When a Husband Doesn’t Love His Wife with Christ-Like Love

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One of the saddest and most disgusting phenomena I’ve ever encountered in my life is the Christian church and the many believers who take the side of the abuser in domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases, particularly if the abuser is friendly and many times charming, he may even be a pastor or leader in the church.  The types of assistance the church needs to give a woman and children seeking help for serious marital issues should be firm, direct, truth-seeking, validating, and grace-filled. When a person seeks counsel from their church, they are looking for spiritual help.

We all know husbands are commanded, “Love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). They are told to “love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:28–29). The focus of a husband’s Christlikeness in loving his wife is “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

It is so important for us as women to realize that God cannot endorse and will not embrace abuse in our marriages, because it contradicts His character. Since marriage is designed to represent Christ, any teachings of a church embracing abuse is heretical and it is blasphemous to the Word of God.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” John 15:9

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

“These things I command you, that you love one another.” John 15:17

To be clear, an abusive husband is always breaking God’s law. He is disobeying Christ. He is not to be indulged but disciplined by the church. As a wife, you are never insubordinate to ask the church for help.

As Christians we are called to submit to various authorities and to each other: children to parents (Ephesians 6:1), citizens to government (Romans 13:1), wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:22), employees to employers (2 Thessalonians 3:10), church members to elders (Hebrews 13:17), all Christians to each other (Ephesians 5:21), all believers to Christ (Luke 6:46).

In domestic violence situations civil authorities can be the right thing for an abused wife to do. Threatening or inflicting bodily harm against a spouse (or other family members) is a misdemeanor or felony in California, punishable by fines, imprisonment, or most likely both. Which means that a husband who threatens and intentionally injures his wife is not only breaking God’s moral law, but also the state’s civil law. Expecting his wife to quietly accept his threats and injuries, he is asking her to participate in his breaking of both God’s moral law and the state’s civil law.  God himself has put law enforcement officers in place for the protection of the innocent. “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

I wish in retrospect, I would have called the authorities on my husband the first time he physically abused me.  I would have spared myself and my children years of suffering.  But, because he was in church leadership, I was afraid that it would hurt the ministry and be a bad witness to the church, but glossing over victimization, minimizing its devastating effects, hurts us all.

My husband’s addictions, his verbal and physical abuse, his financial indiscretions, and a pattern of destructive behavior that had many times brought me to the brink of a breakdown—or well beyond it. Long stretches of estrangement, coldness, and sometimes outright contempt, only briefly interrupted by his “emergency” efforts to change the few times I found the nerve to give full voice to my frustrations. He would revive some semblance of the man I married for a few days or weeks, invariably slipping back into his previous patterns once he felt as though he’d sidestepped disaster.  I found myself trying to shoulder my entire relationship alone (not to mention my children, care of our home, and our finances) and still somehow feeling spiritually inadequate. I felt I needed permission to demand what I deserved—and to know that God was okay with this.  I was so wrong and suffered devastating results because of my desire to be a faithful christian.

I have learned a wife does not have to stay in an abusive marriage, nor should she!  She can get out and separate from her husband.  This does not mean she is divorcing him.   It merely means she is and should establish boundaries and protect herself and/or her children.  The abusive husband needs to be held accountable and he needs to get help.  If he truly has a repentant heart, then the couple could seek reconciliation.  If the husband is unrepentant then as in my case, he’ll most likely seek to satisfy his lusts by being unfaithful to his wife while they are separated.  And if he is unfaithful, the wife is no longer bound to him and she could then seek a divorce without being outside of the will of God.

What does a repentant spouse not look like?

If an abuser denies their sin, and calls their victim a liar, then he or she is not repentant. If an abuser acknowledges their sin, but blames the victim for tempting them or taking part, or causing him to sin, then he or she is not repentant. If an abuser demands forgiveness and full pardon without any consequences for their actions, using such excuses as “If you’re a Christian, you should forgive me, and love me again,” then he or she is not repentant. If an abuser say’s I have already asked forgiveness, so I don’t have to talk about it anymore, then he or she is not repentant.

REAL REPENTANCE 

Sorrowful Recognition of Sin

Ezra and those with him are horrified and “disgraced” by sin:

“When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed: ‘I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.’” Ezra 9:3-6

Job is so distraught by his sin that he despises himself:

“’… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know … therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’” Job 42:3&6

A sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and costly perfume:

“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Luke 7:37-38

Peter weeps bitterly out of remorse for denying Christ:

“The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times. And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:61-62

 Admission of Guilt & Confession

Isaiah, upon seeing how holy God is, dramatically confessed his fallen nature:

“’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” Isaiah 6:5

Paul does not mince words when admitting his sin to God:

“‘Lord … I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’” Acts 22:19-20

John explains that failure to admit guilt is a sign that our hearts are devoid of God’s sanctification:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10

Humble Acceptance of Sin’s Punishment & Consequences:

Ezra declares Israel deserving of God’s wrath and punishment:

“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant … Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.” Ezra 9:13&15

King David affirms God’s right to judge him after Nathan confronts him with his sin:

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” Psalm 51:3-4

The Psalmist thanks God for chastening him, yet sparing his life:

“The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.” Psalm 118:18-19

A Desire to Reconcile & Make Restitution:

King Hezekiah seeks reconciliation and restitution by sacrificing sin offerings:

“Early the next morning King Hezekiah gathered the city officials together and went up to the temple of the Lord. They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven male lambs, and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The king commanded the priests, the descendants of Aaron, to offer these on the altar of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 29:20-21

Jesus requires reconciliation between believers:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Zacchaeus pays back all he has stolen and then some:

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ Luke 19:8-10

Regeneration & The Glorification of God:

Jonah promises to change his ways and glorifies God from the belly of the fish:

“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” Jonah 2:8-9

King David promises to use his own sin as an example to bring others to repentance:

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.” Psalm 51:13-14

Paul says we were created and predestined to do good works:

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved … For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:3-5 & 10

John explains that a repentant sinner may sin, but will not persist in sin:

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

What Then Should We Do With Abusers?

If an abuser does not exhibit these Biblical traits common to those who, by the grace of God, truly repent, then it is wise to question the authenticity of their repentance, and whether God’s sanctification is actively working in their hearts. Surely, repentance is a process, but it is one that must be completed in order to fulfill the requirements exemplified and defined by God’s Word.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world … Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:1, 7, 8

For the sake of Christ, the church should never risk the appearance of winking at sin.  A truly repentant abuser should, through abhorrence of their own sin and concern for the honor of Christ and reputation of the church, willingly and humbly step down, thereby clearly and publicly defining their actions as un-Christlike and deplorable.  We cannot ever risk further victimization.

 

Remember this: even if a perpetrator hurt someone for a few days, months or years and even if he regrets it, a victim lives with the pain, triggers, shame, and fear for a lifetime. For the perpetrator? It’s an incident. For the perpetrated upon? It’s a life-long battle.  We need to stand up for change.  Women should NEVER have to endure spousal abuse alone.

 

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Responding To Domestic Abuse

Recognizing and Responding to Domestic Abuse

Author:  Category: CounselingRelationships

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Because the image of God is sacred, an assault upon one of his image-bearers through domestic abuse is an attack upon God himself.

Smartly-dressed Mike and his wife Debbie walked into my office for their first session. One look at Debbie revealed that she had been crying, but was trying to hold it together. Mike exuded smug self-confidence. Debbie’s head hung low, Mike’s was held high. As they told their story, details began to emerge.

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Mike and Debbie were in their early thirties with two young boys, ages 2 and 4. Mike was an investment banker, Debbie a stay-at-home mom. When Debbie would share something in the session that made him look bad, one look from Mike would silence her, occasionally mid-sentence. During the session, Mike was calm and collected. As they told their story, it became clear that Mike would leave the family’s home early for work, often not returning until late into the evening. It was Debbie’s job to have dinner ready every evening at six, for at least herself and the children, but Mike felt himself under no obligation to attend dinner, and seldom did. Nor was he under any obligation to let Debbie know where he was or when he would be home. This was not her concern, he said.

In his words, Mike worked hard to provide a nice living and a nice home for them. If she was ungrateful for all he provided them, she could leave. If she did, he said, he would get the best lawyer money could buy and he would make sure that she and the kids didn’t get one penny more than he was obligated to give. He seemed completely, almost pathologically, at ease saying these words.

By all accounts Mike had never laid a hand on his wife or his children, at least so far. (He was seldom in close enough proximity to do so, frankly.) His abuse was entirely emotional and economic. The wife and children regularly attend a church in the area. The husband did not often attend. He didn’t see the need. Towards the end of the icy session, the husband declared, “Go ahead and tell the pastor how bad things are in our marriage. What can he do to help you?”

Over the years, I’ve heard many women say things like:

“I really wish that he would just go ahead and hit me. Then I would know what to do and I’d be able to get the church to help me get out.”

What I have described above is a case of verbal, emotional, psychological and economic abuse. And, though Mike hasn’t laid a hand on Debbie, she is being crushed by him. Brothers and sisters, this is a tragedy. And, sadly it is epidemic in the church.

Domestic abuse can be defined as the desecration of the image of God in one’s spouse or intimate partner through patterns of intentional misuse of power, overtly or covertly, in words or in actions, to gratify self. In the beginning, the Creator formed humankind in his own image (Gen 1:26-27). God breathed a soul having intrinsic worth and dignity into the man of dust (Gen 2:7), formed the woman from his side (Gen 2:21-23), blessed the man and the woman, and gave to them both dominion over the rest of the created order (Gen 1:28). As a desecration of the imago Dei, abuse is a violation of the inherent worth and dignity of the God-breathed human soul.

To “desecrate” is “to treat (a sacred place or thing) with violent disrespect.” Because the image of God is sacred, an assault upon one of his image-bearers is an attack upon God himself. Physical violence is tied to the imago Dei in Gen 9:6, “Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

But, the Scriptures also describe forms of violence that aren’t merely physical. Verbal assault is also tied to the image of God in James 3:7-9. Speaking of the tongue and its power, James asserts:

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

Note the use of Genesis 1-2 language in James 3: “beast and bird”, “reptile and sea creature.” James references our creation mandate as image bearers who fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the rest of God’s creatures. Indeed, we have tamed and subdued the creatures of the earth successfully. Yet we use the most powerful of weapons, the tongues our Creator has graciously given to us to bless others, to verbally assault and curse those whom God has specially created in his likeness, all while blessing God simultaneously! What hypocrisy! How can we praise God and denigrate those who bear his image?

God has expressly told us how we are to use our words:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph 4:29)

Mike’s words tore down his wife, they were inappropriate, and they certainly did not give grace her – or to anyone. Mike had even mastered the use of non-verbal communication to incite fear and to control his wife.

Economic mistreatment of a husband and father to his family is just as abusive. Remember what Paul said to Timothy? “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8) Mike’s threats to withhold financial provision from his family placed him in a class that Paul called, “worse than an unbeliever.”

Abuse, in any form, overt or covert, in words or in actions, is an act of oppression against one’s spouse. It’s oppressive because it is a desecration of the image of God in the other person.

“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble…he does not forget the cry of the afflicted” (Ps 9:9, 12)

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” (Ps 10:17-18)

God responds to the oppressed by hearing their cry and offering them safety. God responds to oppressors with justice. Shouldn’t God’s people respond in the same way?

1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical abuse at some point in their lifetime. Those who have experienced severe verbal, emotional, psychological and economic abuse at the hands of an oppressor are even more common. Statistically, there are several Mikes and several Debbies in your church. How will you care for them?

Greg Wilson holds two Masters of Arts degrees, in Marriage and Family Counseling and Christian Education, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the state of Texas, and is a featured Pre-Conference Workshop teacher at ABC’s 2017 National Conference, addressing this very issue of recognizing and responding to domestic abuse.

When The Church Prefers Perpetrators

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Something is wrong when the church protects perpetrators and marginalizes victims. In recent months, we’ve seen a bit of the underbelly of covering up sexual abuse, demanding victims forgive and forget instantly for the sake of the poor offenders whose lives might be ruined if they were found out. (See this article at Christianity Today that summarizes a recent case).

(Note: This post isn’t about the Sovereign Grace Ministries situation particularly as much as it is about any church that listens more to the perpetrators than to the victims. I believe this is a universal problem.)

Cover up that exalts the “ministry” or a ministry personality over the well being of one who has been sinned against does not represent the Jesus I follow. 

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http://www.marydemuth.com/perpetrators/

Why Are Voices Are Not Heard

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I am truly disheartening at the number of women who have shared stories, including my own, with pastors who, in one way or another, advised them to stick with their abusive husbands: to be more submissive, to pray more, etc.

So I started thinking about the fact that so many women having such similar stories.  If it had not happened to me, I would have a real difficulty believing that any one of these pastors, would ever condone domestic violence.  Especially,  since these are Godly men, who teach anointed sermons.  Who have continually blessed me through their ministries.

And yet here we are with all these women sharing the exact same thing happened with their pastor. And I know those women are not lying, or somehow mistaken about what happened to them.  Because it happened to me!

What I wish these pastors understood is how brave these women are when they finally come forward.  How scary it is to finally tell our secrets, secrets we have hid for years.  And that when a woman is writing/telling the real raw truth of their lives, their words take on an integrity that even the most accomplished fiction writers struggle to write. There could be no doubting the truth of these women’s stories.

Just this week, I wrote a pastor that dismissed my allegations, to clarify now that I come from a position of strength and healing as opposed to the weak woman asking for help.  Warning him he has a man capable of hurting women a sociopath in his congregation, and asked why he never confronted him when he was clearly in sin.  Even if he had doubts of my accusations, wouldn’t you want to investigate.

But howHow could these good, loving, Godly, well-intentioned men give advice that’s so manifestly, egregiously, cruelly wrong?

Is it because to a Godly man Domestic violence is fundamentally unbelievable. Like all true evil, domestic violence is basically incomprehensible. Most people find it simply inconceivable that any man would systematically victimize his own wife and children.

So, maybe, it’s easy for pastors to, in fact, fail to imagine it. When faced with a woman saying that her husband is abusing her, pastors must sometimes immediately and even instinctively assume that in some fundamental way the woman must be mistaken.  Especially, when every interaction he has had with her husband has been positive.  They can even seem charming, loving, and care deeply about the unsaved in the world.

What I think pastors are missing is the fact that these men are master manipulators.

For example, my husband was the friendliest, most sincere, open, warm, kind, generous person I had ever met.  That was the very thing I was drawn to.  But, wife abusers are sociopaths. They can talk the stink off a skunk. And guess who’s at the top of the list of people the abuser is determined to fool? Exactly: The family pastor. Who is very much inclined to love and trust people. Most pastors don’t stand a chance against a perpetrator of domestic violence.

Or could it be that a lot of pastors hold to the traditional Biblical definition of the proper relation between a husband and wife. Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”) But I hardly think that from that pastors typically think that it’s acceptable for husbands to abuse their wives. Most pastors know that the rest of that passage from Ephesians enjoins husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … .” I think it’s safe to say that pastors get that it’s wrong for a husband to beat or otherwise abuse his wife and kids. But I also think that not enough pastors have spent the time thinking about the broad, fuzzy line between biblical submission and repugnant victimization.

I think Pastors need to face and acknowledge this truth. They need to take case-by-case responsibility for drawing a clear line of demarcation between the kind of “submission” they and the church has traditionally understood as healthy, and the kind of submission everyone knows is unhealthy.

Pastors believe in the power of Christ to heal, to bring new life, to reclaim, to save, to resurrect.  They believe that through the community of church God radically and permanently transforms people’s lives. They believe in the enduring, righteous strength of marriage and family.

Pastors are not in the business of divorce; they don’t recommend the shattering of a family unit. They believe not in dissolution, but resolution.  And really God Bless them.  So am I, but there is a time when it is necessary, if the man is not repentant.

Let’s face it Domestic violence is simply not a subject present on pastors radar.  so a pastor faced with a domestic violence problem is likely to counsel patience, forbearance, and the discernment of the will of God. Each man is just doing what he knows. And in so doing each, of course, creates pain.

It’s not enough for us to simply desire that our pastors do a better job of handling issues of domestic violence. We must also help them to understand and obtain the training necessary for doing so.

So, although I failed to get the help, I so desired from my church, I will not turn my back on God.  I will continue to educate and support women in crisis.  I also, learned that all churches are not devoid of the knowledge of domestic violence.  There are many churches with great support groups for women in crisis.

Remember, It is impossible with our limited knowledge to see all God is doing to convict your husband and bring him to repentance. You might not see evidence of his conviction for years. That doesn’t mean God isn’t pursuing him. Remember that God has an eternal perspective. His timetable is not your own.

Also, remember although it isn’t fair what has happened to you with your pastor,  God hasn’t disappointed you; man has! God is the one constant in your life. If anything wasn’t fair it was piercing the hands and feet of the totally innocent God-man for your vile sins. If need be, Repent of your bitterness toward God. Ask Him to give you a right perspective of His love for you.

This is perhaps the most important lesson of all. God wants to do a work in you. He doesn’t want to leave you where you are—He loves you too much. He wants to increase your faith, your reliance upon Him, and your love for Him. Be willing to allow God to transform you.

God loves you. He will never reject you. He hears your cries! He longs to draw you close and fill you with His supernatural peace. No matter what your circumstance, no matter if your situation never changes this side of heaven, God is there. He is the steady hand underneath your days.

I Am The Women Sitting beside You In Church

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Church leaders say they abhor abuse of any kind. But advocates say the church is not just failing to sufficiently address domestic violence, it is both enabling and concealing it.

I hope and pray that all readers will pray about what they can do to help bring change to domestic violence happening in your church.. Whether you are in church leadership or part of the church. We can all do our part. No one should have to endure what many women have endured.  Psalm 91.4, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” 

I pray that with the light shining on this issue, that there is a great opportunity for the church to better reflect what Jesus Christ calls us to be. May we listen to the Holy Spirit and may we listen and believe the women who seek help. 

I’m a normal friendly person, who loves the Lord with all my heart. If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know I’m a survivor of abuse. Until this year, I probably won’t have told you because I was too embarrassed and ashamed. But I was sitting next to you in church. Watching your happy family with tears in my eye’s. Feeling like I failed. Like my husband was right – that I used his imperfections (i.e.abuse) as an excuse to run away. Don’t I know that God hates divorce? Don’t I believe in forgiveness, grace, second chances? In love that doesn’t keep a record of wrongs? In faithfulness, perseverance, and sacrificial servant love? I do, I really do!  I never threw my vows away, I just wanted to be safe and my husband to repent and change.  I desired reconciliation with all my heart and he knew that.

But, All I knew when I left was I could not do marriage on his terms anymore. I could not live with the fear pervading my body when he walked through our front door. Holding my breath, placating, saying whatever he needed me to, to make the anger go away.  And now I wore the double sided guilt. That somehow the abuse was my fault, and that I should’ve seen, should’ve known, should’ve protected my children. Oh the guilt, of the damage I have let come to them.

The reaction and blame shifting of some Christians after I chose to separate has added insult to injury. I was desperate for help, any help.  I sought refuse at a church in my new area that I loved, until my ex-husband wrote a letter to the pastor that in his words was “vile and hateful” and they asked me to leave.  Me leave??  I thought the letter would have shown them how abusive he was, but instead he said “we cannot get in the middle of this.”  Here I was, alone and now leaving the second church that I loved.

Some Christian leaders responded with compassion and a desire to do better at caring for survivors of domestic violence, some have cried foul and wanted to point the finger elsewhere: “What about that group? It doesn’t happen at my church! They have an agenda! Abuse has no place in the church! The stats weren’t reported improperly! Regular church goers are least likely to abuse!” etc etc etc.

Frankly, they’ve missed the point. Stories of violence in the church, like mine, actually happen. In my opinion, One story is one too many.

Here’s the response I wish I’d heard from all Christians:

These stories are heartbreaking.

What can we as a church do?

Do we believe the women who come forward, even if their violent husbands claim to be Christians and are regular churchgoers or are on staff, or do we disbelieve/dismiss/blame them/tell them to go home and learn to submit?

Just as my husband would lock me in rooms to teach me submission.  “Your problem is you won’t obey me. The Bible says you must obey me and you refuse,” he yelled. “You are a failure as a wife, as a Christian, as a mother.  For years, I believed that God wanted me to submit to my husband, and I did my best, bending to his will, despite the pain I was in.

The church needs to hear the wake up call, and proactively investigate claims and check the attitudes, beliefs, practices and structures of each church to discover if there is any inadvertent complicity or unhelpful misunderstandings that contribute here. One woman or child facing violence in the church is one too many.

Here are some questions for the Church:

Why have there been so few sermons on domestic violence? Why do so many women report that their ministers tell them to stay in violent marriages?

Is the stigma surrounding divorce still too great, and unforgiving? Is this also a problem for the men who are abused by their wives — a minority but nonetheless an important group?

And if the church is meant to be a place of refuge for the vulnerable, why is it that the victims are the ones who leave churches while the perpetrators remain?

“Often people say it is the guilt of going against the church teaching that leads them to stay in relationships well beyond a time they should leave because they are trying to please the church as well as please their partners … they often feel they will have to choose between the church or violence.

We have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and the 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.

I hope that my story can shed more light on the issue of domestic violence so that effective strategies can be developed to address it. I also hope my story is of some consolation to others who are or have been affected by domestic violence. To those who care about this issue, I propose that it is not enough to address domestic violence as a problem in itself for often it is only the first layer of abuse. The second and subsequent layers of abuse are the unconscionable responses of people who are mandated to help and don’t. There is a phenomenon in which victims of domestic violence are often ignored and/or blamed and the actions of the perpetrators are denied and/or covered up. It is tragic enough that these layers of abuse occur in the wider community but when they occur as pervasively as they do in Christian contexts we need to ask some serious questions of our culture and leadership.

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.

Cycle Of Abuse

In honor of October Domestic Violence Month

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Stopping the cycle of abuse is one challenge, but a bigger challenge is knowing how to raise a son when the men in your life have been abusers.

This is an honest and raw post that is very difficult for me to share, but my hope is, it will speak to someone’s heart.  That after much prayer, there is someone who needs to hear this, it’s my story.

This has been an interesting and exciting week for me, getting ready for my son’s wedding which has made me both emotional and also reflective on my life.

I have often wondered and worried about what kind of husband my son will be, since his male role models were emotionally unavailable and abusive.  With his step-father, I would watch him bend over backwards trying to please him and gain his approval, but always came up disappointed.  He was young and always felt that he never measured up.  Leaving me with guilt and regret, and causing me to question, how would he love his wife, if he only knew emotionally unavailable and abusive role models?

In the two years I have witnessed my son and his fiance’s relationship, it has at times brought me to tears of joy.  He is a sweet loving gentle giant, who praise the Lord, treats her like a princess.  I have talked to his fiance at length and she always talks about how kind, loving and patient he is.  I asked him one day why this is and he answered  “Mom, I witnessed you being hurt too many times, the look in your eyes, made me as a child promise that if I ever married, I would never want my wife to ever feel that kind of pain, fear or sadness.” and “Plus, I want to model Christ in my home and love my wife as Christ loved the church.”  Blessed and humbled mom.  To be fair my daughters have also successfully found healthy loving relationships.  With the Lord there is hope to break this awful cycle.

My Story

In my marriage, I had denied the truth for so long I was unable to recognize what was really happening. The abuse had started subtly and grown insidiously. My husband and I claimed to be Christians, so how could our marriage be abusive? He was my best friend for years how could this happen?

I met my ex-husband at a Christian church we both attended. He was handsome, intelligent, charming and interesting—always looking for adventure and fun.  He could make me laugh like no one else. He often discussed the gospel and he cared genuinely about people’s salvation. He loved telling me and everyone else who would listen, how he was alone in the bible college chapel and the Lord spoke to him “Cheryl will be your wife,” something he now denies.  Our wedding was a God-centered event, shared with many of the students from bible college. I envisioned and hoped our marriage to be a shared life of service and impact for God’s kingdom.  I was so in love. I truly believed that if I was a good wife, my marriage would go well and we’d have a loving life together.  I was so blessed to marry a man of God.

Though, looking back now, I realize he was somewhat self-centered before we were married, but, I did not see any red flags about the abuse that was to come. But very early in our marriage I saw signs that life was going to be very different from what I’d envisioned. If I didn’t comply with his expectations, he’d become angry and yell for hours at a time.

 As I began to internalize his accusations and criticisms, both my confidence and my self-worth began to crumble. I couldn’t even confidently discard old food from our refrigerator without fearing a blow up may occur because I’d mistakenly tossed out something he wanted to eat. As my self-worth eroded, I questioned my ability to be a loving wife and mother, and whether I was truly a woman of faith.  Was this somehow my fault.

On the outside we looked like a loving couple, especially in our Christian circles. He appeared spiritually mature. He prayed eloquent prayers, participated in deep theological discussions, and often referenced Scripture to support his insights.  I did everything I could to establish the appearance of the godly partnership I so desperately desired.

But behind closed doors, things were far from normal. Unable to predict when the switch would flip on his anger, I walked on eggshells. Without warning, I’d suddenly become the object of  his uncontrolled, frightening rage. There was no escaping his anger.

Because our situation was so intense, I was in constant prayer with the Lord. I pored through Scripture to find direction and answers from my Savior. I took to heart his accusations that I was ungodly, unsubmissive, and prideful, and constantly confessed my sin to the Lord. I also took seriously the scriptural reference to forgive 70 times 7, so as his rages continued, I focused on forgiveness and mercy.  He repeatedly told me what was “true” about me: I was disrespectful, unsubmissive, and wanted to take the lead. I lost confidence in my ability to identify reality. “Truth” had been verbally twisted and used against me. The fear and constant threat of attack rendered me an emotional weakling.

All attempts to stop the abuse were unsuccessful and now with pornography added, he began to criticize me for what he called my lack of trust in him, resulting in him yelling so loudly everyone in the house heard and lasted for hours into the early morning.  This would occur more frequently than I would admit. I made the decision after seeking counsel to separate.  I wanted restoration, and I thought that if we separated, it would be a huge wake up call, that he would miss me, repent and change his heart.  I did not think divorce was possible.  But, after a couple failed reconciliation attempts, he stopped counseling and wanted a divorce, citing I never wanted reconciliation and I had abandoned him.  Which was not true.  There would be more hurtful reasons he would tell friends and pastors on why we divorced.  Always with me the villain and would further strip me of any dignity and worth.

The grief I experienced over the failure of my marriage was overwhelming, and the recovery process has been grueling. But God never abandoned me. Rather, he’s drawn me closer to him. I learned God’s grace is completely reliable, and he can handle the messy truths in our lives. And the most awesome realization is that God wants to use me. As God now regularly opens doors of ministry to me, I’m charged with telling my story and sharing his message of grace.

One of my ministries is, I led a support group and counsel women who have been abused. One question that often comes up as I talk to christian women is the relationship between domestic abuse and the Christian teaching that wives must submit. Specifically, people want to know if abuse occurs more often in homes where they are taught that husbands are the head of the household.  Since, my ex husband once locked me in a room to try to teach me submission. I looked into the research, but, I don’t believe it to be true. It is something that should be beautiful and good. What I found was abuse happens across the board, with people in every belief and non-belief, it is not the teaching of the church, but the heart of the person.  In regards to submission to our husbands that are abusive, Christian husbands are not Christ. They are fallible, forgiven sinners. They do not stand in the place of Christ. Their wives relate directly to Christ (Hebrews 4:16; 11:6), not merely through their husbands. Husbands do not have the wisdom or the power or the rights of Christ. Their likeness to Christ in leading their wives is limited and focused by these words: He gave himself up for her . . . nourishing and cherishing . . . not be harsh and hurt them.

Therefore, an abusive husband is ALWAYS breaking God’s law. He is directly disobeying Christ and he is in sin. He is not to be indulged but disciplined by the church. The wife has every right to ask the church for help. A Christian woman should not feel that the only help available to her is the police. That would be a biblical failure of her church.  So, again,  it is NEVER your fault, please do not fall into this trap.

Encouragement – Plea To Women Touched By Abuse

What I want to say to you today, is this, I know that many of you – because of your experiences with or watching a parent – have been hurt by men in some way.  I know this hurt is very, very deep and raw. While I cannot speak on behalf of men, I first want to tell you how sorry I am for what you have been through. I want you to know that no woman EVER deserves to be hurt by a man, and there is nothing you have or could have ever done to deserve the pain you have experienced. No action or inaction you have ever taken warrants the hurt that has been done to you. It doesn’t matter what excuse he may give, if he wanted to marry you or not, felt pressure, was stressed, he fell out of love for you. You did not deserve to be treated this way.

I know how easy it is in the midst of this kind of hurt and abuse to submit to the trap of believing that all men are unkind – that all men may be hurtful, manipulative, or abusive.  I know you have been conditioned to believe that this is all there is, that these are the only kind of men that exist. If you have given into this belief, I want you to know something…It is not true, it is a lie the enemy wants you to believe.

There are men in this world who are good, kind, gentle and have love running through the core of who they are. There are men in the world who are committed to and surrendered to Jesus Christ and His example. There are men in the world who are willing to sacrifice and love you deeply, the way YOU deserve..

I promise you this – the good men in the world may be difficult to find, but there are many.  Like my son.

I want you to know this, too, in your head and your heart – Jesus Christ wants to place His healing hand on your broken heart, and make it whole again. He wants to restore your faith that men can be kind and loving. He wants to restore your belief in your worth, your wholeness, your beauty, and all that you have to offer the world.

Christ loves to meet us in the depths of our brokenness, He brings wonderful restoration. Today I pray that if these truths speak to your life, if you like me have experienced this pain – that God would bring good men into your life – to restore your faith that men can be kind, and good, and true.

for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13

 

My closing plea is to all Christian men

and in particular to the leaders of churches: You have a responsibility to raise up men of faith to be good loving husbands and fathers.  Teach them to love and cherish women, the weaker vessel that the Lord loves so much!  His much loved daughters that he has given to you the responsibility to protect and love.  Please be the messenger of a beautiful vision of marriage that calls men to bear the responsibility for. Make it part of the culture of manhood in the church that the men will not tolerate the abuse of any of its women. Ever!

The church should not harbor an abusive man or woman whom the civil authorities would punish if they knew what the church knows.