Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fireproof: part 4, Salvation is No Deterrent to Abusers

Whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just
….think on these things.

With their story, the writers of Fireproof teach that when a man is saved and gives his heart to the Lord, he will stop being selfish and nasty to his wife and will genuinely love her instead. Yet many “saved” husbands, who make a profession of faith, are just as selfish and abusive as Caleb, the man in the movie. How Caleb responded after becoming a Christian is opposite of how real-life abusers usually react to becoming Christians or to rededicating their hearts to the Lord. And here is where the church is culpable.

If an abuser-turned-to-Jesus read Ephesians 5 on his own, it is possible the Holy Spirit would convict him to love his wife self-sacrificially. But both historically and currently church males have pulled one phrase out of Ephesians 5—“Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord”—and in their hearts deleted the rest of Ephesians 4 and 5 so they could emphasize wife submission.

On top of that they conclude that the Bible’s statement that the husband is the head of his wife, means he is her authority and leader or ruler, even though Ephesians 5 tells a husband he is to be his wife’s loving, self-sacrificial servant, like Christ is to the church. The abuser who dedicates his life to the Lord, therefore, by his association with the church, gains ammunition, which he considers to be the command of God, to use against his wife. In this way, he adds spiritual abuse to his arsenal of control tactics. And he does it with the church’s blessing.

Although the Love Dare works with abusive Caleb in a fiction (fantasy) movie, would it work with real life abusive husbands? I doubt it. A real-life Caleb is very unlikely to try the Love Dare unless he is desperate to keep his wife from divorcing him, so church folk push ABUSED WIVES to apply the Love Dare. This invariably gives the abusive husband more power to destroy his wife and requires the wife to yield more of herself and her wishes—including her dignity and what is reasonable, which further destroys the wife and children, and harms the husband.

When abusers do get desperate enough to use the Love Dare, they use it as a tool—a manipulation—to gain control of their wives. Most of them are so used to getting immediate gratification that they have no patience with the Love Dare, and give up in the first week or two, as Caleb wanted to do. Because Caleb was urged to keep at it, and also told he was at the hardest part and that he was doing just enough to get by, he stuck with it, more to prove himself to his dad, than because he loved his wife.

If they do stick with it, abusive husbands do it with the intent of appearing to change for awhile in order to manipulate others into giving them what they want. After they succeed, (in Caleb’s case, he wanted his wife to drop the divorce proceedings), they return to the previous demanding, selfish, nasty and abusive behavior—often within six months.

So what will happen with Caleb and his wife? Caleb will go to church and hear that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. But for every time he hears that, he will hear that wives are to submit to their husbands at least twice if not thrice as often. He will hear church people condemn wives whose husbands are nasty to them, saying or implying "If she would submit, he wouldn't abuse."

Depending on which church he chooses, he will hear that he is to be his wife’s authority. With Caleb’s previous thinking that stemmed from his belief that the purpose of having a wife is to have someone who will set her own needs aside and focus her attention on helping him get what he wants, it would be the most natural thing in the world for Caleb to place emphasis on wife submission, and return to his previous nasty behavior. Except this time he has more ammunition, given to him by none other than the church. That would be the end of his self-sacrificial love for his wife.

He may stop beating up the garbage can and screaming in his wife’s face. Why? He would not need to. All he would have to do is take her to a church that emphasizes wife submission and husband authority, and he’d have the equivalent of the pastor and the whole congregation screaming in her face that she MUST submit.

Although the Love Dare may work in marriages where the couple has grown cold or grown apart, it is very unlikely to work in the long term in a marriage where the husband abuses his wife. Because the church does not emphasize “husbands submit to your wives,” it is possible the Love Dare would work in the long term if the WIFE was the abuser and gave her heart to the Lord.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. Thank you, Waneta for your posts on Fireproof. I cannot watch Fireproof the same way again, even though I could not stand that movie the first time I saw it. I had no choice tonight, but I posted on it:

  2. Rod,
    Welcome to my blog! You do have some interesting points on your blog as well. The homeless angle is insightful. You are right, most Christian movies are written for a middleclass audience because that's where the money is. Obviously the wealthy have money, too, but there aren't as many of them, so sales would likely be less strong.

  3. Thank you for that, Waneta. I was looking for commentary on Fireproof and The Love Dare.

    I once saw an abusive man try to do it with his wife, and at that time, thought it might help - I had no idea why there was always so much drama in their lives. Now a year later, nothing has changed (surprise, surprise!) because the abuser and his abused wife read it in different ways. He read it as what she ought to do and she read it as what she ought to do. There was no accountability on him. And if he did follow it, he would use it as a weapon to press the point and demand reward for it.

    My ex has changed tactics since the separation - he is suddenly very "spiritual" and attends every meeting, impressing his male friends with his show of attrition. This sort of abusive behavior is no less hideous than physical violence because it is just as deceptive, manipulative and controlling. And destructive too, because I feel less safe as others are letting down their guard and no longer see the need to protect me.

    I think pastors are totally unaware that abusers use everything as an ammunition. They are unaware that the root of all abuse (physical, sexual, psychological, etc.) is the same - the entitlement to exercise power and control over another. Therefore all an abuser has to do is to stop being angry, hostile, physically and even verbally abusive and it becomes almost an impossible task to detect the abuse, unless you see through the need for power and control. Somehow, churches afford abusive men that extra avenue of abuse - to use spirituality to continue the abuse. It's much easier for unbelieving women to be validated because secular men don't have that spiritual avenue - they are much less sophisticated. Church-going men have much more support for their abuse.

  4. Anonymous,
    You are absolutely right. I have concluded that the most abusive tactics are when he's being nice. It's con-artistry at its best.

    And then you end up with pastors and others pressuring you to take him back.

    Here is an interesting "assignment" for you. Try to come up with what your ex would have to do for you to be able to trust him and be reasonably sure it is safe to take him back. But, please, don't put the answer on the web, he may see it. Feel free to write me via my "contact us" page on my website,

    One "requirement" the counselor at the domestic violence shelter told me they advise a woman to wait a MINIMUM of 9 months after the husband has changed (not a tiny change,I take it. This should be a major change that includes attitude and how much he values women, you in particular.) They think it should be longer, more like 18 months to 2 years, so the new behavior becomes an engrained habit, and he won't return so soon to previous patterns. They have seen again and again when women take the abuser back too soon, he returns to abusive behavior. In Christian terms, it is like "cheap grace" with no real accountability for him.

  5. Waneta, what you mean is to wait 9 months to 2 years from when he has started changing. If he hasn't even started, well, that's a different story. It's also a matter of the definition of change - pastors and friends see "being nice" or "saying sorry" or "wooing with gifts" as changing but those who are aware know that these very actions are the signs of manipulation!

    The other unfortunate thing is that too often, Bancroft and other secular writers are not trusted by Christians. So if I quote him to my Christian counselor or pastor, it gets dismissed.

    To be honest, Waneta, I haven't done that assignment because I am just so repelled by the idea of having him back. That's not to say that sometimes I don't feel sorry for him or obligated to "submit", but to genuinely be an intimate partner - he would have to be almost a different person. That's what he suspects and that's why he tells others I don't accept him. He is a difficult person to accept because control and manipulation are so ingrained into his behavior. I would have to call him on it all the time. Do you know what I mean?

  6. Anonymous, (12-22-10)
    I apologize for taking so long to publish your comment and to reply. My daughter's break from college completely changes our priorities; catching up the house must take priority so we are more functional for the next semester.

    Actually, I do NOT mean 9 months from when he has started changing. I mean 9 months from when he has shown substantial change--change that includes attitude. If he is pressuring you to forgive him and take him back, that is evidence that he has not changed. Likewise, if he plays the martyr game (what I did was so bad you'll never forgive me or take me back) that is also not change. It is manipulation. Both show that his belief in his right to control have not changed.

    Bancroft and other secular writers are dismissed because pastors and Christian friends also believe husbands are not only entitled to control their wives, many of them believe husbands are COMMANDED to control their wives. They are just supposed to be nice about it. Thus being nice, by saying he's sorry and giving you gifts, meets their criteria.

    All you can do is stand firm and keep educating. For them to accept Bancroft's info they will have to change their own law concerning husbands and wives, and that may include changing their own marriages, letting go of their own privileges.

    You said: "To be honest, Waneta, I haven't done that assignment because I am just so repelled by the idea of having him back. That's not to say that sometimes I don't feel sorry for him or obligated to "submit", but to genuinely be an intimate partner - he would have to be almost a different person."

    That is my point, and I am glad you feel that way. What you expressed is a revulsion toward sin. If anyone else had used con-artisty against you, you'd avoid him like the plague, too. It is difficult to hate the sin and love the sinner, when the sinner uses that to harm you over and over again. In those cases "loving the sinner" is actually "have nothing to do with him" which is scriptural, too. Go ahead, spell out what kind of different person he would have to be. What would he have to do for you to KNOW that his changes are genuine?

    And yes, I do know what it is to call a person on his sin repeatedly. I, too, rejected that. You are his equal, not his mother, nor the Holy Spirit. HE should be tuning in to God, listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to keep his behavior Christ-like. It should be very rare for you to need to confront him for sinful behavior.

    It sounds to me like Bancroft's book and his check list would be more beneficial to you than the guidance of your pastor.

    The info you have + your gut instinct is helping you be prudent rather than foolishly bring more harm on yourself. Prov. 22:3 "A prudent man (or woman) foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished."

    Your husband's genuine remorse would include plans for how he will never do it again and for restitution. Again, Bancroft's parable of the man who cut down his neighbor's tree is so insightful.

    Stick to your principles. Ironically, your gut (intuition) is the most reliable resource you have right now. And your pastor would tell you to not listen to it, even though it has been trained to disregard important and life-preserving info. Consider your gut intuition as a precious gift from God.

  7. Hello, this is my first time posting here. I have been reading the "Fireproof" series here, as it was recently recommended to my husband and I to watch it together by our pastor. We have been separated 4 months. Ironically, bought the movie a year and a half ago for my husband and I to watch together in hopes of sparking some diaglogue as to problems in our marriage. Even at that time, my husband was reluctant to watch it, then when he did, said it was "stupid" and "make the guy look all bad".

    I was struck very strongly by the comment anonymouse made here:

    "My ex has changed tactics since the separation - he is suddenly very "spiritual" and attends every meeting, impressing his male friends with his show of attrition. This sort of abusive behavior is no less hideous than physical violence because it is just as deceptive, manipulative and controlling. And destructive too, because I feel less safe as others are letting down their guard and no longer see the need to protect me."

    I can SO relate to that. My husband is showing up every week at church (never wanted to go before) and acting like the perfect husband and father. My friends at church and the pastor especially are finding it hard to believe that I am dealing with an abusive husband, and their initial feelings of wanting to protect me are waning. I feel trapped.

  8. Dear Anonymous (2-10-11)

    I feel for you! With all you are already facing, it sounds like its up to you to educate your pastor and friends.

    Consider giving/loaning our a few books, asking them to read links, etc.

    You also may need to share more than the latest nasty thing he did. They won't get that the latest nasty thing is connected to all the other nasty things he does. It's hard for folks to realize that abuse is woven into the entire fabric of your marriage just like a particular thread is woven into a piece of cloth, showing up at regular intervals, and frequently controlling the color of the whole piece. It would be like having a beautiful tapestry that is interupted by many black threads that obliterate the beauty of the piece. Instead of the beautiful tapestry, one sees the angry black threads woven throughout.

    I would recommend books for you, but you know your friends and pastor better than I do. For example, Lundy Bancroft's "Why does He Do That?" does a very good job of explaining the abusive man, but some Christians refuse to accept any info from a secular source.

    My website has some resources listed.
    And the Peace and saftey website has many more listed

    Meanwhile, you already know what you are dealing with. Don't be afraid to appeal to the secular community for help if you haven't already. The national domestic violence hotline is 1.800.799.SAFE (7233). I understand they can offer you help over the phone, part of which is giving you a number of an agency that is closer to you.

    Please stay safe and DO NOT allow church folks to influence you to take risks. DV is very dangerous. What your husband is doing now is just a tactic. When he finds it isn't working, he will change tactics.

  9. Anonymous, (12-22-10)

    I am so sorry it looks like I ignored your comment. I did write a response, but just discovered blogger put it in my spam box. Obviously, I need to check my spam box more often.

    I want to add a comment. If you start counting the time from when your abuser begins to change, that so-called change is likely not the real thing. It is merely a tactic to get what he wants. There must be substantial change over a longer period of time, and he must not change back, either. If it is a true change of attitude and belief, he won't change back, even temporarily. I hope your abuser does make the necessary changes.