A Workbook for Women
By Shirley Fessel, MA, MED
Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2018
Paperback, 124 pages
Reviewed by Katie M. Deaver, Ph.D.
In the opening pages of her book Redemption from Biblical Battering, Shirley Fessel promises readers that they “will find a proven, protected path out of the prison maze of religiously enforced abuse that I and other women have used” (p. 2). Redemption is designed as a workbook that covers topics designed to help victims of violence work their way through situations they might encounter within their own relationships.
This workbook is clearly designed to be a lifesaving resource to help Christian women in traditional heterosexual relationships leave abusive situations. This is not to say the author has not used academic sources or fails to back up her assertions; quite the opposite, in fact. Fessel’s bibliography features a wide range of titles and includes a substantial amount of the current scholarly resources available on the topic of domestic violence and Christianity.
Fessel seems to be writing for fairly conservative Christian women; she almost exclusively uses male pronouns for any mention of the abuser and exclusively female pronouns for the victims. It is, therefore, worth noting that many readers whose experience is different than this heteronormative narrative may need to do some mental translating for the text to apply to their situation.
Each chapter of Redemption from Biblical Battering begins with an excerpt from the story of a woman named Margary. After a portion of Margary’s story, the chapter then offers a primary topic for consideration, followed by an exercise on that topic for the reader to work through. Following Margary’s story, the author broadly explains the chapter’s topic and then, using Margary’s story as an example, fully breaks down that topic into a more understandable outline for the benefit of the reader.
For example, the first chapter of the book focuses on the fact that abuse is “a pattern and you are not to blame” (p. 3).
To begin this chapter, Fessel sets out four questions the reader should think about while reading:
- Why is he acting like this? Is this really my fault?
- How can I believe . . . pray . . . change . . . love enough to make him stop?
- He must be sick. How can I help him heal?
- Is it God’s will that I stay in this marriage?
At the end of the chapter, Fessel uses Margary’s story to offer possible answers to these questions:
- Her husband was not living as a believer.
- She is not responsible for his behavior.
- She is not responsible for changing him.
- She is free to refuse any further abuse, so she can live her faith.
In the exercise section of each chapter, Fessel offers different ways to get the reader thinking about their own situation of violence. She uses exercises such as journaling, daily tracking of physical and emotional experiences, and even role playing complete with practice conversations to have with the abuser that put a stop to the abuse in that moment.
Chapter Six focuses on the topic of despair. In the first part of the chapter, Fessel discusses ways to move through feelings of despair and offers examples of assertive ways to communicate. She explains three ways to communicate assertively: positive assertions that state your position, assertions that state your personal rights or boundaries, and negative assertions that state what you will not participate in or tolerate. In addition to offering possible examples, Fessel also provides space for the reader to write in assertive statements of their own.
The exercise section of Chapter Six features a journaling activity, where Fessel asks the reader to write an assertive response to a verbally abusive statement. She offers thirteen different prompts for this exercise, the first is as follows:
Situation: Abuse disguised as a joke and denial of it
Example: “Jesus would have been up a creek with you helping him.”
Possible Responses: “The way you talk to me is insulting.” (directly address the intent)
Fessel also offers space for the reader to write down an abusive statement that has been directed at them and then another space to write how they might respond to such a statement.
The book was self-published and, as a result, some of the bells and whistles one might expect from books released by traditional publishers are missing. Additionally, there are a number of typos and some strange formatting and font issues that can pull the reader out of the author’s writing or even make her statements a bit unclear.
Aside from those small issues, this workbook is an incredibly important resource for Christian women, especially those who are living in situations of violence and are ready to seek a way out. I could see Redemption from Biblical Battering being used as the basis of a wonderful small group book study, and I think church pastors would benefit from keeping a few copies on hand to provide to parishioners struggling within violent relationships.
© 2019 by Christian Feminism Today