I have to admit that I began reading Natalie Collins’ “Out of Control” with no small degree of trepidation. Not only is domestic abuse something outside the realm of my experience, but it’s also something that the church has struggled to respond to well.
The first thing that struck me upon reading, however, is the gentleness with which Natalie writes. At the beginning and end of chapters the reader is given space to breathe and practice self-care which, when reading about something as harrowing as domestic abuse is not only important, but vital. She does not shy away from the horrors of abuse, including sharing her own story which enables the reader to understand the issues presented in a way that is more than theoretical.
The following sentence, quite literally took my breath away, and it’s as true for domestic abuse as it is for many other difficult issues that the church faces.
“If we are to walk with people in their pain we have to be willing to witness the brutality, not shutting our ears when the stories are horrifying or the language offends us.”
Without doubt the strongest parts of the book are those which can be used to inform pastoral practice. First and foremost for the majority of churches is the recognition that domestic abuse is probably present in their congregations, as Natalie writes:
“Presuming that abuse is present without our congregation… is the only way to ensure that our communities become safe contexts for those subjected to abuse.”
Secondly, the importance of reviewing how our church practices and language can be used to keep women trapped in abuse. Her point about the language of redemption used is interesting; that it may help to collude with an abuser and allow them to continue their behaviour is important, but I also think that our understanding of redemption needs to be greater. Redemption is not a free pass for what has gone before, but relies on the character of God; not an individual’s actions
Natalie’s understanding of the sociological and psychological effects of domestic abuse are incredibly useful to those wishing to understand how best to support sufferers. Her explanations of trauma theory enable us to get to grips with the way those subjected to abuse may act or respond in certain situations which we must be aware of in our churches.
I did find one part of Natalie’s argument problematic. Chapter 3 can be seen to dismiss any reasons which may lead men to abuse women. It’s true that reasons are in no way excuses, and that they should not be used to keep women trapped in abusive situations or seen to be mitigation for their crimes; but to ignore men’s own backgrounds and the way their own life experiences have led to their behaviour is troubling to me.
Exerting power may be central to men’s abusive behaviours, but I can’t help but wonder how men’s own experiences of abuse or violence inform their later choices?
The book is worth buying for chapter 10 alone in my opinion; it’s intensely practical but also highlights the difficulties people face in accessing the help they so desperately need which must inform our pastoral care. It’s all very well knowing where to signpost, but we must also be prepared to wait with people until they get what they need, not as pseudo-professionals but as the body of Christ, family.
This is a book that every church leader should read. Not only for the knowledge it imparts, but the way in which Natalie tells her story and because it broke my heart for those affected by domestic abuse and highlighted how the Church can help.