Letter from a Pastor: how not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse
Natalie Collins, a DV survivor and activist in the UK, posted this on her blog God Loves Women and we are reproducing it here. Thank you, Natalie, for publishing this! May it help educate the Christian community.
You can find the original post here: Letter from a Pastor: how not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse
Trigger warning: this pastor’s letter may be painful to read, if you are a survivor.
The following email was sent by a pastor to a woman who is being abused by her husband. Her husband has been extremely abusive to her and she is seeking to escape from him. All names and identifying details have been removed, but the recipient of the email has said she would like people to see the reality of how Church Leaders are unequipped to respond appropriately in cases of abuse. As you read this email, you may think that some of the pastor’s comments or thoughts are correct. I would suggest that for a couple struggling with relationship difficulties they might be, but where there is abuse, it is not the relationship that needs dealing with, but rather the abuser.
Letter from the pastor
I hope you are doing well, despite going through these difficulties in your marriage. I thought about responding to your last email; the one you sent after another incident with Saul where you called 911, and where afterwards someone gave you some information about not staying with an abusive partner.
But to be honest, to me it looked like you had made up your mind and that you yourself are looking for a way out of the marriage. I don’t know everything that has gone on between the two of you, but I do feel as though I know both of you fairly well in some degree. I know Saul well enough to know that he is a believer who loves the Lord, and has changed in many ways from the way he was. However, I also know that he is a work in progress as we all are. He tries to look at many Scriptures with his Saul’s Way glasses on. He is certainly not perfect, and he does have his quirks, and inappropriateness, but I also know he is not an aggressive or violent person. He is stubborn and often pig headed, and doesn’t like to lose an argument, but I can say the exact same thing of many people, including yourself. I do not believe you are afraid of Saul physically, rather frustrated and tired of how he often goes about things
I also know that you are a believer who loves the Lord, and has had many great experiences in ministry. However, you too are a work in progress. You also, like Saul, like to try to look at certain Scriptures, and interpret them to fit what you want.
You two are very different people–different cultures, different families, different ways of looking at the Bible, different ideas of what is appropriate. So many different things. But something brought you two together. If you don’t remember, it was your love and passion for our Lord Jesus. I think you often forget that and focus instead on all the negative things in Saul–his past, his quirks, his inappropriateness. (Some of these things he can change, and needs to work on changing, but others, like his past, he can’t change, and you simply need to accept, forgive and try to forget.)
Hannah, I believe that you need to be honest, and decide whether or not you are committed to this marriage–“in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live”. If you are, then you will try to make things work, rather than always running away (often months at a time) and pointing out the negative, you will need to start working on the strengths and focusing on the positive. What is going on now cannot help this goal. Saul is not physical abusive to you. He can be incredibly frustrating and mentally annoying, but not physically abusive. And in regards to verbal abuse, in our counselling together, I have witnessed just as much verbal abuse coming from your lips, as I have from his.
If you don’t want to be married to Saul anymore, then just be honest and tell him you made a mistake–that you don’t want to be with him. Don’t try and find loop holes in the Bible for your mistake or lack of commitment.
The fact is, Jesus said that the only reason Moses made a concession to allow for divorce, in the case of physical adultery, was because the people’s hearts were hard. This is not what God intends. If you are looking for a way out of your marriage, then your heart is not in the right place–it is hard.
Now, I know that if you decide to honour your marriage commitment, it will not be easy–nothing worth saving is easy. It will demand a lot of love, grace, patience, work and sacrifice on both parts. Did I mention grace and patience. But I believe anything is possible with God. And I know that God’s will is that you marriage commitment be honoured, worked on, and be something that brings love and joy to both of you.
The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of this very dysfunctional marriage again. But if I can help the both of you, I would consider it an honour, especially if it will bring peace, joy and love to both your lives. I hope you know that the tone of this letter is one of love and wanting to help a sister and brother in the Lord.
Blessings and prayers,
(P.S. I don’t know whether or not you know, but Saul is going in for his major knee surgery on September 13th. I thought you would want to know so you could be praying for him and his recovery. Please feel free to reply or call me anytime.