Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14)
We will be writing more on this passage in the near future, but here are some highlights for this Sunday morning, meant to encourage us all.
When we address abuse in the church, when we come to the aid of its victims, we are going to offend many people. “Offend” is putting it lightly. More like “make enemies of them.” We don’t really make them our enemies. We simply expose the fact that they are enemies of the weak and the oppressed. Jesus said: Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) So you don’t have to be overtly and actively abusing people to be an ally of the abuser. You simply need to be a bystander, a watcher of evil, to be against Christ in this matter.
Now here is the point for this morning. We hear at ACFJ, along with most all of our readership, regularly tick people off. And with some frequency we have people write to us and say something much like the disciples said to Jesus – “Uh, you do realize, don’t you, that you offended ___________ with your article?” Many of you have had the same thing happen when you confronted your abuser or went to your church to ask for help. “Whoa! Slow down! You are going to upset people here. You will alienate your spouse. You need to go home and take a chill pill.”
When I was writing the book, A Cry for Justice, I had several friends read the manuscript before it was published and they gave many very good suggestions. Not ONE of them ever told me to “cool it.” One did tell me this: “This book is very good. You realize it is probably going to make some people really mad.” Only he didn’t tell me to back off. He said “press on and let them get mad.” He was right, and we did.
“Do you know that the Pharisees were offended…?” Yep. We know it. Many of the ring leaders of this sect today are simply plants — plants who have not been planted in their ecclesiastical positions by the Father. The truth will work to root them up and they fight against it. All who persist in following them will go down into a pit with them. God’s truth rocks our world. It shows us our errors and sins and calls upon us all to make some mid-course corrections.
We are calling upon Christians, pastors, elders, denominations, theologians and seminaries and authors and leaders of Christian organizations, to make some pretty radical mid-course corrections. Because when it comes to abuse in the church, here is the reality. Most of these people and organizations have been on a wrong course, headed for the rocks, for a long while.
But human beings do not like to be told that they have been wrong all their lives. At ACFJ, we even name names. We say “Don’t get on Captain John Piper’s ship. He is headed for the rocks and he will take you with him as he steers a course of no-divorce-for-abuse-or-anything-ever.” We have had people tell us “Oh, tone it down. You are going to offend his many followers.” They want us to be more like “there is a certain ship sailing from a town starting with the letter Q that is going to a city starting with the letter N, but it isn’t going to make it because….well, because something bad is going to happen. Don’t get on that ship. Whatever you do, don’t get on it.”
And of course the whole point is that such people think that what we must do is always, always, always strive to make people our allies, to win them over to our cause, to… well, to bring the abuser to repentance and salvation by trying and trying and doing and doing and praying and praying… and most of all, by never offending. We’ve all heard that line before. It doesn’t work. Jesus said that men and women, churches and church leaders, seminaries and professors, Christian denominations, planted and directed by the Father will hear His Word. Those whom He has not planted won’t. They are weeds in His garden producing bad fruit. Yes, we know they are offended by what we say. Leave them alone. They are blind guides headed for the pit. Don’t go with them.
If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? (1 Corinthians 14:7-8)
One of our readers has kindly allowed us to publish this part of her testimony. Many thanks to her.
I loved having a home and my husband and I enjoyed a lot of happiness. Part of the reason we had so much fun together may have been that we were both still children in some ways. I remember going to Bible study and feeling sorry for the people who just had ordinary homes, when I had just come from a home filled with so much laughter and enjoyment, after watching my husband play with the puppies.
Unfortunately, something very ugly crept into my marriage, very early. I was married about six months, the first time my husband slapped me. I was shocked. No one had ever slapped me across the face before. It was humiliating. We had dated for four years and this had never happened. What was I going to do? If we were just dating, I could break up with him, but I was already married. I couldn’t leave. I didn’t know what to do to fix it, so I didn’t do anything. A few months later the memory faded.
Gradually, a pattern emerged in our marriage. My husband, who no longer had a brother at home to wrestle with, would wrestle with me. I was a lot lighter than him and I didn’t like to wrestle. I was starting to get hurt, more and more. These wrestling matches were intermingled with other times that he would slap me, during an argument or when he was upset.
The pattern continued and gradually escalated. Sometimes he would scream at me for what seemed like little or no reason. I remember one time him screaming at me just after getting up from the bed after we had been intimate. I hadn’t done anything to upset him. It was baffling. I was confused. I didn’t understand it.
When I was married for about five years, I was getting more distressed and was sustaining minor injuries. But as many women that are in these relationships will tell you, the true target of the inflicted pain and abuse is not the body. I decided during prayer one day, to stop fighting back. I reasoned that if I didn’t fight back, my husband would realize what he was doing to me, that he was hurting me and that he would stop.
Not fighting back physically did not stop the violence. In fact, it got a whole lot worse. However, not physically defending myself did help me to see things a lot more clearly. The violence was no longer shrouded in the polite façade of wrestling.
A clear pattern emerged. Tension would build and then there would be an explosion. The trigger for an explosion could be something so minor as not being able to find a tool he wanted, or dishing him up too much spaghetti. The cycle of tension build-up followed by explosion would happen again and again, until we reached a level of intensity and violence that scared us and that we had never reached before. Then tensions would dissipate and Mr. Hyde would turn back into Dr Jekyll.
I later found out that this pattern is called, “the cycle of violence”. It is a well-documented pattern experienced by women in abusive relationships. As much as we would like to think of everything as 50-50, this pattern is primarily an abuse of male power against females.
I was becoming panicked. Nowhere could I find in the scripture that it was ok to leave your husband because he hit you. Jesus said we could divorce for infidelity, but he didn’t mention violence! I had no children to protect and I didn’t think I was justified in leaving for myself.
Finally I asked God to remind me to pray during one of these episodes. Previously, I would remember to pray before, when tensions were building, or after when I was recovering, but I never remembered to pray during an episode.
The night my life changed and I started my journey out of that marriage, I remembered to pray in the midst of the violence. I had locked myself in the furnace room to take a temporarily safe reprieve. The furnace room had a pretty good lock on it. My husband was in the living room watching TV, waiting for me to come out. Finally, I remembered to pray. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to pray when you are angry, but it was an act of force! My prayer cut through the heavy evil shroud that had encircled my home and was heard.
When I left the furnace room, the violence did not stop, but I no longer felt cut-off from God and I did not feel I was going through it alone. I was able to pray freely. That night God gifted me with two extraordinary miracles. They are particularly extroadinary for someone like me who has no charismatic background. He gifted me with a vision and He gifted me with an audible word.
My vision was of a large very beautiful blown glass house. That beautiful glass house was my home. It was being smashed and destroyed and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
My audible Word came during a confrontation from my husband. I silently prayed, “What am I going to do? I can’t leave him.” The Word came to me, “You might have to leave him, ___.” [ ___ was her personal name; we’ve omitted it for safety’s sake.] That Word opened the door for me. Maybe I could leave. Maybe it wasn’t all of my fault.
My Pastor talked about seeking the whole counsel of God. He spoke of how Scripture could be twisted to justify anything, even an erroneous non-Christian cult. Jesus told us the two great commandments were to love God with all our heart mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Somehow, by staying in this marriage and allowing this evil to continue and escalate, I was breaking both of those commandments. My husband was becoming less and less the man that I had married and was turning more and more into an ogre.
We are to serve God. He is our Master. I sometimes wonder what the Christian advice was to a soldier in Hitler’s army or to the wife of an SS officer. Was this the correct time to drag out the doctrine of submission, which Peter talks about in 1st Peter and which Paul talks about in Romans? Yet, I remembered, as Isaiah had prophesied, at the appointed time our Lord gave his back to the smiters and his cheeks to those who plucked out the beard. How do we walk with God in the face of evil? How do we follow our Lord’s example and do as both Peter and Paul admonish us and overcome evil with good? Isaiah tells us that Jesus was awakened by God’s word each morning to hear God’s instruction. If we can more closely mimic our Lord’s walk, perhaps we too can correctly discern God’s instruction and discern between good and evil.
During the time of searching and struggling within my marriage, I found several copies of the book The Total Woman, at the back one of the local churches. For those of you too young to remember, The Total Woman was one of Marabel Morgan’s books, written in opposition to the women’s movement. As near as I could tell, it gave helpful hints on how to use submission and feminine wiles to manipulate your way to power in your marriage.
I heard Christian women’s testimony on TV of how God had healed their marriage by changing them. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, I heard very little teaching on the man’s role in providing Christ-like headship.
Evil grows in the dark. I think the first and best steps in confronting evil, is to expose it and to drag it into the light. One of the first steps in coming out of an abusive relationship is to tell someone what has been going on. Like many women, I hadn’t told anyone. I was ashamed and I didn’t want to make the problem bigger by turning it into a public circus with everyone giving me advice that I may not be prepared to take. I think I also still felt loyalty to my husband. In my mind, he just didn’t realize how much he was hurting me and if he did, it would stop. I was still in love with Dr Jekyll.
At the beginning of the next cycle of violence, for a relatively minor assault, I phoned the transition house. The woman on the phone pointed out that by living in this situation for years, I had become desensitized to the level of violence. What I would have considered a major incident, in the years of dating my husband and grounds for ending the relationship, had now become a “minor assault”. I was becoming less and less alarmed, by a higher and higher level of violence.
I also found out information on an anger management program, which I could force my husband to attend, by laying assault charges. My next phone call was to the police. I laid charges.
I left my husband on two occasions. On the first occasion, I was in relationship with God. I was hopeful that God would change my husband and heal my marriage. After all, it happened for those other women, who gave their testimonies on TV. I felt spiritually strong, I was decisive and I felt the comfort of the Holy Spirit and relationship with God.
On the second occasion, I was angry with God. My husband had not changed! Though he was no longer hitting me, he knew of other ways to torture me. I came to realize that he DID know he was hurting me, hat he WANTED to hurt me and I was truly “Sleeping with the Enemy.” I was furious with God. I thought if anyone deserved a miracle, it was me. After all, I had tried my very best.
How foolish of me! Why would I expect that God who had given me free choice in my relationship with Him, would remove free choice from my husband? My husband had it within his power to choose and he chose not to repent, not to accept responsibility and chose to continue not having a relationship with God. It was his choice, not my choice and not necessarily God’s choice. (In fact, studies have shown that most abuser do not choose to change.)
Because I had turned my back on God, in my anger, I became weak. The weakness was noticed and acknowledged by those closest to me. It shames me to admit that while I was coming out of the marriage, I started to date a man who had been a friend of my husband’s and mine since our college days. At the time, I remember telling my sister that this decision would make things easier in the short run and harder in the long run. That was true. It was sin. It marred my clarity of vision in determining correct choices. Worst of all, it thrust an emotional knife into the man that I claimed to love and had sacrificed so much for. Despite this sin and my anger, God did not abandon me.
I was being stalked, I was exhausted working three part-time jobs to pay the mortgage on the home that my parents had co-signed for. I was told by a facilitator in my support group, that once these men really know it’s over, the nice guy act is finished! In my case, that was true. I was being stalked and there were weapons involved.
On one occasion, I believe God sent me an angel. I was exhausted and had flopped down on the sofa, after returning home. My phone was ringing. In those days we had answering machines. I heard the start of the message with my husband’s voice and then the answering machine cut off. This happened again and again and again and again. The phone would ring and then before he could leave a message, he was cut off. It was if someone was in there pressing the buttons on the machine, but it wasn’t me, I was on the sofa, too exhausted to move.
With the encouragement of my Mother, I moved to another part of the country. My Father was unhappy about the idea of losing another daughter to a long distance move, but he loaded up the truck and u-haul and moved me. Another family member was waiting to receive me and to give me temporary dwelling, so I could restart my life.
Due to my marriage troubles, I lost my home, my dog, most of our married friends and all of my in-laws. My mother-in law had been particularly good to me, better than I deserved. I hope one day God will reward her for all of her goodness to me.
It takes a while to recognize the internal damage from abuse inflicted upon us. During my marriage, I couldn’t see the extent of the injury. I was never hospitalized, bruises heal and I could still walk.
I was told that most women find an abusive relationship devastating to their self-esteem. I couldn’t say this was true for me. Because my relationship with Christ was growing during my marriage, I actually found my self-esteem growing. If Christ can love us that much, to die for us, surely we can love ourselves.
I had developed a sensitivity to emotional tension and displays of anger. I am in danger of “over-reacting”. By this, I mean I ‘m in danger of reacting not solely to an existing threat but also to the groundswell of memories of similar threats that can be triggered and overwhelm me. I found I could “flash-back” and experience a flood of debilitating feelings from past explosions. I learned that to keep myself mentally healthy, I needed to protect myself from male displays of anger. I must use caution to correctly ascertain the level threat with emotional tension or anger in a professional setting or a meeting.
Despite these changes in me, I still wanted to marry. I did not feel I was fully able to express myself as a woman or give venue to the gifts that God had given me, without a husband, home and family. It seemed to me to be a waste of God’s gifts and life to be unable to marry. Repeatedly scripture compares His love for us, to a bridegroom rejoicing over a bride. When I finally understood the importance of the woman in typifying His bride, I started to feel very good about being born female.
I am sure when we get to be close to Him, we will have an eternity of time to understand the answers to our many questions. He or the angels will better explain to us the concept of Biblical marriage as a picture God’s love for his people. We’ll see, first hand, the importance of women to Christ.
Many of you have either been through the family court system (such a nice name, right?) or you are still enduring the suffering of that battleground. Not only at the hands of your abuser, but many times through the injustice of the court itself. And so often these scenarios leave us all with a feeling of real helplessness because, unless you have piles of money at hand, what can we do to help? Attorney fees build and build. Sadly, and maddeningly, there are more than a few attorneys who seem to be in the thing just for the money and not to see justice done. It is not an easy task for an abuse victim to find a competent and honest attorney to take the case. Judges often seem to embrace the “children must always have a relationship with both parents in order to be healthy” theory. Verdicts are rendered that simply are not just, and that after sometimes years of grueling legal battle.
God sees it. God knows. God renders His verdict in the heavens, and one Day He promises justice:
Luke 18: 1-8: And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God more respected man. And there was a widow in that city who keep coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'”
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
PCA Church Receives Rebuke from Therapist/Life Coach: Get Educated! Part 7 of Persistent Widow’s story
Leaving the problems behind
After receiving the church’s final decision letter in the previous post (part 6), although I shouldn’t have been, I was stunned. I had still held out hope that the church would reconsider how poorly they had handled this situation, and would uphold discipline. It was now apparent to the child that was negatively influenced by his father, who had been the main reason that I brought these issues to the church in the first place, that the church approved of his father’s abuse.
My husband had ceased attending their church the year before the church’s final letter was written and had also stopped financially supporting the church and his family. However, I was still tithing and teaching Sunday school as I had done consistently for years. Throughout this process, I had flare ups of a hacking cough that antibiotics did not cure. Now the cough was continuous and I felt that I needed to get away from these problems and reflect on what I was going to do next. I called the pastor’s phone and left him a message that I was going to take a “spiritual vacation” and attend the next service at our PCA “sister” church. I asked if he would please find a replacement teacher for my class that Sunday. Without calling to verify if my leave was permanent, he put a help wanted call for my position in the bulletin. The very next day, my daughter was confronted by children from his church at the public swimming pool with them chiding her that God hates divorce. I noticed that people from that congregation began to shun me around town.
I was unsure what kind of reception we would receive at the “sister” church . It was a PCA church we left year ago when my husband got into an argument at the church picnic and had other issues with the members. This church is 15 miles from even a small town and sits in a remote, rural area on a seldom-traveled highway 35 miles away from my home. Previously belonging to a liberal denomination, they had only joined the PCA in the past few years. The small, aging congregation had always shown extraordinary kindness to my children and myself, but I was uncertain of how they would receive us after all this time.
When we opened those creaky wooden church doors and stepped in, every head turned around. I was so relieved to see that joy swept over the faces of those sweet people. The church organist rushed up to me and gave me a big hug, but then she turned serious. Concerned she asked, “Where is he?” And she kept looking to the doors as if my husband might walk in at any moment. I told her that I had troubles at the other church, left him behind, and that I was filing for divorce. “Thank God”, she said, greatly relieved.
Since we had left, the much beloved pastor of this congregation had died and left a tremendous void, but there was a recent seminary graduate who transferred from the other church (the one I had taken a spiritual vacation from) to become the new pastor. He and the entire congregation were welcoming and seemed to be glad that we were back so I transferred our membership, but it wasn’t long before it became evident to me that he and the previous pastor were friends…
Therapist/Life coach rebukes former church
Meanwhile, I sent a copy of the final letter to my life coach. You will remember how I mentioned in Part 5 that my life coach was a mental health therapist and a Christian woman, and how she had asked me a profound question which turned me towards scrutinizing the church’s accusations against me, rather than remaining focused on the burden of false guilt and introspection which the church had been foisting on me. Following are excerpts of the letter she sent, reproduced with her permission:
Dear Pastor [name],
This letter is written in response to your handling, or mishandling of serious problems that have occurred in the marriage of [my and husband’s names]. As a practicing mental health therapist and life coach…I have become intently concerned about the lack of professional expertise and care extended to her, [her husband], and their children by you and your associates. Although [she] and her children have moved to another church at this time, I believe the following information needs to be shared with you in an effort to help you become better equipped in dealing with these issues when they arise with others.
[She] first told me about the problems with [her husband] last fall and I encouraged her to seek help through the church. Certainly this seemed a logical first choice as you have known this family in your small congregation for five years. I shared with [her] the importance of staying connected to the church, as Christ intended for the body to minister, providing strength during difficult times as these. [She] agreed to do that and continued to share more about the problems. She described [him] as “going up and down” with odd, unstable, angry, abusive manners varied by times of withdrawal/runaway behaviors. Based upon this information, it seems that a professional in the clergy or mental health field would give consideration to the diagnosis of Bipolar, a serious mood disorder.
Her additional descriptors truly seemed to fit manic and depressive symptom cycles and I told [her] that having the church counselors conduct an assessment and biopsychosocial in conjunction with a mental evaluation would be beneficial. She said [he] cursed out his doctor the last time he was there but I thought you or your associates could assist him helping him understand the importance of getting medical help. After all this time, it has amazed me that neither you nor your associates have had insight to recognize the need for medical and mental health intervention. Does anyone there have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV)? If not, it would be good to get it. I would expect a pastor to have an overview knowledge of the material and a therapist/counselor to have extensive training and strong working knowledge of this information.
Although ‘peace keeping’ counseling is a nice concept, it cannot and will not address serious problems such as these. This is a very serious mental health condition…In addition, [she] has described unusual and bizarre behaviors within the family members such as cruel manipulation, angry outbursts, and fugue behaviors by [his] father and grandfather, etc. that understandably frightened her and gravely concerned her all of their married years. The validity of [her] statements were never questioned in my mind and thoughts that she was delusional, psychotic, or an unsubmissive wife didn’t total up either. [She] continued that the children were well aware of these problems as they have witnessed these abusive behaviors towards her and some of the children for years. The input from the adult children, along with spouse statements, are critical to those who truly seek to help the ill person understand symptoms, behavior patterns and ultimately develop a treatment plan and safety plan for everyone’s protection.
With regard to [her], I believe that she has suffered trauma for a long period of time to the extent that it could be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I would highly encourage you to research this as it will explain many of her statements and fears…This is the most common diagnosis given to victims of abuse. This makes sense that [she] cannot function in the area of marriage when she is declaring it abusive! Also, the fact that [she] is afraid of [his] anger, didn’t want to see him at an inappropriate “mediation” and that she has stated the marriage has been broken to the point of divorce makes sense. Again, it truly amazes me that you and your associates have not identified the pain and suffering that [she] has experienced! I don’t believe that you have even begun to ‘hear’ her story and minister compassion and love that a victim and her children deserve.
The issue of the ‘peace keeping’ counseling is another area of serious concern. [She] went forth in good faith thinking quality services would be provided but instead she was exposed to inappropriate humiliation and financial exploitation…I charge $60.00 per hour and offer a sliding scale to some who need assistance. My fees have gone as low as $30.00 for some individuals. Many times I provide additional time to individuals and couples as I can see an urgent need to help. It’s reprehensible to consider the fees have been charged [here] during this time of crisis. For a total of 20 hours they were charges $2685.00. That would be $134.00 an hour! Not only do they have financial needs with [a number of] dependent children, and [he] was unemployed for a long period of time, but there was originally an offer for the exorbitant fees to be paid by the church. Apparently that verbal agreement has been withdrawn with both of them feeling scalped by their church family. What other agencies do you recommend that truly offer ministry work with prices to match?
There are numerous other oversights that need to be addressed…the longstanding abandonment of his family by [him]. It is apparent that you and your associates have not even begun to address the needs in this family or just plain don’t care. That’s amazing!
After reviewing the [final decision] letter you sent, which she finally forwarded to me, I can clearly see why she has been so hurt, humiliated, and frustrated dealing with incompetent people such as yourself and your associates. The letter reads more like a small town tabloid rather than a professional or clinical document. Statements such as, “And each person looking for the church (and other relationships and authorities) to agree with them.” Shows how illogical the process of your thinking has been in regard to this couple’s intentions or needs. Statements spoken to you in confidentiality should not be included as part of an open letter to any other party. This letter clearly violates confidentiality and ethical boundaries upheld in the ministry and counseling professions.
With regard to statements about adultery it is most unwise to use people’s names in your correspondence-initials at best would be appropriate. The church just might get sued if this information is attained by others. Also, your misconstrued statement that [she] said that she was never married is completely out of context and very offensive. The fact that [she] brought tangible evidence of [his] indiscretions is a serious breach of trust and covenant in a marriage. That is extremely difficult to repair and reinstate in any relationship. Additionally, concluding that [he] only had a ‘lust of heart’ fascination is unsubstantiated yet treated as truth with statement. “Although inappropriate relationships have occurred, physical adultery has not.” How do you know that?
…Please see the World Health Organization pages that I’ve included for your reading and information. Also, you could benefit from googling “Wheel of Violence” and Domestic Violence and its impact upon the home (including Christian homes).
…I do not know if [she] will report these gross “oversights” to the Presbytery or not but do believe that it would be justified….best wishes to you and your associates. I am able to fly there if you would like to discuss these issues face to face or you can contact me by phone or e-mail if needed.
At this point we will be breaking from this series to cover other topics. When we return, the story continues as we learn of a providential visitor to the rural church, discover other issues discovered from the first church that led to intervention by the Presbytery. We will see what “Taking it to the Presbytery” actually looks like, we will explore the official policy and procedure of the PCA concerning abuse giving a definition of what the PCA “process” is, and the Presbytery’s final decision on my case.
Academic Survey on Spiritual Abuse; and info wanted of organizations that serve victims of domestic abuse
Blog News: at Spiritual Sounding Board they are inviting people to
- participate in an academic survey on spiritual abuse
- help Brenda gather contact details for women’s centres, shelters and ministries that serve victims of domestic abuse, so she can offer these organizations copies of Not Under Bondage.
To inform Brenda about the contact details of shelters, domestic violence services, ministries or counseling services that are serving victims of abuse, email Brenda on firstname.lastname@example.org
This email address is being used by Brenda solely for the project of distributing gift copies of Not Under Bondage to organizations and individuals that are helping victims of domestic abuse.
Once again there was silence from the church. I wrote them a letter with my observations of the situation to that point hoping to receive some indication of where the process was going.
Excerpts from my letter to the church:
I came to the church … to ask someone in leadership to directly confront my husband about the sin of abuse that he was inflicting on my family and the pressure that he was exerting on my 13 year-old son to act in way not pleasing to God. A list was provided with a factual and easily verifiable account of [his] vandalism and abusive acts towards his family and community. I felt that to request this assistance from the church was biblical and reasonable. I wanted [my son] to see that the church cares, and that church membership entails being accountable for our actions. I felt that [my husband’s] public acts would bring reproach to the Gospel and to the church body. If we hadn’t needed help, I would not have brought this situation to you.
The direct result of my bringing this to the church is that [my husband] went to lunch with [the pastor].
The indirect, and the most beneficial result of my bringing this to the church has been that [my husband] made preparations to leave and then proceeded to do so.
The wicked flee when no one pursues. Proverbs 28:1
… I had asked for [my husband] to be confronted for his sins. Should [he] repent, there would be hope that the other problems could be worked on. As a result of the church not acting swiftly to hold [him] accountable, the abuse escalated.
… At this point, the situation was outsourced to a woman with no authority in the church … I felt compelled to pay the nearly $3000 for her service despite the fact that I made it clear to her and [the pastor] that it was inappropriate for this situation … If I was in error for thinking that it was biblical for only men of leadership in the congregation to hold [my husband] accountable, it was never explained to me.
… According to the Westminster Confession Chap. XXX, paragraph 4, it is the responsibility of the officers of the church to admonish church members for sin. … I never received confirmation that the church takes any of the issues that I brought up seriously, and it is not surprising that [my husband] would feel the same way.
… The counselors at [the abuse center] said that I am in a dangerous relationship and that my children and I will suffer if I continue in it; honestly, this seems to be the more reasonable and more biblical viewpoint. I brought literature to [the pastor] about this and no one seemed interested in looking at it or discussing it with me … the secular counselors know that the actions of the abuser come from a wicked spirit which is why they teach that emotional and verbal abuse are the same sin as physical abuse. Christ taught that what comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart … [he] has been cursing and threatening me for years. … Why will the church not hold him accountable for not loving his wife? If I am of no concern to you, do you not realize the terror that children are living in to witness this?
… My friends and family are well aware of [his] issues and hoped the church was helping me. They often ask how I am doing and how this is progressing with the church’s intervention with [him]. I have been embarrassed to tell them for fear of discrediting the church and the gospel that we preach. But not anymore; I must make a distinction … I was told to accept the unfaithful spouse as Hosea did … I perceive that this was only mere opinion and not spiritually discerned. Even family from the Catholic Church know that this is not proper application of Scripture and are disgusted. Using Scripture to further personal opinion is an abuse of your God-given authority.
… [the pastor] said that my conscience will condemn me for not continuing to wait and pay for more counseling … why would I think that counseling would do any good since [he] is not repentant and says he wants to see me dead? I assume that if I paid, and he quit going to the sessions (which is well documented with abusers), only then I would get emotional support from the church. Yes, this would be a win-by-default, I suppose, but at what financial cost? In other words, how much will I have to continue to pay to get a clean conscience? I have very limited resources and this sounds like something Johann Tetzel, a 16th century preacher and salesman of papal indulgences, would have marketed.
… Is there any reason that [he] cannot be held accountable for his own sin? I would be much more impressed with his sincerity if repentance was his motive, rather than the selfish desire to “Get my life back.” I do not know why I am held in contempt by the church for recognizing this. [His] actions have long suggested that he was an unbeliever, despite years of church attendance. Perhaps if he were directly confronted with the severity of his sin and told that his sin is against God and God alone, he would desire to get counseling out of repentance. Isn’t this biblical? Isn’t that what we want for him?
Since [the pastor] has said at least four times that he was confused about my being discouraged by this process, I am hoping that by investing time and effort to write yet another letter, you will finally be able to empathize with my position. Because for 1 ½ years, I have felt either ignored or subject to whims related to a personal agenda, at this point, I would consider the decency of a considered written response on behalf of the entire [church] session. According to [the pastor’s] January 8 note, there are difficult things that I am not seeing in myself. Could you please be specific as to what I need to change and why? Also, I would like to see Scripture proofs that my conscience should be conformed to. If I don’t receive a biblical statement from the session which contains more than the aforementioned Hosea passage, then for practical reasons, I will need to proceed sensibly without your support.
The Church’s Response with Scriptural Proofs and Final Decision
Over two months after I sent the above letter and nearly two years after I approached the church to discipline my husband for his actions, I received the church’s final decision letter in the mail. It was a joint letter in which everyone involved received a copy. The letterhead reads, Preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and Sharing His Love with one Another. Following are excerpts from this letter. [TRIGGER WARNING: spiritual abuse by misuse and selective quotation of scripture, sin levelling, mutualization of blame for relationship breakdown, false guilt laid on victim; wrongful disclosing of victim’s confidences, thereby increasing victim’s risk of retribution from abuser]
Up until the last few months, the elders have not been compelled to make any type of written or official statement of their views of the issues you are experiencing in your marriage. That is because we considered ourselves to be in a process of shepherding and discipline (Matthew 18:15-18) rather than any type of final stage. Now that you have each stated that you are unwilling to work on restoring the marriage, we believe that it is appropriate to make a statement of our views.
Here two paragraphs were written exposing all of the issues that I thought were confidential between the pastor and myself including my concerns of my husband’s psychological and spiritual state. Nothing was held back. Everything was listed out in such a matter-of-fact manner that I found it shocking and I was concerned that my husband may seek retribution against me. The next two paragraphs listed my husband’s complaints such as I caused him to be angry, I was critical of his personal friendship with the other woman, he was criticized for everything he does, blamed, etc.
… [He] expressed a willingness to begin counseling and work on his issues with anger, but believes that [she] was never interested in working on the relationship … therefore he no longer sees a point in going to counseling … she refuses to acknowledge her own faults. … he believes, his reaction, even if strong, is necessary to maintain some sense of self-respect or manhood. In his words, “I challenge any man in my situation to have done any differently.”
… She is convinced that the hours that he spent talking to [the other woman] on the phone, the meals and events that they had together, all of these indicate an adulterous relationship, if not physically, emotionally. The elders see [this relationship] as inappropriate, but do not see it as adultery justifying divorce … [The relationship] was inappropriate in its frequency (hours a day on the phone according to phone records) but is not the same thing as adultery. … It is impossible for us to determine whether actual death threats are occurring …
… [She] also pursued supportive companionship outside her relationship with [her husband]. [She] increasingly turned to the support of her older daughters…We have observed vacillation in some times agreeing to wait on counseling and sometimes not. We have observed [she] will discount opinions as unqualified that don’t agree with her own assessment. In short, we have observed several things that [she] should work on in herself. … We believe that [she] is demanding and hold [sic] to her opinions rather than evidence presented. We believe that she needs to be more willing to consider behavior in herself that is inappropriate. We believe that she is sometimes unable to see her own issues and, therefore, also needs the assistance of counselors.
…The issues are many and ongoing…Each person looking for the church (and other relationships and authorities) to agree with them…
… Ephesians 5 reminds couples that the husband is the head of the wife and that she is to submit to him, his way of encouraging that is not by anger or force, but sacrificing himself and giving himself up for her (Eph. 5:25) . . . Harshness, name-calling, fits of rage are never justified in a marriage.
… [she] believes that [he] is abusive… because of years of ongoing abuse. In our opinion, it is clear that [he] has acted in anger and outbursts of temper. Actions that resulted in physical confrontations seemed to have been over-reactions. We do not diagnose a person as abusive, but encourage them to seek counseling…When Peter talks about the responsibility of a wife in a difficult relationship (a husband who does not obey the word) in 1 Peter 3, he says that the wife should seek to win her husband over by the conduct of the wives. Even without speaking a word, her respect and submission to God and her husband are primary tools in winning him over. Then Peter gives an example of what that conduct looks like: Sarah obeying Abraham and calling him Lord. Abraham had put Sarah in some difficult situations, (Gen 12:10-20, Gen 20) situations that could easily be labeled abusive today, but her mandate was not to flee the relationship, but to treat him with godly and respectful conduct
… We do not condone abusive behavior in any way, and we encourage a woman who believes that she is threatened to take measures to ensure her safety … every effort should be made to correct the problem through counseling or other means …
… On the other hand, we believe that [he] needs to understand that his expressions of anger cannot be justified by [his wife’s] behavior. Colossians 3:19 says that husbands are to love their wives and “not be harsh with them.” [His] yelling, name-calling, angry outbursts, etc. can certainly be characterized as harsh … Harshness, name-calling, fits of rage are never justified in a marriage …
… we do not believe that divorce is justified. Although inappropriate relationships have occurred, physical adultery has not. Although angry behavior has occurred, we believe that the focus should be on correcting the behavior through counseling, not on justifying ending the marriage.
… While some of these issues are more severe and threatening than others, we cannot say that one or the other person is responsible for the divorce. It is a joint responsibility. We believe it wrong to pursue divorce. We do not believe God is pleased with it…Since you appear to be set in your actions to end the marriage, though, we are compelled to recommend the direction Scripture gives. In particular we would point to 1 Cor. 7:10-11 … A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
… And this is our opinion in your situation. We are not in a place of agreement with you in proceeding with your divorce. If you are determined to proceed with divorce, we would implore you to remain unmarried or seek reconciliation…
… We would also share the contents of this letter if, in the future, God leads either of you to another body of fellowship.
… Mercy triumphs over sin and love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). It is our prayer that mercy would cover your past and open up a possibility of a future for the relationship you both vowed to God to maintain until death do you part.
[Go to Part 5 of this series]
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