What a Victim Can Expect in a Typical Evangelical Church
1. Victim reports abuse to her pastor.
2. Pastor does not believe her claims, or at least believes they are greatly exaggerated. After all, he “knows” her husband to be one of the finest Christian men he knows, a pillar of the church.
3. Pastor minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often, frankly, damage control (to himself and to his church).
4. Pastor indirectly (or not so indirectly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as wife and mother and as a Christian. He concludes that all such scenarios are a “50/50″ blame sharing.
5. Pastor sends the victim home, back to the abuser, after praying with her and entrusting the problem to the Lord.
6. Pastor believes he has done his job.
7. Victim returns, reporting that nothing has changed. She has tried harder and prayed, but the abuse has continued.
8. Pastor decides to do some counseling. He says, “I will have a little talk with your husband” or “I am sure that all three of us can sit down and work this all out.” Either of these routes only results in further and more intense abuse of the victim. This counseling can go on for years! (One victim reported that it dragged on for nine years in her case).
9. As time passes, the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor and others. She is the one causing the commotion. She is pressured by the pastor and others in the church to stop rebelling, to submit to her husband, and stop causing division in the church.
10. After more time passes, the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The church has refused to believe her, has persistently covered up the abuse, has failed to obey the law and report the abuse to the police; and has refused to exercise church discipline against the abuser. Ironically, warnings of impending church discipline are often directed against the victim!
11. The final terrible injustice is that the victim is the one who must leave the church, while the abuser remains a member in good standing, having successfully duped the pastor and church into believing that his victim was the real problem. One abuse victim (a man in this case) told me that he finally came to the awakening that “I know exactly what my church is going to do about my abuser: Nothing!” He left while she remained a member in good standing, the daughter of a leading pastor in the denomination.
[An excerpt from Pastor Crippen's book, A Cry for Justice*, pp 21-22]
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link
This is the story of one of our newer readers at ACFJ. She graciously gave us permission to publish it as a means of encouraging and helping others dealing with abuse, including the abuse at the hands of their church. Many blessings in Christ upon her and her family! This is her story.
As you read, just imagine her being given the recent “Catechism for Christian Wives” we so roundly reject. What would it have done to her? You know the answer.
* * *
Hello! I recently found this blog, and I am so thankful for the work that has been done and is being done. The Lord has used you all so much in my life over the past two weeks! I feel like I have been led to a group that understands where I have been and what I have been through. I feel like there is a place for me with you all. Thank you for helping me to belong, and to be understood.
I was brought up as a very conservative Christian. I was raised in a totally complementarian home and church, where my father took advantage of that and was what I know now as a very overbearing, over controlling, self righteous, self justifying, and narcissistic man. He was a doctor and only worked three days a week. He was home Monday through Wednesday, and after work he would leave to go his farm and farm house about an hour away. He was always home for church on Sunday. My mother was a doormat and very abused. I saw them go to church leaders over and over for counseling and more counseling and more counseling. My father was always justified, and my mother was always admonished to forgive, be submissive, and start over with him. They always said there are “two sides to every story” and that there is always something both parties can do better with to make the relationship work. I saw that it was unfair to my mother. I see now the total injustice of it all.
I thought I knew better. I was never going to be in a relationship like that.
I was living in Tennessee with my first job. I was a member at church that I loved. I met a young man that believed he was called to be a preacher… a “Christian”… he was handsome, athletic, funny, charming, and in our church denomination. I was hooked!!! He was so admired among all of the people. His dad was a pastor, as well! His mother and father would periodically host a few marriage seminars together for our churches. What a fabulous family! I wanted to be a part of that. There were a few flags during our courtship that I should have recognized. Of course everything would be okay…
We were married. I was so happy, so excited. I wanted to be the best Christian wife there ever was! The best preacher’s wife. I moved 8 hours away from my family to be with him in south Georgia. Things quickly went downhill. He was gone early in the morning before I left for work and didn’t come home until late at night, even though he only had one class at the local college. He said he was doing class work and was studying his Bible the rest of the time. I supported him in his endeavors to gain more knowledge of the Bible. I wanted him to be full of scripture, and a wonderful preacher, of course! He didn’t want me sexually very often at all — even though we were newlyweds. I became seriously self-conscious.
We had our first argument about three weeks into the marriage, and I thought it crossed several borders — mainly he wouldn’t let me move — he “trapped” me, so to say, in the room, grabbed me hard on each arm. Other arguments ensued. He was never apologetic — it was always justified. He was calculated. He took my car keys. He became very spiritually abusive, as well. I had very hard work days at the hospital where I was the only tech in my department, and when I didn’t want to attend church on a Wednesday night due to fatigue and back and leg pain, I was immediately labeled a rebellious woman. He said I was making him look bad. So I went to church, but left in the middle of the service to lay down in the mother’s nursery room with my feet up (where I could still hear the sermon). He was so enraged that when we were driving home he began flying down the interstate at 100mph. I remember his face as he looked over at me, then slammed on the brakes so that I would hit the console…. then grabbed my arm (bruised it) and injured my arm (bruised it) as a punishment for pointing my finger at him as I was arguing back – trying to stand up for myself… I tried to get out of the car and he tried to run me over. I got back in the car, became silent and subservient, and we made it home, finally. I thought it would just be better in the morning… forget about it all.
I came home one afternoon that week and was looking for a book to read. I picked up one random book out of the book shelf. It had an index card in it that fell to the floor — it looked like a timeline. It said, 2 years counseling. 2 years separation. final: divorce… “let the unbelieving spouse leave” …. Calculated. I asked him about it when he got home. He said he was just “venting.” So that was it. I was going to be the “unbelieving spouse” that left him after he, in reality, drove me away. I still didn’t really get it though… not until much later.
I called our pastor for help about a week later. He came over. First, our pastor asked me if I was a saved believer, and what did Christ meant to me. I answered as best as I could. He responded that my previous pastor had “taught me well.” He did not turn and ask my husband the same question, though. I thought that was odd. My husband had apparently gotten to him first regarding me and my “unbelief”; he had also got to his family and some of our friends. I didn’t know that until a long time later, though. It was him gaining allies. I didn’t know that an abuser did that until I read your blog. I remembered taking as much responsibility as I could during that first counseling session. I didn’t give a soft answer…. I shouldn’t have pointed my finger at him. I should have been more submissive in going to church with him. I could do better. We BOTH had a part in this. Let’s repent and “do better.” I remember my prayer as we all prayed aloud… “WE are acting worse than the unregenerate…please forgive US.” I trusted our pastor. He would know best. Surely our pastor would help us! He understood our beliefs, and he understood marriages, and he understood abuse. He was a police officer. He said if anything like this situation in the car ever happened again, I was to let him know immediately and that he would “take care of it.” I was reassured that we could make it in our marriage.
We moved a few months later for my husband to further his career in the medical field. Everything only got worse. The emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse. We began counseling with a NANC (nouthetic) counselor. One night I was tired of covering up the abuse, and I wrote a letter to our counselor. He talked with his superiors. He came over to our home and told my husband it was his responsibility to change for the marriage to work. I felt like I could sing!!!!!! Someone finally was backing me up!!! I felt hope, though. I wanted to forgive and forget! Tomorrow is a new day, and we can still make it. Our marriage could be saved.
I was tortured by him that entire week with emotional, spiritual, mental, and finally, physical abuse. I finally called a friend to come to pick me up after the physical incident. I hadn’t told a single soul about what was going on, besides my former pastor. She took pictures. She helped me. She let me stay with her for 9 more months. What an angel. She called the police that night but we were in a different county and they couldn’t do anything at that point.
I actually talked with my previous pastor from Tennessee. My membership was still at this church. It had only been 6 months since we had been married. My pastor there told me to take the pictures to the police station and document what happened. Get a report, and he would make sure my membership was “safe.” That membership was so important to me! He said I would be okay.
So I went to the police. I took my pictures like I was told to, and wrote a report. They told me I needed to speak with another person about this, and took me to her. I talked with her about everything. I spoke in a recorder. I was so naive! I didn’t realize this was going to get him arrested! Ha! I thought I had to press charges or something. All I wanted was documentation that this happened, and that the police from the other county were called the night of the incident, so I could present it to my church in Tennessee. All I wanted was my membership safe – that I was acceptable with the church and in good standing with the Lord. Well the state of Georgia wanted him to be arrested! Oh boy. Well, I found out later the story that was told was that I went crazy, lost it in an argument, turned malicious, and had my husband arrested.
[Note from Barb: So far as I understand, some states (particularly in the USA) have mandatory arrest for domestic violence. But some do not. The police who this victim went to ought to have told her that her husband would be arrested and changed, since they knew this was going to happen. They were negligent in not informing her. Hopefully police in mandatory-arrest states are not being so negligent on matters like this any more, but we cannot be sure. Any victim who wants to ascertain whether mandatory arrest applies in her state can ring a hotline, or contact her local Women's Resource Centre, or do a google search for the domestic violence laws in her state.]
I emailed my former pastor in south Georgia (the police officer) and told him what had happened. Attached were the pictures from the physical incident. He emailed me back and told me to “call him.” He had my phone number. He could have called me. I never heard from him again.
I opened up to another friend, and immediately (the very next morning) they went to my childhood pastor in my hometown of Alabama for help on my behalf. No help. Nothing. I received a letter telling me to not get a divorce.
My dad wouldn’t even allow a conversation with him or my mother about my situation. I was to submit and go back. Make it better. Or just live apart and never get divorced — not until he committed adultery first. So legalistic.
I called my NANC counselor and told him what happened. SURELY he wouldn’t fail me! He was so upset about what happened. He said he would have been “high alert” or “red watch” or something that I don’t remember… My NANC counselor was a parole officer. However, he wanted me to come in and have a counseling session with my husband and him. I couldn’t bear to see my husband, though. So I refused. — And there you have it — I am the one refusing counseling. The blame was then put on me.
There it was. I was abandoned by every person I trusted — every person that should have helped me and protected me. All they cared about was me not getting a divorce (besides my pastor from Tennessee). I went to the attorney just to see what my options were. I was too chicken to get a divorce at the time.
A few days after my husband posted bail, every cent was gone from our bank account. Well, of course it was. So, like I said, my sweet friend let me stay with her for a while (it ended up being 9 months). — And there you have it – I am the one who left the apartment and moved out. It is now, again, my fault for leaving. That evening, he was caught stalking at my workplace.
I went to the attorney again. I was going ahead and getting the divorce. I didn’t care about what anyone else said. I already felt abandoned by everyone.
Out of the blue, my pastor from Tennessee wrote me an email, even though we had talked every other conversation over the phone. He told me to NOT go to the attorney again. To wait. That this divorce was NOT acceptable. He used so many phrases that were the same as my dad’s and my pastor from my childhood hometown… It felt obvious that they were in communication with each other, and all making a stance so that I wouldn’t get the divorce. The NANC counselor told me to NOT get a divorce. My dad wrote me an email to NOT get a divorce. My sister, brother-in-law, previous pastor’s wife — all wrote a letter telling me to NOT get a divorce. No one called me, however. No one called to see how I was doing — if I needed anything — if I was okay…
So, three pastors had been informed, one NANC counselor, and two of my friends. These two friends were not in the same church denomination as I was. I never let my story out to anyone else. Not my parents, or my sister or brother, even. Not my dear friends that I loved so much within the church. I had been trying to save our marriage and his reputation this entire time. When I started to try to talk to some of my life long friends, my husband had already spoiled the water. He already had told everyone his version of me being unregenerate, malicious in his arrest, leaving him, and refusing counsel. I never even told them my side. Ever. I didn’t want to try to defend myself to them. I knew it was a hopeless endeavor. God knew, though. He knew what had really happened. So there it was. I was abandoned by the leadership of our church — even a police officer — every person that should have helped me and protected me — even my NANC parole officer counselor — abandoned by my “friends,” and abandoned by my family.
I was going to commit suicide. It wasn’t a question. I was going to. I was consumed with it.
But I didn’t… God kept giving me a feeling that there was a small chance of hope out there —
God rescued me. Oh how he helped me!!! He never left me. He never forsook me. He slowly brought supportive people into my life. I got the divorce. I kept a successful job. I left the church. I moved home. I am now remarried to the most amazing husband and we have two beautiful, precious children. There are still wounds that run deep. My sister and I hardly have a relationship. Her best friend is her sister in law… who is married to my ex-brother in law. My father and I do not have a relationship. He is toxic, but thankfully not around very much. I am not in contact with any of my childhood friends “in the church.” Sadly, this same abuse situation happened to another friend within the same denomination a few years later, and she was excommunicated from my hometown church in Alabama. She has major wounds also. But, my life has been redeemed.
My life has been Redeemed! Yes, my life has been Redeemed. There is always hope for a future with the Lord as your guide. I never thought I would be as happy and healed as I am now… but to feel that the Lord, that HE would never leave me nor forsake me, no matter what, is all that I needed to know and all that I needed to hold on to. I had so much fear in my heart. I could only read Jesus’ words in red that were in the Bible for so long. I now can read more of the Word and trust it. My sweet Savior, my loving Jesus, my helper and keeper, my friend — what would we do without Him?! He has stuck by my side — He has been my advocate.
I have slowly healed — there are still issues out there and the Lord has helped me deal with them slowly but surely. I have not and do not trust many people, but I DO know that I AM in good standing with the Lord, and I AM acceptable to Him! Regardless what a group of people — a group of “Christians” say!
I didn’t realize how healing this blog would be though. I didn’t realize how terribly common it is for a woman to be abused by her spouse and the church to not only deny her protection, but even promote her destruction. Thank you for being a blog for not just the abused women, but for the conservative, Christ focused and God fearing women out there who are abused and need help – the ones who are not receiving the help they need from their “church.” Thank you for validation. For believing me. For helping my wounds. For letting me finally tell my story. Thank you for having my previous church denomination on your list of people and places to avoid. I didn’t feel well today as I wrote this. I thought I was going to faint a couple of times, my heart was racing, my heart palpitating, my adrenaline was pumping…. it was hard to write this. I left out a lot of other things that happened, other encounters with my ex, other abandonments, other oppressors, other evils. I also left out some amazing stories of God’s providence, though — of his reassurances of His love for me — of help from total strangers, of His provision. The good definitely overcame the evil in my life. I was silent, too. I never defended myself to anyone. God knew. He knows. And now you know too. :). Thank you again for letting me tell my story.
In His love
Perspicuity: The quality of being perspicuous [clearly expressed and easily understood]; clearness and lucidity
Origin: late 15th century (in the sense ‘transparent’): from Latin perspicuus ‘transparent, clear’ (from the verb perspicere ‘look at closely’) + -ous.
The Perspicuity of Scripture is an important doctrine in Protestantism.
1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 1.7
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. (2 Pet. 3:16; Ps. 19:7; Psalm 119:130)
[The same text is in the Westminster Confession except that it adds Ps. 119:105 and omits Ps 19:7 from the references.]
Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will
But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God… If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.
Isaiah denounces those who obscure the perspicuity of scripture in Isaiah 28:8-29
“To whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
For by people of strange lips
and with a foreign tongue
the LORD will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
yet they would not hear.
And the word of the LORD will be to them
precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line,
line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Pastors who preach exegetically — working their way though one book of the bible at a time — may believe that they cannot fall into this trap. But even with exegetical preaching, the grille can still be imposed on those in the pews if it is in the mind of the preacher. The preaching will be biased and unbalanced to the degree that the preacher is illuminating some things from the text but obscuring, ignoring, or downplaying other things.
A common example of this is the way that pastors talk about ‘the wicked’ as if they are only the folk who don’t attend church, those arrant unbelievers who are off hedonizing on a Sunday rather than sitting in pews. Yet the Bible does not use the term ‘the wicked’ to just refer to pagans and unbelievers. It uses it for those who are presenting themselves as believers and devout worshippers of the God of the Bible while they are actually wicked deceivers who crave power. But how many preachers illuminate this today? That is why Jeff Crippen’s sermons on abuse have been such a lightbulb for many who have found them.
Another example is emphasizing the Biblical principles of forgiveness and constant evangelism, but neglecting the Biblical principles of fleeing persecution and shaking the dust off your feet.
A third example is teaching complementarianism (male headship and female submission) by dwelling on the woman’s duty to submit but skimping on the man’s duty to love and protect, and instead emphasizing the man’s duty to lead which all to easily morphs into the man’s right to rule.
And a fourth example is using Matthew 18:15-17 as the biblical discipline text, but ignoring what 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says about biblical discipline.
Isaiah pulls no punches in his indictment of the shoddy leaders in ancient Israel. Do you hear a tone of mockery in his repetition of “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little there a little”? I do. Isaiah seems to be showing how these guys are stuck in a rut: they just keep repeating the same old things they’ve taught before. And that tone of mockery is something that is rarely used today in the right — Biblical — way as demonstrated by many Old Testament prophets and the apostle Paul when they mocked the prideful religious leaders who thrived on power and control.
Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers,
who rule this people in Jerusalem!
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it passes through it will take you;
for morning by morning it will pass through,
by day and by night;
and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.
For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.
For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
to do his deed—strange is his deed!
and to work his work—alien is his work!
Now therefore do not scoff,
lest your bonds be made strong;
for I have heard a decree of destruction
from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.
The canons of niceness in the Church today are such that if a teacher or preacher uses that kind of directness to denounce wolves in sheep’s clothing, he is going to be impugned or shunned. If a leader these days spoke like this, he would generally be considered beyond the pale.