A Cry For Justice

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

When the Wheels of Church Justice Move Like a Snail, it is a Sign of Injustice

Have you had the sad experience of being involved in church “courts” in the process of getting free of your abuser? Numbers of denominations have intricate court systems set up (I am thinking particularly of Presbyterians here) in which it can take months and months or even year upon year to obtain a ruling. And here is something that I have noticed happening repeatedly in these ecclesiastical machination processes:

  1. The process of determining the guilt of an evil person such as an abusive spouse (no, I will say “abusive husband” because that is how it almost always goes down) proceeds at the speed of the thickest molasses flow.
  2. The process of determining the guilt of the abuse victim who will not heed her church’s orders to reconcile with her abuser, proceeds at a speed more akin to the flow of….well…rushing water.

Why is that? “You say he abuses you, eh? Well, let’s not be hasty. No marriage is perfect you know. Be patient. Go back to him. Forgive him.”  “What, you say you won’t do what we say? Oh, well then…”.  And in short order the charges against her are made, tried, and she is convicted and out the door, counted as an unbeliever, handed over to the devil. What happened to her original case against her abuser? It just gets forgotten. Lost in church legal limbo. She’s gone. He’s still there. Case closed for lack of substance and prosecution.

Snail-paced process is almost always a sign of injustice. Because someone does not want it to go forward. Someone is an ally of the wicked.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5)

The Apostle Paul’s directive is crystal clear: next time you meet, put him out. In fact you should have done it already. It’s a no-brainer, but in your arrogance you have let it drag on and on and you boast about how merciful you all are. This is sin. Repent and obey the Lord.

While abusers are deceptive liars, skilled at putting on the disguise of godliness, that deception simply does not hold up when a victim comes forth with the truth of what the guy really is. You see it all the time. Pastors and elders often don’t necessarily deny that he is doing what she says he does (though they will claim she exaggerates). They know he has done these things and very often in fact they know it because he comes to them in his fake repentance, tearful and pitiful, saying his sorry’s. They know. But in fact, they don’t really care. What they want to do is pretend that the Spirit of Christ working the grace of God among them (thus giving a divine stamp of approval to their ministry) has moved this fellow to a wonderful reformation of repentance. But the victim….she just keeps messing it all up and saying his sorry’s are phony.

Paul told the Corinthians they were arrogant and disobedient to Christ. And that is exactly what these allies of abusers are today. That charge stands until they repent and start putting abusers out of their midst, and doing it speedily.

 

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20 Comments

  1. God-fearing mom

    Your second to last paragraph resonates with me because that’s what happened to me, only I had to leave because of a church assistant pastor who was acting like a predator.

  2. Suzanne

    I have a question about this situation. How much responsibility do the people in the pews, the ones not directly involved, have for the actions of their pastor and elders? When church members know of the abuse in the marriage and the cruelty of their church leaders toward the victim, ought they not to question their handling of these matters? Are they not responsible for the actions of their church leaders?

    • Misti

      First thing to note: People are responsible for their own actions.

      You are not responsible for your sibling or parent or cousin’s actions. You could bear responsibility for enabling or assisting them in something they shouldn’t have done, but even that is responsibility for your own inaction or action, not for their actions.

      Second, how much do you think the congregation knows of what’s going on? There is so much emphasis on doing things discreetly/privately.

      In my observation and later, experience, situations are generally manipulated so the congregation has incomplete information at best, likely even misinformation or disinformation produced by insinuation. Presbyterian church leaders are elected, sure, but the current leaders will actually interfere with who’s even in the running, and it’s very much a good ol’ boys club.

      Third, don’t underestimate the fact that such churches are pretty good at influencing the perception and knowledge of the general congregation, particularly for folks who grew up in it.

      For example, any and all negative or uncomfortable comments are defined as sinful complaining, gossiping, or dishonoring authority, so even the ones who sincerely want to help, end up perpetuating the problem, because that’s what they’ve been taught they should do.

      If a church member leaves, they must go to a “good, Bible-believing church” that is approved by the church leaders. This is taught as a biblical responsibility, and members take a vow that they will submit. Going to unapproved churches can result in church discipline, excommunication, and being considered apostate, which the congregation in general has been taught means you are to be avoided. So there’s a lot of social pressure to stay.

      Who and what to trust and who to distrust is carefully defined to discourage the members of the congregation to know anything else. When you’re raised in that sort of environment, how are you to know better?

      So the question really boils down to: what are the prerequisites for responsibility?

      How responsible are people when they genuinely don’t know any better and have been trained to distrust any source that would enable them to learn?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, they are responsible. Absolutely. Turning a blind eye to evil is sin. The pastor and elders are generally put into office by a church vote and are accountable. In addition, in churches with say a presbyterian form of government, other pastors in the presbytery are responsible for calling out evil as well.

  3. Mary

    Great article! I am experiencing this firsthand..they seem to check on my poor husband more than me…like, standing up for myself & saying “no” to his abuse makes me the dragon lady!
    I have had to turn it to God for justice..i found myself devastated by this and bitter..
    Nothing gets past God!!

    • broken not shattered

      I’m sorry you are experiencing this Mary! It’s okay to feel feelings…you will go through a lot of feelings and bitterness is going to be one of them…but God knows it all and sees it all…He will get you through…

  4. Misti

    Considering how strongly the “ideal, godly Christian family” is defined as husband and wife with many kids, where the wife’s a housewife and each of them all obey those in authority (which is the parents over the kids, the father over the mother, the church leadership over the father — though that last one’s applied a bit more loosely) over them immediately and joyfully and without any protest or complaint (with even pausing before obeying literally called sin)…

    And since disagreement or protest or complaint of any sort is defined as being “dishonoring” or “disrespectful” and in violation of the fourth commandment…

    Why is it a surprise that those willing to point out the wolves are the ones that get put out of the flock?

    Okay, so we know why: that’s not what the church is *supposed* to be.

    Yet “Hey! That’s not supposed to be that way!” doesn’t change reality. A dull pencil that’s supposed to be sharp is still dull. No amount of thinking it is or should be sharp will make it sharp. Only being aware of its actual state and correcting it will accomplish anything.

    Folks in the church (as a general culture) will insist that objective Truth exists and that subjective beliefs or truths don’t change reality, so why do they also insist that their beliefs about what “can’t” be (“proved” by insistence that it “shouldn’t” be) has any relation to what might actually be?

    Short answer to that “why?” is they’ve been taught to do so (if ignorant) or they find it useful (if malignant), but either way… Woe betide the one who dares to point it out.

    Doesn’t matter what a person believes should or shouldn’t be, can or can’t be. That doesn’t change what is. Believing something “can’t” be possible just enables it to happen under your nose.

  5. A Commenter

    I wonder a lot of times if things don’t come down to money and corruption. Men usually have all the money and all the power. Want to keep your church going with a healthy operating budget? Best not be too harsh on those wifeabusers with all the money. Plus, pastors are men and most men are in strong, if not complete, alliance with other men, by default.

    Also, I think power plays into it. It’s easier to come down on someone without the power or the means to do anything about it, most especially if she has been trained from birth (‘socialized’) to submit, feel responsible for everything, always at fault, etc. Obey, obey, obey! She won’t even question if such is correct, fair, etc. but rather will take on further amounts of shame, blame, responsibility, etc. Otherwise, she feels sinful in merely thinking such things.

    Misti’s first paragraph about the “ideal, godly, Christian family” is so right on the money. No wonder why wifebeating tyrants troll the churches looking for their whipping [woman] (‘whipping boy’ is the expression I’m converting there) as bride-to-be.

    And those dutiful, upright, good, kind women never see it coming, not do they know how criminal, intolerable, and evil much of the stuff that is being done to them actually is …….. ‘sex’ [and no, it’s not ‘sex’] on demand by threat of death or beating or strangulation? that’s rape, irrespective of if there are wedding bands or not until I was but a walking zombie, not knowing which way is up…….

    and then later on I came across a book that informed me that such is rape, not ‘sex’, nor is it ‘normal’ or acceptable, even though I’m his wife….. but then it came down to my word against his and that’s if I do anything about it

    … and [my] life was increasingly destroyed once I said anything about it…….people — men and WOMEN alike — hated me, hunted me, looked for all sorts of ways to further break me …

    • Hi, Commenter, I edited your comment at little towards the end of it. I changed the second person (you) to the first person (I) because that seemed to be what you were meaning.

      Please be mindful about using the word ‘you’ when commenting here. Other readers may think it refers specifically to them, and their experiences may not be exactly the same as your experiences.

    • I really appreciate your comments here on this blog, *A Commenter* 🙂

      Your voice — your cry for justice — is really important. When you share your multifarious & complex experience of abuse, I am amazed how you are still alive!

      • A Commenter

        Thanks, Barbara. It’s God who has kept me alive. I teeter pretty much every day as to whether or not I’ll make it through the day without succumbing to suicide. It’s more like bullycide/murder, as the spawn of Satan have made it their apparent goal to either successfully induce my suicide, one way or another, or drive me absolutely insane. Some days are worse than others as I am more acutely aware, but eventually numbness sets in, as does denial/blocking it all out/pretending it all away.

        One of the saddest realities is that those who are victimized are that much more likely to be victimized again. Traumatized individuals make great targets/victims because of their prior trauma(s). Many offenders deliberately look for pre-traumatized individuals to further victimize. So, the repeatedly traumatized individual is made that much more vulnerable with every additional victimization, which increases the probability of future trauma and victimization.

        For some in society, especially those with the least amount of ‘buffers’ (like supportive friends/family, money, other resources) their lives are but a downward spiral of victimization, re-victimization, and further victimization.

      • Raped By Evil

        A Commenter, I lived where you are at for enough time to know exactly how you feel and the thought processes that go with it. Let me just assure you of a few truths that God has shown me by putting me through this particular honing process

        1. WE NEED YOU! You are INVALUABLE to God and to his kingdom and to his children. Your depth of understanding as proven by your comment shows just how deeply you can feel the evil that is being dumped on you but also, as you come out of this place, you will see just how deeply you will feel the beauty of God and how DEEPLY HE LOVES YOU. Not ONE drop of what you are going through will be wasted.

        2. You are seeing the horror and the truth of this horror in the form of those who have been traumatized end up being abused again … I didn’t understand this aspect of it until recently, but it’s almost as though God opened up all the doors of my past all at once (SUPER PAINFUL!), in order that He allow me to see ALL of the abuse in my life so that there would be NOTHING hidden from me — so that He could THEN blow out all the lies and leave me completely clean and healed. I no longer have any qualms about admitting evil is real, that abusers are abundant and that they are the majority of those that I meet. I ALSO can more quickly identify a person who is capable of feeling love for others (very rare) and in this I can at least know they can listen and possibly learn.

        I’ve commented on this website about the abuse I’ve endured since childhood and also that my husband for a time had tried to get my daughter and me to commit suicide and had actually belonged to a “club” of sorts where a few other people where praying against their spouses in order to get them to commit suicide and they were planning on splitting the insurance money while continuing to pray against those of us who were still alive. This all fell apart when one man succeeded in forcing his wife to commit suicide and then promptly cut off all the people in the club, and banked the money. (There was at least one woman in this club and she had moved her parents in with her and was praying against them and her husband in the hopes that they’d all commit suicide, but in the meantime was getting kudos for being so benevolent as to “take care” of her ageing parents.)

        This is also the time when my daughter admitted to me that she was praying against her dad and even praying for his death. I had NEVER thought of doing this as I’d been trained that ALL can be saved BLAH BLAH WHAT AN ANTI-BIBLICAL LIE BLAH, so I immediately went to God’s word and prayed to God to see if this was right / okay to do. It IS RIGHT AND BIBLICAL TO DO THIS, so I also started praying that no one would any longer believe my husband and that God would bind him up as well as all those in this club, and that all would see him for what he was. My husband ended up destroying his career but maintained his retirement.

        — please don’t despair and please know that every single ounce of the weight you feel now, will be that much more freedom from the weight of evil and lies you will eventually feel when out from under it. Light as air and full of truth — God’s light and HIS truth.

        One last thing, when I finally got to the place that I thought of suicide as one of my few options, this was when I kicked many of the lies of my life to the curb. I told God that I wanted Him to PROVE he existed and to PROVE that he loved me! I stopped doing most everything I’d been conditioned to do that equated to nothing more than social norms, and decided to just memorize scripture, keep attending college and to turn every single thing over to him. EVERY SINGLE THING. What I was actually doing during this time I now know, was simply REALLY PAYING ATTENTION to God through His word as well as myself. I’d been so brain-washed to let others abuse me and to never think of or love myself, that by focusing on God and his relationship with me, I was actually doing what all the “greats” in the bible did. They lamented, cried out, told God how angry they were, how disappointed, how broken — how EVERY LITTLE THING THEY FELT AND THOUGHT went DIRECTLY to GOD.

        And EVERY LITTLE THING I TOOK TO HIM, HE HONORED AND SHOWED ME THE TRUTH. Some things took time to see but He made sure to show me truth over and over and rather quickly so that I knew I could trust Him, so that the things He hadn’t yet answered me in, I knew He eventually would, and that it would be STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL.

        Little one, you are loved… we — God’s other children–need you. Hang on and know that God is with you.

  6. Lost my cookies

    So glad I was able to leave my dysfunctional church and join another, giving the old church no chance to attempt to “discipline” me. I’m not at all sure how I would have survived and stayed sane had my only community of the Body of Christ been one that condemned me.

  7. God hears

    I attend an Orthodox Presbyterian Church and live with an abusive husband. Because my husband is a Jekyll and Hyde, it took a while for the elders and pastors to understand what exactly was going on in our marriage. They began to understand when I requested to meet with them and had several pages of specific documentation of things. Elders/Pastors tried to get together with my husband at various times to help him but they ended up confronting him on several occasions after realizing he was unrepentant, blaming me, etc. All of this did take a while but they ended up putting him out of the church. I was thankful for the manner in which they did this — the statement in the bulletin was discreet enough to protect my privacy and it was printed in the bulletin when they knew I would be out of town. There also was not a public trial.

    The church continues to support me. It does seem that the elders and pastors have learned some things from my situation and I recently showed this website to my pastor. Will pray that other Presbyterian churches see the need to grow in this area as well.

    • God Hears,

      Welcome to the blog! It is encouraging to know that there are some (maybe only a few) Presbyterian churches that respond as yours did. Thank you for share your story!!

      We like to encourage new commenters to read out New User’s Info page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog.

      Again, Welcome!

    • Hi God hears,
      what a rare story! Thanks for sharing it with our readers 🙂

      I’m curious — but please don’t answer the following questions unless you feel really safe doing so… there is absolutely no pressure! —

      The leaders put your husband out of the church. Does this mean your husband is no longer permitted to take communion? attend church services? step onto the church grounds? What does it actually mean?

      What was the level of your husband’s involvement in the church before the leaders made this announcement? Did he have a minor leadership position? Was he a regular attender? Occasional attender? Rare attender?

      How did your husband come to know about the leader’s decision to ‘put him out of the church’?

      How has your husband responded to this decision by the leaders? From your observation of his attitudes and behaviours, what impact (if any) has it made on him?

      How has the rest of the congregation responded to the leaders’ announcement in the church bulletin? Do they still treat your husband like a believer? Has their behavior towards you husband changed since that announcement? If so, how?

      Has the congregation’s behaviour towards you changed since the announcement? If so, how?

      Is there anything else you would like the church leaders to do to help and support you, which they have not yet done?

      Do you have the sense that if you were to decide to leave your husband or divorce your husband, the leadership would change their stance towards you?

      You mentioned that you showed this website to your pastor. You may have shown him our page for pastors, but if not, here it is:

      As a pastor, what are the most important things for me to know about domestic abuse?

      I want to honour your courage, patience and tenacity in seeking help for yourself … and also in nudging/prompting/inviting/urging these church leaders so they can become more educated on this issue and thus respond even better to domestic abuse.

      Bless you. And once again, thanks so much for sharing. We love to hear positive stories like yours!

  8. Tess

    Wonderful outcome, God Hears, thank God for those wise Church leaders.
    My church has no wheels…..Sill it’s right to speak out…..I apologised​ again this week., In the form of a poem, I grovell

  9. Tess

    Yes I humbled myself’ hoping someone may have responded with a soft heart. Still no response- and this after 8 ,months…Still no apology forthcoming – still so stiff necked and self righteous….Sigh!

  10. MarkQ

    Not only slow justice, but many Presbyterian churches have labyrinthine processes and procedures. I’ve seen a number of examples of this. One woman worked with her pastor who recommended she divorce her husband who was a heavy porn user. When she went to the session, they overturned the pastor’s recommendation and tried to force reconciliation. Another friend was threatened with church discipline unless he stepped down from his position. He resigned, but later decided he should have fought instead. However, when he tried to appeal their threat, it was denied on procedural grounds because he had “willingly” resigned. A pastor was working on an appeal to a decision and became sick. When he finally recovered, he was told he would not be able to submit the appeal because of a statute of limitations.

    In addition to that, most church courts have a significant power imbalance. Often, appeals must be in writing, and the appellants do not have a right to appear before a higher court. However, the session whose decision is being appealed is required to have representation. So, typically, the appeal is waved away in the sea of “let me tell you what the REAL situation is” behind closed door discussions. Even if the appellant physically attends the meeting, which is allowed, the court can enter into Executive Session for deliberations and then return to reveal their decision.

    To make matters worse, courts must keep minutes, and those minutes are reviewed, but the reviewers don’t want to waste their time requiring minutes that are in enough detail. For example, a church can decide to excommunicate someone for some sin, but the records don’t necessarily have to include enough details for a higher court to review. In fact, if they do include those details, the higher court usually chastises the lower court for minutes that are too verbose. I know of a few cases where a session could have been charged with not following process, but the minutes were so sparse that nothing could be determined.

    Another common failure is “informal discipline”. A member can be deemed “guilty” of some sin and the session can take official actions without a formal trial. That informal discipline can escalate into formal discipline where there is a trial, but the trial is generally on insubordination, not on the original issue. So, let’s say I’m put under informal discipline for some doctrine I’ve been told is heretical – the session wants to “work” with me to understand. If we don’t come to an agreement, the session can then try me for insubordination, because I didn’t change. Their initial (informal) decision that my doctrine is heretical cannot be appealed and the trial revolves around, did I repent of my position as ordered by the session.

    It’s no wonder that so many just walk out of the church instead of trying to stay and fight abusive leadership and legalistic doctrine. I’ve done that twice.

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