Stop Enabling Abusers

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To share your story ‘the only rule is to pray, love people, & seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit’  I am sharing this with this hope..The holy Spirit has been speaking to me on this issue for awhile now.

Today as I share with you, I am tired and a little disillusioned.  As a victims advocate with a christian agency.  I want to share a concern I have with victim blaming.

I recently read an article about Bill O’Rielly regarding his sexual misconduct.  He first blamed the media, but now he is blaming God.

“You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at him,” O’Reilly said on the latest episode of his web series, “No Spin News.” “I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him.”

 Actually, he’s mad at a “God” he made up because God doesn’t insulate sexual predators from the consequences of their actions.  He once allegedly assaulted his now ex-wife by dragging her by the neck down a staircase — in front of their young daughter.  The disturbing charges came out during a child custody battle in Nassau County Supreme Court with a judge reportedly granting McPhilmy sole custody of their two children.
I am more than a little tired of men feeling like the victim when they have a pattern of abuse.  Woman on the other hand feel guilt and self-condemnation which has deterred them from making a decision about leaving their abusive husbands. These are women that are not what the world would call “innocent victims,” because in some way they have fallen short of what people think a good wife should be like, so they in turn believe they are unable to seek a divorce. But just as abusers are not stereotypical, victims do not always look like victims.
One of the biggest problems is, we have bought into the world view on this issue.  Most of us have watched movies about what an abuser looks like, generally portrayed as the beer-drinking, lower socioeconomic bully who gets drunk, comes home and terrorizes his family by beating his wife and children. We have also seen (thanks to Hollywood) the other extreme, a well-dressed, professional, wealthy, and powerful abuser who uses intimidation and fear to control his wife and family. But what has been neatly presented to us by popular media is too stereotyped: abusers come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds and a variety of professions.

Here’s where I’m trying hard to land: to let go of the world’s standard, because too many women are stuck in abusive harmful marriages, because they are shamed into staying.  We need to come alongside these women praying for their marriages and helping both parties seek help.  Men need to come alongside the men and admonish abusive behavior and hold them accountable for their sin.  We need to stop giving men a pass, just because they are men.

Stereotypes also tell us the victims are portrayed as either timid, submissive housewives who married right out of high school, or as attractive, outgoing women who got bamboozled by a charming rich guy. Both of these types of victims exist, and I am in no way dismissing that their struggle isn’t real and valid. But here I am going to talk about what Hollywood does not present because it would be harder for people to sympathize with these victims. I am going to tell you my story.

I was married, I was born-again, to a (self-proclaimed) Christian man who did not drink, smoke, take drugs, or chase women. He is well educated, was just out of bible college, a little geeky, funny, and loves to be the center of attention. And he is an abuser. He is a teacher that attends church regularly and appears to be a good family man. And he is an abuser. When I met my husband-to-be, I had low self-esteem and little hope for the future. I was just abandoned by my first husband and had three small children, no job, no money.  Because we had chosen to home school the children and I would be a stay at home mom. I was completely vulnerable, I had no family (i separated from my family at 17, because of abuse and drug use on their part) except my children.  No one to rely on for help.

Into my life walks a man who pays attention to me, makes me laugh, and takes me to nice restaurants. Say’s all the right things.  He brings us groceries and generally was a life saver.  He doesn’t try to take advantage of me, and my children love him because he is fun and attentive. So, because we were best friends for several years and everyone at the bible college were sure we would be married, and I was in love with him, so, I married him.

After we were married, I lived with constant contention and fear of retaliation if I said something he didn’t like. As too many women know, the abuse consisted of so much more. But I was dealing with a lot of hurt in my own heart. I felt a lot of disgrace because I was divorced. The stigma of being a divorced women was huge, and I carried the weight of that shame into my second marriage.  Setting me up for further abuse.

Socially, I am out going and can talk easily to people. I am adventurous and fun-loving. My husband often referred to me as feisty, and it is true –I am not a meek and quiet woman. I also have a very sarcastic tongue. I was sexually abused as a small child, and as a result, I had a warped view of men and the world.

My husband towards the end of our marriage developed a habit of using pornography, which piled horror on top of the abuse. The men who abused me as a child and into my teens exposed me to pornography at an early age of about four/five. Much of my anger towards my husband stemmed from this embarrassment and self-hatred that I was exposed to, this recalled repressed memories for me.  I could not get my husband to stop, in fact he had demanded that I never bring it up again or else.  I felt more alone and afraid, because I could not handle this situation without freaking out and the enemy had me convinced I was in a dire situation where he would ultimately hurt me like the men before him.  I feared for my life.  I know that sounds unrealistic and dramatic, but when you have been systematically abuse from 4/5 to teen years with no emotional support, to me pornography was the reason…  All I knew was pornography equals hurt and violence.

I remembered a time when my daughter walked in on him screaming at me with his 6’4” body, threatening me with his finger in my face, punching walls, kicking furniture and becoming out of control.  This was before a special event, we had planned to go to a yale/harvard football game (something I wanted to do since I was a child), she would bring this up repeatedly, because she was horrified by the incident.  It was this along with the pornography, that I had the courage to finally leave him. I left without warning while he was at work.  Not my best work.

As is the rule with most domestic violence abusers, my husband did not change and the abuse continued. When we made attempts at reconciliation, I would come up and stay the weekend with him, but the anger and yelling continued, so I stopped coming back.   I desired reconciliation through counseling and pastor accountability not divorce…That was his choice.

We do not “deserve” to be hit, kicked, slapped, punched, or emotionally tormented. Jesus does not treat His bride this way — EVER.

Well-intentioned Christian friends told me what many women hear in the Church, “God hates divorce!” All marriages have problems, just suck it up.   I do believe that divorce is not God’s heart for us. But the problem was my ex-husband did not want to take accountability for his abuse and sinful nature.  I do think sometimes this scripture of God hates divorce is sometimes used as a weapon to admonish women,  and has destroyed any hope for them to ever be free of physical and emotional abuse. The fact I sought separation some felt I was asking for divorce, some said “what am I teaching my children about marriage”. We feel stuck, even though it is the abuser who has broken the covenant, and condemned us to a life of misery and bondage because he (or she) does not repent.  Why wasn’t this admonishment made to my ex-husband, instead he received support and nurturing from friends and the church.  He is still hailed as the wronged one as he proclaims he felt pressured to marry me (even though he asked me, I did not initiate nor would my confidence let me), in fact I had asked him many times while engaged..are you sure this is what you want?  and I that had abandoned the marriage through separation.  No mention of his abuse.  Every relationship he has had in the past ended horribly and hatred on the women’s side.

My point of this blog post, is that society and sadly even the church too many times blames the victims.  The men somehow get a pass, especially if they are charming, because of course he does not look like a typical abuser.  I would have probably said the same thing years ago.  We were together two decades.  I loved him with all my heart and I would have never divorced him.  I may have lived as a single women separated, but I believed that no one is beyond the reach of the Lord, He could change any heart.  The problem was he would not acknowledge his sin.

We can save some of these marriages, if we put aside judgment, shame and love them back to a surrendered life to Jesus Christ.  Changing their hearts first and foremost.  Instead I actually lost friends, because they did not believe me.  They told me to stay in my marriage, that I am a bad witness to the world, but these same people told me to move on after my husband made the decision to divorce me, when I tried to fight to save it.  They said Forget him move on.  As, I tried to bring the pastor alongside to bring him accountable.  I was then told Why would you do that if he is abusive.  Following this logic is not biblical and can make you feel crazy.

Does this make any sense? An abusive husband gets caught and says the “right” words to his friends and is quickly embraced, as the wife is disciplined by her/his friends for taking steps to protect her life.   Too many wives within our churches are intimidated back into abusive homes by unsupportive male leaders, who exploit their authority and misuse scripture in directing them to “try harder” and “stop making him angry.” This is a form of spiritual abuse that re-victimizes the abused and grants permission to abusers to continue their violence against a child of God.

I am saddened as I minister to women who are stuck in domestic abuse and violence.  How they are shamed, because of their meekness and the fact that they held this secret for so many years, their friends and churches do not believe them now.  I have seen and heard about women horribly beaten or even killed in this ministry.  We need to be like Christ, believe them, shelter them and above all else love them.  So, they can heal and have the courage to heal.  Please do not be like the world and automatically side with the men.

Today we are witnessing the power men have in our society, through Weinstein, O’Rielly, Cosby and the #metoo movement etc..we as members of the church need to be different.

Too many of us know abuse victims who have been instructed by a pastor or someone in their church to keep quiet about the abuse, and to stay with their abusive spouse in order to “work things out”. They convince these abused that doing anything otherwise is considered to be a “bad Christian witness”. The disgusting reality is that this has nothing to do with being a “bad Christian witness”, and everything to do with a church that worships itself as it sacrifices its vulnerable.  The “bad Christian witness” is proclaiming to love Jesus as you silence victims and push them back into the fists of their abuser. This is an abomination to the very Gospel proclaimed by so many of these churches.   Don’t they understand that Jesus gave his very life for the vulnerable and the abused? A church that silences abuse hasn’t encountered Jesus.

Ask yourself this, is your church a safe place for victims of abuse?

Any church that redefines abuse instead of stopping it, is not a safe place. Any church that devalues women instead of respecting them as equals to men, is not a safe place. Any church that silences the oppressed instead of protecting them, is not a safe place.

A safe church does not tolerate the abuse of women or anyone else for that matter. A safe church empowers and equips all victims to walk away from those who hurt them. A safe church is where the abused can leave the abuser being assured that is what God wants them to do.

We have much to confess and much to change.

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Author: Cheryl Downum

My name is Cheryl Downum, 2015 was a difficult year for me. I chose to separate from my husband because of his unrepentant abusive behavior and a year later we divorced. I moved from Atascadero ca to the Temecula Valley in Socal. As I’ve walked this journey, I’ve found myself growing closer to Jesus. My heart is now infused with empathy for others that find themselves in this place. And, God has given me a story, a message of hope to share. A message birthed in my brokenness that brought forth a sweet-surrendered dependence on God’s unconditional acceptance and love. The reason I am writing this blog is; I have found in my life that the Lord often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad to our deepest calling. My desire is to encourage His children to seek a deeper relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that as you read my blog, you will feel inspired and encouraged. Thank you for visiting! God Bless! The Lord has opened a door for me in ministry with women who have been raped/sexually assault or abused by their spouse.  I have become a fulltime Advocate for women with a national organization.  For more information on this exciting chapter in my life, please visit my Healing Heart Blog https://thehealingheartblog.wordpress.com/ I am a Survivor and an Advocate, I am passionate about raising awareness about Rape/Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. Visit my The healing heart facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/thehealingheart77/

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