Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Importance of Culturally Specific Classes

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Men's Nonviolence Classes

Why a Faith Based Class?

By Ty Schroyer,  (Adapted  from “Changing Men, Changing Lives, A Supplement To Creating A Process of Change For Men Who Batter: The Duluth Curriculum”, Copyright © 2007).

During my 16 years coordinating the Men’s Nonviolence Program at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP), we recognized the value in giving Native American men, primarily Anishinabe, the choice to participate in a culturally specific class. The DAIP wanted to create an optimal learning environment that took into account the historic oppression, current racism, traditions, spirituality and shared lived experience of Native American men to create common ground and build trust. Native men then had the freedom to smudge, go to sweat lodge, offer tobacco, pray and learn through storytelling as well as through the mainstream dialogical process. The men felt understood in a group created for them and led by native facilitators. The native facilitators were able to challenge participants on their sexism, male privilege and violence against women more effectively than non-native facilitators. The men found it harder to hide in class or dismiss what the facilitators had to say.

We also began to recognize a gap between what the curriculum offered and how men with a Christian spiritual and cultural identity received it. Christian men also have a comprehensive spiritual belief system, unique language, customs, prayer and rituals that are pertinent to their culture. Just as the native men’s class was created to be sensitive to the Native American community with the hope of optimizing the learning environment, Christian men needed a class that would be culturally sensitive to them with God included in the change process.

Men who batter use different tactics to gain control over their partners or families. While the tactics used by Christian men mirror those used by men in the wider culture, their justifications can differ. For example, some men may use their gender as the reason they get to make decisions (“I’m the man so I get to decide”). A Christian man might use Scripture to justify his authority (“Wives, submit to your husbands” or “the husband is the head of the wife”). In a Christian men’s nonviolence class, much of the discussion sounds no different than in any other class, but the culture in which a man is raised or is immersed makes a difference in the foundation of his beliefs about privilege and entitlement.

We began to see that men with strong, conservative Christian beliefs and practices often did not respect or respond to a process involving secular facilitators who held different spiritual beliefs. Facilitators who were unfamiliar with Scripture were challenged to respond to biblical verses and frequently, one of two things happened: the participant engaged in vigorous religious debate or he disengaged himself from the discussion altogether. Either way, a class participant could avoid dealing with his controlling beliefs. His religious justifications for abuse stayed intact because Scripture became untouchable in class. A program that avoids dialogue about Scripture greatly reduces the effectiveness of nonviolence classes for Christian men who batter. They are left without the critical thinking and reflection that is essential to shifting core beliefs and changing abusive behavior.

We became committed to developing a nonviolence program for Christian men who batter, when we realized that the existing process did not adequately support such men in exploring their beliefs. When a Christian man in a general group cited “headship” as the basis for his control of the household money, other men became frustrated with his talk about religion or removed themselves from what they interpreted as “his problem.” The classroom environment affected the Christian men’s participation in class, their level of trust, and their openness to making positive change in seeing women as partners in a relationship. This lack of openness directly affected women’s safety, which is a cornerstone of DAIP and CMCL. Our recognition of the ways in which a general nonviolence group might inadvertently impede change for many Christian men led to the development of CMCL.

Our goal is to create a culturally respectful setting in which Christian men who batter can explore their beliefs about abusive behavior, confront the consequences of spiritual abuse for Christian women, and move toward a biblical foundation for equality and nonviolence. We believe that by doing this, women’s lives are made safer and the quality and richness of both men’s and women’s experience in relationship will be greatly improved.

In 2003 after 15 years of facilitating secular classes, we were ready to engage this specific population of men and professionally, we desired to become a teaching/facilitator team. After much discussion and prayer, I presented it to the management team at the DAIP and they agreed that this was an idea whose time had come and the staff gave their skeptical “thumbs up.” We had wanted their buy-in because we believed the work should be a collaborative partnership with the DAIP. However, we also believed there needed to be freedom to develop and conduct the classes under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit.

The faith-based classes have been absolutely amazing with many lives transformed! CMCL takes it to a new level when working with Christian men who batter. We have increased participation/dialogue because the men are more open and transparent and encourage and hold each other accountable. We have had many men continue to participate long after their completion of the 27-week program. Praise God!

To see our 16 minute video, go to our page Help for Christian Men.”

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