The Nightmare of Peacemakers Mediation for Domestic Abuse: Part 2 of Persistent Widow’s story
The Church Gets Involved
Trigger warning: under pastor’s orders, a victim suffers horrendous abuse in professional ‘c’hristian mediation
With the discovery of the other woman, I contacted the pastor a year after our initial discussion, and told him of my new desire to divorce. I felt that my husband had listened to the Word preached for years, and if it had not effected change, nothing would. His years of hate and cruelty caused me to fear that if he returned, he might kill someone, and my adult children concurred. My conscience did not condemn me for my resolve and I felt that Jesus himself was leading us along a clear path out of the turmoil.
The pastor stated that he would initiate “the process”, but in my study of Reformed theology, I had never encountered that term, nor did I know what it meant. He avoided defining the term or explaining what would happen next, so I reasoned that it probably was a church discipline procedure pertaining to the assault issue I previously reported.
In what became a confusing turn back into the fog, the pastor stated that what I experienced was really not that bad, that he’d seen worse, and hair and phone logs did not prove that physical adultery took place. I was told to keep this quiet in the church, as my husband would be coming back, and as a result he restricted any Christian comfort that I might have otherwise received from friends at church. He mentioned that I would have to take my husband back even though I would not love him — like Hosea took back the unfaithful spouse. He confidently asserted that there were always two people to blame for marriage problems, and that I was a trigger. His words left me dazed and bewildered. I truly felt like the floor dropped out from under me and was in such a fog at that point that I did not comprehend the direction this was taking. Knowing that the safety of my family relied on the church, I still trusted in my heart that they would help me. I really thought that once the facts of the case were examined, and with the likelihood that my husband’s explosive temper would blow under scrutiny, the church would support my decision.
I called my husband and notified him that I had discovered his affair. Rather than scream profanities at me as in other phone calls, he suggested that we start over and take a trip to Hawaii. I rejected the offer. Instead, I erected a clear boundary by telling him he was not permitted to return home which led to his unbridled screaming and ranting at me over the phone. I thought that this would be the church’s opportunity to confront my husband for his behavior and either send him for psychological evaluation or bring God’s Law down on him with the hope of repentance through church discipline. Instead, the pastor tried to persuade me to allow my husband back into the house for a short visit, and out of fear of what my husband might do, I refused, and the pastor seemed frustrated with me.
The elders decided to send the matter to Peacemakers Counseling for mediation. I had done some research and discovered that mediation was not advised in cases of abuse and I told them that I believed that it would only be appropriate if he was confronted by the church and repentant. However, the pastor seemed detached and unconcerned. My input was completely ignored and I felt that I had no voice in the decisions beings made for me. He offered no other option but to proceed in the undefined church process and the thought of leaving the church did not cross my mind. My usual clear focus was becoming muddled at this point and nothing seemed to make logical sense anymore.
Because of my husband’s screaming at me on the phone and his violent tendencies, my family was fearful that mediation would be unsafe and pleaded with me not to go to Peacemakers. Once again the pastor was stern and emotionless causing me to doubt my own decision making capabilities. Because my husband was laid off for so long and now an apprentice truck driver, I did not have the $2800 for mediation, so the pastor said that if I paid the first $1035, the church would pay the rest. I reaffirmed our agreement by asking him twice if this was all that I would have to pay and he agreed. Still believing that the problem was that my husband was abusive because he was unregenerate, I reasoned that this would be a waste of money and likened it to a tax that I needed to pay to get through this nightmarish situation. Three months passed with little contact from the pastor. Throughout those months, my husband continued to rant and scream at me on the phone and threaten to come back to the house. By God’s mercy he did not.
Preparing for Mediation
The Peacemaker counselor did phone consultations with both my husband and me individually. She asked me what the issues were and I sent her the ten page list of abusive incidents that I previously sent the pastor. She, like the pastor, never validated any of the incidents, nor showed any compassion to my plight. At one point she insensitively responded with, “Awwwww” in a condescending manner to an abusive incident I discussed with her. I was required to read Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, which I felt was totally inapplicable to my situation. The book focused on conflict resolution between Christians. Domestic abuse was not addressed in the book, and it struck me as a manual for spiritually immature people with petty issues. In a follow-up phone discussion with her (with the pastor listening in), she perhaps perceiving that I was serious about Reformed theology, threw Calvin’s quote of the human heart being an idol factory at me and questioned if I wanted other men. She also accused me of being “no saint” because there are always two people contributing to marriage problems. I found these comments extremely offensive, confusing, and hurtful. Her allegations were unsubstantiated, and I perceived that she was attempting to find some sin to charge against me. Suddenly I found myself on the defensive despite all of the abuse that I had endured and documented.
She called again prior to the mediation and I voiced my concerns that mediation did not seem proper because only recently he was yelling obscenities at me on the phone and also made the absurd statement that this was all because I was going through the “change of life” in that strange, shrill voice he mocked me with. I told her I thought he had narcissistic personality disorder and frankly stated that I didn’t like him or love him. Perhaps thinking that I would not come to the mediation, she changed her tone. She said that there were consequences for one’s actions and that I could use the mediation time to discuss divorce issues, which I did not think I needed as I had already consulted with an attorney. I could gather no clear sense of the purpose of the mediation or how any of this was biblical, but I wanted to get past this hurdle to complete the mysterious church “process”.
Somewhere between the urgency to protect my family, and the growing confusion of what the right thing to do was, the fact that I had misplaced my trust in the church leadership had not registered in my mind. Having now left my decision to divorce on the back burner, I was now redirected to an ambiguous course, absent of reason, and followed solely due to submission to church authority.
The Mediation Takes Place
Present at the three day mediation were my husband, one ruling elder, the pastor, the Peacemaker counselor, a counseling trainee and myself. We sat around a table and spent some time going over the Peacemakers rules and their wheel of conflict (which I’ll explain more about in a subsequent post in this series). The Scripture about Lazarus rising from the dead was read. Both my husband and I were asked to give a history of our relationship. I carefully wrote out and read my story which took approximately 45 minutes. My husband, rather than contribute his story, proceeded to spend the next several hours talking about himself and refuting my statements unhindered. He was center stage and I thought quite noxious. Blank stares were fixed upon him by the others in the room, and I assumed that they would come to the same conclusion that I had, and someone would reel him. No one did.
Throughout the mediation sessions he was not confronted for any of the issues that brought us there. I had waited for the abusive incidents that I submitted to be discussed but they never were. No mention of the verbal or emotional abuse, reckless driving, disappearing, fighting, or civil disobedience and no mention of the wellbeing of children living in the abuse at all. I brought fifteen pages of itemized phone records proving he talked 6000 minutes to his girlfriend the previous June and they just lay on the table. However, there was one particular incident of great interest to the group. Sometime during the last visit home, (the one when he was raging and sharpening axes), my husband secretly took an expensive item from my jewelry box. When I noticed it missing, I called him to ask if he knew of its whereabouts and apparently that was deemed an issue to explore in-depth. I was harshly questioned pertaining my motives of why I was concerned about the bracelet and was I being submissive to ask him about it. I was also faulted for discussing my husband’s abuse and asking for advice from my adult children, which I think revealed the extent of disconnect of the people who were sitting at that table with me. The abuse affected everyone in the household and didn’t happen in a vacuum as it seems they supposed. No opportunity was afforded to discuss divorce settlement issues although I brought legal paperwork with me.
On the final day, my husband became irritated with the counselor trainee who made the only negative comment about him. She had said something like, “When will he grow up?” Although he had his face partially covered by his ball cap, from my vantage point, I could see that he was angry, shaking his head, and muttering under his breath. With an air of victory, the counselor pointed out that my husband was repentant and crying. I should have refuted her, but I was emotionally drained and exhausted, having myself wept on and off out of frustration throughout the mediation. As the session wrapped up, the counselor quickly made an agreement that we both consented to in which my husband would continue counseling with her, and I would orchestrate conference calls between the children and him. As she typed out the agreement, the pastor made jokes and informal arrangements to travel with my husband in the truck. When the counselor asked for a check, credit card or promissory note to pay the balance due, I informed her that the pastor previously agreed to pay the remainder. He emphatically pushed his chair away from the table and threw his hands in the air denying any financial responsibility, so the remaining balance wound up as marital debt.
Alarmed that I somehow allowed my boundaries be penetrated, I couldn’t sleep and called the Peacemaker counselor the next day, telling her that I would not sign the agreement. I did not want to conduct conference calls with my husband and although I did not tell her, I felt that she lacked adequate skills to deal with his serious issues. Concerning the mediation, I told her that I felt my husband was not held accountable for anything. She said, “Yes, he was. Someone said that he should have been talking to his wife instead of that woman.” She had a good point, but the person who said that was me. She also said that he looked sorry.
As a result of Peacemakers mediation, my husband again began calling me with new threats that he had fantasies about seeing me dead and that he was going to financially ruin me. I was at the absolute lowest point in my life, full of despair, feeling just barely alive, and wondering if I had lost my mind. Maybe I really was “no saint” and maybe God hated me the way the church did. These dark thoughts tumbled around in my mind along with all of the other problems this series of events brought. I considered that maybe I wasn’t a Christian, but I really believed that God is faithful and although I was crushed, I believed that He still loved me.
[Go to part 1 of this series]