The Rev. Al Miles talks to a young woman. The chaplain of the Queen's Medical Center recently released a book, "Ending Violence in Teen Dating Relationships."

Ending the Abuse

The Rev. Al Miles urges parents
to be alert about what teens learn
about relationships

Demeaning words can be more wounding than physical abuse, says the Rev. Al Miles.

Verbal abuse is often the precursor to physical abuse, said Miles, who has just written a book addressing an alarming trend of violence in teen relationships.

Girls who allow their boyfriends to call them names usually considered profane, but disguised as a term of endearment, tend to become victims of abuse down the road, he said.

Miles' book "Ending Violence in Teen Dating Relationships" is the third in a series he has written on relationship violence. Subtitled "A Resource Guide for Parents and Pastors," it was released a month ago by Augsburg Books.

Miles, chaplain at the Queen's Medical Center since 1993, said he was motivated to address teen violence after coming across many incidents of abuse in Hawaii and on the mainland during his frequent speaking engagements.

Although his main duty for contracting agency Pacific Health Ministry is coordinating the Queen's Medical Center Ministry Department, ending the violence has become his "personal mission," he said. What he has heard from teens -- "whether I'm in Honolulu, in Arkansas or whether I'm in Washington, D.C." -- is so disturbing that he cannot leave the problem for someone to take care of, Miles said.

He is urging Christian parents to get over their naivete that it doesn't happen in their family, parish or community. The parents he encounters at his workshops are aghast to learn that many of their children commonly use the same degrading language as teens in non-Christian families.

"Those words crush the spirit. Later they (the teens) tell me how devastated they were by being called these names," even though they justify the use of pejorative labels as being told they are special, he said.

"But I didn't say anything (in protest) because I didn't want to be uncool," they usually add, Miles said.

These words pervade not only rap music, but most of their music, he said, quoting lyrics such as "hit me, baby, one more time" from a Britney Spears song.

"Hypersexualized" television programs, such as those seen on MTV, and movies also perpetuate the idea that females do not feel they are complete unless a handsome man on a white horse carries them off into the sunset, Miles said.

"They can be the smartest, most intelligent woman," he added, but they accept demeaning treatment and wait until a man says, "I'm OK," before they feel validated.

The other side of the coin is that traditional ideas of male roles perpetuate the "strong, silent stereotype. It forces a male who is sad or afraid to be angry or silent instead, and that limits who he is," Miles said.

Simply blaming the media, however, is not his intention.

"The media is us. ... I'm challenging the adults to look at the ways we teach, preach and parent," he said. Teens and adults have to get over the embarrassment of talking openly about sex, he added, but adults also need to listen to teens without condemnation or ultimatums.

Miles said that parents say they are afraid to talk to their teens about sex because "then they're gonna want to have sex. Well, guess what: They already are."

Youth pastors have to address the issue of what is a healthy relationship, he said: "Parents have to talk to their children -- you don't want them forced to turn to one another or pop culture" for role models.

In his book, Miles also chided some ministers for wrongly teaching that a biblical passage, Ephesians 5:21-33, justifies a man's dominance over women in the home, when it says that Christian wives have to "submit graciously to their husbands' authority." But the Greek verb "hupotasso" is used to mean "submit," and it actually means "mutual attachment," or mutual love, respect and responsibility, he said.

When this passage is used by men to justify their abuse of authority, that is blasphemy, he said, because it is taking something intended for good and using it to harm someone. If men promise to be benevolent authoritarians, Miles said, "I don't know of any man, including Al Miles, who would say to a woman, 'Let me be your servant head.'"

Having the father and mother in an unequal relationship sets up the wrong role models, he said. He often encounters horror stories of a woman showing her pastor her distended jaw from being hit by her husband and being told, "Turn the other cheek ... (or) you have to make yourself a living sacrifice."

His book is available at Barnes & Noble or through its Web site, barnesandnoble.com; amazon.com; augsburgfortress.org; and most major bookstores.

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