How can you get your pastor to help?
Here’s the pattern I’ve lived and seen in others. We KNOW our husbands are doing some awful things. But we don’t want people to hate him or judge him. We want him to be loved and get pastoral care. We hope that a little talking to will wake him up and he will straighten up and fly right. There will be a tug of the Holy Spirit, a turning away from sin, and we can live happily ever after. No big confrontation. No big lawyer bill. No wagging tongues. No 911. Just a pastor tending his sheep and keeping us all safe. Because I was trying to be careful, I spoke victimese to my pastors at first.
Pastors, here’s an ACFJ translator for when a target of abuse comes to you seeking help.
Concerned = Scared out of our minds
Grumpy = He’s a tyrant
Communication problems = Name calling and blaming tirades.
He’s not getting enough rest = Stays up all night looking at porn.
Please pray = Please ask if I’m safe. Ask me several times in several ways because I won’t want to say that I’m not.
Financial problems = He believes he’s entitled to spend on whatever he wants and the rest of us should eat ramen.
He’s struggling = He’s not a Christian. Please share the gospel with him in a one on one setting (not a sermon that you hope he’ll respond to) and don’t allow him to deflect with a joke.
He’s worried about his mother = His mother won’t leave us alone and I can’t live like this.
Anger/temper problems = He’s violent. Please help.
So we tell the pastor we are concerned. That we want prayer. That he’s struggling and grumpy. Very minor stuff. Please don’t hate him. He’s struggling and I’m concerned that the kids’ relationship with him will suffer because he’s not communicating with them well… Exposing “little” sins backfires because the target comes off looking like the church lady who judges her husband for being too worldly. I think it needs to be a Shock and Awe campaign from the get go and with as much hard evidence as can be gathered.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking. Instead of using minimizing terms and hoping that the pastor will understand our hidden meanings or that he’ll follow up with the abuser and see the issues for himself, I believe that it might be better to go straight to the top of the list of the abusers’ horrible deeds; to expose the very worst thing going on, well documented if possible, and expose it to the pastor and an elder. Tell him we feel unsafe. Tell him we need the church to act. Tell him we want the husband to surrender to Christ, and you need the church’s help. If the church doesn’t take you seriously when you expose something horrible, I suggest that you get to one that will.
Shock and Awe.
I would suggest that you not try to diminish the problems and that you not worry about how the church staff would think of him if they really knew ____. One thing I hear often at our church is “never be surprised when sinners sin.” Of course people who are not surrendered to Christ are going to act awful. EXPOSE it. Expose the thing that scares you the most. Get pastoral care for the scariest, most alarming thing you know of. Tell them. And if you have evidence of the shocking thing, present it. If you start with the little thing that isn’t so scary, but still a sin, just not one that would evoke revulsion, in my loved one’s experience at least, you get written off as a judgmental shrew who disapproves of “Breaking Bad” or the zombie show everyone loves. Bring the stinky thing into the light to get help. Don’t minimize it. Start with the big scary thing. Pastor will still love [your husband] no matter what you say. If he’s a true pastor he will love him enough to confront the sin that will kill him if it’s left alone. Shock and Awe. Use the big thing first. Don’t try to protect his reputation in front of the pastor. Tell the pastors the truth about the scariest thing. If they don’t know, they can’t help.
If your spouse is an abuser, we want to equip you to get help quickly and to recognize if you are getting help or if you are are being placed in a holding pattern while the pastors pray for the 2nd coming to occur so that they don’t have to do anything courageous. We know that you might be reluctant to seek help for the reasons listed above, and Julie Anne Smith adds
In my circles, this hesitancy in telling it like it is has to do with the teaching that women are to respect their husbands. To talk negatively about husbands in any way = disrespect. This is bad teaching. We were told to gently approach the subject w/husbands and if they disregarded us, then to give it to God and pray that our husbands’ hearts would change. We are to suffer for righteousness sake and to discuss this with anyone else is gossip.
It is the perfect framework for abuse to continue. Also, keep in mind, for men who believe this kind of stuff, their default response is: wife was not submissive. So, it does her harm to report it to pastor.
The difficult part is that how many of us really know how our pastor handles abuse situations?
I agree. I had those same reservations. That’s another reason why I spoke victimese! I didn’t want to be disrespectful. A caring pastor would care enough about BOTH of you to get you care. Putting boundaries and restrictions on the abuser’s behavior would give him the chance to demonstrate his repentance over a l-o-n-g period of time. But there’s no way to know how a pastor will handle it until he actually does. Pastors say all kinds of things. What HAVE they done? What WILL they do? WHEN? When? I want a date. If they say they’re going to do something, ask WHEN and follow up. If they don’t do anything, they won’t.
I have seen a loved one trying to get her church to help for years. Her husband has screamed swear words at her in the pastor’s office and the pastor did nothing. Like the spineless pastor depicted in Sexual Issues, her pastor didn’t want to take sides. Vomit. She is still looking for her husband to change. But instead of learning healthy boundaries and coping skills, she tries to punish him for his tyranny. This doesn’t work and he only gets meaner. My getting to safety has helped her see that it can be done. I tell her that I did nothing and I do nothing with a motivation to punish X. When she reacts to her husband that way, it makes her appear to be crazy. The church writes them both off and hopes they move away…
For me, my previous pastor handles it by not taking sides, and then using the three types of abusive control. And that’s one reason I am not there anymore. God very kindly took me out of that place. I have many friends there who love and pray for me, but that is not a safe place for targets of abuse.
This presents some questions. How do we know if if our situation will be handled safely, if at all? One suggestion is to ask the pastor “How would you handle it if a woman came to you seeking help to deal with an abusive husband.” If he doesn’t know, you might further test the waters and send him an article or two from ACFJ or another resource. Then you could ask him what he thinks of the advice provided here. That will give you an idea of how your issues will be handled. We hope that more and more churches, pastors, seminaries, and Christians learn how to recognize abuse and how to help deliver the oppressed. But if you aren’t in a safe church, our experience leads us to believe it’s better to find one than try to convert the pit of despair into a spa.