevalent models of sex addiction therapy involves victim-blaming, a form of secondary abuse.

As a linguist, I am of course primarily interested in the ways in which language both reflects and perpetuates various perspectives on the spouses of sex addicts (addict/co-addict model vs. trauma model) and the extent to which such language victim-blames spouses. At the moment, there is evidence that victim-blaming does indeed happen in this context.

However,  I start this new series on language surrounding spouses and partners of sex addicts with some trepidation since I presently have far more questions than answers. All that said, please watch this space. There is a pressing need to examine the literature of the addict/co-addict movement, given both the scope of compulsive sexual behavior and the power that language has in facilitating or preventing the repentance, forgiveness, and healing of all parties involved.


‘What Christian is it that beats his wife?’

domestic-violence-infographic1In the last post in this series, I looked at the ways in which pastors preach about intimate partner violence. The examples I examined were, sadly, typical of the rare instances where pastors directly refer to such violence. In this post, however, I will look briefly at a sermon which defies convention by exposing violence, clarifying offenders’ responsibility, and contesting the blaming and pathologizing of victims. Like the previous post, I will rely on Linda Coates’ and Allan Wade’s (2007) analytic framework, ‘The Interactional and Discursive View of Violence and Resistance’, keeping in mind the additional category of ‘appeal to authority’ I suggested. This is by no means an exhaustive look at this particular sermon. I use this space to point out striking discursive features I’d like to explore in more detail elsewhere, focusing on the places in the sermon where the pastor mentions abuse explicitly.

The broader context of this sermon is worth noting before we dive in. When I read the transcription of this sermon, it was quickly apparent how different it is to the other sermons on divorce in the corpus. While many of the other sermons rely heavily on discursive features such as the language of constraint, on language describing how husbands and wives ought to behave, on women receiving action vs. men taking action, etc., this sermon stands apart discursively. Only recently did I look up the pastor and discover that apart from being Reformed Baptist, he is also British. This raises a question I had hoped would emerge from my pilot corpus: In what ways do cultural background and context influence discourse about divorce? I can hardly generalize from one sermon, but I’m intrigued to see this issue already popping up.

Exposing the abuser and their violence

Excerpt 1:

This would be a case which perhaps you’ve heard of, such situations where a Christian couple get married together, whatever, then the husband turns out to be abusing the wife, violent, uncaring in that way, deserting, leaving her, going off and behaving abominably, not following their vows and commitments.

(‘Divorce – Remarriage’)

A few things to note straightaway from this excerpt are, first, that the abuser is in subject position, his actions and attributes directly connected to him. He is violent, he is uncaring, he is deserting, he is behaving abominably. Next, see that the pastor begins with the action ‘abusing’, which is somewhat vague. But he doesn’t stop there. Rather, he goes on to specify what that abuse looks like, including a range of actions, both physical and non-physical. By providing this wide range of abusive behavior, the pastor is defining clearly for his congregation what abuse might look like and exposing abuse as not simply an act of physical violence. And finally, notice that the pastor presents this case using the historic present, which has the effect of bringing this event into the foreground and perhaps, as some have suggested convincingly, demonstrating its current relevance. While the other pastors in the corpus also used the historic present, in this case the abusive acts are not only present but progressive. They are ongoing, they are right now, they could be happening as we speak.

Particularly interesting is the way this pastor shifts from male to female when talking about an abuser, as in the following passage. For this pastor, abusers can be either sex, whereas in nearly every other sermon, men are the abusers.

Excerpt 2:

If a husband, oh, well, we can see it here, if a wife is behaving in an abusive way like bad violence or somewhere rather behaving in a drunken fashion and destroying the home, threatening the children, violence in that respect…

In this passage, we see again some of the same discursive features (historic present, progressive, active voice, etc.) which expose both the abuser and the violence, though the pastor expands the concept of abuse to include only physical violence. This is another issue worth exploring in detail later, in an expanded corpus. In what ways is abuse gendered? What might this mean?

This pastor further assigns blame to the abuser towards the end of the sermon, where he asks a series of rhetorical questions, identifying the abuser with an unbeliever, someone who is to be treated like a ‘heathen and a tax collector’.

Excerpt 3:

What Christian is it that beats his wife? What Christian is it that deserts his wife, walks out on her? What Christian is it who acts in such immoral ways and is behaving in a way completely contrary to the Word of God? So they placed themselves there effectively as an unbeliever…

The Victim Isn’t to Blame

Some sermon excerpts also have the effect of challenging anyone who might be tempted to blame the victim of abuse. First of all, notice the verb ‘turns out’ in Excerpt 1 (‘the husband turns out to be abusing his wife.’). Consider in what contexts it is most frequently used. The picture here is not of a woman who knowingly married an abusive man and so was somehow partly to blame for her victimization. ‘Turns out’ indicates the unexpected, the unpredictable.

Also telling is this pastor’s version of evaluative ‘oh’ and the way he combines this with an appeal to authority, both of which you may recall from my previous post. Evaluative ‘oh’ was used with some regularity in the corpus to introduce and cast doubt on invented quotes from victims of abuse and those who might support them. See if you can spot the difference in how this pastor makes use of invented reported speech in Excerpt 4.

Excerpt 4:

What happens then? Is the counsel this? Well, sorry, you’re married, you’re a Christian, he is a Christian, she is a Christian… you have to stay together. Well, actually the situation is far more complex than that.

I suggest that the ‘well’ here functions as an evaluative ‘oh’ and indicates negative evaluation of the uncaring adviser, again unlike the other sermons. This interpretation of ‘well’ is confirmed elsewhere in the same sermon, as in the following:

But the Pharisees were not so interested in that. They were rather interested in only certificates that you could sign. Husbands there could say, Well, I detest my wife now, got fed up with her, don’t like her another… And the Lord’s saying, no, not at all.

The implication is that the deserter is the guilty party, and the appeal to authority which follows (‘the Lord’s saying’, a version of ‘Thus saith the Lord’) further condemns him rather than condemning the victim, in contrast with the other sermons.

Still more to say…

This sermon is by no means faultless in its depiction of an abusive marriage and its implications for divorce. Questions remain regarding the aforementioned gendering of violence, and particularly troubling is another point I didn’t explore here: the pastor’s eventual recommendation that the victim use the Matthew 18 principle as a first step to dealing with violence. However, this sermon is one of the only sermons in the corpus in which the pastor explicitly refers to abuse whilst exposing violence, clarifying offenders’ responsibility, and cautioning against victim-blaming. Considering the statistics regarding intimate partner violence, it is highly likely that a victim of violence sat in the pews when each of the sermons we have looked at was originally preached, not to mention the many who have since downloaded one or more from Sermon Audio. As someone committed to the protection of such victims, I know which pew I would prefer to sit in, given the choices so far.

I have only scratched the surface with regard to the discourse of divorce. If you are interested in hearing more, please consider attending the inaugural Lydia Symposium, where I will present my findings in much more detail and where we can discuss these matters in person. And with a glass of wine in hand even!

Image from the Institute of Health

Milton, Poet and Provocateur

Announcing a Greystone Theological Institute event this Thursday:

John-Milton-portrait-008Greystone Study Day: “John Milton, Poet and Provocateur” at Greystone in Coraopolis (Pittsburgh), July 28, 9:30 am – 4 pm.

This one-day seminar will feature Dr. David Head’s survey of Milton’s work as a poet followed by a close examination by Dr. Mark A. Garcia of the bewildering yet influential seventeenth-century models of gender as well as Milton’s controversial teaching on marriage and divorce, which factored significantly in the work of the Westminster Assembly.

Cost: Donation only. Donations help cover the costs of running free events and programs. (Thank you for making your donation here.)