A Cry For Justice

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

Abuse in a PCA church: Part 1 of Persistent Widow’s story

Having been raised in a combative and dysfunctional family, my husband had been prone to angry outbursts and unpredictable behavior from the onset of our marriage. At times, he was wonderful to be with, attentive, kind and fun. Initially, I thought he had anger management issues and if I loved him enough, things would work out, but in actuality, the course of our marriage could be described as the living Cycle of Violence. [this link starts midstream in a video; to hear the cycle of violence explained, watch it until 11:25] Round and round it went from tension, to explosion, to lavish gifts and acts of kindness, a never ending and damaging cycle.

I earnestly tried to respect him, but because he was so hurtful and volatile, I learned to focus my attention on my children and kept busy with household repairs, gardening, etc. As the years went on, I felt drawn to learn about the Scriptures and that created a gulf between us. He absolutely hated that I found rest for my soul in Christ and he seemed intent on punishing me by ever increasing emotional detachment, insults, crude mocking, and frequent temper tantrums.

Influenced by R. C. Sproul, I read a lot of theology books during those years. I began with Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and his commentaries on Romans and Galatians. These lifted my spirit way above the abuse to a great love for Jesus. I found comfort in the Puritan writers and their godly advice for those suffering so I acquired an extensive library of Puritan works with my favorites being Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, and Dutch Puritans such as Taffin and Teellinck. My lifeline was William Gurnell’s three volume set, The Christian in Complete Armour. That set still sits on my bookshelf, dog-eared and worn from reading and meditation. No wonder, because some chapter designations are: Satan as Accuser of Sin, The Saint’s Proper Response to Satan’s Accusations, The Saint’s Fortification, Satan’s Intentions and God’s Intervention, Why Saints Must Wrestle, How to..How Not to Wrestle, Stand — Do Not Flee or Yield, How to Use the Sword Against Persecutors, Spiritual Promises for Believer’s Sorrows, etc.

Despite my husband’s brooding and tantrums, the children and I tried to keep positive in the time we spent together. The older children and I perceived that there was genuine spiritual warfare present in our home just as the Puritan books described so vividly. When he pulled up in the driveway, we knew we needed to disperse from whatever activities we were enjoying if we could see that he had “that look,” which was most of the time. Over time, his behavior grew more and more frightening. He disappeared frequently and refused to tell me where he was going. His cliché response was, “It’s for me to know and for you to find out.”

Knowing how important the church was to me, he threatened repeatedly that if I told the church (about the abuse), it would be the worst thing I ever did. He did come to church, sometimes arguing with people there, but other than that he had no interest in the things of God. Realistically, while trying to view our afflictions as necessary in the life of a Christian, living in the abuse was taking its toll on us. My health deteriorated through various autoimmune diseases and the unpredictability of my husband’s actions had robbed the household of peace. I have come to realize that the situation was more damaging to my children and myself than I had thought, due to what is aptly referred to as the “fog” of abuse.

My husband had chosen to take voluntary layoff and after that he was home frequently. We realized that it had been better when he was habitually disappearing because now he became intent on mentoring one of the children in his madness. As I saw this child’s personality dramatically changing, I knew that I had to get help. After 20 years of marriage, and a household full of children, I confided in my PCA pastor about the terrible situation we were enduring, my conscience directing me especially for the child’s soul that was perilously at stake. The pastor asked me to make a list of incidents so I presented him with a ten page list giving examples of reckless, high speed driving with children in the car, his screaming profanities at me while pregnant in a crowded Lowe’s store, public acts of vandalism, assaulting a man at another church, and much more. The possibility of divorce had not crossed my mind at that point, possibly because I had become so indoctrinated in the Puritan idea of suffering.

Knowing the Westminster Confession of Faith well, I thought that the issue of my husband assaulting a man during a public event would facilitate disciplinary action, hopefully affording help to the certain child he was corrupting. In the document I compiled for my pastor with the ten page list of abusive incidents, I cited this part of the Westminster Confession:

CHAPTER XXX Of Church Censures
Paragraph 3. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deferring of others from like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

Trigger warning — descriptions of pastoral malpractice, abuser rants and intimidatory behaviour 

The pastor took my husband out to lunch, and he told me that my husband looked nervous but they kept to small talk about sports. I provided the pastor a list of witnesses which included people from another church who witnessed the assault, people from our previous church who observed him fighting at the church picnic, and my adult children. Additionally, the pastor himself said that three members at his church had expressed concerns or complaints about my husband’s behavior. I did not hear anything more from the pastor as he took the lead role in the town musical, Bye Bye Birdie, and seemed occupied thereafter, but providentially in a surprising turn of events, my husband abruptly decided to become an over the road truck driver and left the state for training. I believe this occurred because he thought that the church was on his trail and certainly because of God’s great mercy towards us.

Unfortunately, he did come home on some weekends, fully enraged that I called the church for assistance and with the intent of punishing me. Because I contacted the church, the verbal and emotional abuse escalated to unbelievable levels. He ranted, “Where’s the church, you loser?” and “She called the church!” in a shrill, mocking voice like a lunatic. The last time that he was at my house, he spent a great deal of time sharpening axes on a grinder while making threatening looks and shaking his fists at me with our child by his side.

Shortly after he left again, I noticed that he had used an exceptionally high number of minutes on our cell phone plan. Investigation revealed that he had used 6000 minutes a month, for the past six months, speaking to a woman from his previous workplace. I found her hair in our vehicle and later photographs surfaced of them together, through which I determined that this relationship had been ongoing for at least two years. His statement, “It’s for me to know and you to find out” seemed hauntingly prophetic.

Next post: The Nightmare of Peacemaker’s Mediation for Domestic Abuse: Part 2 of Persistent Widow’s story

Note: In this series of posts, PCA stands for Presbyterian Church of America.

23 Comments

  1. Seeing Clearly

    You are the voice of many women who do everything they know to be right. And yet, what happens is they walk into thicker and thicker fog. The children cannot be protected by you at all times. That must be horrific at times. These are just a few of the thoughts that come to mind immediately after reading of your life. Thank you for walking back into your memories to write all of this down. I cannot comprehend what it would be like to be in a room, daily, with an unpredictable monster. I asked God to continue the lifelong process of healing every fiber of your being, for your children as well, especially the one who was being groomed his father.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Thank you, Carol. I appreciate your kind words and sentiment.

      Ultimately, dealing with that church was worse than the domestic abuse as you will read as this series progresses. Over time, I knew what to expect from him, but the church’s actions left me traumatized beyond description. I was not expecting the church to react in the way that they did and I am sure that there are many victims who have experienced the same type of response and felt the same way. What you will read is typical of the way that many churches deal with domestic abuse.

      God is faithful and redeemed the situation for our good, but honestly, things only began improving once I got away from that church.

    • voicewilderness1

      I am praying and In total agreement with this prayer. Where two or three are gathered….

  2. Jeff Crippen

    As this story goes on in the next two parts, you all will see the sin on the part of the PCA church persistentwidow was in, how they sinned against her and her children and how they protected and enabled the wicked man. That church owes her and those children an open confession of their sin and a plea for her forgiveness, which we would be more than happy to help them make public by publishing it right here on this blog.

    In addition, unlike baptist churches that are independently governed, PCA churches have a hierarchy – their presbyteries and even on above that. Those bodies are also culpable here. Why did they not hear her cries for help and of injustice and step in to deal with the local church leadership that was so woefully sinning against her? PCA leadership, where are you? We are waiting to hear your confession and apology and repentance.

    • I second what Jeff said.

      • Seeing Clearly

        Jeff’s words were extremely powerful and I second him also.
        My first thought was a disbelief that these church leaders will ever soften and repent. However, if we expect nothing, we get nothing. So yes, I second Jeff’s words, also.

    • voicewilderness1

      Has anyone actually contacted the PCA higher ups in regards to this?

  3. Barely Reformed

    I take it she went to the presbytery at some point? Looking forward to the rest.

    Unfortunately, I can imagine too easily other pastors and elders being reluctant to get involved in the situation, and inclined to give her pastor the benefit of the doubt.

  4. Moving Forward

    I, too, have found William Gurnall’s book The Complete Armour of God to be invaluable in helping me stick to paths of righteousness and see more clearly into his hypocrisy.

  5. Listening Ear

    Powerful narrative that I hope will be shared with many.

  6. Owen Strachan, of CBWM, says that “Christianity disciplines abusive men”. Pull the other one, Owen!

    See SSB’s post exposing Strachan’s foolish claim: http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2015/02/02/owen-strachan-speaks-out-against-fifty-shades-of-grey-and-says-that-christianity-disciplines-abusive-men/

    • Outofthefog

      I just read this & really appreciated much of what was said. As a past member of the Patriarchy Movement I have much to say about the abuse of women in the church. I am sickened when I read accounts of these men my family followed – but yet I also rejoice in the discovery of sin. It has opened my eyes & really showed me that the things I was intuitively feeling & thinking were more scriptural then the things I was be taught & told to believe.
      I am told daily I am unsubmissive & unbiblical – through this blog, other blogs, books, & sound teaching I am praying I will come to truly see those words for the manipulative, controlling, bondage inducing words that they are.
      Thank you.

  7. Outofthefog

    Ugh!!! So hard to read & not feel like there is a knot in the pit of my stomach. So helpful though. I am just always so surprised & shocked at the response of church leaders & congregations in situations like this. I pray this turned for the better. I pray for this dear woman.

    The situation is so similar in every way except the “other woman” factor.
    Just today my spouse said….
    “had our church been right biblically they would have not supported your decision to demand I leave the home, & furthermore I don’t think any pastor in America would agree with our church’s stance on this matter”.

    I am very thankful for my church.

  8. Anonymous

    Having been raised in a combative and dysfunctional family, my husband had been prone to angry outbursts and unpredictable behavior from the onset of our marriage.

    When we were first together my spouse would reminisce about how his family always got into at least one fist fight during every holiday get-together. I was mortified! I too had come from a combative family but blessedly my parents had gotten divorced before I was old enough to be terrified of the holidays, and I naively thought that this meant that he wanted to have peace now that he was an adult. I was soon to learn that battling, arguing and fighting were he most beloved pastimes and that getting into fist fights over the holidays was one of his favorite things to do and he considered it his right.

    In the book by Hervery Cleckley titled, “The Mask of Sanity,” the author explains that people without a conscience will always find a way to get their evil out. Having an affair, going to strip clubs, gambling etc. are just a few of the ways these people get their fix and their need to sin. ( In the current generation they don’t even have to hide because we have been forced to say that every behavior is “normal” and some would even have us believe that every behavior is “good” if looked at with the correct understanding or from a certain perspective.)

    For the bulk of our decades-old marriage my husband cheated on me with men and women all while I was at home with the children thinking he was a devoted husband and father. I had no idea that this man, like all psychopaths, is a parasite and as such needs others in order to survive and feed upon. His game was that he would come home from work and “share” his day with me. There I was thinking that we are a super close couple because he told me “everything” when in reality he was telling me things that he would hear at work then share with me at home in order to hear what the correct response was. Then he’d go into work and be able to talk to people and look normal while at the same time bad-mouthing me, telling people I was crazy and evil and woe is him that he’s such a great guy. His job at the time allowed him to travel all over the world and he would participate in some of the most decadent sexual practices and was known for this among his coworkers.

    When the walls crumbled down around him and God revealed the truth to me, many things changed. With time I learned to not react to his evil and no longer gave him access to my thoughts or to my heart. (My heart and my mind belong to the Lord and they are precious. I now know that they are NOT to be shared with people without a conscience lest it be like in Matthew 7:6, … “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. …) The children were now grown and I no longer played the social norm game so he couldn’t use that against me or use the kids against me. Now that he is free to do as he pleases and it’s no longer a secret that he can hide or some dirty thing he can get away with, he does nothing. The high that he used to get knowing that I was at home loving him and waiting for him while he was deceiving me is no longer there. He lost his friends and his career and has no idea why. (Psalm 54:5, Let evil recoil on those who slander me; in your faithfulness destroy them.)

    These horrible stories from all of us here never had to happen. If we stopped letting people who are cardboard cut-outs of human beings (psychopaths) turn US into cardboard cut-outs of what their rendition of human beings are supposed to look like by twisting scripture, we might have a chance. But the vast majority of stories are like the one in this post with one partner giving up everything, doing everything, carrying the emotional, spiritual and financial burden for everyone, and when that doesn’t work out (how could it?) and they go for help, they are abused again. Thank you for this website and thank you for all who share here. It’s a shame we had to meet under these circumstances but then again, God has plans that end up amazing us, doesn’t he? And what are the odds that we would have met any other way?

    • Jeff Crippen

      And thank YOU, anonymous!

    • Still Reforming

      Anon,

      Your Scriptures cited greatly encourage me. Thank you. I’m printing them out to carry with me into settlement (02/05 – as if one can settle with an abuser; light has no fellowship with darkness) and court (02/12). Thank you very much!

      I’m thankful to the Lord that we’re meeting here too.

      • Thanks for reminding me of those dates, SR. I will be in prayer as much as I can on those days.

      • Still Reforming

        Barbara, You are a real treasure. Thank you. I’m very grateful for all of your tireless efforts here and prayers on behalf of your sisters and brothers. I am comforted with as I walk through these weeks with that knowledge. 🙂

  9. Still Reforming

    PersistentWidow,

    I’ve learned so much from Sproul too as well as other Reformed writers both past and present, but living in an abusive situation for two decades (and the church not interested in hearing any details or accepting what I’d say or write about it) numbed me to it. I could barely (and still can’t yet) read about total depravity when at home I was being told how judgmental, nagging, unmerciful, unloving, etc. I was. I labored for just as long to encourage my spouse to read Scripture and was rebuffed until one day, I guess a light went on in his head, he got baptized by deciding one day at lunchtime that since a friend our our child’s would be baptized that night, he would too. (This without ever meeting with the pastor to discuss it, and the pastor didn’t care. The pastor baptized him that evening without ever a real discussion.) He started reading Scripture and so I was cautiously optimistic, thinking maybe maybe there is a change in him. It was not the case.

    All that happened was that he learned how to wield Scripture as a tool against me. I got notes about how I tear my house down with my own hands, words about how unloving and unforgiving I am, etc. I’d show up at church in tears or break down in prayer meetings. I confided in a few souls now and again. They’d pray over me and tell me how they’d help share my burden, and then they were gone. I wrote out a brief history of the abuse at home and gave it to my pastor. He said he wouldn’t read it but would “hold it against that day.” (Whatever that means, maybe it meant when I was dead and my husband would finally be held accountable for the abuse. Thanks a lot, pastor.) I had to ask him to read it. I gave an account to another church leader, who filed it away and said he refused to read it. (Which told me that he must have read it in part and was so uncomfortable that he decided to not read it.) I had nowhere to go. Still, I continued to serve in the church, teaching both the pastor’s and this leader’s children.

    Now we’re in the process of divorce, the abuser remains at this church where I served for nearly a decade, and our child and I have had to leave because we’re not comfortable with our abuser. But the church is. They all accept him because they want to share the gospel with an unsaved man who needs the Law. Meanwhile, I who have the gospel remain gun-shy, feeling like the Law has been wielded over me as a tool, even though my head knows the truth, my heart remains trampled upon, bruised and beaten down having been told by the former church leaders that I need to study up on forgiveness more and love my abuser. I was even told I could divorce him, but only for the sake of reconciliation. The pastor gleamed as he told me how he had learned this through Bible study after reading more about divorce and my own situation.

    All this to say, thank you for sharing your own testimony here. I am curious about one thing. I’m curious how long it’s been since you’ve been free from this – from out from under his thumb (and feet and poisonous tongue). I wonder because I’m keeping my own journal and someday may want to share my story once I’m out from under the weight of the separation, divorce, and ongoing trial related to child. In other words, how long did it take you once you were separated to be able to gather your thoughts succinctly and organize them? I still feel a jumble of emotions and words. And I’m still highly wary of church and many in positions of authority. I don’t want to become distrustful and see narcissists in everyone, but boy it sure feels like I’m running into (and under) a lot of them in the legal system.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Still Reforming,

      You have been though a lot and I am impressed with how clear thinking you are about all of it. The church treated you terribly, and yes, they did smack you with law while it was withheld from the abuser who needed it. And had they been godly leaders, they would have exercised church discipline and protected you and your child.

      As this series progresses, you will find that my church acted in the very same way. Initially, I thought that they were going to exercise discipline and do the right thing. When it became apparent that they had other ideas, I thought that maybe they didn’t understand the Scriptures or Westminster Confession. Then I thought that they didn’t understand abuse. Finally I thought that their misdirection was due to lack of policy and procedure in the denomination.

      Ultimately, it came down to the way they handled the situation was policy and procedure. Had I known that I would have never engaged their assistance at all and it is my hope that through these posts victims will have a window into what to expect from the PCA (and many other churches) when they go for help. So if one sees the situations that I describe unfolding in their own interaction with the church, you can be sure that they are following the same procedure as my church did. When we get to the root of the issue, it is doctrinal.

      I recommend that any victim who is considering approaching the church for help first print out the LCMS theological paper on domestic abuse, When Homes are Heartless, and bring it to your pastor. Ask him if he agrees with the document, and if he says ‘no’ then you know right off that you will be on a dead end venture.
      http://www.lcms.org/socialissues/domesticviolence

      Pertaining to your questions, things began to improve once I removed myself from the church’s interaction. My husband basically detached at that point, put up some fight in the court, and has since moved on. The details of my series were gathered from nearly 50 letters that were exchanged between the church, counselors, and me. I also made a timeline of events about midway through the ‘process’ that helped me to gather my thoughts. My divorce from the abuser (and the PCA) is over a year behind me and I am now in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod where they know what it means to rightly divide Law and Gospel. Things do get better once you get out of the fog and away from legalism.

      I am praying that things go well for you in the court and that you will find peace soon.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • voicewilderness1

      I think it’s likely they want your abuser to stay at their church for his tithe money.

  10. Valerie

    PW, thank you for sharing your story. I have no doubt many will be coming to this blog in time to come and find healing in the validation that comes from reading your story. As you and others have said, it is horrific that this mindset of the church is more common than not. But it is not to say it feels common at all to the one experiencing it. The further trauma created by this vicious indifference resembles nothing of Christ or the gospel. It is emotional violence dressed up with a Christian tag stitched to it as a way to attempt to validate all manner of injustice. Instead of using scripture to fight the dark forces in the heavenly realms, the Word of God is used against the very ones being oppressed and begging for grace, justice and a place of refuge from torment.

    My experience has been traumatic, though nothing to the degree you are mentioning. What I have said is that this kind of abuse…violence to the soul…becomes expected from the abuser once you know them to be the abuser. Yet when this shamefulness comes from the people professing to care anything for God’s flock or even God Himself it is just mind bending. My husband has chosen to be an instrument of satan so when he practices evil it is indeed hurtful but the fact he persists in evil no longer surprises me. He is practicing his nature. But the church…the bride of Christ…the very ones who are supposed to expel the wicked and cling to God’s love and justice….when they practice an evil that is so eerily close to the abuser himself….what do we do with this?? The magnitude of injustice takes my breath away.

  11. Isaiah 32:6-8 seems appropriate here — it describes both PW’s abuser and the PCA church that so badly treated her.

    For the fool speaks folly,
    and his heart is busy with iniquity,
    to practice ungodliness,
    to utter error concerning the LORD,
    to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied,
    and to deprive the thirsty of drink.

    As for the scoundrel — his devices are evil;
    he plans wicked schemes
    to ruin the poor with lying words,
    even when the plea of the needy is right.
    But he who is noble plans noble things,
    and on noble things he stands.

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