Before I start this article I must tell you that I am a Christian woman who has walked with God almost 30 years and who loves Him with all of her heart. It is God Himself that is allowing me to find the courage to write about a sensitive issue that many people don’t want to talk about – Spousal Abuse in The Church. It's imperative for me to give my testimony because when ‘defensive people' review this subject, the accusation may be that my motive is trying to make the church look bad. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Just as it is in any family, even the strongest ones, there are issues that need to be dealt with. There are issues that lie below the surface. There are issues that even the leaders of the family are not comfortable dealing with. That's not the say that the family itself is a poor unit. It's to say that the family needs help.
Dealing with Spousal Abuse In The Church is an issue that many leaders, victims, and abusers themselves need help with.
This is such a taboo issue. I believe one of the reasons that many people are afraid to admit that spousal abuse does exist in the church. The reason why is because of this: People often tell people to run to God to get rid of your sinful life and to have a better one. My dear ones that’s true. Totally true. Only God can cleanse. Only Jesus can satisfy. Only he can heal.
Unfortunately, when many people finally get to the church, they run into an issue that God Himself as dealt with for years. Humans. We have a knack for leaning to our own understanding; understanding the scripture based on our culture and not the context in which it was written; being proud as to not want to admit that we are struggling; feeling the need to be bigger than who we are; feeling that God is behind everything we do instead of acknowledging him to find out if this is the road He wants us to take. I could go on and on.
One of the reasons people turn away from God is because they sometimes see that same issues in the church (issues that are NOT supposed to be there) that they saw when they were in sin. Then, they do what they felt (or were told) that they were supposed to do. Go to a church leader. However, image a person’s surprise when wrongdoers get validated the wronged get punished. After this happens so many times, people, then, believe that God is supporting the wrong. They feel hurt by whoever did the wrong to them, whoever punished them for the wrong and finding it hard to understand why God is allowing it.
One the wrongs I want to talk about is Domestic Abuse in the Church. To get a better understanding of what abuse is, feel free to read the article: Let’s Talk About What Abuse Is. It’s information is taken from The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Click here contact them, or call 1-800-799-7233 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
A Small Experience Dealing With Financial Abuse
I wanna talk about an experience that happened to me when I was much younger and in serious trouble in my marriage.
As I have mentioned in a previous article or two, my belief is that my husband’s feeling toward me when we were dating and newly married was more to the effect of infatuation. I believe that my husband admired me when we first met and he misconstrued those feelings for love. I believe my husband thought marrying me would give him the happily ever after that he, too, dreamed about. A life where his every dream would come true and he wouldn’t have to work at it, or anything for that matter.
However, nothing could have been farther from the truth.
If you have read my article on infatuation, that feeling comes in strong and powerful. However, it ends just as strongly as it came. Additionally, when you are infatuated with someone, you see what you want to see. You don’t see who the person really is. You see the fantasy that you’ve created around them. They don’t have their own dreams because their dreams are yours. They don’t have their own goals because their goals are yours. In your mind, they want what you want. Again, it’s immense fantasy.
However, no one told me or my husband about infatuation. When I protested some things that were happening while we were dating, the advice that I would often get from my church leaders or friends was, “You can help him.” Only two people out of several of our friends supported me breaking up with him.
My family wasn’t in agreement with the marriage but, sadly, they didn’t speak up at all.
Upon getting married, hubby was surprised at the amount of work that it took to be married and run a home. It totally went against his fantasy.
Although it came to a crash several times before, I want to share how I was received when I tried to tell a church leader what I was going through and how I felt:
In 2004, my husband and I had been married for nine years and neither one of us were happy or happy with one another. Without saying that the exact issue was, I will say that it was related to ‘financial abuse’. We faced a very serious financial issue that my husband was supposed to handle. By him not handling it, it almost forced our home into serious poverty. We had $5.00 in our bank account to our name in addition to two babies.
My husband, like me, was professing Christianity. Because of his action of pulling out of our marriage and refusing to provide for our home, I was very clear with him that I didn’t see him clear as a proper Christian man.
Hurt, angry, and frustrated I went to the only place that I knew to get advice. My congregation.
As I began to express that we were broke, how he was not, handling the financial situation correctly, and that I didn’t see him clearly, I was immediately cut off. The counselor immediately went to his defense. But this was nothing new. Many people, church leaders, friends, even some of my family often felt sorry for my husband. Because he knew how to play the victim well, this served his purpose quite successfully.
However, in my meeting with the church leader, I never actually got an opportunity to express what the issue really was. I was cut off about 1 minute in.
They said, “I don’t want you to tell him that you don’t see him clearly.”
They began to start advising me immediately about how I should be more supportive of my spouse. However, I was really desperate to get off all of the frustration that was in my heart.
As I kept trying to talk, they kept talking over me. They recognized that my spouse had immense low self-esteem, too, but what I was suffering paled in comparison. Then they shut me up completely with their next words.
They said, “You’re supposed to support him,” in a whiny, condensing, ‘you’re supposed to know better’ voice.
When I tried to get back in the conversation to express my heart (because it had now become a one-sided conversation), I said, “Can I say something?”
They responded, mostly demandingly, “No! When I finish!”
You could have slapped the taste out of my mouth. That was a statement from Richard Pryor.
Here I was, a young stay at home mother; my husband didn’t want me to work, he actually stopped me from taking a job a year prior; but, he didn’t want to work either; I was struggling and practically going out of my mind about how we’re going to feed the children, pay the rent, pay the utilities, etc. Only to be told to be patient with the hubby didn’t want to accept the responsibilities that he wanted (in other words, he’s the one who wanted the marriage); be treated harshly by a counselor who couldn’t/wouldn’t listen to how I felt because they knew so much more; and to be treated that I was less of a Christian because I felt weak, hurt, and devastated over my home life. I should have been bigger than this situation.
How Do You Know If You're Victimizing The Victim
- First of all, when a person comes to a counselor (any counselor) for advice, my most basic juvenile understanding is that the counselor is supposed to listen. How will you know what to counsel if you don’t listen? Pride makes you think ‘you know’, therefore, you don’t have to listen.
- Secondly, I still, to this day, do not understand in church settings how in the world does the oppressed continue to get oppressed, while the oppressor goes free. While continuing to oppress.
- Thirdly, if an oppressed wife (or an oppressed husband) should be spiritually stronger in said situations, how is it that we don’t hold the same correction on the actual oppressor? Why do we feel so sorry for them, while condemning the spouse who’s hurting for hurting?
- Finally, in addition to what I just said, how do we feel that we’re helping anything and anybody by victimizing the victim? How is it that we don’t see to see this concept?
If I’m not clear, let me give you some tips on how you may be victimizing the victim or abusing the abused again.
- You display positive feelings toward the abuser/controller
- You display pity feelings toward the abuser/controller
- You display negative feelings toward the victim, toward family, friends, or authorities trying to rescue/support them or win their release from an abusive situation
- Your support of the abuser’s reasons and behaviors. How many times have I heard a counselor say to a victim, “You must have done something.” “You must have said something that provoked them.” “Even if they are wrong, you have no reason to be wrong.” “I got the impression that it was YOU who was disrespectful.” “They must have been going through something,” “You need to try to understand how they were feeling,” How in the world does one get that impression? You know what I found? When that woman or child tries to stand up for themselves or express their feelings of anger, they are considered disrespectful or emotional. It’s funny to me who is considered disrespectful then.
- You’re only happy with the victim when they are keeping their mouth shut.
- Guilting and accusing the wife being disrespectful should she share with anyone who might help her regarding what’s going on behind closed doors. Because sharing what he’s doing in an effort to find help or something as stupid as compassion is actually worse for him than what’s she’s suffering. Right?????? Because we don’t want to ‘reveal’ what he’s doing. It will cause more harm than good for him.
- Most congregations are made up of predominately women. But their leaders are predominately male. Any clue who gets defended more??????
- Since forgiveness is a major part of the Christian life, the abused gets hidden behind the abuser's expectation to forgive.
- If women and children, who are the ones that are abused, speak out against their abusers and the ones who enabled them, they are the ones accused of disrespect, having a ‘bad spirit’, or having a lack of love issue. One of the reasons for this is because it’s the defense the enabler hides behind, instead of admitting that they made a mistake. Leaders don’t typically apologize for getting it wrong. Again, because it’s up the abused to ‘forgive’.
There Are Several Types of Spousal Abuse
Unfortunately, leadership in the church believe that anything else than physical abuse is not abuse. As far as sexual abuse/coercion and reproductive coercion, that's a couples (man's) God-given right to have sex and it's a couples job to repopulate. They fail to see the effects of the other types of spousal abuse.
How To Combat Domestic Violence In The Church
Abusers fail to find their identity in God. They cannot accept that they may be abandoned, hurt, or not respected by others, so they control the people around them to preserve their god-like identity. This means the abused cannot try to manage the situation. Trying to appease or avoid conflict won’t change the abusers’ real need to find their identity in Christ alone.
Abuse is a deliberate attempt to gain control. You don’t overcome abusive behavior, then, by focusing on self-esteem or anger management. Abusers aren’t sick; they’re clever and driven by a desire to control. This means the abused aren’t crazy or the ones to blame.
Awful things are often said about women who remain in abusive relationships. Instead of being one of those voices, let’s try to understand why a woman may find it hard to leave. Fear of more violence, fear for her children, fear of her own future—these often paralyze and produce a fog that distorts reality. Abusers work hard to isolate those they’re abusing by threatening, discrediting, or shaming them into thinking nobody will believe them. A wife may not necessarily hate her abusive husband; she just hates the abuse and wants it to stop. With all of his manipulative apologies, she believes he will change. And sadly, she hopes her suffering will achieve his redemption. It’s heinous to think she stays because she’s responsible for his behavior, or because she deserves the treatment she’s getting.
One of Satan’s greatest lies is getting you to believe you can remain unaffected by sin committed against you. The serpent wants you to keep quiet and not let the beauty of a risen Savior shape every part of your story. The church must learn how to give women back their voice so they can taste the wondrous reality of God’s redeeming work for them. We must let the gospel have the last word.
#WhyIStayed: How some churches support spousal abuse
#WhyIStayed. Abuse is not abuse. Many churches have created a distorted understanding of physical abuse that occurs within homes. It is defined as a “relationship” matter that should be addressed within the “church family”, instead of a criminal matter that should be handled by the authorities.
Domestic Abuse in the Church: A ‘Silent Epidemic’
Countless Christian women, including pastor's and minister's wives, are abused in some way every day. However, abuse isn't limited to just physical violence. Women also suffer verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands or partners.
Victims of domestic abuse in Christian families often feel they have no voice on this issue because of the church's failure to understand the prevalence of abuse.
“Unfortunately, in Christian marriages, we have a much greater frequency of domestic violence than we do in non-Christian homes,” Keyes explained.
Keyes said that women are not speaking up for several reasons.
“It brings on that shadow of shame and a lot of guilt and ‘I'm not going to do anything to rock the boat so I'll keep the secret in the context of the family,'” he said.
Keyes added that women stay because of finances or their children and that they often believe there is not a way out.
Dear Church: Its Time To Stop Enabling Abusive Men
The church is helping abusive men keep their wives trapped in hurtful marriages, but it has to stop. Because there are some things God hates MORE than divorce.
Enough is enough!
Jesus says there are “levels” of love and times when one loyalty must rise over another. Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue, it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.
Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, “This is over,” and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.
What Are The Beginning Steps To Help Victims of Domestic Abuse In The Church
The following is an example of how we should handle domestic abuse in the church
Caring for victims of emotional abuse
“In the pews of every church, including yours, are women who are victims of abuse,” 1wrote Brenda Branson and Paula Silva in their book, Pastor's Guide—Dealing with Domestic Violence.
“Emotional abuse is always a component of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, but it can also stand alone,” she says. “In all cases of abuse, the perpetrator uses intimidation, humiliation, isolation, and fear to diminish their victim's sense of self and sanity.”
Pastors can help men better understand their biblical role in marriage by providing balanced teaching on Ephesians 5:22-28, offering marriage classes and counseling and modeling a loving relationship with their wives.
Besides helping men understand their role as husbands, Silva says there are ways pastors can show compassion to victims of emotional abuse—and foster a compassionate atmosphere within the church:
- Validate her feelings.
- Listen to the victim's story.
- Provide a safe place for women and children in crisis. Provide wise counsel to victims that will not put her in more danger.
- Assess her level of safety, and if she is in danger, take action to help her get to a safe place.
- Refer the victim and abuser to a professional Christian counselor who is experienced with domestic violence issues.
- Educate yourself, your staff and your congregation on issues of domestic violence.
- Invite guest speakers to address the topic.
- Include a study on family violence and the prevention of violence in the adult Sunday school curriculum.
- Display brochures, newsletters, and information about domestic violence where others can easily access them.
- Offer support and unconditional love. Connect victims with support groups, prayer partners and provide ongoing emotional and practical support. Prepare to offer support and guidance for years, not days or months, even if the victim is receiving professional counseling.
- Confront the abuser in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17. Remove the individual from leadership or fellowship, as appropriate. However, the ultimate goal of confrontation, as emphasized in Galatians 6:1, is repentance and restoration.
- Along with loving confrontation, pastors should encourage the abuser to join a treatment program. An organization that can help is Life Skills International, found online at http://www.lifeskillsintl.org/. Founded by Paul Hegstrom, a former abuser, the program addresses abuse from a biblical perspective.
Men, women, and children caught in the cycle of emotional abuse need practical, emotional and spiritual support. Shouldn't pastors and churches volunteer for the front lines when it comes to addressing emotional abuse and other forms of domestic violence?
Victims want and need support from their churches. Take steps to make your church a safe place, where victims and their abusers can find grace, love, and healing.
Finally, here’s my two cents:
- Stop petting the abuser
- Learn what abuse really is
- Take spousal abuse seriously
- Learn about the effects of spousal abuse
- Stop making the abused feel trapped
- Provide help for those experiencing spousal abuse
Again, as I mentioned in a previous article, if there’s anyone reading this that is been abused and need help or a way out, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to their website, thehotline.org
To The Abused
Again, as I mentioned in above, if there’s anyone reading this that is been abused and need help or a way out, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to their website, thehotline.org. One thing that I found out is that there are Christian Psychologist out there ready to help you.
“Abuse doesn't stop until there is help. Until there is intervention.”
Let's stop spousal abuse, especially in the church.