A Cry For Justice

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

Churches must address adult abuse as well as child abuse – a guest post by Now Free

I thank God for the fantastic teachers I had at Bible college, past ministers long gone into glory, ministers who put real problems before us to think about and digest. I’ll never forget one of those old teachers telling us the ministry we were going to enter was a very precious ministry, but also a very painful ministry. “You will face things that, whatever you say or do, you will have people against you. Whatever you face, follow God and what He is telling you to do. Follow His word. Ensure your own conscience is clear with God, not with men. You will still receive great heartache and strong opposition, often feel no matter what way you turn, you can’t win, but ultimately you answer to God. You may be put out of churches or lose your ministry, but do the right thing, follow God and not man.”

I’ve never forgotten his words. We knew he had been there. This was not just talk, it was deep rooted from his own pastoral experiences.

My wise old boss once said, “The best way to learn is not from your own mistakes. It is by observing others and learning from their mistakes. You then, hopefully, ensure you don’t make the same and undergo the pain.”

In the pastoral ministries class, many of us, if not all, were in tears as he revealed “real” stories as scenarios, stories we knew were from his own experiences. Often, we cried together with him in class. It was such an eye opener and meant more, as we knew this was not textbook stuff, this actually happened. This was the real world!! After our time, we had “faced up to life”, at least in theory, and how we as God’s people should deal with things. Believe me, it did not make things easier in ministry, but it was often relied upon when I faced different dilemmas. I can only hope and pray I did what I feel Jesus would have done in everything. Only eternity will reveal all. At times, really thinking through the application of scriptures into real situations was a horrendous and difficult task. I believe, though, the class was very much all about training men and women to stand for truth and justice, rather than for a denomination or ministry for church growth. It is, after all, supposed to be God’s work, not our own.

I fear a lot of pastors have lost sight of that. The ministry has become more valuable than the ministering to. I saw in ministry how easy it was to cross the line of creating worship to “the worship or ministry”, rather than worshipping the creator and truly ministering. I have heard it often said, “But if we expose this sin (abuse), it may do damage to the work (ministry).”

I can only remember once seeing true discipline administered properly in a church. I had a lot of respect for that church, who challenged sin and harmful conduct. They had godly, strong leadership, and the members knew they could not just do as they liked regarding sin and conduct and get away with it. They were brought quickly to account, dealt with in love, and the church functioned well. Those who wanted to do their own thing or have control did not like that and left. The church remained solid in its teaching and practice, with good biblical teaching and standards.

In contrast, I knew another church who refused to discipline, and it gave rise to more problems between the members and the person who should have been disciplined. It caused more hurt in the end, and more damaged relations than if the church had acted correctly in the first place.

Good church discipline must involve genuine love and a time frame to see genuine repentance. Many abusers often show their true colours, if disciplined. Discipline does not bode well with their sense of entitlement, and often at some point their facade of genuine repentance will unravel.

There is such a desperation in some churches for leaders or people to be involved (especially smaller churches), sin is overlooked or covered up, including the sin of abuse. I’ve witnessed people come through the door a few times, share they did some preaching or were involved in their last church. Without any checks or scrutiny, they were suddenly delivering God’s word before the congregation. Over time, I’ve seen that work for a few churches, but on the whole, I’ve seen it destroy churches, as eventually the person was found to be controlling and abusive. The church acted unwisely and too quickly in desperation.

In a few cases, people were “planted” from other churches to take over a smaller congregation and bring their own extreme doctrines. In others, such people were power hungry and manipulative, seeking to eventually take over and press their own ideologies and agendas. If they didn’t get their way, a split occurred as they left with many of the congregation.

Strong leadership is necessary for good godly discipline. However, I’ve found sound teaching must accompany good leadership for a church to function well and administer that discipline correctly.

There should always be a period of proving yourself. Abuse, if not dealt with correctly, will eventually bring destruction. If the leadership allows manipulating abusers to continue unchecked, or congregations allow leaders who are abusive and controlling unchecked, those fellowships may have some mode of function, but it will eventually bring further destruction.

Secular work situations have time periods to prove a good workman, why should the church be of lesser respect? Secular work situations have warnings and rules to be adhered to, discipline given even to the point of dismissal if wrong conduct has happened. The church and its leaders should be operating to an even higher respect than the world. Where are our standards?? Cover ups of unrepentant sin do not and will not work. The truth sets you free!

I remember attending a seminar series. One weekend of the series dealt with listening, with the idea saying nothing, just listening, should be the first thing in any counselling session. Nothing else; definitely no admonishment or instruction. Pastors are all too quick to express their opinions or agendas than truly listen, including letting a victim vent if he/she needs to. Venting is release of much pent-up emotion and pain that has been bottled up and kept under wraps for their own safety and out of fear. All that must come out before you can even begin to pour in healing from God’s word to help in those areas.

The second weekend of teaching was to listen, but only after listening properly can you give encouragement. After listening intently, getting hold of the truth of the real problem, it is only then time to “put an arm round” (not literally) someone’s deep problem, and be there for them and start building them up. Nothing more. No criticism, no questioning, or cross examination.

The third weekend of the series was exhortation. Only after the first two criteria were met should we exhort, a time to challenge and exhort into action. Helping them see the scriptures in their situation and how to take action and make moves for better change. The order should never be confused, but all too many so-called Christian pastors who are ill equipped jump in right away to challenge and say what they think, rather than properly listening first.

In all the failings I’ve heard reported here on ACFJ regarding pastors / leaders and families, I do not think once I’ve read that anyone truly took time to listen, let alone encourage. However, there was plenty of exhortation, and it brought more damage many of us are still trying to recover from.

To me, the church on the whole does not counsel in any way near in the way it should, perhaps due to lack of education and training. This lack is something I think all denominations need to ensure is addressed. More and more we need top quality counsellors in our churches. Ones who listen and understand the problems faced by people today. I was once told more and more pastors today are not getting time to concentrate on the ministry of the word, as so much time through the week is given to counselling and dealing with pastoral problems. In this person’s opinion, from some time ago, churches needed to re-address and have appointed full time Christian counsellors, as church leaders were often not well equipped, and only trained in biblical scholarship. As a result, many were going crazy under the stress of the sheer volume of problems the church was facing.

A two-pronged approach is needed for ministry education. 1) Upcoming pastors trained by the various colleges most closely linked to churches need up-to-date training (meaning lecturers keeping brushed up and curriculums changed or adapted), and 2) a retraining approach of pastors already in existence who will not be going through seminary or college training. It’s approaching it from both sides. If the law says you need child abuse policies, etc. then churches need to update their own training. In some areas, it’s left to individual churches what their policy is, but it must include certain things, and must have people give training that are registered with the authorities. Some churches will adapt accordingly and some be far better than others. Some training is updated each year, but is mainly aimed at prevention and reporting. I’ve yet to see anything regarding how the church would help survivors, there’s virtually nothing in most church policies to help those still in church and families who are surviving. We cannot just leave that to authorities, there must be help in the church. Pastors need to be not just providers of the flock (food), they must realise they are also to be protectors of the flock.

The church cannot truly operate as the body of Christ on earth, if it’s not acting in keeping with the word of Christ and with the heart of Christ and in the spirit of Christ! There’s so much more to shepherding a flock than just speaking words to a sheep, or caring for them with a few nice words and I’ll pray for you.

I had absolutely no one except God, so with a prayer of desperation I sought the net, found ACFJ and Barbara and started for the first time in years getting specific answers to my situation.

The results from a pastor interfering – damaged emotions, spirit broken, confusion, deep hurt and pain, little to no self esteem, loss of ministries, friends, church, but hallelujah NOT LOST GOD!!!, ever true to His word. It took well into my marriage to be totally convinced I needed out. With the added confusion, another period of lengthy time to a stage of moving away in my head, another time period of sheer hell every day after my pastor and his wife put me away quietly, and yet ANOTHER lengthy time of not knowing who I would come home to, not knowing minute by minute who I lived with, with ever increasing threats and living in fear. I took the step to contact Barb, and it took more time to eventually break free. Pastors, you have no idea of the struggle we face and the pain we have endured!! I say to you do not add to it!! Be very sure before you act on God’s behalf!

No set of circumstances is the same. Each person is an individual with unique situations they face. There are no black and white situations, but loads of grey ones, with plenty of complications. However, in abuse situations, there are many non-negotiables and it would do a church well to make them one of the traits and practices of the church. Just as we have child abuse policies, we need to go one further and have policies for adult and domestic abuse.

God’s character and attributes are not to be dismissed when reading His word. I am ever reminded the trinity is in operation upon the God breathed inspirational word as Timothy puts it in 1 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture is God breathed and useful for ……”

God the Father revealing His spoken word out of His heart via mouth involving His breath and vocals – Christ the Son of God is the word (logos) become flesh and God the Holy Spirit as the breath of God, (the pneuma) all in operation. When God speaks, the trinity is always in operation. When Christ or the Holy Spirit speaks, the same trinity is operating. God cannot be separated from Himself or His word. Just as we live and breath and our words involve our hearts and our breath and we cannot be separated from ourselves, God is the same. We must interpret His word with the same spirit, knowing God’s heart and character and thinking, what would Jesus do and listening to God the Holy Spirit as He reveals God in His word.

More emphasis is made on church building than church character building. I’d rather have a smaller church filled with godly encouragement and love than a multi-functioning church like a shopping mall, but full of critical silence and hypocrisy. Is this why there’s so much damage to God’s people? Pastors and leaders ministering in denial, walking in pride and fear and defensive, opting for the “easy way out”. Getting rid of marriage problems, trouble makers or someone that’s too risky for church to have about by brushing under carpets, covering up or simple prayer.

Pastors take note – we need more than the prayer of faith and a bit of bible study. Your “sheep” deserve your very best you can give them. If you need reinforcements, go get them.

Woe unto them I say – God is very much against them if they do not take a stand for the oppressed.

There’s a serious lack of education and training in most churches. Too many pastors are ill equipped, and instead of passing it on to experts, try with disaster to undertake in their own strength. Lethal operations take place every day in churches, as leaders make decisions that kill the mind, body and spirit. In the Latina ladies article here at ACFJ, Evaliz made it clear it was the law of the land to report regarding abuse, and the church needs to operate within the law and report matters to the law. Let law matters be dealt with by the law and people who are trained and qualified to deal with it.

Stop couples counselling as the be all and end all of marriage problems. After each session, abuse may be intensified. Pastors need to be aware of this: Some victims and survivors may have been through counselling over many years, only to be more confused as the pastor does not “get it or get me!”

I do not believe Christ on judgment day will be in the least bit interested in how big your church is or how fantastic your programs. He never was interested in that on earth; what possesses us to think things will be different then? He was a people person! I think He will more likely ask about what you did about Mrs. so-and-so when she was at the end of her tether with life over her constant beating and brow beating by Mr. so-and-so. How did you protect her and her children? I think these are more what the Christ I know and love will be interested in. I still see Him rush to Mary’s aid, and defence of children, widows, blind, the lepers and oppressed! Defending Mary, who’s sister was trying to build a better home, a better surrounding for Christ. Work, work, work, but Christ wanted devotion. He is interested in people, not empires. Interested in the church as people, not the church as a mere ministry or work. He is the Lord God; He is not going to change! The sooner we get hold of this in the church the better. Pastors what is your priority? Or should I say, who is your priority??

I’m glad the voice here at ACFJ calls “a spade a spade”. Many people don’t like those who are like that, but though I sometimes do not like the abrupt, sometimes wrong nature, I’ve always said at least I know where I stand with that person. There may be no airs or graces with them, but there is no hidden agenda behind the scenes. They are what they are with no facade. I’m sure Barb and others here would only hope for the day such a site was not needed, as churches take up each case so well. In the meantime, we will speak up and share for the sake of each other and in the hope that the true church changes to serve Christ on earth, rather than their own agendas.

God IS LOVE! God IS TRUTH!! We must act in love; we must act in keeping with truth.

***

An example of church training can be found in Child Safety Training – by Ps Jimmy Hinton, the son of a pedophile pastor.

An example of updating education about trauma and recovery can be found in Wound Healing. Make sure you read the comments on that post too as they add more detail about how to facilitate the healing of wounds.

For those who don’t know, Now Free is a Christian man who has suffered abuse from his (now ex) wife. If you are following this blog you will have probably seen his comments on various posts.

26 Comments

  1. Krikit

    Great post, thank you!

  2. Helovesme

    Oh, goodness. SO MUCH of this post rang bells with me! It was good to read this person’s story and hear the admonishment and encouragement.

    For a long time, I’ve been using a Bible commentary to help me dig and understand the Word more. It has helped me very much in understanding the Gospel, history and context. And without a doubt, I think that many churches/pastors preach the Gospel message faithfully.

    BUT, this source intensely advocates complementarianism. I am reading Genesis, and he really laid on that horrible narrative on thick. It triggered me badly, but sadly it’s no surprise to read such things.

    Such persons make it clear that the Lord saves men and women equally. No “separate but equal” crosses for each gender. There is no distinction in Him—His foundation is NOT about hierarchy.

    IMO, the Gospel is all about relationships. First and foremost, and most importantly, restoring our relationship with Him. That took drastic action from our Savior. Being born again in Him is a drastic change—-it changes everything for us, in this life and for the next.

    How does that NOT translate in drastically changing how we view, conduct ourselves and relate to each other? And yes, that includes marriage, which is one the most intimate ways two people can engage in.

    And how can one faithfully preach the Word in its purity, but then turn around and claim certain things that seem to contradict that very Gospel? Something is not right.

    IMO, complementarianism paints marriage as more of a business relationship. One is the employer, and the other is the employee. One leads, the other follows.

    If such persons want to paint that view of marriage as a reflection of our relationships with the Lord, that is the LAST way I would ever describe how I relate to the Lord. He is much more to me than my “Employer.”

    JUST last night, I was telling my spouse that when the Lord has challenged me to step out in faith, take risks and display what might be called “leadership” qualities or “asserting authority”—-it has almost never gone well with me. The Lord was asking me to be bold and brave—-and challenge the norms around me.

    Sure, women can be brave and bold for the Lord—-but only where it doesn’t make others uncomfortable? Not true! God’s not like that.

    Bear in mind that men, in general, might not like being rebuked or challenged. But in some or many cases—-they REALLY don’t like it when a women does it. Whether in word or in deed, if I did that—-it did NOT go well with me. So I understand what what this post means—-walk with the Lord, and likely you will experience forms of backlash.

    The need for church discipline is real. My understanding is that it’s the victims that receive the heavy hand in this area—-so I wonder if churches are not against discipline—-they just don’t know what the heck they are doing. They aren’t consulting the Lord, they are consulting their agendas. And look at the destruction that follows!

    “Many abusers often show their true colours, if disciplined.” YES! If you challenge an abuser, more than likely you will see their carefully crafted disguises start to unravel. They cannot stand the feeling or experience of being controlled or told what to do. They think they are the ones who have the right to do that to others, but never towards themselves!

    Bear in mind that an abuser is wearing the “costume” of a good man, good father, good Christian. If you say things that “strain” at their metaphorical “stitches,” that costume will reveal, bit by bit, what they are covering up.

    I’m a big believer in doing background checks for those that want to lead, serve, teach or preach in churches. It’s not at all being “tough” on others. Frankly, it’s good old fashioned common sense. And the Bible, while it is based on a God who is mysterious and way above our heads—-it doesn’t ever tell us to do away with using the minds He gave us. So I am SO glad this post made that clear.

    “Where are our standards??” Okay—this is a WONDERFUL question for all of us. I have asked myself, and others around me—-where do you draw the line? How far does a person have to go in mistreating others before you say—-that’s enough. You’ve crossed a line and now you need to face real consequences.

    Wait a moment—do you not have ANY lines drawn? Do you keep moving the line further and further for this person or persons? Then, when are they ever held accountable? Are you going to accept excuse after excuse for sinfulness, so that you can avoid any potential backlash? If you behave that way—-it seems that no one is ever guilty of any sin, because every form of a cheap, flimsy justification offered, you accept!

    I thought the counseling seminar he described was a good start. I’m not a professional, so I can’t say anymore more—-but LISTENING is a dang good thing to stress, first and foremost. In my current trials, the last persons I would turn to are believers. And that is my main complaint—-they simply don’t listen to what I’m saying. If I’m not listened to, I’m not taken seriously. If you don’t take my pain seriously, you’re of no use to me. Even if you have “good intentions,” they should be followed through with loving actions, or else something is wrong. And because of that, I’m offered some of worst forms of “advice” you can imagine.

    This applied heavily when it came to a loved one we lost. Recently we passed the [number redacted] year anniversary of his passing, and by far it was the least “stressful” one, because I chose to keep my lip zipped about it.

    It is sad that in order to be safe and protected, you have to keep your guard up pretty high. You have to insulate yourselves from the very people you love or care for, because although they mean something to you—-you cannot trust them. It is terrible to be praying to the Lord: God, keep them away from me. They may be my family or church family, but they’re toxic, dangerous, and not interested in treating me as an equal.

    I also pretty much refuse to speak of my abuse to any professing believer at this point, for the same or similar reasons. These are my pearls. Do not treat them with disrespect.

    By the way—we victims have every right to hold onto our pearls and only give them away when we choose to, freely. In the ridiculous argument that we are commanded to trust those that have hurt us—-I answer back—-that these are my pearls, not yours. The only One I trust with them is the Lord Himself, and whoever else I deem worthy to give them to. No one is allowed free and unlimited access to them, and no one is entitled to them.

    “We cannot just leave that to authorities, there must be help in the church.” I agree with that. Report the abuse to the proper authorities (STOP trying to handle it “in house!”) but don’t abandon the victims. Update your training, and don’t be afraid to admit that things need to change. How else can you serve and protect the flock, without some form of guidelines?

    “Pastors, you have no idea of the struggle we face and the pain we have endured!! I say to you do not add to it!! Be very sure before you act on God’s behalf!”

    Oh, goodness this applies to abusive situations SO much, but also in so many other areas too. Suffering souls are fragile—handle them gently! Christians have faith in the Lord, but faith does NOT make us invincible! We need those around us to be tender hearted and gentle with us.

    Remember my losing a loved one. I can’t tell you how many MORE burdens were put on me right after and nonstop since, which shocked the dickens out of me. How cruel can people be? I had no idea how much I would despise the answers.

    By the way, I’ve been foolishly guilty of not helping others as He intended. My recent trials, though painful, have warned and reminded me of my own stupidity in the past. You don’t have to be a pastor to be ignorant and/or arrogant when it comes to ministering to others.

    “No set of circumstances is the same. Each person is an individual with unique situations they face. There are no black and white situations, but loads of grey ones, with plenty of complications.”

    Oh goodness—I wish I could hug this writer. My abuse had some unique flavors to it, so I don’t think I fit into a specific mold. But abuse is abuse—and my story may be unique, but it’s real and it is mine. Just because I don’t “fit” the exact notions and narratives of abuse doesn’t mean that my abuse isn’t just as serious as anyone else’s. I’m living proof that abuse leaves scabs and scars that never completely go away. You can argue with my circumstances. You should not argue with my pain.

    “Is this why there’s so much damage to God’s people? Pastors and leaders ministering in denial, walking in pride and fear and defensive, opting for the “easy way out”.

    I hope it’s okay to actually answer the question. The answer, unequivocally, is YES. Again, it doesn’t just happen in churches. Wherever you are vulnerable and/or targeted, there is an opportunity to ruin or seriously damage lives.

    ” I do not believe Christ on judgment day will be in the least bit interested in how big your church is or how fantastic your programs. He never was interested in that on earth; what possesses us to think things will be different then?”

    I spoke to my spouse along these lines last night. God is NOT just “one of the boys” or approves of “boys clubs” (where men cover up abuse for each other, for example), and He doesn’t say “boys will be boys” when it comes to males behaving badly. Actually, God doesn’t even HAVE a gender. He walked the Earth as a man, but that is not because He favors men over women. He shows no favoritism, and He means it.

    If ANYONE really thinks that God is going to overlook how we treat each other, or specifically—how men treat women and children—because He is just “one of the guys,” then we don’t understand the Gospel AT ALL. It doesn’t matter if you have a stack of supposed “good works” as high as you can imagine. If you claim to be a believer, yet you treat people as though they are nothing but your minions—-expendable and disposable for some “higher” cause—-I would shudder at facing Him. I would not want to be there to hear what He would say to such persons.

    If one claims to be a believer, you must despise lies and falsehoods like He does. Remember He said the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. He’s [the devil] the father of lies, a murderer from the beginning. Those are things we need to be AGAINST. If that is not understood, then I would suggest you seek Him, and ask Him to give you His heart.

    If you’re not interested in His heart, then you are not really interested in being a believer—-you just want to wear the “name tag” of a believer, and you are self-deceived.

    By the way, I understand how compassion doesn’t come easily. It is a work of Him in us. Admiring compassionate persons is NOT the same as being one. You can admire Jesus’s heart all you want, from a distance, but that is NOT what being a believer is about.

    “I’m glad the voice here at ACFJ calls “a spade a spade.” I agree. For me, Barb can be trusted in a way that I might not be able to trust others. I am fairly certain she says what she means and doesn’t play games or engage in mind tricks. I am also very glad this writer found this site when they needed it so badly!

    I do not know (nor do I care) if this writer is a man or a woman. But what was described in the home—the fear, the uncertainty, the backlash from leadership or other respected persons—-THAT rings true with me, and for so many others. It is good to hear that he or she lost so much, went through so much—-but clung to the Solid Rock that He is.

    In all my sufferings, I knew I might backslide or drift away from Him—-it happens. I didn’t want that to happen, because He was all I had and also, He had everything I needed. But so easily we can turn away from that One thing we can’t live without when we suffer. I will say that He was clinging to me harder than I’d realized—-so I wasn’t alone in trying to keep my grip firm on Him. He is ever faithful and true to His Word!

    [Details redacted for protection. Editors.]

    • Thank you, Helovesme. Your comment warmed my heart. There were so many gems in it that I won’t try to enumerate them all, but this one in particular really struck me:

      These are my pearls. Do not treat them with disrespect.

      By the way—we victims have every right to hold onto our pearls and only give them away when we choose to, freely. In the ridiculous argument that we are commanded to trust those that have hurt us—-I answer back—-that these are my pearls, not yours. The only One I trust with them is the Lord Himself, and whoever else I deem worthy to give them to. No one is allowed free and unlimited access to them, and no one is entitled to them.

    • Finding Answers

      Helovesme commented “Oh goodness—I wish I could hug this writer. My abuse had some unique flavors to it, so I don’t think I fit into a specific mold. But abuse is abuse—and my story may be unique, but it’s real and it is mine. Just because I don’t “fit” the exact notions and narratives of abuse doesn’t mean that my abuse isn’t just as serious as anyone else’s. I’m living proof that abuse leaves scabs and scars that never completely go away. You can argue with my circumstances. You should not argue with my pain.”

      Yes and Amen.

      Thank you, Helovesme, for putting into words what I seem to struggle to find.

      • Helovesme

        Thank you to those who left such kind words in response to my comment. It truly was an answer to prayer to encourage others.

        I am blessed to put some of my own feelings and struggles, both past and present—into words—which is quite cathartic.

        I don’t like the idea of “hiding” per say, but on this blog it’s very helpful to be anonymous. I can share details that I would not able to do on Facebook or other forms of communication.

        When praying for those on this site, I don’t need anyone’s real names! The Lord knows exactly who each one of us are by name, and every bit of our pain as well.

  3. jonahzsong

    Thank you.
    L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .

    • Hi jonahzsong, let me offer you a belated welcome to the blog! I see this is your third comment but I didn’t welcome you before.

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you might like to look at our FAQ page.

    • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

      Thank you everyone.
      Helovesme what a fantastic response and so full of encouragement.
      Hoping and praying that things change that may help someone and prevent the horrendous spiritual abuse that exists in many churches.

      I read today in the news an article that even the press are pushing for change to laws and court systems that will greatly help victims to be heard correctly.

      The time is ripe for leaders to step up and seek change in fellowships and denominations. If this post even prevents one from going through what many of us have here at ACFJ it will have been worth shouting about.

      Praying a new wave of justice and, as you rightly put it, good common sense rolls in upon evangelical shores.

      Enough is enough – keep on speaking up for many – the many voices who cannot.

  4. Kind of Anonymous

    Watching right now, the Leah Remini series on Scientology and reading this post. What’s interesting is that they are also talking about JW’s and about how they apply the two witness rule to allegations of abuse. As the discussion went on, what struck me is that the way these cults are applying scripture and what they are doing and not doing with church discipline is NO DIFFERENT than what one typically would see in your average Baptist or Pentecostal, or otherwise evangelical etc, church when situations involving abuse arise! No different than what has been described on this blog in terms of unjust church responses and twisted applications of scripture.

    Their mishandling of scripture and church discipline is virtually identical as well as their cover ups and mishandling of serious sin situations. One woman clearly described going to her elders and being told that her abuse was her fault because she was nagging her husband, and then she was read the scripture about it being better for a man to live in the corner of a housetop than with a contentious wife. The participants basically described being told that their chances of heaven were jeopardized if they didn’t remain married, if they took their abuser to court or divorced or went against their congregations.

    The effect of church teaching on them was to lead them to believe that anytime something bad happened to them, it must be their fault because they had sinned and so it affected their ability to have mercy and compassion on others for the same reason, as well as themselves. I still struggle, in spite of all I have read, to answer for myself, how abusive does it have to be before its bad enough to justify in God’s eyes, ending a marriage? Probably for some of the same reasons delineated on this program.

    • I still struggle, in spite of all I have read, to answer for myself, how abusive does it have to be before its bad enough to justify in God’s eyes, ending a marriage?

      I don’t think you are unusual in having that struggle!

      Here are two of our FAQs that you might find helpful:
      Am I in a difficult Christian marriage or an abusive marriage?
      Suffering is ‘blessed’ – so should I just put up with being abused?

      And here are a couple of posts you might find helpful:
      Defining domestic abuse by a list of behaviors is never going to capture it
      Does the victim recognize the abusive patterns? Yes, and no. And then, by degrees, YES!

    • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

      In my case, if I had been given the two elder discipline rule, it would have meant someone was listening to me. That was not on the agenda, only to ‘sort me’ out for my lack of love for my wife and to halt any thoughts of divorce.

      If I had been afforded a hearing, I believe things would have been much different. As it is, the church was never told the truth. That alone hurts me deeply, as it makes out like after many years of faithful support, both prayerfully and financially, since a child and through ministry, that I have slapped them up the face with a sudden abandonment.

      I cannot describe how deeply hurt I’ve been and the secondary abuse affected me deeper than I ever thought it actually had.

      Enough is enough, I never bothered asking my church anything or getting into anything re my situation. I had done all alone at home, with Barb’s help here and in private. I had no intention ever of consulting them for I already knew the mixed messages would have flowed again that kept me years in the fog of confusion and indecision. This time I was doing it for me and no one else! It’s the best decision I ever made bar trusting Christ as my Lord and Saviour.

      I am praying ears are unstopped and that the scales will fall off eyes to reveal truth that will touch hearts and that will bring a will for love and justice.

    • Helovesme

      That statement: “how abusive does it have to be before its bad enough to justify in God’s eyes” meant so much to me.

      My abuser was my father, so I wouldn’t have the question of ending a marriage as you brought up. I have absolutely wondered how far he had to go before God considered his actions as “sinful.”

      It may seem obvious to some (when it is and isn’t abuse), but for many there is real confusion there. When does the Lord say to someone: “enough is enough?” Where does HE draw the line?

      I’ve dealt with many persons that I now believe are what I would label as “abusive.” I stop short at calling them abusers—–I would only label someone as an abuser if the Lord moved on my heart to do so.

      Most of them are professing Christians. They were not intimate relationships (i.e. marriage), but they were family members and so-called close friends. I looked up to them as well.

      The abusive situations left me feeling used, treated cheaply and treated unfairly. I carried around an intense false sense of inferiority. I also felt manipulated and I often struggled to make sense of what was even going on. It also caused me immense stress, trying to cope.

      I was a people pleaser for many years. I had a hard time saying “no” to people. I feared the consequences and the potential negative reactions. I had a hard time standing up for myself, and I had an ever harder time setting healthy boundaries.

      I came out of a terrible childhood. I badly wanted to belong, fit in and feel loved and approved of. My dad had never given me anything like that. So I was hungry, desperate and quite needy for all those things. The Lord Himself gave me plenty of it and more, but I also wanted those things from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

      But these sorts of struggles can open the door for abusers, or abusive persons to come into your life and work their “magic” to get what they want out of you. What they believe they are entitled to. They know just how to pull and tug at your “strings” (like a puppet) to get certain results out of you. The prospect (or fear) of being abandoned, or disapproved of is so strong—I would often trade my dignity rather than face the potential of being cut off.

      The “what ifs” are strong in this lifestyle. Being left alone, unloved and unwanted—is what I once thought was the worst thing that could happen to me.

      Maybe that doesn’t seem very harsh—possibly not even abusive. Perhaps they are better labeled as “unhealthy relationships?” One sided relationships?

      I guarantee you that it absolutely is abusive. I now believe that I was what I call a “spiritual prostitute.” Only I was very foolish and believed that I was loved and respected in return. I had no idea I was “hiring” myself out to others as a way to get “paid” being loved in return.

      For them—-I now think they saw it as little more than convenience for themselves. A better analogy might be your boyfriend telling you he loves you, but he just said that so you would sleep with him. Throw in that he seemed quite sincere. Maybe he deceived himself into thinking he really did love you. But you believed him, thinking he meant it and that this relationship was for real.

      By the way, the context I speak of is giving. I would try to serve and bless to give to people. because I believed that is what believers do. That is true, by the way. It is one the best and most wonderful ways to love others. To this day, I haven’t given up on that.

      You can tell a LOT about others in how they react WHEN you muster up the courage to say “no.” It’s amazing how grown persons will revert to childish ways when they don’t get their way. Much like abusers—-who cannot handle being told “no” and react viciously when you dare to set limits.

      Back to the original question! How bad did it have to get before I put my foot down and say—this is abusive. You have no right to treat me this way. I am a person, and you were not put on this earth to be served by me. Nor was I put on this earth to serve you! I was put on this world to serve the Living God, and news flash: you and Him are not on equal ground. You’re not even in the same arena as Him!

      I was very guilty of idolizing these people. I gave them so much power over me. It often blinded me to what was really going on, and who they really were. Extracting myself from that self-imposed burden has been (still is) a LONG road. I am so ashamed at times, as if I am dirty and damaged by being such a doormat. I let others walk all over me with their shoes, and how much dirt I collected over the years is quite high.

      I encourage anyone and everyone to let the Lord open doors to give and serve and bless others. Ask Him to give you His heart for loving people. But right after that, ask Him to help you to learn to say “no” to them. It is 100% loving to say “no” to others. In fact, if you don’t say “no” to people, I question whether or not you really love them at all. Because I faltered in this area, I often question how deep my love went for these people. A fear-based relationship is not Biblical in any way. Perfect love drives out fear.

      I think I feared them more than I loved them. I also made the HUGE error in judgement that what pleases people also pleases God. NOT TRUE. In fact, many times it’s the exact opposite.

      I also didn’t realize that what is pleasing to people isn’t AS pleasing to God as we might think. Christians often highly prize certain things to the point of idolization. Not so with the Lord. Those in the church that idolize marriage are missing the heart of the Lord. Marriage is important, but it is not ALL important. The persons within the marriage mean far more to Him than the actual marriage itself.

      You might [hear] responses like: You should just give and give and expect nothing in return. It’s selfish to believe otherwise.

      I got sucked into that argument, It’s a clever one, too. My answer is this: giving to others is a selfless act. It’s a wonderful feeling, by the way—-to give because it is a joy to give.

      But a recipient should be held to the same standard. It’s selfish on their part to expect to receive and receive as if they are deserving of it all.

      This is how God’s grace is often manipulated and twisted to enable and/or endorse abuse. The moment someone thinks they deserve His grace, you’ve tainted it. It is given freely, but it is not given to the proud (James 4:6)

      One of the tactics I fell for was how I responded to their hurt feelings. It instinctively caused me to feel bad and feel sorry for them. It took me years to realize that that may have been a form of manipulation. In hindsight, much of their statements about hurt feelings or sensitivity didn’t add up. Again, you are NOT necessarily sinning when others don’t agree with your decisions, or they are offended by them.

      If there is anything that has worn me down the most from all of this—-it is the lies. Ones I was told, ones I told myself, and the ones I believed—-which were many.

      Abuse is based on lies. When the lies piled up to a certain point—the Lord said ENOUGH. Get rid of these people. They are toxic and dangerous. Doesn’t matter who they are.

      I was deceived for so long that if He was trying to warn me sooner, I must not have listened. But when He says ENOUGH—-believe Him. I paid a dear price for believing Him, but it was worth it.

      And guess what—I AM alone for the most part. When you stop giving in to people, don’t be surprised if they act as though you don’t exist. So, my previous fears somewhat came true.

      But it was NOT the worst thing to happen, as I originally believed. Being without the Lord is the worst thing that could happen to me. I would not be able to cope with the amount of hurt and pain this has dealt me, apart from Him. And He, unlike people, doesn’t leave you in the dust when you “displease” Him.

      • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

        For me it was “enough is enough” when I realised I was writing dark songs re suicide and realised how drained and mentally tired I had become. The gradual wearing away of my personality and happiness due to persistent and increasing abuse. I felt I was dead inside already. The real me was so suppressed that this scared me into saying “enough is enough”. I knew I was at the end of my tether and mentally breaking down fast. I had no more fight in me. It was now or never. The next morning I contacted a solicitor/lawyer to ask for advice and begin some sort of proceedings towards divorce.

        I had tried many times before to break away, but well meaning family and pastors had not really listened and said too much, giving opinions and forcing me to rethink. Keeping me under relentless mental and emotional abuse that I knew I needed away from. I was clear in my mind and heart, but pressures from others brought much confusion. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there is hope and I just need to trust and pray harder for change. The line had to be drawn or I was not going to live. Although I felt dead, I really knew deep inside I was alive and screaming “get me out of here!” I obliged “my real me” and set him free. 🙂

        Enough is enough – when I had an enlightening moment after something Barb had said in a comment here. It suddenly dawned on me, I had been taking on board so much false guilt, and even though I knew I was not at fault, I was still blaming myself and questioning myself over and over. That day a phrase kept going through my mind as I was chatting with a work colleague. ”No guilt, no shame for I am not to blame!” I started to think upon that and in the light of who I am in Christ, I suddenly realised enough was enough. I was no longer going to accept any blame of any sort or any accusations, nor feel guilty or let someone else pile on guilt for something I did not do. Not any more would I stand for that. I took control of my thoughts and my feelings and brought them under my control. Enough was enough. I was no longer listening to satan’s lies.

        Only a few weeks ago I felt I had been struggling far too long with the affects of spiritual abuse. I was struggling to speak of spiritual things, listen to worship music, read scripture or pray, let alone sing or do anything close to what I used to do. It was really hurting me inside. Every day I suffered from a broken spirit and mourned the loss of my world as it was before. Everything that was good just had so many triggers and extreme pain. In some ways it still is difficult, but I got so fed up being trapped and feeling so restricted. The deep pain of betrayal and loss should not be my ultimate feelings. How dare satan, and even my pastor who said I was cursed, say such false things!! I am not prepared to take these accusations. I am now rejecting them. I did then too, but I never knew the damaging effect it had on me. I have on another comment recently explained my breakthrough. I just said enough is enough. I’ve let this man’s (pastor) words and actions haunt me, just as my wife’s have done the same. I had to, just as I did with her, break out from under this “spellbound” curse and unwarranted betrayal and abuse. I had recognised it for what it was many times, but I had not taken authority in Jesus name over it. I needed to make a firm stand, something I should have done face to face, but for some reason (perhaps shock) I stood numb and lost.

        No more rubbish – I had fallen back into receiving abuse from a recent relationship I had to break free from. They had really stepped over the mark and I again said, “enough is enough. I cannot let this person speak or treat me like this. I am not going back to those trappings. Those days are gone for me. I will not let another do to me what I’ve struggled for years to overcome.”

        I must not let this damnation of spiritual abuse from my pastor, that stemmed from false doctrine, ruin my life anymore. I so wanted to be the spiritual man I once was. I knew I needed to break this chain that is binding me. It has bound me up too long and I’m really hurting. Enough of this abusive sin affecting me. I was so angry. Angry not at myself, but at those who had put me under this terrible “spell”. Angry at satan who was using it to keep me down and silent. I was no longer going to let these hurts take control of me. I had forgiven the spiritual abuse a long, long time ago, but the pain remained. It still does, but day by day I am taking my life back as God leads and guides and gives me strength.

        So that spiritual abuse was named and shamed. It was strongly rebuked. It was firmly renounced as wrong and sinful and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ only Son of the Most High God I took hold of the authority I have in Him and took back another part of my life. Enough is enough. I guess the fight is coming back in me. This is God dealing with me, healing and recovering me in His time.

        To those of you who have gone through the terrible, sinful and wrong actions and words of christian leaders, my heart goes out to you. I do not want to hear of any more, therefore, I felt I had to do some shouting. I had to take some kind of stand. I needed to speak up for often our voices are silent or low because of what we are going through.

        God will bring you through. Do not let these sinful experiences embitter you, or turn you away from God. My dad said something very poignant to me when I was a young man in ministry. He said, “Too many people criticise Christians and lose their faith in God, or will not become even a Christian because of the way Christians have sinned and behaved so badly. The problem is many look to men as their example of Christianity. We must not look at man. Men fail. Men make mistakes. If you want to stay strong get your eyes off man! Instead fix your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not let the inexcusable failings of Christians sway you off track. You keep your eyes on Jesus!”

        This is my prayer for you all. The pain of betrayal and loss is very real, but it most certainly is not to be our driving force. Enough is enough. We may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can change our position.

    • I’m posting this comment on behalf of a reader, to protect her identity. She wrote:

      “…how abusive does it have to be before its bad enough to justify in God’s eyes, ending a marriage?”
      I believe the key to knowing the answer in each individual case, is being able to hear God and hear His will for you. That is so very difficult when there are so many voices (family, friends, church leaders etc) condemning divorce for any reason other than infidelity – and sometimes, for some that’s not enough. I couldn’t believe it when I finally had proof of infidelity (thinking at the time that it was the only biblical ground for leaving my abusive husband) and I gave myself the freedom to consider separation and I heard God saying YES! DO IT! I wonder how long He had been saying that to me but I couldn’t/wouldn’t hear Him over all the rubbish being spouted around me….

      • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

        For me it was the imbalanced teaching over my lifetime. I was always taught that for a good marriage to work, you must take time to forgive and really put the effort in and work at it. No one ever taught that in an abusive relationship, it would not matter how much you gave that the other half would take, demand more and still belittle, berate and abuse. No one ever taught that spending your life pouring in every effort to maintain an abusive marriage would in the end drain you and even destroy you mentally, emotionally and physically. No one ever said to me that in those cases where abuse exists, work not on the marriage, for it is futile, but instead work hard on your plan to break free from under that oppressive and destructive regime.

        The sheer sense of marital duty, the heavy enforcement of keeping vows made before God, and the constant belief of 1 Corinthians 13 that says “love holds no record of wrongs” kept me strongly tied, especially in the early years. I just thought I need to work at this and it is just early marital jitters. Keep working away giving all you can, loving and serving, always forgiving, taking each day as totally new and make the past forgotten.

        It wore me out and left me weak and drained and very confused. Why was God not answering my prayers? Why is it that I have done my very best to please; to treat with respect even in the midst of a tirade of verbal abuse and I am still deeply unhappy and feeling God is not keeping His promises to me? What have I done to be here enduring this? What more can I do to make things better? So you walk on eggshells, you slave cleaning and cooking, anything to make things easier and less pressure on the other half. Maybe this will relieve the mental pressure she is under and make married life better?

        I worked at that marriage hard, but it was impossible to please someone who sees you as a threat and as their slave. You cannot continue to give of your all and be destroyed at the flick of a switch. I never knew who was home. minute after minute the nightmare of dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a very real reality. However, your dreams and your ambitions for a beautiful loving relationship were dashed to pieces daily as you slaved to make things better.

        The lack of teaching regarding this, coupled with the heavy pressure of working to save and make a good marriage only served to keep me trapped. It was like being caught in a spider’s web and that spider was sucking the very life out of me as it had bound me with ever increasing spins of silky thread. I struggled and could see no way of release, even when in my heart and gut I knew this was most definitely not what God intended for me.

        The voices from family, church, friends were only the outer voices. I had many inner voices to deal with too, in my battle to make sense and find a way to be free.

        In the end, I realised only one voice matters as you rightly say – God’s.

      • Helovesme

        I first wanted to say that Now Free (Formerly Struggling To Be Free) wrote beautifully. I probably won’t be able to retain all the details of all that was said, but I could feel the honest pain and desperation come through. That may seem like a small thing, but putting into words what you’ve experienced is not easy. It’s also not easy to communicate them to others.

        I gave it some real thought and drew upon the abuse I experienced from my father, as well as very troubling interactions with professing Christians.

        Even in looking back, I don’t know where my father crossed the line. When did parental discipline become abuse? And how many times did it have to occur before I could say that there was a serious problem, not just a momentary lapse of judgment on his part?

        In the church as a whole, I do not think we have clear parameters set, either. This is why I think I’ve read so many testimonies where the abused was told things like: Sorry, your abuse allegations aren’t serous enough for us to take action on your behalf. Or, it wasn’t physical, so it’s not really abuse. Or, okay you have a bruise, but it only happened once. Or, okay you have more bruises, but we can’t prove that your abuser had malicious intent in hurting you.

        In America, in the secular realm, we’ve had real challenges in this as well. When women step forward and make claims—-there are a myriad of opinions and armchair experts trying to come to conclusions. Putting aside the incredible depths of ignorance and arrogance one might hear, one thing still stands out to me.

        In BOTH realms, secular and spiritual—no one seems to know the difference between what is normal, and what is not when it comes to human relations. How we should and should not relate to each other, and where the lines have been crossed. And there IS a difference.

        For example, it’s normal to feel tired. Our bodies are frail and need rest. I wouldn’t recommend running to a doctor as if something was seriously wrong. It is NOT normal to constantly feel tired no matter what. Something may be wrong, and a doctor’s consultation might be in order.

        In and out of the church, I fear we are or have already become desensitized to abuse in all its horrible forms. For example, the stats in America for girls and women being sexually assaulted are very high. I am fearful that these horrors are becoming “normalized,” meaning that when a victim comes forward, we now shrug and say—-well, it happens to nearly everyone these days. No point in getting worked up about it.

        Christians might try to add—-well, this is what happens when God isn’t at the center of your life. This is what happens when you don’t have a two parent household. This is what happens when we lose sight of family values and traditional parenting methods. It’s so sad, but what are going to do?

        It’s also becoming normal to blame the victim—-again, in and out of the church. No one blinks at the amount of deception, false narratives and false information put out there. These are seen as “tactics” to protecting the church body, the church as an institution—–much in the way that it works with political figures. The “game plan” is to deny, deny and deny—-and do as much “spin control” as possible. Enough to confuse the general public, and even better if they can swing public opinion in their favor.

        Even as non Christian, I KNEW what was going on in my home wasn’t normal. I saw other parents interact with their kids, and it wasn’t at all what I knew. But it was all I knew, so it WAS my idea of normal. It’s very difficult to try to explain that. It became my normal, because admitting to myself otherwise didn’t help me to cope with the abuse.

        There was also nothing I could do about it—-in admitting that this wasn’t normal. I could tell myself that until I was blue in the face—but I couldn’t think of any options to actually do anything about it.

        When I DID move out of that house and became a believer, I felt a bit of freedom to express how badly I was hurting. But, since I hail from a region of the world where women aren’t treated very well in general—-I had trouble trying to get others around me to take my abuse seriously. To THEM—it was “normal” that a man from that area from the world acted that way. They didn’t seem to understand that abuse does NOT fall under the realm of “cultural norms.”

        I am married. Both my husband and I did not grow up around healthy marriages. Make no mistake, that we struggled (and still are) to figure out what IS and IS NOT normal in a Biblical marriage. Neither of us were taught, and it wasn’t demonstrated to us, either.

        I recall trying to read an article that so infuriated me that I refused to read any further past a certain point. He was insinuating that abuse isn’t as rampant or as serious because most women claim they feel “safe” at home a certain percentage of the time. It was a high percentage, but his brazen attitude pushed my buttons.

        It is 100% abnormal for a spouse to NOT feel 100% safe in his or her home. Not 99%, not 99.9%. No spouse should ever feel or experience real fear with the person she lives with. The fact that this author was trying to dumb it down meant he understood little to nothing about—-well, frankly anything of significance.

        It’s normal for couples to argue. There might be seasons of real difficulty or stress. Couples DO say hurtful things to each other. There can be times in which one or both spouses feels miserable or even unhappy because they are not connecting or even getting along.

        I must stress that this does NOT describe an abusive home. An abusive home is full of hopelessness and despair. Now Free (Formerly Struggling To Be Free) described that sort of thing incredibly well. I could really pick up on how horrible things were. And that is NOT NORMAL.

        Here is one last thing I thought about as to why it may take a long time to realize that the abuse has gone too far, or that the victim has had enough.

        In the testimonies I’ve read or listened to—-from my recollection—ALL of the victims took their marriages very seriously. This is why I get especially upset if they are accused of looking for an “out” when they choose to separate or leave for good. That is such a fear tactic, and a shaming technique as well.

        Of all people who took their marriages seriously, it was the abused. The abusers, usually from the very start, never took the covenant seriously and never planned to.

        I used to hear this in the secular realm: once is enough (regarding abuse). It doesn’t need to get worse (and you don’t need to believe that it will get better) for a victim to want to get out. One episode of abuse is more than anyone should have to endure. In fact, you should never be abused—period! The attitude is that there is no set number of abusive episodes before you say “enough.” Once WAS enough.

        But for believers, we were probably not taught that, or were encouraged to think that way.This is why I believe it might take years for the realization of abuse to set in. And then, questions like this start coming at you:

        Why didn’t you just leave? Or, why didn’t you see what was really going on? Or, how could you not see the abnormalities? Was that really your view of a healthy marriage?

        That is only IF you are believed, and questions like that are rather insulting. But if you are NOT believed, the questions will be far more offensive and disparaging.

        Here is what I try to explain regarding my dad, as well as others who treated me abusively:

        I didn’t have a crystal ball that could tell me the future. That would tell me that the abuse wasn’t going to stop, it was just going to escalate. That would tell me that I was going to be deceived (does ANYONE really know something like that ahead of time?)

        Does anyone know, in the thick of it, that they are being deceived by the ONE person they thought they could trust—their spouse? Or in my case, my Daddy. In those other cases, family members who professed Christ, and fellow believers who professed the same.

        Those are my thoughts on why it’s hard to discern what is nearly impossible to discern—ON OUR OWN. With the Lord, it IS possible. IMO, it’s the only way. It is proof positive that God hates abuse, because (IMO) He will work for years to try to reach the abused, and rescue them. And He doesn’t stop there—He will work just as hard to bring healing and make sure we know we are safe in His arms.

        THAT is normal to Him—-to reach the oppressed and rebuke the oppressor. Not so normal in the church, or out of the church. But it is 100% normal to Him, and 100% abnormal to Him when those that profess His name do otherwise.

      • Krikit

        Great clarity in your explanation, excellent.

  5. TS00

    So many of these comments break my heart. I cannot help but wonder if what is often called ‘abuse’ is not just good, old-fashioned sin? Okay, probably not so ‘good’. Is it possible, at least in part, that the reason why pastors and churches so often deal inappropriately with abuse, is because they, and we, have bought into inadequate definitions of sin, marriage and divorce, along with other biblical terms and concepts?

    I have wondered, over the last several years, if I am in an ‘abusive’ marriage; or simply a dysfunctional one. I suppose the answer would vary, depending on whom you asked. The point I would like to make, and I am not sure if I know how, is that I believe it is the false teachings on marriage and divorce in the Institutional Church that many times turn a merely dysfunctional marriage into a more dangerously abusive marriage.

    I increasingly suspect that much of the very real suffering that is taking place in the marriages of believers stems from the ‘for better or worse’ philosophy, or you might call it the ‘Once married, always married’ myth. Such thinking, elevated to the place of doctrine in most churches, opens the door to abuse, small and great. If ‘Divorce is never an option’, what incentive is there to rein in one’s own typical selfishness, pride and other inevitable temptations to sin? What encouragement exists to seek healing of whatever particular relational baggage one brings into a marriage, if one believes ‘he/she is stuck with me, for better or worse’? Note, I am not talking about more severely abusive situations, but the ‘typical’ less than happy marriage.

    For some, particularly men, the main incentive to ‘be nice’ to a spouse is sex. When it does not go exactly as they wish, they may feel as if they have been cheated or ‘defrauded’. It is not helpful that such terminology is commonly used in some so-called ‘christian’ arenas, such as within Gothardism and other courtship models.

    This disappointment turned into anger can set up a cycle, in which a man attempts to be whatever he has been taught a ‘christian husband’ is supposed to look like, or a woman attempts to be whatever she has been taught a ‘christian wife’ is supposed to look like, yet their expectations are repeatedly unmet. When both are pursuing this path of works righteousness, what happens when the perfect marriage and endless bliss never appear as promised? I suspect many of the stories told here reflect the sort of damage incurred from being long immersed in fairy tales.

    Add into this mix the sort of cheap grace that is so frequently sold at the local Mega-church, and you have people who are simply trying to put on ‘christian’ masks, rather than ones who are filled with the Spirit of God, seriously striving to become more like Christ. Or, as has been more my experience, go to the other end of the spectrum and look under the hood of the legalistic, fundamentalist machine and you will see many who have been misled into thinking the more rules you follow, the more ‘righteous’ you become – exactly where the sheep of Jesus’ day were.

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I look at all the suggestions for more training or programs for churches, I see red flags for legalism, and more deeply hidden, cleverly justified abuse; because, in my personal opinion, abuse is really just a lack of love, for God and for others.

    My former pastor was a ‘terrible counselor’, as some of his faithful elders even acknowledged. Pretty much every person or couple he counseled ended up worse off, divorced and/or leaving the faith. What, at its heart, does that really imply? Did the man simply lack sufficient skills, knowledge or training? (But hey, he could preach a pretty sermon!) Would some class or seminar make up for his lack of skill, and transform him into an expert who could understood and help with the myriad of personal issues real people have?

    Or is it possible that the carnage left in the wake of his counseling was the result of his own personal lack of being filled with the Spirit of God? Oh, I know, one mustn’t judge. And we are supposed to assume that all ‘Pastors’ and elders are sincere, Spirit-filled men of God. But what about when they are not?

    What if, rather than listen, hear and love people out of a deep heart for God, they simply spew out all of the doctrines and tropes their heads have been filled with at seminary, or through the latest TGC or Lifeway podcast, book or video? What if, rather than being called to be sacrificial shepherds, they are pumped about being part of the triumphant ‘Kingdom of God’, assisted by their obviously superior life and effort?

    Again, I am not talking so much about dangerously abusive marriages, although, in reality, all abuse is dangerous. If any person is assaulting another physically, sexually, verbally or in any other manner, I honestly don’t think they need ‘permission’ from a pastor or anyone else to seek a place of safety and healing. Nor would I look to any pastor or church official to provide the ‘solution’ or assistance that such people need.

    In many cases, victims of any sort of abuse are better off seeking the secular assistance that exists. These institutions have been trained to offer assistance to needy, hurting people, without the conflicting agenda of ‘protecting their ministry’. The last place I personally would suggest an abuse victim going is to an individual pastor or elder, unless one knows him or her intimately.

    But what about the more numerous cases in which, frankly, the marriage is simply dysfunctional? Or, cases in which one or more spouse does not have a genuine, ongoing relationship with the living God? Their only incentive to do what is right is whatever they can get out of the relationship, and perhaps the desire to keep intact whatever ‘christian’ image they seek to portray.

    Sadly, in many, many marriages there is no shared respect or compassion, no mutual vision or encouragement. Even if both parties are politely civil, they may still have what might be called an empty or dead marriage. The shell is there, and both parties might be fulfilling what they view as their ‘role’, but there is no heart. That is the sort of marriage I am most familiar with. And the sort that the historical Institutional Church has insisted is ‘forever’.

    I would suggest, from personal experience, that in such ‘dead’ marriages, when ‘divorce is not an option’, once again, the door to potential abuse is opened. The hopelessness, bitterness and repeated disappointment in such relationships can lead to a subconscious desire to hurt or wound the party who has so wounded you. If complementarianism or patriarchy is part of the mix, the husband will find plenty of support or justification for ‘sanctifying’ his wife. The poor little woman is weak, easily deceived – obviously she needs a stronger hand, a little assistance to get her back on track. Obviously the problem in the marriage is her unwillingness to submit to her God-given authority. And we all know how to fix that.

    My situation may be unique, I don’t know. It took me a long while to sort through all of my questions, but eventually I realized that ‘Till death do us part’, although God’s ideal, was not part of his Law. The scriptures concerning divorce have been terribly mangled and distorted. For me, hope was reborn the day I had the courage to believe, once again, in the heart of God, and began to study the scriptures for myself.

    Would God deliberately consign a man or woman to a lifetime of abuse; or despair, if the abuse wasn’t ‘severe enough’ to earn one the elders’ consent to escape? Was God really just about some sort of agenda; kingdom building or getting enough ‘glory’, as I so often heard? Or, as I once naively believed, did God truly, personally, deeply care about me as an individual? Was he a severe, controlling tyrant, or a gracious, loving Father with arms open wide?

    I say, with much joy, that I once again firmly believe in the deeply personal, abundant love of God for the individual. Any institution, whether it is a marriage or a ‘church’ exists only for the sake of the individuals within it, to build them up, protect them and equip them to be the loving, giving servants of the loving, giving God.

    This faith in the goodness, mercy and unfailing love of God gave to me the hope, peace and courage to believe in life again. I remain in my marriage, at this point; but the sting of its emptiness is not so great, and the knowledge that God does not require me to be enslaved, no matter how great the agony might become, has been a great, healing balm.

    I realize that I have the ‘luck’ to simply have a dysfunctional marriage, and not a violent or severely abusive one. What abuse did occur was nipped in the bud when my spouse realized I would no longer put up with it, but felt totally free to leave should I choose to do so. Funny how that works. Instead of fright, fear or anger, I had a newfound confidence in my own value as a human being, and in my right to be treated with honor and respect.

    I still have a lot of questions. I do not know what my future holds. I constantly fight against self-pity, or angst about what ‘might have been’. I find it best to avoid Hollywood idealizations. But I do know that God is good. I have found the courage to stand up against false teaching and abusive religious doctrines that have been invented by men, rather than God. My desire is to help and encourage the faith of others in God, and to support their refusal to be bound by abusive or dysfunctional marriages and/or churches.

    Perhaps there is a place for ‘reforming’ dysfunctional marriages and churches, when the issues are merely ones of ignorance and poor training. I tend to believe these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. What is not genuine cannot be ‘reformed’. The insistence in always believing the best, the false hope that enough knowledge and effort can solve any problem, were, for me, more chains than channels of healing.

    There is no sin or dishonor in walking away from people who do not treat you with respect or live out the truth of God’s gracious, merciful compassion and justice.

    • Thank you SO much TS00 for this excellent comment! I agree with all the points you made. And I’m rejoicing with you about this part of what you said: “I say, with much joy, that I once again firmly believe in the deeply personal, abundant love of God for the individual. Any institution, whether it is a marriage or a ‘church’ exists only for the sake of the individuals within it, to build them up, protect them and equip them to be the loving, giving servants of the loving, giving God.”

      You are not unusual and you are not alone. Many of our readers have wondered the same things you have wondered. Many if not most of our readers have been uncertain about whether their marriage is actually an abusive marriage or whether some lesser term would best describe it.

      Here are some of our pages that I think you might like to explore:

      How can I identify and abuser?

      What does the Bible say about divorce? That page has a link to a post titled ‘How my mind has changed’. In that post I explain how my mind changed about the extent to which church leaders have the right to decide whether a particular individual can divorce their spouse and whether they have the right to veto and overrule an individual’s choice to get a divorce.

      What about sexual abuse in marriage?

      Sorry I took so long to publish your comment. It was very well written, but my brain has been overloaded with things that are going on in other parts of my life and in the last few days I’ve not been able to apply myself to the task of moderating comments as much as I would have liked to.

  6. Gany T.

    He Loves Me (Dec. 2) – This is beautiful. A lovely, deeper explanation and examples of the “simple,” profound truth that God is love.

  7. Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

    Thank you, helovesme, for adding so much to these very important matters.

    Totally agree with your statement “In the church as a whole, I do not think we have clear parameters set, either. This is why I think I’ve read so many testimonies where the abused was told things like: ……”

    Your following list brought tears rolling down my cheeks, for I have heard so many of them and recently had to pull up a female colleague when an abusive matter was being discussed for saying the same. I was so disgusted and just had to on two occasions say, “Be thankful then your husband is not like this, because, by your response, it is obvious you don’t know anything about this.” I went on, in front of others, to make it abundantly clear why people “seemingly” stay and struggle for years to break free.

    No bigger knife has cut my heart than the words “Well if it was really that bad, why did you stay so long? it couldn’t have been all that bad. If it’s that bad you just get out!”

    I had a close friend who knew my situation and said that constantly – “Stop being a doormat, grow a set of (balls) and just get out!” Yet never once did that friend want me to talk about anything, they just knew enough to know my pain. They also were in a similar situation not married but couldn’t do the same even for their civil partnership. How people seem to somehow distance themselves is crazy. Words that still as I write have tears rolling down my eyes.

    Oh my heart bleeds and weeps tonight. When I hear that kind of thing I say “Oh how lucky you are never to realise the reality and truth of real abuse.” But where I used to skulk off and weep somewhere private, now I fly off the handle and challenge it with the truth. I am done with messing about. Another ‘Enough is enough’ moment. 🙂

    I have had those damning statements from family, friends, and nothing is worse. I would actually say they hurt as much as the verbal accusations from the abusers. I have no doubt in my mind I would put those hurts on a par, in fact perhaps even a greater par, with the abuse itself.

    I say that, for they are still happening (ongoing secondary verbal abuse), and also they are often coming from people who really should know better. I also say it because the words from my abuser no longer exist only in my memory, but I knew them as abusers. Yes they still hurt. Yes they still have, sadly for me, deep lasting consequences. I have lost everything. However, such a comment cuts so deep from people who I know are not persistent abusers, but are just ignorant. Those people don’t hold as much hurt for me because it is ignorance. I can see through it although I feel I must correct it or at least give a little insight into that world.

    The sad thing is though, I’ve had that from people who were told plenty of the circumstances and the trapped feelings and who still turned and berated (abused – let’s not mess about it is what it is) and still said “Well, if it was that bad, why didn’t you just get out!”
    A bit rich coming from people who I had told plenty to, cried many times to them for help, could see me going rapidly downhill and struggling from drowning in the sea of despair. Of course, they tend to tell you all this years later don’t they!! Although in my family’s case they told me often. People who kept trying their best to keep me in the same situation because “God hates divorce” and “Oh just you remember your vows” ….views that nearly killed me.

    Now they scream, “Well if you had it that bad why didn’t you get out!”

    And I scream (and I mean scream) back now at them, “Because you were one of the ones who tried your hardest to keep me in such a situation!”

    On a few occasions actually telling my abuser I did not mean it I was leaving and just to sit tight and keep working at marriage with some advice tips- eugghh. To think that after 5 years I could have been free, and even after 8 when these things happened and it was another 10 years of mad struggle. Oh yeah I could have got out, but others kept shoving me back into that “ring!” Fight on – marriage has to be worked at etc etc.

    Then to be told, when I did have the courage to say enough is enough and I didn’t care what church or family or anyone say, I am out of here for my sanity and life’s sake… I got this….
    “Oh but if we only knew how bad it was ?????”
    Aaagghhhhhghhhhhh
    I just say aaaaaaaggghhhh!!!

    Bottom line in all of this is as I said to my mum who let slip a few weeks back over something abusive. She said “I just feel for the poor guy who is so frustrated at seeing the abuse and just doesn’t know what to do to help.”
    Still being extremely aloof with me and my situation.
    I leaned over and very bluntly just said, “You want to know the biggest thing you can do to help!!!
    Just listen to us!!!!”

    This is the biggest problem of all. No trying to philosophise or accuse or whatever – couldn’t you just shake some people and say “Would you just shut up! And listen to me please!!”

    That was my biggest problem, but you can bet I’m no longer staying silent. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak up as Ecclesistes 3 tells us. Maybe it’s time to speak up a bit louder??

    • Helovesme

      I thought this might bless and encourage the readers here. When I am hurting and struggling and feel as though I am failing in my walk with Him, or in my marriage—-I need to remember things like this:

      The Lord’s love for us is truly beyond words. When we try to break it down to understand what it is and isn’t like—we can easily make plenty of errors.

      It’s imperative that we correct any errors. God’s love is supposed to be central for a Biblical marriage. If one or both partners is confused or misled about His love—it can create a lot of problems.

      Twenty years ago, I was a fairly new believer. I “got” that I didn’t have to earn His love by being obedient, but I didn’t understand where obeying His Word stepped in. Which was it?

      A pastor gave a wonderful example to explain. I will prob bungle some of the details since it was so long ago.

      She said their young son needed accountability for his homework or doing his chores. So they made a chart so they could keep track. There were maybe “check marks” to indicate what he had completed.

      One day, her husband heard their son calling for help—either he had fell down or had been pushed down.

      This is the best part: She said, when he heard his son cry, do you REALLY think that he went to that chart first to see if all his chores were checked off, before running to his side?

      Do you REALLY think that is how love works—-that he would only run to his son, ONLY if he had been sufficiently obedient?

      No way. He bolted out that door faster than you can imagine! Chart or no chart, no amount or lack of “check marks” would stop him.

      The chart was not never meant as a way to measure how their child would be loved. It was meant as way to measure his growth in being responsible.

      This is where I think we get confused concerning God’s love. Obeying Him is crucial, but when you cry out to Him, He doesn’t respond based on your level (or lack) of obedience!

      I know what it’s like to be told: I’ll love you once you are more lovable. Less difficult and willful. When you are submissive enough in my eyes, then I will love you. Maybe.

      In that understandable desire to be loved, a spouse can fall for that manipulation. We want their love so bad, we are willing to submit ourselves to exhaustion. To the point where we are not individuals, we are mindless robots—“programmed” to be on our best behavior and promote that image at all costs.

      • Finding Answers

        […..Insert appropriate missing words for ^^THAT!!……..]

      • Gany T.

        THIS^ Yes, THAT is how God loves His children…and even that is our frail, limited, human experience and explanation of love. His love for His children is unfathomable.

      • I love that illustration. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. 🙂

    • Helovesme

      And here is another one that I fall back on. I have spent much prayer time in tears, trying to understand WHY professing Christians behave in ways that Christ would absolutely oppose.

      Most of the persons I’ve listened to about submission have been men. It is incredibly strange to me, because they are often faithful in preaching the Gospel in its true form.

      But when it comes to gender roles and issues—it’s like they go “off script.”

      I cannot understand how they can speak so well and so passionately about God’s plan for salvation—-which is all about Him restoring our complete and utter lost relationship with Him by dying for us.

      And it’s an “equal opportunity” salvation. No one is left out, and no one is “more or less” saved under Him.

      How does that NOT apply to relationships between one another? Transforming and restoring them to what He always intended?

      Why do they revert back to old stereotypes, cultural or environmental or even personal ideas about men and women? All under such labels as “traditional family values” or “the ideal family” or whatever sounds good to the ears.

      My very personal opinion why that happens is quite simple. The reality that He made a way for salvation in Him is wonderful.

      The reality, however, of what that salvation MEANS in how you think and live out that new life in Him—-is NOT so wonderful. Particularly in how we are now commanded to treat one another, which the Bible lays out in so uncertain terms.

      Remember that Paul was hated in particular because He insistently preached that Gentiles were included in God’s plan for salvation. That was simply unacceptable to those who were perfectly content to treat Gentiles as less worthy or deserving of anything the Lord had to offer.

      He even stood up to his own brethren as described in Galatians, not because he was trying to cause a rumble, but because the Gospel was at stake.

      How we treat each other means EVERYTHING to the Lord. This applies to how we treat Him (the first commandment) and then how we treat others (the 2nd commandment).

      Who ISN’T on board with loving the Lord? Look what He did for us. But the 2nd commandment—-well, let’s be more choosy and cautious in what exactly that means (and doesn’t mean).

      And in how we treat others—-take your pick of gender or ethnic group or whatever—there seem to be different standards applied. We simply won’t accept that God says to treat them as equals, not as inferiors.

      I am deeply convicted of sin whenever the Lord reminds me of this: a believer cannot claim to follow the first commandment, but shrink back on following the second one. You cannot claim to love the Lord, and it does not translate into loving others as He does.

      It works in reverse. You cannot claim to follow the second commandment, and claim that the first one is not as crucial. There is no way you can follow the second commandment apart from Him. You cannot love others without His love abiding in you.

      Both commandments work together; they don’t function separately. “Second” does not mean secondary in His eyes. Just as women were created “second” does not make us “secondary” in His eyes!

      This has been a huge blessing to me in dealing with my own personal abuse. I ask, not demand, that I be treated as a real person, not above or below anyone. I am not expendable. Disposable. His love would never endorse that, and neither should anyone else.

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