A Cry For Justice

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

Shattering the silence: James’s Story of growing up with an abusive father

I think it’s crucial to highlight the myriad stories of church domestic abuse, including the impacts such abuse can have on children.

My first memory of violence is of being dragged to my room by my panicked mother, who wanted my siblings and me — I was very young — to be quiet before my father arrived home.

As a young child I regularly saw and heard my siblings being “disciplined” by our violent father, who would overreact to usual childhood misbehaviour.

We regularly heard him screaming at my mother late at night, and often saw her with bruising.

My father would often speak in our church, which he attended regularly. However, he never really formed any friendships with other men there.

He went out of his way to show charity and compassion to people outside his family, but seemed to lack generosity in time and resources for his children.

His abuse affected us all, with some of my siblings going on to repeat this violence — or endure it in other forms — in their own, often dysfunctional, relationships.

He physically abused us until I was almost out of primary school, when my eldest brother — who bore the brunt of my father’s abuse — stood up to him.

At this point, my father’s physical abuse of my mother ceased, but his emotional and financial abuse continued, if not increased.

His church attendance has declined in recent years, unlike my mother’s, while his financial abuse of her has increased considerably, totally reducing her ability to leave on a financial basis alone.

Members of our extended family, as well as church pastoral care teams, tried on several occasions to intervene, but at no point has my mother actively tried to leave her marriage.

I suspect she is heavily influenced by an unhelpful form of the complementarian “headship” model taught in church.

I also believe she is ashamed to break her marriage vows and abandon her “Christian marriage”.

Growing up, most of us kids got the impression of a God that was harsh, lacking grace and heaping blame on believers for their shortcomings.

I think this teaching can prevent people from intervening in abusive situations, and far as I am aware, no one in the churches we were involved in ever directly confronted my father about his abuse, even when overwhelming evidence was there.

All of the interventions made were “soft interventions” — they’d mainly give mum or us kids respite somewhere until things cooled down.

Promises would be made by my father to the family, only for the cycle to eventually repeat.

I still go to church regularly today, though it’s had its ebbs and flows. My relationship with my father has ceased, my relationship with my mother is difficult and limited, though I hope for it to improve.

My childhood experiences have dramatically skewed my understanding of who God and Jesus are.

It has also impacted my capability to serve effectively in my local church, and lead in the workplace.

I regularly have to “check” my own behaviour, to reflect on the difference between “normal” life and the environment I grew up in.

If anything positive comes from the current conversations about domestic violence and the church, I really hope it’s that systems and programs are put in place so that children who are going through what I did can be identified and removed from abusive parents, plus action taken against churches that have been passive in response.

I can’t change my past, but I can change my future, and the future of others.

I want to hear more about successful interventions, of good news stories about the way the church is handling abuse: how they bring awareness and encouragement for others to get out of domestic violence situations.

I don’t want these stories to be vaulted away to the select few of church leadership under the guise of “reputation management”, but to be shared just as a missions or local homeless issue would be.

I want to the church to “put domestic abusers on notice” and actually follow up on their promise to do so.

Church leaders who argue about the statistics of domestic violence are, in my view, missing the point, as they are moving the focus and emphasis away from the central issue, to peripheral ones, that I’m confident future research will clarify.

A “0.5 per cent correction of a statistic” won’t prevent “eight-year-old me” suffering domestic violence.

If church leaders devoted more time to sharing the “good news stories” and developing practical outcomes for “eight-year-old me” as they do defending themselves by arguing about peripheral statistics and how they have been interpreted, perhaps I could take such points of argument seriously.

But right now, I can’t.

***

“James” is not his real name; we want to thank him for allowing us to repost his story here.

After ABC News recently published a series of articles on domestic violence and the Church, hundreds of Australians, including James, emailed ABC News to tell them about their own experiences of abuse.  The other stories can be found at Shattering the silence: Australians tell their stories of surviving domestic violence in the church.

See our male survivors tag for other stories from male survivors of domestic abuse.

5 Comments

  1. Helovesme

    Just wanted to thank you, “James” for speaking out and writing so eloquently. It has blessed and helped me, so please take that to heart. Will lift you all up in prayer.

    You shared so many good things that struck a chord with me. I’m so sorry for what you and your family members went through. I appreciate you noting that even though the physical abuse stopped, other abuses kicked up into higher gear. When will the church understand that other forms of abuse, not just physical, are just as valid and just as heinous? They may not leave bruises for the eyes to see, but if we have to “see” it to believe it, when why are we Christians? Our relationships with the Lord are based on faith, which cannot be “seen” with human eyes. Yet we throw all that out of the window when it comes to abuse?

    I too struggle with how I see the Lord because of my abusive past. But I am determined to move forward and see Him as He really is, not how He has been portrayed by believers who suffer from (I believe) a combo of ignorance and arrogance. I believe that if believers, church leaders as well, simply cry out to Him for understanding and wisdom in the area of abuse, He will listen and be faithful to answer. I don’t think it’s that complicated. Yet when churches and leaders have their own agendas, or simply won’t admit they’re not trained or qualified, or have little to no fear of the Lord (so twisting His Word is no biggie)—-He is pushed out the door, and pushed to a back burner. And people go on suffering, often in silence. When you don’t know who to trust, you stay silent. Speaking up may make things worse if you are not speaking to the right person with a true heart for the Lord.

    I did note that people did “try” to help you; you described it as “soft interventions.” I didn’t want to overlook that. I think we as Christians are too afraid to come off as “harsh” or “judgmental.” I am starting to realize that if we stand for His righteousness, and that DOES mean being firm, bold and saying “no more.” I understand the fear that comes from that. There is a price to pay. People WILL brand you as not being gracious or forgiving or long suffering. My answer? It’s His Word against yours, and I choose His Word over yours. Brand me however you like. The sheep are worth fighting for. They are His sheep, after all.

    “I regularly have to “check” my own behaviour, to reflect on the difference between “normal” life and the environment I grew up in.”: That is me as well. I can’t go into what I carried away from my abuse; it would take too long and it’s still painful to talk about. And it’s unfair. I wasn’t responsible for how I grew up, yet I carry the chains and bondage from it—and it’s my responsibility to not let those chains define me. But thanks be to the Lord, who is patient and kind and loving and understanding—-and a fantastic Potter. He has absolutely used every tear, every wound, every lie to glorify Him somehow. Or He will, b/c I am still a work in progress! There is still a lot to sort through. But if He hasn’t given up on me, I won’t either.

    I absolutely agree with you that the church as a whole needs to step up. Here in America, where I live, we are supposed to be “progressive” but in too many ways we are still living in the darkness. I’ve had so many terrible experiences that I often want to quit going to church, or trying to form bonds with believers. I don’t know how many times and in how many ways I can handle getting hurt or rejected or treated so insensitively. But He has never let me down. It’s all in His hands, and that is good enough for me. If He says I matter to Him, I matter. If I can’t find a group of believers or a church that agrees with that, I’m still safe in His arms.

  2. Intothelight1

    I stopped reading at where the victim [James’s mother] felt guilty about breaking her wedding vows.
    May I add
    The abuser violated and broke vows when the abuse started.
    Righteous anger is biblical
    Reading the violence that takes place behind closed doors makes me sick !!
    Also the deception the abuser displays in public ! Gag !
    It’s difficult to attend church, when I see the “wolves” do “their thing. ”
    I will now try to read the rest of this post and continue to take my stand against the evil around me.
    God is faithful ! to protect and provide for the abused when the survivor refuses to be a victim and trust God .. but walking by faith .
    Faith without action … is dead .

  3. Clockwork Angel

    James, I’m so sorry for what you have suffered! Sadly, having had a father much like yours, I know how you feel.

    I’ve been reflecting lately that so many “pro-life” Churches/Christians aren’t really pro-life. As soon as we are actually born intact, they don’t care what happens to us. All that matters after that point is keeping the institution of marriage intact, regardless of the welfare of the individuals (both victim spouse and children) within the institution. Children are nothing more than expendable sacrifices to be laid in the arms of this institution and lit on fire to “save” the “marriage”. Sounds like Molech worship, when you think about it.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of children being burned (including my younger self!).

  4. Seeing Clearly

    James, I appreciate your wisdom and courage to speak out in truth at a young age. I think, the earlier you are able to begin healing and repatterning your life in all aspects, the greater your chances of successful change.

    I am so sorry that you have been required, by an abusive father, to live in an extremely insecure environment. I don’t hear a lot about this, but I understand the security is a basic need for survival. Abusers in the home strip each family member of this basic need. Abusers are robbers, thieves, destroyers. So thankful you are alive to speak out.

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