Our keynote speaker Chris Moles sits down with Craig and Jim to discuss how he got into counseling domestic abuse cases and ministering to abusers. They also discuss his book, ͞The Heart of Domestic Abuse.͟ This interview was recorded live at the 2017 Institute “Addictions: Grace for the Journey.”
- Listen to all of Chris Moles’ talks on Domestic Abuse and Addictions
- Learn more about Chris Moles’ Ministries
- Read The Heart of Domestic Abuse
For more information regarding this and other episodes in the series please visit The Care and Discipleship Podcast page.
Hello, and welcome to the IBCD Care and Discipleship podcast.
We are onsite at Mission Hills Church in San Marcos, California for our 2017 Summer Institute. And have a great opportunity to spend some time with the speakers who have been blessing us this weekend. And today, we have Chris Moles with us who did our pre-conference on Domestic Abuse. And then also, is doing a few workshops for us during the conference as well.
So Chris, it’s great to have you with us.
Great. Great to be here, thanks.
Chris, can you tell us a little bit about who you are for our listeners who haven’t heard the pre-conference and all of your jokes?
So I pastor a small church in a small town in my home state of West Virginia. But the reason why I am privileged to partner with groups like you all is that God saw fit to draw me into a Ministry where I work with men who’ve been convicted of domestic violence crimes or currently under protective orders. And that’s expanded to men who are just seeking help who recognize that they’re abusive or destructive.
Chris, one of the things that I so appreciate about your talks and about your writings is how involved you are with what’s going on in the state and outside the church with this issue. How is those relationships developed?
I think one of the benefits of being in a small state and in a small community is as we were praying about getting involved, there is some reality that there’s not a lot of resources. And so there are opportunities available to us. You know, the fact that I have a college education that I have time, that I was willing, that I could rewrite. I hate to say it that way but the idea that I could function well in that role, there was a place for me.
And so, how it actually got started was I was asked to sit first on a Crime Board. It was a juvenile crime coaliltion and we helped sentence young people. So the judge would make a decision about their case and it would come to our Board and we would give community service or require counseling. When they found my resume, when I had to submit my resume, they saw that I had counseling training. Now it was biblical counseling, they didn’t know what biblical counseling was. But I was the only one with counseling credentials. So I began to counsel young people on a regular basis.
From there, I started teaching parenting classes because we thought, well the parents need something. So it was voluntary and parents were coming and we had great attendance on our parenting classes. And it was all gospel centered, biblical material and it went so well that other departments and other agencies were asking, “Well, could you help our people because we don’t have someone teaching this, and we need someone to teach this.” And it just blossomed into this education model, this Educational Ministry where I was just serving wherever I had the opportunity. And that’s grown over the last 17 years.
What would you say to people who are intimidated at the thought of that. I mean, when I think of biblical counseling and helping other people, the idea of the church is comforting to me, that’s what I think about even though that’s hard and difficult. But the thought of like, “Wow, just being dropped in to these cases with people who aren’t professing Christ at all.” What would you say to people like me?
Yeah, so I think one, you have to have an evangelistic heart. There has to be kind of a missional mindset to it so you understand that this is an opportunity for me to engage in the workplace. So I think I came into it first saying, “There are certain things about me that the people I work with and the people I work for need to know. One, I’m a Christian. Two, I’m a pastoral ministry. So my experience is not from some other field.”
One of the great blessing for me was I had a supervisor who told me one time, “Chris, you know, if we had a psychologist in this role, we would want him or her to speak to mental health. If we had a law enforcement officer in this role, we’d want them to speak to legal issues. So we want you to be free to speak in your area of expertise. So if a guy has a question about the Bible or you have some insight that can help them spiritually or from a faith-based perspective, we want you to feel free to do that.” So having that type of freedom was a huge blessing upfront in this particular work.
But also, I think, it’s just a matter of being obedient and allowing God to do the work that He’s called you to. And it’s certainly, not every community is going to be like my community. And there’s going to be maybe some resistance but I’d say if you’re really interested, give it a shot. And the first place to do that or how to do that is to maybe connect with some local agencies and get to know the believers that are there. Because they are there. There are believers in government agencies that are really looking for allies.
So you have written and speak a lot about domestic abuse and those situations. I think there’s an increasing awareness of that in the Church but it seems like, for a long time, something not talked about a lot. What do you think’s most important for our listeners to know just as they’re hearing about that topic and may have people around them who are actually experiencing that?
Several years ago I was on my way to a conference. I had not been speaking long, for very long on this subject, and I was on my way to a pretty large conference. And I called an advocate friend of mine, somebody that I trusted who has been in the work longer than me. And I asked her, I said, “Look, if you were in my situation and you were going to be addressing hundreds of pastors, what would you say?” And she thought for like just a few seconds and she said, “Chris, can you just remind them that the domestic violence is a sin?” And I think where that was coming from was all her years in the shelter, the place she had seen the most resistance was from the Church. And so I think there has been growing awareness in the Church. And I think the most beneficial thing we’ve done is we’ve actually reached out and had conversations with folks that maybe philosophically, we disagree with but we’ve acknowledged there’s a problem. They’ve been doing this work for a while. Let’s at least have a conversation, “How can we best help as members of the body of Christ?” Rather than just denying its existence. Once we recognize how severe of a problem it is, understanding we have a role to play.
And I think when service providers see that, especially in this day and age when government funding is down, where shelters are closing, where talk therapy’s not so popular, the Church actually has a pretty big void that we can fill. And if people who are doing this work see our compassion and our genuine sincerity, it can be an inviting atmosphere. So I think there’s plenty of work for us to do here.
Chris, one of the things just as you talk and with your experience, you are talking to people in the secular realm, you’re talking to people who think differently about biblical counseling, and you’re having conversations with them. Sometimes I see that as a weakness in the biblical counseling movement overall and it’s something we’re really seeking to grow in and encourage all of our people to get better at.
What do you keep in mind as you’re interacting with people who may frame things up with words that may set off alarm bells for some of us and things like that? How do you handle that?
Yeah, I think you have to be honest. And one of the things that I try to do, is I try to have a pretty open dialogue. It’s a little easier with my integrationist friends. And so some of your listeners will understand that term, maybe more so than the general culture would. But I think with some of my integrationist friends, I try to frame things so that we understand that, “While I’m talking about this, even though you’re using this word, is there some commonality here?” When there’s not, we try to be open and honest about it. When there is, we try to find mutual ground and work with it.
Now from a secular point of view, all that really does is give an opportunity to share the Gospel because if someone is talking about hierarchy, for instance, which is a huge model in the secular world as far as domestic abuse. And they’re talking about hierarchy or power and control and they’re using power as a term of evil, it’s like every power is problematic. It reminds me of an instance I had with one coalition worker, one lady who I really respect, and she was telling me what Christians believe about marriage. And it was a very stereotypical belief. So I was able to say, “Well, can I tell you what I believe and what I think most Christians believe from an evangelical perspective?” And so I laid out complementarity from Jesus’ servant leadership position and she literally said, “This is remarkable. I’ve never heard anything like this before.”
So I think honesty’s a big piece and willing to have dialogue and understanding that even the culture nowadays, I think, especially amongst younger generations, it seems to be disagreement is somehow contempt. But just keeping an open mind with folks and saying, “Look, we can disagree and still have healthy conversations. We might not be able to work together in every area, but let’s find the areas where we can cooperate.”
So I think there’s potential for the biblical counseling movement to be collegial, to be kind, to be compassionate and not have to, for the lack of a better word, drink the Kool-Aid as it were. We can still hold our convictions, be as resolute as we can. And do good work. I think that says a lot too. If we are committed to our convictions and our work is good and valuable, it speaks a lot to Unbelievers in particular.
That’s a lot different than hearing these buzzwords that set off alarm bells and just running or writing a blog that just says how bad that is or something. Like it’s way different to move towards someone in conversation, seeking understanding. I like what you’re saying too about doing work well, thinking through the issues well, so we can engage.
One thing that I’ve appreciated about your work, which is one reason why I assigned it to my students this last semester, is as awareness of domestic violence has grown in the Church, there’s been so much written, rightly so, to keep women safe. And how do you identify a violent man? An abusive man? And how do you get away from him? And even acknowledging or pointing out the failures of the Church to protect women, often sinfully sending them back to a dangerous situation instead of keeping them safe. And so I affirm, where the emphasis has been in many ways appropriately.
But the unique thing about your book and your teaching here has been actually working with these men who many might just cast off as saying, “Get them out of here. I never want to see them again.” What got you going in that direction? And what hope can you offer a violent man? Because some, from a psychological standpoint, might say that these people are … Their DNA, their neurology or whatever, their nature-nurture has just made them this way and the best thing you do is just keep them away from women forever.
So first of all, I have met a great deal of wicked men and individuals where at the end of the day, it’s not hopeless because I don’t think any situation’s hopeless. But at the end of the day, you look at it and you say, “Well the odds are really stacked against us on this one.” Clip 3And I was talking to one of our participants here at the Conference earlier where he was talking about batting averages. He’s like, “It doesn’t seem like we have a good batting average.” And I said, “This is not an all star game. This is not a high percentage game because it’s hard, hard work.”
But with that said, Jim, I think what does distinguish, and I don’t want to say my work, but I think what distinguishes biblical counselors. Let me put it this way, when I first got involved in batterer intervention, when I was invited into this secular model of working with men to see behavioral change, I knew going in that that wasn’t my goal and I quickly found a partner or the lady who invited me into the program, my partner, I quickly found an ally. Once we began talking about the centrality of the heart and she’s also a Believer, it transformed the way that we did programming. Because we knew that behavior changes is not enough, right? It’s like stapling bananas on an apple tree, it’s only temporary. There had to be heart transformation.
And so over the years we’ve doing this, I discovered that this type of work fits our paradigm extremely well. Because at first, in order to do batterer intervention or abuser intervention, you’ve got to believe, I think, that change can happen. And you’re right, we get pushback. It’s interesting, I get some pushback from the biblical counseling movement, but I get more pushback from my secular peers who, “Men can’t change. You shouldn’t invest this much time in them. Some programs, they should only exist so that two hours a week, advocates can go to the house and try to persuade women to leave.” Some people literally see us as babysitters so they can try to go and work with the victim.
So I think for me, what really compels me is that we have the message of the Gospel that says, “Not only did Jesus die for us, He died for violent men,” as I like to say. That’s the reality. Not only did He die for violent men, He died in place of a violent man. It’s not like Barabbas was this every day dude. He was an insurgent. And so the very message of the Gospel reaches even to men who’ve used coercion, control, physical force. And so if we don’t hold steady that hope, then I think we’re — I don’t want to say we’re not Christian — but we’re a little less than Christian. And so we got to really hold on to that.
But I would agree with you, I think there is this model out there or this mindset that abusive people can’t change and that we should just kick them out of the Church, which my next question to that is always, “Well what about the next Church?” “We should remove them from the home,” and my question to that is, “What about the next victim?” Because if we do victim care, which I’m all for, I agree with you on that. We help a victim and I want to do that. But if we do really solid perpetrator work, then what happens if a man’s heart’s changed? Then that victim’s safe and every subsequent victim is safe because this is a men’s issue.
I’m proud in many ways to have that banner but I think it’s something that biblical counseling can really get behind because of all the models out there, we’re the one who believes that change is possible for anybody.
I’m intrigued as well by you talking about batting average. And I’ll sometimes tell people that even one blade of grass on the moon is a miracle. And even one person like this transformed from a person of anger and judgment to becoming a person of grace and love is a miracle. So tell us in terms of what kind of positive results do you see? I don’t know if you have percentages? Or instances of … How have you seen this happen since a lot of us probably haven’t seen many cases where it’s happened?
So I think you’re going to look at a few different things. So let’s just do the statistical rubrics which don’t tell us a whole lot about the heart. But interventions, statistically, has a higher or I should say a lower rate of recidivism. So a man convicted of a crime who completes a course similar to ours in anything, even biblical or not, has a lower rate of recidivism. Even self-reflection helps the behavior.
But as far as transformation, that’s something that is observed over time. So one of the passages I like to use when I’m talking with pastors about this because one of the things in biblical counseling is that, I think, some of us have been pre-programmed to, “Well, if this takes longer than eight weeks, then it’s not worth my time.” And this type of work is not an eight week work.
I mean I tell pastors, when we’re doing consulting stuff, that we should plan for at least a year of work. That’s really a conservative estimate. Because I like to use Ephesians 4, the idea of, “When’s a liar no longer a liar? When’s a thief no longer a thief?” Paul communicates that, for instance with the thief, he’s no longer a thief when he has a job and he’s become generous. That doesn’t happen after a couple weeks of counseling, right? He’s got to build an income. He’s got to be demonstrative in his generosity so over time, people can see it. I think the same’s true in our work.
So we can look at recidivism and say, “Okay, it works that way.” We can look at behavior change and say, “Okay, he’s not as violent and people at home seem to be safe.” But the really filter has to be transformation. In order to see that, we have to watch over time, as you just said a second ago. Has he moved from a person of violence to a person of gentleness? Has he moved from a person who exercises privilege as a husband to somebody who exercises leadership as a husband? And that’s only going to be observable over time.
I think those are the marks of transformation, is giving him every opportunity to succeed and then holding him accountable when he doesn’t.
One problem I’ve seen in cases of angry and violent men is worldly sorrow too.
Where you get enough pressure and for a period of time, the behavior will change but it’s only the Spirit who can move someone from the deeds of the flesh to the fruit of the spirit.
That’s a good observation. So two things there. One as I’m doing training, I often talk about the pivot point of repentance. We tend to like that in the Church when someone says, “Yes, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” And we can be guilty of then dropping the ball there in saying, “Oh good, everything’s good.” But that’s just the turning point and we need this eventual, observable repentance, that fruit of repentance over time.
The second thing that I like to say is that pithy little statement, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” And then I say, “But you can’t feed him crackers.” We can’t force anyone to do anything and that worldly sorrow can come by pressure along. But Godly sorrow comes only after a man is thirsty enough to see not just the how dastardly his choices were in the past, but how amazing the opportunity is in the future. And so I want to see men become so thirsty to be the type of man that God’s designed him to be that they abandon that old way and they embrace the new way. So yeah, that’s a wonderful observation.
And the key to that in many ways, is time and then avoiding hoops for an individual to jump through. So we don’t just want things to check off the list when we hold men accountable. We want concrete measurable, observable steps in spiritual development.
So yeah, he might be a Bible scholar now because he’s reading his Bible every day but is there a gap between that as practical theology? Evaluating that, and again guys, this comes back to how positioned biblical counselors are at this. We’ve been doing this with other things for so long. We’re really positioned to speak into this maybe better than any other field I know.
I’ve observed both with physical abuse and with substance abuse that those who have that as a lifestyle are really good at programs. They’re really good, “Tell me the steps that I’m supposed to do. I’ll go to the class. I’ll do the homework. I’ll give the speeches to the people I’ve hurt.” But then that’s an expression of worldly sorrow that typically doesn’t continue.
Yes so it’s a reparative attempt. It’s, “I can put a shiny new coat of paint on this,” but that heart transformation’s really got to be key to that.
Chris, for the guys in our Churches, one of the things we’re running in to is you’re describing guys involved in domestic abuse and unkind to their wives and things, a lot of times can look like leaders in the Church, be very knowledgeable of the Scriptures. What are some of those ways, what are some of those evaluative measures you put in place that aren’t hoops? For guys like that who are real schooled in Church things?
Chris Moles: Absolutely. So I’m going to base most of my steps and goals upon some of the counseling that we’ve done. So for me, nothing works better than asking good questions. It is possible to be knowledgeable in the Scripture and be far from Jesus. I mean, if you watch the History channel more than four minutes, you’ll know that. There’s people in the History channel that know more about the Bible than the three of us combined. But they don’t Jesus from a hole in the head, right?
So it’s not simply a matter of, can he regurgitate the information? It’s I want to see if the information is changing him. One example maybe because it’s hard to give programmatic examples without dealing with a specific guy. But one example is I was working with an individual not long ago who ascribed the Sovereignty of God as a major piece of his doctrinal existence. He valued the Sovereignty of God. And yet his home was marred by control. He had to control his kids. Had to control his wife. Had to control their schedules. Financially, he was in control. It was an amazing amount of dominance.
And so as your asking those questions and pulling that rope, as I like to call it, what we discovered was yes, he had an ascent of the Sovereignty of God but practically, it wasn’t there. So we were able to use his own information. He knows the doctorate, right? He’s a fan of all the people who talk about it. Is to use that doctrine to say, “Well, let me ask you how is this consistent when you consider the fact that you control the finances in this way? Or how is God’s Sovereignty consistent in your life when you consistently check your wife’s cellphone out of suspicion? Who’s really in control?” And then of course, for the sake of time, I won’t go into all of it but you can spend hours drawing that out to connect that, “What I believe up here,” to really transcend it down to the heart level.
Chris you’ve seen a lot of difficult situations and I know during the last session you were playing some audio from 911 calls of children seeing horrific things happen. And seeing some successes, lots of failures. How do you keep going? Just personally too? How do you keep going in these things?
I was teaching a parenting class, probably I guess it would have been 14 or 15 years ago now. And my entire student body, at that time our state was ravaged with methamphetamine. And as you probably know, nationwide, we restrict access to one drug and of course, the new one comes up. It’s basic economics. It’s basic supply and demand because legislation doesn’t change the heart. So at this time, methamphetamine was the most affordable drug of choice.
So there was about 12 students and I was at the head of the table and the discussion got really fun, like we were having fun. And I think at that moment, like I said about 15 years ago, was the first time that as an educator in that setting, in Corrections, my students really became human to me. And that connection was just that solidarity was just there and that little phrase that you probably heard your entire life, there by the grace of God. And I was like, “This lady is just my cousin so-and-so. And this guy is just like my brother.” And the idea that the choices they made may have led them here, I’m one of two bad decisions, one or two rebellious acts from being here.
So as I look across a group of men, I’ve got a class of 20 guys or I’m doing an individual with a guy. Yeah, there’s a lot of work that’s got to be done but the reality is, for me, what keeps me going? Twofold. One there’s hope, right? This is not an indescribable monster in front of me, this is a human being who yes, has made wicked and sinful choices. And that’s why Jesus came and did what he did, praise God. And secondly, each man that I minister to or work with, is representative of a family, behind him. So with every face of every man, even if he’s rebellious or angry or bitter at me or whatever, there’s a victim, children, maybe potential victims that are there.
So to me, it’s worth the effort even if the batting average is low. Because Jim’s exactly right. I love the blade of grass analogy. You can go for weeks or months and just things seem to be hopeless and that Sisyphus type thing, which is like, “I got to push this boulder again and nothing’s happening.” And then you have that one incident where this guy comes to you and he says, “Hey I was baptized last weekend. I’m being discipled by my pastor and he wanted to talk to you.” Or, you have the one guy who years after the program, you find out that he’s working at a Church camp and his marriage is great. Or you worked with a guy for weeks upon weeks and then his wife sees you in a restaurant and she hugs you out of nowhere.
While those are rare, right? Those are great reminders of how efficient and powerful the Gospel is. So to me, I guess if you focus on that, it really doesn’t get you down.
I think it takes a certain kind of gifting from God, not just to be able to help people but to be able to be resilient, to keep going. I see that very much in my wife. A little bit in me and certainly in you where it’s a thing to be thankful for that you can go a couple of weeks and you just feel like you’re saying the same thing to no one listening. And have hope that God will work when you try again. So that’s something I’m thankful for, is that God has given you.
You know Jim, one other thing that I often say is and I didn’t anticipate this in the work when I first got involved in the work. I would say, I mean, I’ve got a long way to go. I mean obviously we believe in progressive sanctification so. I’ve got a long way to go as I grow closer to the Lord and conforming to Christ. But I really think, and my wife would be a better one to ask than me, but I think I’m a better husband. I think I’m a better pastor. I think I’m a better father. I think I’m a better neighbor, in large part because of the work that I do.
Yeah, I work with a lot of problem guys but I’ve learned a great deal from those experiences too. And so I’m thankful for every guy whether success, failure, rebellious, even the guys that gave me trouble, or threatened me, or whatever. I’m thankful for all of those because I really do, looking back, think, “Thank you Lord for how this has shaped me.” Because you know how it is, when you teach, you learn more than your students do a lot of times. So teaching is material over and over. Pursuing it over and over has shaped me.
Who knows, maybe another 20 years of this, I’ll be pretty close to just right. I don’t know.
Chris, you’re also involved with a Ministry that helps people better understand these things, right? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Sure. Last year I started PeaceWorks which is just an extension of my personal counseling and teaching that I do. We’re in the process right now of reworking the website. Initially it was simply an opportunity for me to have connections so I could go somewhere and speak and maybe teach. But what we’ve learned is that the Church needs resources. And so I’m in the process of redoing the website.
And hopefully, Lord willing, this fall we’ll start having a content based website so we can have more helpful discussions like this. So that it’s not just Chris’ voice but it’s other biblical counseling and conservative Christians and pastors and teachers that are in the work, so we can have more and more conversations similar to this. Just have more information.
And I think I told you when I first started in the work and started researching, I grabbed every Christian resource and I know I had them all, I know I did. And they all fit in a cardboard file folder box. I printed off every article I had, every book. And that was how little there was. So there’s a lot more to be said regarding this. And a lot more happening right now. So praise the Lord for the resources that are being built.
So thanks so much for taking time to be with us. It’s a blessing to have you at this conference and also great to get to know you as a friend of IBCD.
It’s been great to be there. Thanks.
And finally for our listeners, I just wanted to mention that by the time these episodes are airing, all of the audios from the conference will be available for free on our website. The pre-conference, workshops, everything. And videos from the general session as well.
All available at IBCD.org. That’s IBCD.org.