06 September 2017

Not a Book Review: Invisible Chains

I read a lot of books, but I rarely have time or incentive to write much about them, so I don't know if this will be the only NaBR post or not...

Recently, I was confronted by an acquaintance of mine over some family trouble one of his children was having. One of the things he said to me was that people talking about it were "contributing to the abuse" of his child. When I asked for his definition of abuse, he didn't provide one, but pointed me toward the book Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationships by Dr. Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD. He said someone had labelled the type of abuse that his child was suffering from "coercive control"and that this was the book this person had used.

So I read it. Not to disprove or argue with anyone, but because I wanted a healthy mental state and a God-honoring marriage for his child, and up to this point, there were some things I'd seen and read from both him and his child that I found troubling. If the book was a solid piece of work, so much the better.

This isn't intended to be a comprehensive review. It's mainly my thoughts on its topic, how it addresses that topic, and specifically, my thoughts about what value it might have for anyone having difficulties within their marriage.

I'll start with a few caveats.
  • When I heard the term "coercive control" I thought of it being the use of various tactics (mental, physical, emotional) to manipulate one's partner into behaving how one wished. I'd agree that this is a bad thing; it shows a lack of respect (at a minimum) for one's partner.
  • This post isn't about a specific person or relationship. It's about the book and how I think it would be used.
  • I'm not trained in therapy and I haven't even done extensive personal study on it, so there could be benefit that I'm missing. Nonetheless, I believe the main thrust of my critique is relevant.
Overall, my main concern is that a significant subjective component plays into identifying whether coercive control applies to a given relationship. Many examples demonstrating a range of potentially abusive behaviors are included, but the book itself doesn't say they are automatically abusive. I am afraid that it would be easy for an individual going through a difficult relationship or suffering from other emotional issues to read themselves into this condition. Unless a trained, objective observer (like a qualified therapist) were the one to make the diagnosis, I would be hesitant to act upon the strong suggestions this book made for dealing with the abuse.

The book doesn't give a very clear, definition of "coercive control" that could be used by the reader independent of a particular individual or relationship. In fact, it states that "[n]o single act defines coercive control." (p.39)  The closest it comes to a definition is to say that one who is in a coercive relationship will feel trapped, isolated, and fearful. Which is probably true, but not terribly helpful in any discussion. Without a clear definition, it's hard to speak clearly on the topic and make sure that everyone is talking about the same thing. It's always hard to speak about an emotional topic in a respectful and useful way, even when abuse isn't a question. When it's been raised, it becomes almost impossible, especially when there isn't a clear definition, because there is no way to refute accusations of contributing to the abuse.

For example, the line it draws between abusive "controlling" behavior and non-abusive "bossy" behavior is completely subjective:
On the other hand, not every man who is “bossy” is guilty of employing coercive control. There are many degrees of bossiness. But if the woman feels actual fear—if she feels she must respond to his demands or else—then she is probably a victim of coercive control. (p. 40)
I'm sure that fear will be present in any sort of abusive relationship, but framing things as this book does makes the emotions of one person the definitive proof that behavior of another person is abusive. If they feel fearful, action A is abusive. If no fear is felt, action A is not abusive.

Labelling someone an abuser based on the litmus test of someone else's feelings seems rife for, well, abuse. Especially as one reads the sections describing the sort of demands and conditions one should place on an abuser in order to evaluate whether he or she has really changed.

There are other, lesser issues that I could point out, but it's the lack of clarity and related potential for harm from misuse that concerns me most. I would strongly encourage anyone who reads the book and believes they may be in such a situation to tread softly. Be open to the possibility, whether or not you are in a coercive relationship, that your perspective may be skewed or faulty. Get a second opinion from someone not vested in your life, preferably someone with training as a therapist.

07 July 2015

Doctrine Matters, or The Homosexual Chip on the Church's Shoulder

With the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, there's been a lot in the news and social media about homosexuality and equality, and the memes about hypocrisy and homophobia in the church have been flying. I have not been impressed by the theological or religious arguments by the homosexual apologists, but the attention has made me consider a phenomenon from a few years back that I think makes understandable the charge of homophobia that's so often leveled at anyone claiming to take the Bible seriously in a conservative way.

Before I start, a couple of caveats:
  • I'm not saying there is a particular animus toward homosexuality on the part of any specific Christian or Christian group. I believe one can and should accurately hold to a biblical understanding of the sinfulness of something without hating (corporately or individually) those who commit that sin. Rather, I'm going to be speaking about a trend within the church and specifically, how that trend could be reasonably perceived.
  • I think the description of homosexuality as sin within Scripture are pretty clear in both Old and New Testament. Getting into whether a particular civil punishment for the behavior remains valid is a different conversation outside the scope of this post.
  • Similarly, I'm talking about acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate part of a Christian's sanctified life. I'm not talking about a believer who sins, repents, and seeks forgiveness under the blood of Christ, but rather, the assertion that there is no sin, thus no need for repentance or forgiveness.
  • My background is Lutheran, and since I've been attending Lutheran churches for the last decade or so, I'm going to focus on what I've seen in that theological stream. I'm guessing the same would be true for other denominations, but I can't speak to it.
  • I'm not getting into the civil government side of this at all. Not going to talk about America as a Christian nation. Not my point. I'm looking at the churches here.
In 2009, after years of incrementally becoming more accepting of homosexuality, the ELCA finally voted to approve practicing gay clergy. Even with all the preparatory legwork, the vote was incredibly close, but it did pass.

So what happened next?

In the next two years, the denomination shrunk by 500K (about 10%). In my town of approximately 12,000 people, in a fairly conservative area of my state, both ELCA churches in town quickly voted to leave the denomination. My own church (which is AFLC, a significantly more conservative Lutheran denomination) experienced an influx of new attendees (probably 25-40% increase in our weekly attendance), many of whom have become active members.

I don't believe my experience is unique; there was an enormous exodus from the ELCA, and while many former ELCA churches have joined together in new organizations, anecdotally, I've heard of many conservative Lutheran churches which grew as a result.

So, a denomination votes to approve practicing gay clergy, and a lot of people leave it. What can a reasonable person infer from this? It sure looks like homosexuality was the tipping point, but why? What makes that particular issue special? More importantly, what previous changes within the ELCA had not been considered important enough to separate over?

To give a peek at an answer, I'll quote something of the history of CORE (a group within the ELCA active in the decade leading up to the 2009 vote and dedicated to reform), regarding its goals:
The first and primary goal was to uphold the authority of God’s Word, particularly the authority of Scripture over all matters of faith and life. The second was to confess and invoke God’s revealed proper name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The third goal was to uphold the biblical norms for marriage, family and sexuality. The fourth was to work for the election or appointment of ELCA leaders at the churchwide and synodical level who would support the first three goals. A couple of years later, a fifth goal was added and made the second priority – the Great Commission – proclaiming Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Savior and His Gospel, and making disciples of Christ. 
Remember, these are goals for reform, so one seems reasonable to think that the authority of Scripture, faithfulness to biblical language regarding the Persons of the Trinity, biblical norms for sexuality, and the proclamation of Christ alone as the way of salvation could no longer be assumed within the ELCA.

That's already a pretty big departure from historic Lutheran orthodoxy.

That's what I mean when I say "Doctrine matters." Because the theological underpinnings that (legitimately) prevent acceptance of homosexuality as part of a Christian lifestyle are the same foundations for many other doctrines. And if someone seems to have been willing to shrug and let their church deny those doctrines when it comes to the authority of Scripture or the essence of the Gospel (let alone things like observation of the sacraments, or abortion, or creation/evolution, or women's ordination), but decides to leave that same church over homosexuality, then isn't it pretty reasonable to think that it's got to be something other than Scripture that drove the decision to depart? And if the Bible isn't the reason for our position as Christians, aren't we making our personal preferences and opinions the real source of our doctrine?

I'm not saying that the homosexual apologist is right. I'm saying that it's hard to disagree with someone who says that's what it looks like, and for the vast and growing number of those ignorant of or ambivalent toward Christianity, that's a problem. I'm not trying to blame or shame anyone who has left the ELCA, either. However, I do think individuals, churches, and denominations ought to be honest enough to admit their actions have given credence to this perception, and consider what they can do to address it and avoid falling into the same pattern in the future. And I think the first step is to think long and hard about what they actually believe, teach, and practice, and why those things are important.

06 September 2013

Rom 8:28 wins again

Anyone who follows the online discernment sphere is likely to have heard about the recent blow-ups involving Chris Pinto, Brannon Howse, Christine Blackerby Pack, James White, and a few other people.

I'm not going to comment on the bulk of it yet; I have a strong opinion, but I want to think through what might be a better way to comment first (though I have a question on one of the central arguments involved). Instead, I want to talk a bit about Rom 8:28 and what I hope proves to be an example of God's Word proving true once more.

All of the hurtful accusations, false or misleading implications, and flat-out bad behavior has definitely put a strain on a lot of Christians involved in what's going on (or on those who just care about those being dealt with poorly). It's not always been unexpected, but it's been very sad to see.

However, on 3 Sept, Chris Rosebrough opened his show with a discussion about reconciliation, and described how he and Ingrid Schlueter had reconciled. It was a good announcement full of good content. Without putting too fine a point on it, I would say that the horrible situation currently swirling around is at least part of the impetus for reconciliation; truly God can cause all things to work together for good.

I pray that Chris and Ingrid will continue to heal their relationship, and I hope others would be able to do the same.

05 September 2013

A Question for Chris Pinto

Anyone familiar with Mr. Pinto is likely aware of the recent controversy involving him, Alan Kurschner, and Dr. James White, so I'm not going to go into it. If you don't know the details, Google is your friend; I'd only recommend you set aside a bunch of time to catch up and consider all sides before making a judgement.

I posted the following on FaceBook, but I wanted to put an excerpt of it here too, in case I actually see a substantive response that I can record.
Mr. Pinto points to the Roman Catholic involvement in the Greek source text used in producing the ESV as one reason to distrust it. From what I've heard, he prefers the Textus Receptus (I haven't looked into it enough to call him TR-only). But the bulk of the TR is based on the work of Erasmus, a Roman Catholic scholar, which actually includes verses in Revelation which were back-translated from the Latin Vulgate, which was a translation commissioned by the Pope and produced by the Roman Catholic Jerome.

So my question is simple:

Why is the TR immune from question, when its connection to the Roman Catholic church is significantly stronger than anything related to the ESV?

17 May 2013

An Open Letter to Mediacom

(I'm moving this from my business site to here, since it doesn't really deal with a business-related expense.)

Here’s a letter about a recent customer service nightmare I’ve had with my home broadband provider, Mediacom Cable. I hope it’s pretty self-explanatory. I’m sending this off via snail-mail and email to Mediacom today, but just in case it helps someone else, I’m posting in online.

FWIW, losing the pics isn’t what frosts me; it’s bad, but if I’d been told that there was no hope initially, I’d've chalked it up to my not having secondary backups for even unimportant web files. Lesson learned, and move on. But since I could see them on the server while I was on the phone with customer service, I thought I’d patiently try to use the process; the files were available after all. I just would have to hack my way through Mediacom’s customer service hierarchy until I found someone with a clue that could transfer them or give me the info I needed to do it myself.

Insert your rose-colored-glasses insult here. I deserve it.

So, ultimately, I’m still at lesson learned, and I’m moving on. But I thought I’d take a shot at telling my story to someone at Mediacom who should care.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’m writing to complain about the way my internet access account has been handled over the past few months. I will provide fuller details below, but in summary, here is my problem. Files which I’d hosted on your servers using space provided as part of my accounts with you were not migrated when some changes were made at the beginning of the year, even though your own documentation said they would be. Now, after repeatedly trying to get them moved, I’ve finally been told my files are no longer available.

After the runaround I’ve been given by your support people the past several months, I no longer know whether to believe they are gone. However, even if it is true, it definitely was not the case when I initially called, because that day I could see the files in the old system. The only reason I didn’t download them myself then is because the onsite utilities you provided didn’t allow me that option. It is infuriating to be stalled for weeks and months, waiting patiently to get something corrected, only to be told at the end that it is no longer possible, in large part because it’s been so long since the change was made!

I work in the computer industry, and I can understand how something might be missed or not work properly during a migration. However, the service I’ve received in this case is inept to an almost criminal level. I have not asked for any special attention; all I wanted was what your own communications said was supposed to have occurred. In response, I have received nothing but condescension and stalling tactics. This is absolutely unacceptable, and truly, the only reason I am still a customer at all is because there isn’t another broadband provider in my area that can provide similar connection speed at even twice the price. The moment one is available, I will be leaving even if I have to pay a premium for that other service. Until then I am letting everyone I deal with know about the incompetence I’ve been met with over this issue.

In case you have any interest in trying to improve your customer service for the next poor doomed soul who has any non-trivial issue, here is a more detailed explanation of my experience.

Late last year, Mediacom transitioned to a different system for hosting member web sites. In my conversations since then, I’ve come to understand that this must have involved a vendor switch as well. At the time, I received emails describing the transition, but since I never used the website development services you offered, once I confirmed that my existing hosted files would be migrated to my new directories, I did not take any action. I did host files on the space that was part of my account, but I either used third-party applications to upload them or used the utility web page that was available to do simple site operations (adding subdirectories, getting directory listings, uploading and deleting files, etc.)

Let me repeat: According to your website, the migration would automatically place any files in my old site into an archive directory on the new site.

The files I had on my site were not heavily accessed, but within a couple weeks of the migration, my wife noticed she couldn’t use the old links to see them. I figured this was because of the migration, but when I checked the new directory, the archive (which was supposed to contain all the old files) was empty. So I tried to see if there was any way for me to retrieve them myself.

Using the utility page on your old website hosting pages, I was able to get directory listings of the old files, and even add, delete, and rename files in those directories. There was no utility to download the files, so I could not retrieve them this way.

So I called customer service, looking for them to complete the file transfer that your site and email had said would take place. I have spoken with them at least ten times in the past four months about this issue. I didn’t make a note of every call, but I know I spoke with someone at MediaCom at least twice before Feb 19 (once to someone named [OMITTED]), then again with a woman named [OMITTED] on Feb 19 and again Mar 10. The ticket number I had was [OMITTED], though that didn’t seem to generally be of use; each call I ended up repeating this entire story. The conversations almost always took the same path. First, I had to explain again what I was trying to have done. Then I had to explain again, when the call was escalated. Then, I had to provide some other detail that they wanted (e.g. Did I use the web builder software? Do I have the name of a sample file? What sub-accounts did I use?). At that point, I would be told the person who could actually look into it was out, or at a different company, and that the information would be sent to them, and they’d get back to me. Typically, two to seven days later I’d get a call on my answering machine asking for details that I’d already provided in previous calls.

Only once was my call transferred to someone who seemed to be from a more knowledgeable technical background, and after working with him for approximately twenty minutes, he too finished by saying he’d sent a request to some other company who had the ability to actually address my problem. Obviously, that didn’t end up happening either.

This is ridiculous, and even thinking through the whole mess long enough to write this letter has angered me again. Your company dropped the ball on this, then refused to even admit you had a ball, kept asking me to describe the ball, and finally said only that you were sorry but the hypothetical ball was gone. That’s not an oversight or an error. It’s disrespectful, discourteous, and wrong. I fully expect to hear your company has been purchased by another at some point in the future, because tolerance of this sort of behavior can only speak ill of your corporation’s attitude toward excellence and all other qualities that lead to success.

I look forward to not being your customer. In that I am


Jason Coyle