Seeking Help from the Church While Being Abused
Victims of domestic violence often turn to their churches for help. Many church leaders are not educated in domestic violence and unwittingly aid the abuser instead of the victim.
Many years ago, I was an abuse victim. I became afraid of my husband because his emotional abuse was escalating, and he began to physically abuse me. I had no idea what to do; I was a strong Christian and took my wedding vows very seriously. Too bad my husband didn’t. I struggled in silence for several years. Finally, my mentor suggested I go to our church pastors to seek help.
I told one of our pastors the abusive behaviors my husband had been committing. He was empathetic and concerned and agreed to contact my husband. When he did, my husband made light of the abuse. My pastor was untrained in domestic violence and didn’t realize that abusers are great manipulators and rarely tell the truth about their abuse. After speaking with my husband, my pastor promised to call each of us every week.
He did this for a while. My husband lied to him and said he was getting counseling and our marriage was improving. I told our pastor the truth – my husband’s abuse had escalated even more since the pastor contacted him. Nothing changed and our pastor didn’t implement any sanctions against my husband. He continued teaching Sunday School at the church each week, putting on a “Christian face” and then abusing me as soon as we returned home.
After a few months, my husband told me to tell the pastor to stop calling us. Because I was afraid of him, I made the call. I was hoping our pastor would realize this was just one more emotionally abusive behavior – isolating me from a potential help source. Sadly, our pastor agreed to stop calling us. I was devastated. Now I had no one to protect and help me.
Many more months went by. During that time, my husband continued his emotional abuse and also escalated his physically abuse. One day he emailed me (his favorite form of communication though we were in the same house), and told me to tell our kids he had never abused me. I looked at that email for quite a while. Finally, I said “h____ no!” to myself. I thought about all the abusive things he had done in front of our kids:
- Called me a b____ and multiple other curse words
- Gave me the silent treatment for months
- Ordered me around like a slave
- Used our kids to communicate with me because he refused to speak to me.
Then I thought of all the things he had done they hadn’t seen:
- Woke me in the night to scream at me
- Told me he wanted me to die when I went out to my car (had he sabotaged my car?)
- Hit me with a belt
- Raged at me
- Pinned me to the floor so I couldn’t escape him.
I decided if I told my kids he had never abused me, it would seem like I was condoning the abuse they had seen and make them doubt their own eyes.
I refused to do it. I began researching what abuse meant. I wanted to have a list of abusive behaviors to show him and be able to say, “see you do these things.” My search led me to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and my local women’s crisis center. These led me to a lawyer who specialized in DV. She recommended I take out a restraining order since my husband refused to leave our home. Six weeks after he ordered me to tell our kids he hadn’t abused me, I had received a restraining order and he was gone.
Guess what happened next? I received a call from the pastor I had previously gone to for help. He told me that “God hates divorce,” and “The Bible says we shouldn’t take another Christian to court.” I was furious! I reminded him I had asked him a year ago to help me with my husband’s abuse. He knew what was happening and didn’t help me stop it. I told him I was going to hang up before I said something I would regret.
Later, I received a letter from our pastor telling me that if my husband and I weren’t willing to follow steps to reconcile, we should step down from our leadership positions in the church. Now I was really mad! The steps he wanted me to take included “dating” my husband, and “when I felt safe” to allow him back in our home. I wrote back that I had a restraining order against my husband, so I wouldn’t be “dating” him. Therefore, I would be stepping down from my positions at the church.
Unlike many DV victims, I was fortunate I could afford a good lawyer and that I needed no further help from the church. Eventually, with Jesus’ help, I met with my pastor and was able to forgive him and move past that experience. But my experience with my church lit a fire in me to help other Christians facing abuse. I began writing my first book A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom as a direct result of my experience. I wanted to spare other abuse victims from having similar experiences with their churches.
I received training to become a domestic violence advocate. When I began my on-line ministry to abuse victims via my website and Facebook page, I heard many stories of abuse victims seeking help from their churches. Sadly, only about one in thirty of those victims received the help they needed. The rest were told to “submit to your husband,” or “be a godlier wife,” or “you need to forgive him,” or “think of your children.” In none of those cases did the church leadership hold the abuser accountable for his actions. This disturbs me. I wonder, why not? Are these (mainly male) pastors unfeeling? Are they just cruel?
No. I believe pastors give erroneous advice to abuse victims mainly because they don’t understand domestic violence.
Question: Have you ever asked your church for help with DV? If so, what happened?
I love the church. I have liked and admired most of my pastors. I believe there is a lot of erroneous information floating around in the church about domestic violence. I’ve been on a mission to change this through my writing and by serving as the domestic violence advocate for several churches in my area. I have spent time training the pastors of these churches so that, at least in these churches, abuse victims will receive the help they need and deserve.
A few months ago, I began creating a tool to train pastors about domestic violence. I am really excited about this! In my next blog I will be announcing this new tool to the public. Please check in with me next week.
God loves those who need help and healing. In Ezekiel 34:1 – 4 He chastises the shepherds of Israel for not strengthening the weak, healing the sick, or binding up the injured. In James 3:1 He says that those who teach will be judged more strictly.
In Ez 34:16, God says:
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
In John 10:11, Jesus says:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
I truly believe most pastors love their flock, and do their best to shepherd them with justice. I pray this new resource will be a great help in assisting them to do this better.
May the Lord bless you all,