Thursday, March 27, 2008

Domestic Violence and the Church

Thank you to the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. JofA

My husband and I were married for over 10 years. Those years were fraught with physical violence, threats of violence, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, and various forms of exertion of power and control. Throughout this time we were very involved with our church. Both of us had ministries, my husband on the governing body of the church, and I worked in children’s ministries.

Early in our marriage my husband was physically violent with me. I told him I would leave if he ever laid his hands on me again. At that time I tried to contact my pastor; however he wasn’t available when I called. After I made the call I began to fear the implications of telling my secret. What would everyone think? Would they believe me? My husband is Mr. Wonderful, everyone likes him. Then the personal self doubt started. Am I making a bigger deal out of this than it really is? Do all husbands act this way? What I saw as a child was nothing like what I was experiencing. My Dad loved my mother: treating her with love, respect and kindness. I was completely unprepared for the abusive situation I was experiencing. The doubt lingered and festered.

As time passed, the abuse transitioned to verbal and emotional. Name calling, threats of physical violence, breaking of personal property, verbal abuse of the children, neglect, spiritual and financial abuse were all methods that he used to perpetrate domestic violence. For years I lived in fear. My children were young and with the birth of each he got worse. The more perceived responsibility he had, the more abuse I incurred. It got to the point that my eldest started being a target for abuse. That was when I knew I had to make some changes in our lives.
I began meeting with a friend from church and we discussed and prayed about the situation. We prayed for healing of my husband and we prayed for relief for me and my children. During that time I went to my church leadership and explained what was going on and that I needed help. The church leadership decided to involve him in a general bible study and never came to me and ask me how things were going, or if he was improving. They never confronted him or held him accountable for his behavior.

Some time later, I summoned the courage to leave. With the help of a neighbor who I had been confiding in, they kept my husband busy and I literally escaped from the house with my children. Shortly after I left, I contacted an elder from my church to inform him that I had gone. He and my pastor came to my new home and discussed what had been transpiring in our marital home. I poured my heart out to them again. I told them that someone was going to get hurt, that he was out of control, that I was terrified and I wanted out of the home and relationship. After I filed for divorce they came to me and said, “Don’t do this. Please go to counseling with him. You don’t have biblical grounds for a divorce.”

So I rescinded the application for divorce and went to counseling. Counseling with the Christian counselor was grueling. I told her that I had read that in situations of abuse the individuals should be counseled separately. She disagreed. He denied the abuse and I was afraid to say anything. It was a worthless and agonizing exercise with him blaming me for everything wrong in his life. I sat there terrified to speak the truth of the abuse that had transpired. What I did learn from this counseling was that I was a complete doormat and I had allowed that to happen in the name of keeping peace. He said that I was not being a good wife because I didn’t submit to his authority. At one point during counseling the pressure was so great to reconcile that I verbalized consideration to moving back into the marital home. When a friend of mine begged me not to do it, I told him I wasn’t ready. The next night he came to my new home and proceeded to assault me, calling me all kinds of names, choking me, throwing me to the ground and beating my head on the floor. When he finally left, I called 911. He went straight to the home of someone on the governing body of the church. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital and church leadership finally convinced him to turn himself in to the police.

We both filed for divorce. Church leadership told me that if I continued to go through with the divorce they would dis-fellowship me from the church, because I did not have biblical grounds for divorce. Then my husband rescinded his filing. After the pressure of church discipline, I rescinded my divorce filings.

He plead guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges and court proceedings ensued. My husband didn’t come back to the church but he met with people individually to recruit people from church to testify for him in court. He told them I was crazy, belittling me and minimizing his own actions.

I tried to stay at the church for the sake of my children. I kept saying that he broke the covenant by virtue of his abuse, that husbands were suppose to love their wives like Christ loved the church. This fell upon deaf ears. The small group we belonged to decided not to have me involved. Few people spoke to me when I attended church, whether it was because they didn’t know what to believe or what to do, I don’t know, but I felt ostracized in the place I sought sanctuary. My place of sanctuary became a battle ground. My church repeatedly became a place of revictimization. Clearly, my church and the leadership did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and how they contributed to its perpetuation.
I was the elephant in the sanctuary that people didn’t want to admit was there. I reminded them of the ugliness of the world. Ugliness that made them uncomfortable and didn’t fit into there perfect ideation of what Christianity and Christian marriage was about. It was unfathomable that evil lurked amongst them. Couldn’t be….it just couldn’t be. The thought was “If we ignore it, it will go away”. While I wasn’t the evil, I was the “it”, and eventually I did go away. For my own well being, I had to leave that church behind, one where I had so much history. I fled my home and now I had to flee from my church. My home and my sanctuary were both gone.
I came to the realization that “sanctuary” was not in the building but in my personal relationship with Christ. I came to understand that I was going to go through some time where all (and the best) that I could do was to rely on Christ. It became important for me to take time to heal and tell my story as part of that healing process. I hope that leadership in churches will be open-minded enough to realize they need knowledge regarding the issue of domestic violence. I would like to see church leadership accept that domestic violence is a real problem in faith communities and become responsive to the needs women involved. Women, by virtue of their gender, are not lesser vessels in the eyes of God, just different. Until society values women to the extent they do men, there will be little assistance afforded in these situations. Society has recognized substance abuse as a sickness. Domestic violence is a sickness also, it represents a character flaw. It is not just a person who has a temper. It represents their world view of the purpose and value of women.

Men in the eyes of Christ have a great responsibility to care for their wives. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ never abused or belittled
people. Clearly, it is not what he intended for women. Educating church leaders with regard to the realities, prevalence and pathology of domestic violence will help women who are literally trapped in their domestic situation. God did not intend for me or any other women to live in the bondage that is the reality of domestic violence. He intended for women to live a life of freedom to help make the world a better place for all his creation, especially to let his creation know about Christ. By ignoring the reality of some women, churches are devaluing what Christ has made and thereby ignoring their call.


Anonymous said...

This abuse story gave me chills and made me nauseous!

Some of my friends have said that refusing to treat women as equals is disreapectful and I agree. I'd even call it unfair and an injustice! When these friends called it abuse I couldn't agree with that and considered it just a bit of an exaggeration.
Now however, after more thought and after reading this account from Michigan I'm beginning to see the connection. Physical , sexual, emotional disrespect and abuse shows up in the church when men keep women in a lesser place than themselves.

I've had this crazy thought......what would happen if a woman had a sex change operation and the church didn't know it....would she/he qualify to be an elder/pastor in the Exeter CRC??
I guess it really is about the male organ isn't it?? And I don't mean the musical kind!

Annette said...

Churches that ignore the realities of assault are not following God's word. And the horror of this story shows this, it shows us how sin can pervade the church. No one wants to believe that domestic violence or child abuse occurs. and because one doesn't wish to believe it, it's easy to ignore or explain away and so forth. Sin is there. I can't defend a church that does this. I also can't defend the individual church members who do this.

But this has NO bearing on this discussion. Is having women in spiritual leadership over a body of believers biblical? That's what this discussion is about. Not on the horrors of domestic or child abuse, and the bad responses to it.

I recognize that it is easy to link the two, but they are different, and seeing that difference is important.

Anonymous said...

In Regards to the comment written by C. I have also signed my name as C. This may have confused some as my stance may be slightly different then the comments like "I guess it really is about the male organ isn't it??".

Wow. I think the writer must have still been nauseous after the waste of words and thought put into the last paragraph! Where do I start to respond to this simplistic silliness?

J of A..Would this not be characterized as a childish comment??

I will now sign as Z. C., you can have C now.


Anonymous said...

Oh, come on Z, lighten up!!
There IS a point to the "organ" story, if you can get past that word. The sillyness is the fact that only men are allowed into certain positions/offices in the Exeter CRC.

Anonymous said...

Not only is there a point to the story but it does come down to the male centre of the universe. It does in the church, for employment pay and a host of other gender benefits.

Anonymous said...


Put the Bible down. Close it. No, really close it. Ok. Now. How do you really think that God wants us to behave?

What about a world that has women being able to provide spiritual help, spiritual nursing to a wounded female/male soul. Can you not see that women with the same authority as men can use their power for a whole new dimension of spiritual guidance?

Our elder comes to visit us once every 1-2 years so that he can check it off his dance card. It is very apparent that he is uncomfortable in his position and we have this nice little conversation about nice things and we all have nice answers. Everything is absolutely nice.

It's is not the deep one on one help that the unique gifts that a women comes to the table. Why wouldn't a Council just jump to this. Their perception of the Bible is a little different than the next. Both Biblically justifiable positions, but time wasters non-the-less.


Anonymous said...

Ok C. I do have a sense of humor. I would likely even find that funny if I didn't think you were serious. Is this debate really THAT simple?? THAT black and white?! Are you disregarding any argument that disagrees with your views because of a penis?!

I believe Jonathan once said and I don't mind using his words in this case..'this (blog) is for the grown-ups..'

I am sure Jonathan will be right tickled to see his words repeated.

Annette said...

Not being in a spiritual headship over the church does not preclude women from being of support to other men and women. It simply doesn't.

No...won't put the bible down. Won't close it. it's where I get my answers from. Closing it means I get my answers from myself...and God is more important than that.

the fact that your elder visits you once every couple of years is what...suddenly to change if the genders are changed? no. That's an elder issue and perhaps HE needs to be invited to come on over to your house for a visit, rather than you waiting for him to say..oh right, need to go visit thus and such. Oh..they haven't called stating they need to chat so obviously no big issues going on in their lives. So I will go just to check on how they are doing.

So you meet, have a nice chat, gives YOU an opportunity to say, hey...I've got questions about thus and such, can you help me?

So can you see there is some give and take in the relationship? That YOU have just as much to offer as they do in how well they do their job as an elder?

Oh.....right...forgot...most people think it's all the pastors and elders fault if they don't get their needs fulfilled. And tend to forget that for a church to be the church we need to give as well as take. Giving comes in so many forms and extends in ways that often aren't thought of.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry Annette the pharisees had difficulty putting it down too. They too miss the point. You need to read it, set it down and think about what it means. It requires thought. Men do this a bit better than women but then again.

When someone is addicted to drugs or fighting an emotional low it is very difficult for them to have a nice little tea and crumpet party as you suggest. The minister, elders and deacons have to put aside their money counting, programs and wipe the sand from their head when they pull it from the ground and help people who don't even ask for help. People that are in dire straights seldom seek that kind of help.

Woman are instinctively more empathetic and nuturing. That's good because they could help in a position of authority and with the authority of the church if it wasn't for a small group of (small in respect to our denomination) of book Christians.

So yes Annette. We do have to close our Bibles, think and help. It doesn't exactly say it in black and white but that is the message.


Annette said...

yes, women are more empathetic and such like. That's one of the reasons why we shouldn't be in charge of the SPIRITUAL leadership of the church. It's easier for us to just let things slide because we don't want to rock the boat rather than doing what is right.

You missed my point entirely.

You talked about how your elder didn't come and visit you. Did you ever ASK him too?

Were you in such dire straights that you could not do so? You have that position as ask your brothers (or sisters) for help when you need it.

Do people always ask for help when they need it? no. Sometimes it is difficult to do so. But just because it is difficult doesn't change the fact that you can't blame someone for not helping if you never gave the indication that you needed it.

Not being willing to close my bible doesn't mean that I don't take the time to think about it. That's what reading the bible means. It means reading it, seeing it as a whole inclusive book, of not picking and choosing what I want to believe and dismissing that which I don't. It means learning of God and reaching out in a way that he calls us to. Even if it's just making soup, or teaching Sunday School, or picking up the garbage that around town, or slowly building a relationship with that quiet person down the street that looks so hang dog all the time.

It's talking the whole gospel of Christ as we live our daily lives.

Anonymous said...

To Z.
One more time! Yes, I am serious in that the hypothetical story of sex change, which IS happening in our world, is used to show that it IS a matter of gender. Jesus in his 3 years as teaching Rabbi used many parables and stories to teach a truth.I don't think it's generous of you to refer to "this is for grown-ups" when a person is very serious about this situation in the Exeter CRC. This does not preclude or exclude humour.( HUMOR to US citizens)You know as well as I do that it has caused people to leave the church and has harmed friendships. You also know that those who are opposed to women elders & pastors are quite aware that it's a matter of time. The Synod, CRC's "ruling body" (?) has given time to get used to the change. We who have waited for this change for 35 years (in my case) are getting impatient.
Lets not diminish each other's humanity.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I feel as comfortable going to elders of THIS church for spiritual counseling as much as I feel comfortable as a chicken farmer doing my paps smear or yearly breast exam. I'm not saying that it can't be done it just feels icky and weird and I'm terrified of their credentials.

If you think empathy is the same as letting things slide then you need to go back to the dictionary. I really can't help you there.

I think the men are on the other hand very threatened by the fact that women are being seen as equals in all parts of society let alone the church. In fact I think they are terrified of these meek, helpless, empathetic, weak, don't rock the boat kind of people. Wow, that is a lot of power.

Now as far as reading the "never changing word of God." Try turning the clock back a few hundred years and people like you and me would have been stoned to death. Women, talking about things that are clearly and only in the domain of women. And rightfully so according to you. In fact I'm thinking of stoning my children for some insubordinate things they have said to me. Which is kind of weird because they don't live with me anymore.

I do get the whole women don't have to be an elder or minister to make a difference in the church. I'm telling you that I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING BUT I DON'T AGREE WITH YOU SO NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU OR ANYONE ELSE TELLS ME THIS I THINK THEY ARE FULL OF BUFFALO CHIPS.

However I'm interested to switch this up a bit. How does this sounds to you. It is of course hypothetical and is intentionally inflammatory only to make a point.

Even you would agree that Blacks are equal to white Dutch people. But the curse of Ham clearly indicates that they are, well, cursed. And, traditionally interpreted the blacks are from the line of Ham. Do you think that God wishes to have cursed people in the position of elder and minister. You say, they should be satisfied with what God says for that is their lot in life. In fact they have it pretty good in the last 60 years. They can fulfill many positions in the church but they can't run it. Statistics also show that you black men have a higher degree of theft and/or violence but that would be a side issue.

Should we (hypothetically speaking of course) have African Americans as elders, deacons and ministers?


Jon of Arcadia said...

Joan, I'd like to nominate this comment as comment of the week, worthy of its very own post on the front page of the blog.

"I suppose I feel as comfortable going to elders of THIS church for spiritual counseling as much as I feel comfortable as a chicken farmer doing my paps smear or yearly breast exam. I'm not saying that it can't be done it just feels icky and weird and I'm terrified of their credentials."


Annette said...

Even you would agree that Blacks are equal to white Dutch people. But the curse of Ham clearly indicates that they are, well, cursed. And, traditionally interpreted the blacks are from the line of Ham. Do you think that God wishes to have cursed people in the position of elder and minister. You say, they should be satisfied with what God says for that is their lot in life.

--- no actually that's not what I say. The curse against Ham was not a curse against him so much as it was a curse against the Canaanites. They got so wicked that God brought Israel up against them. The curse was fulfilled when Israel destroyed them. That makes it done...finito.

Should we (hypothetically speaking of course) have African Americans as elders, deacons and ministers?
--- since that curse was already fulfilled when Canaan was destroyed...I have no issue with persons of colour being in positions of spiritual authority.

Annette said...

I didn't say that empathy was the same as letting things slide, BUT because women have more empathy, we often use it as excuse to not do what we need to do.

We want to fix the owie and make the person feel better MORE than we want to discipline the person who caused the owie in the first place by their wrong behaviour.

Anonymous said...

The only thing you have proven Annette is your unsuitability for Council.

Hannah said...

I'm personally confused by Annette's comments.

'''But this has NO bearing on this discussion. Is having women in spiritual leadership over a body of believers biblical? That's what this discussion is about. Not on the horrors of domestic or child abuse, and the bad responses to it.'''

If you are saying that men only have the spiritual leadership role what is being done about the bad responses to things like mentioned in this article? Seems to me the 'authority' needs some education. Biblically, men are to be servant leaders. That doesn't mean they are boss, and get the last word, etc. They are to be loving serving servants, and they are to place everyone else first. THEY are to come last! ie: Washing feet story among others.

Sadly, this type of story is not uncommon. I guess people would stop questioning the 'authories' if they were doing the job that was biblically given to them. To often when they are questioned others remind the other gender of their 'role'. That is far from being humble - which is another biblical trait of a leader. The only unquestionable authority is God, and its pride when others mention 'roles' (among other things) to encourage others to silence.

Biblical leadership does that have the same meaning as it does in the secular soceity. Jesus states that those that come first must come last. They are to serve all others before themselves.

I think what is lacking is education on how that 'authority' is being played out. Don't close the bible - reread those scriptures! People may be questioning things because the roles they claim they are living are to full of pride of their 'role' and not of servanthood.

When that changes - that will be the day others stop questioning. Stories like this one of domestic violence would be handled properly. Submission to husbands would come naturally as God intended, because they are loving others as Christ loved the church.

Until that happens YES stories like this do apply! It shows that biblical leadership is NOT be given, and you wouldn't be able to see that if others didn't speak out about what it is lacking.

Why are we NOT asking where the bottleneck was within that leadership realm that caused the failure of what could have been healing of all parties involved? Leadership is responsible when they know of such things, and when they refuse to educate themselves on realms of sin such as this. Leadership did know in this case, and Leadership did fail. Calling the elder over for dinner wouldn't have changed a thing.

I believe when leadership is seen as Jesus intended it to be seen - question of leadership would stop. Authority wouldn't be such a hot topic. It happens when leaders in authority fail in their calling.

What does your bible say about that? I know what my bible says! If proper biblical leadership was happening your attempt to show this story has no bearing - which is used as a diversion - wouldn't be needed. Most of these types of stories wouldn't be happening, and sadly that isn't the case!