by Nancy Nason-Clark & Catherine Clark Kroeger
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004
178 pages, paperback.
Reviewed by Mary Franzen Clark
Books on abuse are not fun reading. But after seeing the two authors’ names on the cover, I was looking forward to it. Nason-Clark and Kroeger jointly have had some of the finest reputations in women’s Christian literature over the years.
Their first goal was to write a book that was, “easy to read” (p. 9) and that would accomplish the second goal in which the “combination of sociological studies and biblical scholarship [would bring] special insights for abuse victims on the road to recovery.” Goal number one, easy to read, was indeed accomplished, and this is important for books aimed at the lay reader.
I’m not entirely sure that the second goal was reached. One of the biggest impediments to applying biblical passages to sub-topics on abuse is that there really are not many passages that focus on women in general, much less women suffering at the hands of husbands or boyfriends in one-to-one relationships. In fact, many of the biblical reflection passages used in this book have male subjects. Thus, it can be a “stretch” to use these stories and then try to extrapolate the principles to women in abusive relationships.
For example, in Chapter Three, “Where Do I Find Spiritual Support?” the biblical passages for reflection are the psalms written by David when he was being oppressed and hunted by Saul. Certainly deep anguish and fear are felt in his words, but David was not sleeping with Saul, nor was he economically dependent on Saul, nor was he trying to protect his children from Saul. And David did not have to eat dinner with Saul every night. The emotional connection between abused women and the feelings David expressed in these psalms is helpful, but there is not a clear connection between the circumstances of their lives and his.
Chapter Six, “What Steps Do I Take to Get on with My Life?” includes the story of Joseph and his mistreatment by his brothers. The concept of hope and having a dream are good and positive; but again, Joseph, once he was in Egypt, did not have contact with his brothers on a daily/weekly basis which many abused women, even after divorce, still need to handle. The brothers were not showing up at Joseph’s door yelling threats, making him miss work, and discrediting his reputation in the community. The abused woman could easily be confused about how and why this story applies to her.
Chapter Seven, “How Can I Understand What Help My Abuser Needs?” provides a “spiritual reflection” on Jacob who was tricked into marrying Leah when he was in love with Rachel and had been promised to Rachel. It seems questionable to make a case for abuse from Jacob to Leah. Granted he was indifferent, but he was probably basically civil to her, and he had never purported to love her from the start. Jacob did have a loving, passionate relationship with Rachel, so there is nothing to indicate any abuse there. Of course there would be jealousy between Leah and Rachel, but blaming Jacob for emotional abuse is not convincing.
I think it would be difficult for abused women to identify or see themselves in these “reflection” sections. Perhaps the authors could have done more to state clearly what the principle is that they were trying to highlight and how the abused woman might identify. Although I appreciated the effort to give women biblical support and comfort, the examples provided just did not always seem to apply.
On the other hand, there were some redeeming sections that make the book worthwhile.
Chapter Five, “How Do I Get Started on the Healing Journey” was practical and insightful. Nason-Clark and Kroeger specifically address the lies that abused women have been told and the fears that have been generated over years of attacks to their self esteem, their perception of reality, sense of competence, and intelligence. In my practice, it is always amazing to hear women in domestic violence situations come in and tell me how affirming it was to attend a support group and hear other women share the lies and threats of their abusers and find them so similar! Nason-Clark’s research helped construct a first step, second step, and so on, as a set of ideas to implement the process of leaving and/or protecting. This chapter can give a lot of permission to women to “make the move.”
Chapter Seven, focusing on the abuser, is very useful in helping abused women to properly evaluate the statements many abusers make to blame women victims for the abuse heaped upon them. Abusers are also ready to justify their violent behavior and mistreatment of the women in their lives and to see no reason to be held accountable for their cruel words and actions. At the same time, an abuser often makes promises to get a woman to calm down and not leave him. That fine line between hope that the abuser will change and disappointment when he does not is difficult to walk. But when the woman can see through the evasions of the abuser, it can help her to properly respond with continued self-protection. This chapter helps her to do this.
I would like to have heard more about “What if your church is not supportive?” Such is the case for many of my Christian patients. I would hope that churches and Christian communities are doing better than they were when described in some of the authors’ earlier writings, but sometimes I wonder. Not much is said about Christian counselors and psychologists, but I hear so often that we are the only ones these women feel safe talking to-the only ones with whom they can feel free to share spiritual concerns.
Overall, Refuge from Abuse is designed to be a “primer” for women who are in abusive situations, particularly physical abuse, and who are in the first stages of awareness. However, the majority of abused women I see are suffering from verbal, emotional, and mental abuse. Women whose abuse is not physical often have difficulty validating their experiences and recognizing them as “abuse.” They do not show such outward signs as bruises and broken teeth or bones, but they bear the hurt of crushed spirits and broken hearts from the humiliation, control, forced isolation, and constant put-downs they experience. I wish the authors had said more about such non-physical varieties of abuse, and then I probably would recommend this book to many of the women who walk into my office . But for women experiencing physical maltreatment, Refuge From Abuse can be of great help- and unfortunately, there is enough of such domestic violence occurring to make this book a good seller.
© 2005 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 28 number 4 Winter (January-March) 2005