Reclaiming Power and Control

Reclaiming Power and Control

Those who wish to live rightly in God’s world must not overcorrect by seeking to give up all power, control, authority, and gain. Instead, we recognize that though those qualities may be abused, they were given by God for our good and for the good of others in his world. We must pursue those goods humbly and in faith, and in that way we will both prevent much abuse and respond rightly to abuse when it occurs. We will take seriously our duties to protect those entrusted to our care—thus preventing abuse, and we will exercise and submit to authority in faith. Christians need not and must not give up our leadership in this age.

The Heart of Abuse is Not What it Seems

With awareness about abuse and its destructive effects on the rise, American Christians are being offered yet another manifestation of egalitarianism as the best possible response. This is unsurprising because modern notions of abuse have been forged within the fires of a feminist framework. The Southern Baptist Convention may be ground zero, but the battle is either already underway or coming soon to every major denomination. Cultural currents that have been sweeping over America for decades are seeking to determine the church’s response: will we be able to recognize what is happening and turn the tide?

The Duluth Model

It began in the 1980s when a coalition in Duluth, Minnesota was the first in the nation to offer a coordinated community response to wife batterers. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program was born out of an admirable desire to help women to be safe from violent partners. By coordinating at every level: victims, police, probation officers, social workers, and the judiciary, Duluth pioneered an approach that has since been utilized in all 50 states and in 17 nations. The Duluth Model (DM), as it has come to be known, was a rousing success.

Behind the DM was Ellen Pence, a lesbian sociologist and activist who was deeply involved in the battered women’s movement under second-wave feminism. Pence self-consciously formed the DM with a feminist framework: “Whether the particular planners are aware of it or not, programs for batterers are situated in a political and historical context of the feminist anti-violence movement.”1 Feminist values and assumptions were baked into the cake from the outset.

Central to the DM is the idea that abusers are driven by a desire for power and control. Behind that desire lies a culture that has been formed by men for men in order to restrict women (and children) and to privilege men in the world. Therefore, when a man feels that he is losing power or control, he feels justified to use violence in an attempt to regain it. According to the DM, this kind of thinking has permeated our entire society, affecting us all: “We’ve all been socialized in a culture that values power, a culture in which the thinking that we challenge in the [batterer] groups is present in every aspect of our daily lives. Our schools, churches, and places of work are all structured hierarchically. All of us have engaged in at least some of the tactics batterers use to control their partners.”2

This philosophy is best represented in their widely-utilized DM Power and Control Wheel:

The Wheel graphically displays the core value of POWER AND CONTROL and the requisite ring of VIOLENCE that encompasses it. Odds are that if you have received training in abuse, you have seen the Wheel or been instructed in its framework.

Under the DM, the solution to abuse is found in undoing the oppressive hierarchies that fill our culture: “When we as a society decide that women have certain subservient roles and men have certain privileged roles, then we also give men the message that they can enforce those roles with whatever tools are at their disposal…The historic oppression and continued subjugation of women in most cultures occurs because men have defined almost every facet of their societies, thereby perpetuating a sexist belief system and institutionalizing male privilege.”3 Therefore, the solution to abuse is found in dismantling hierarchy and fostering equality.

That understanding is represented in the DM Equality Wheel:

Again, the framework is direct and clear: EQUALITY is the core of a healthy relationship, and under such an understanding, persons can relate within an atmosphere of NONVIOLENCE. Thus under the DM, we find a clear and succinct description of the problem of abuse and its solution. Over the past four decades, the DM has gained increasing influence as its clear logic and comprehensive system have offered an attractive package for those seeking to understand and respond to the horrors of abuse. It is remarkable how ubiquitous the language of ‘power and control’ is within the world of abuse counselors, across the ideological spectrum.

Power for Good?

Before turning to analysis and response to the prevailing paradigm, it is necessary to recognize one more variable in the mix. In The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory Boyd popularized a power-over/power-under framework in calling Christians to eschew the “kingdom of the world” in order to live for the “kingdom of God.” According to Boyd: “While all the versions of the kingdom of the world acquire and exercise power over others, the kingdom of God, incarnated and modeled in the person of Jesus Christ, advances only by exercising power under others. It expands by manifesting the power of self-sacrificial, Calvary-like love.”4

Read More

  1. Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar, Education Groups for Men Who Batter (New York: Springer Publishing, 1993), 172.
  2. Education Groups for Men Who Batter, 1.
  3. Education Groups for Men Who Batter, 147.
  4. Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 14.
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