A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Sixteen years of abuse, and then more from the church (Part 1)

Lisa suffered terrible domestic violence for sixteen years. She’s kindly written her story for us. She’s just started her own blog A New Free Life. There are many aspects of this story that our readers will relate to. If you are a survivor of abuse where physical violence wasn’t part of the package, please don’t read this story and conclude that you weren’t really abused like Lisa was. Verbal, emotional and other non-physical forms of abuse can be just as hurtful as physical abuse. Here is Lisa’s story.  We’ve published it in two parts, because it is pretty long. Trigger warning: this may bring back memories if you are a survivor.

* * * * * *

I married a man I’d only known for five months, but my brother had known him for years and claimed he was a wonderful person.  This man claimed to be a new Christian and, therefore, didn’t know the Bible very well.  He had a Bible sitting out in his living room and excitedly shared with me how he was reading it daily.  He said was a poor reader though and certainly wished that he had a more mature Christian in his life to help him understand it all.  He convinced me I was the answer to his prayers.  As soon as we married, however, he had no interest in church or Bible reading.  I soon found out that he chewed tobacco and was addicted to pornography, and was adamant that he would give up neither of those things. While I got my three children and his son ready for church and trotted off alone with kids in tow, he stayed behind with his buddies, drinking beer in the garage. He first attacked me one month after we were married.  He came home from work, two hours late, and I was glad to see him.  As I met him with a smile, he charged me and the attack began.  He choked me and shoved me backward through several rooms before shoving me into a wall, his hand gripping my throat tightly the entire time, and pushing his head into mine; it felt like my head was being crushed between the wall and his head.  He said that he was going to blow Satan out of a particular orifice of his body. Over the 16 years of our marriage the abuse toward the kids and me continued.  The nightmare ebbed and flowed and seemed to have a life of its own as we went through the cycle over and over again. He withdrew us from family and friends, anyone who might be supportive or loving toward us, and he withdrew us from church after church.  Six months after we were married he said that we had to leave our church even though he’d only been a few times.  He said that it was too big and too impersonal.  A friend told me about a new home church, and I was excited to try it.  He begrudgingly attended with me.  He never prayed or read a Bible though outside of church.  One Sunday morning I was bent over blow drying my hair, getting ready for church.  He came home from work (he worked nights) late again.  He walked past me and roughly shoved me from behind into the bathroom vanity.  My head struck the sink, causing a bruise on my forehead.  The blow-dryer slammed into the wooden base of the vanity, and my large, pregnant belly slammed into the blow-dryer, bruising my belly.  He turned at me and was headed back toward me at a brisk pace.  I knew I was in trouble.  The blow to my abdomen was causing contractions, and I screamed for the kids to get in the car.  We ran outside, half dressed, shoes not on, and with wet hair.  We had nowhere to go except church, so we did. The pastor was furious about what my husband had done. Over the next few months he and his wife tried multiple times to get me to leave.  They even offered for the kids and me to stay with them.  They said that they were afraid I was going to go missing, only to be found buried in the flower bed.  They knew he was completely capable of killing me. One evening I hosted a Bible study at our house.  My husband was very angry that “those people” stayed so late and didn’t want us going back or associating with them.  For a year we were out of church completely.  Then, to my surprise, he came home from work with a business card for a church and said that he wanted to visit it.  Praise God!  We were there for almost two years.  He even let me attend a women’s retreat.  He met with one of the men for discipling and occasionally attended the Saturday morning men’s meeting.  We bought him a Bible for Father’s Day, and he packed it with him to work, claiming to read it on his lunch break.  He got baptized.  The abuse continued and he still drank heavily and looked at porn, but I was hopeful that he was headed in the right direction. During all of this he also contracted an STD from his third wife, whom he was still involved with, and promptly gave to me.  He said that my OB/GYN was lying about it though because he “wanted in my pants.”  He continually tried to talk me into having sex with one of his friends while he watched and accused me of being “frigid” because I refused.  Otherwise, he showed very little interest in normal sexual relations. At this time, we discovered that his son had been repeatedly raping my son and had kept my son silent with the threat of telling me about his mother and my husband being involved together still.  Our pastor knew about my stepson’s sexual abuse of my son, and my husband’s favoritism and cruelty, so he told him to call the Child Protection Service (CPS) or he was going to.  He gave him three days to make the call.  My husband did it but was angry.  His family said my son and I were both lying and we should not have told the church because ‘this was family business’. CPS required us to move out of our very, very small rental, and our pastor found a larger home that was more suitable, in terms of size, for our family.  My husband refused to help with the move.  I was working, supporting us, and trying to move and deal with CPS and police interviews with the children all on my own. My dear Christian neighbor was my lifeline.  We prayed together weekly, and she was always there to help with the kids and the move.  I desperately needed her in my life.  He was desperate to get her out of my life.  One night she had the children, and he and I were alone, unpacking.  He followed me from room to room and repeatedly yelled filth at me about what it was like to have sex with his third wife and how he yelled my name when he climaxed with her.  I tried to leave to go to my former neighbor’s, but he blocked the doors.  He ran ahead of me and wouldn’t let me out of the house.  At one point he had me on the floor and stood over me screaming obscenities at me.  When I was finally able to get away, I stayed with my neighbor for three days.  He called incessantly, crying and begging for forgiveness, explaining why he had to do that.  I told him I would come back if he agreed to go to counseling at the church.  I was surprised he showed up, but he did, so I moved back home. We went to several counseling sessions with both the pastor and the youth pastor present before one of them stated that I was going to have to accept the fact that my husband had been intimate with his third wife.  It was as though he was trying to get me to see that since I was choosing to stay in this marriage I was also going to have to choose to accept the fact that my husband was not going to repent of his infidelity.  I would have to find peace within myself to live with it because my husband was not going to move in any direction that would grant me peace. The pastor’s statement infuriated my husband.  This time he told me that the youth pastor was lying and “just wanted in my pants.”  So, off we went again.  We left the church. At this point he also forbade me from having anything to do with my former neighbor.  He stated that she was interfering in our marriage because her own was so bad and that I shouldn’t be praying with anyone but him.  I so deeply wanted to be a godly, submissive wife that I gave up the friendship and did exactly as he told me to. Having been raised in an ungodly, sexist family I had no idea what biblical submission and honor looked like; I was clueless about appropriate male and female roles.  My last pastor had once told me that what I was doing was not submission, that I was allowing my husband to set himself up as an idol in our home.  However, he didn’t explain submission to me, nor did he mention a husband’s obligation to honor and love his wife.  Even then though, something in me recognized that he was blaming me for the state of my home, and I was frustrated that the church leadership had never disciplined my husband or spoken to him boldly about his sin.  Instead they dealt with me as though my acceptance of the infidelity and abuse, my submission to it, would be the catalyst to change my husband’s heart.  For example, they counseled me to make dinner for Jesus and serve it to my husband.  This caused the abuse to escalate, and my husband later told me that it had angered him because he knew he didn’t deserve my kindness and it made him feel like I was better than he. I had desperately hoped that the church would step in and tell my husband that what he was doing was wrong.  Even though they told me his behavior was sin, they never boldly confronted him on it.  So I was left to flounder on my own and do the only thing I knew how to do… be completely obedient.  Obedient to the point of giving up my one close Christian friend and remaining silent about the terrible physical abuse.

5 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  2. mlieder

    Oh goodness, Lisa . . . . . You have been through hell . . . . I can only imagine. I am so horrified that you faced this over and over. You are incredibly brave and inCREDIBLY strong.

  3. This little vignette typifies the way a well-meaning pastor can still get it mightily wrong, and end up being of no real help to the victim.
    This pastor had ‘once’ told Lisa that what she was doing was not submission but was allowing her husband to set himself up as an idol in their home. But because he didn’t explain what true submission should look like and furthermore give Lisa detailed teaching, encouragement and validation about the appropriate the biblical limits to submission and what godly wives can and should do when their husbands are abusing them and the kids, his one-off bit of counsel was never going to be sufficient to turn the key.

    And note how Lisa wrote,

    Even then though, something in me recognized that he was blaming me for the state of my home… they dealt with me as though my acceptance of the infidelity and abuse, my submission to it, would be the catalyst to change my husband’s heart.

    This is characteristic of the pernicious double messages that pastors so often give when they don’t properly grasp the dynamics of domestic abuse.

    Did the pastor say to Lisa, “It’s not your fault; you are not to blame” ? No. But that’s the first thing a pastor or counselor should say to a victim. The first, the third, the eighth, the fifteenth, the twenty-fifth thing to say… Those simple sentences should be repeated over and over, to reassure and comfort the victim, and to counteract the years of brainwashing she’s had from the abuser and from the wrong teaching that slops around Christendom like a dirty tide of flotsam and jetsam.

    Did the pastor say to Lisa, “There’s nothing you can do to change your husband. He chooses to do what he does. All abuse is a choice.” ? No. But that is the second thing to say to a victim of abuse, and it needs to be repeated almost as often as ‘it’s not your fault’.

    Did he say, “There is almost zero likelihood that your submissive and tender conduct will catalyze a change in his heart. There are no guarantees that anything will get him to change, but it may be a catalyst if you draw a determined line and declare the marriage deceased as a result of his attitude and conduct.” ? No; he didn’t say that. Rather, he gave Lisa the impression that her accepting submission to the infidelity and abuse would be the catalyst to change her husband’s heart. For example, he counseled her to make dinner for Jesus and serve it to her husband. Of course, that only made her husband worse! The man that LIsa was married to is one of the men Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 3:3 – despisers of those that are good.

    Now, I’ll allow that the pastor did not fully realise how his messages were being heard by Lisa. He may not have thought he was straight-out advising her to submit to the adultery and abuse. But that just points to the fact that he didn’t fully understand the psycho-dynamics of abuse and the experience of victimization. Nor did he understand the effects of long-term traumatization.

    • Anonymous

      I was going to say the same thing!

      That pastor was doing what he knew to do, but didn’t realize that the message that he sent Lisa wasn’t a helpful one, and indeed, sad to say, it reinforced the abuse by reinforcing the blame which Lisa was already shouldering.

      I’m about to read Part 2, but even at this point, I am sad and horrified by what I have read. Lisa, thanks for sharing your story. It is collective stories like these that will one day break open the dams of ignorance in the pews and set many more souls free.

  4. Kay

    Lisa: Thank you for your courage to share the horrors of the abuse you lived with. Hugs to you, affirming you and praying God will totally heal your broken heart as well as your children.

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