A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Horrific case of church abuse

Laura M Schola commented on my John Piper post of August 3rd 2012 and we are reproducing her words here because we think it’s such a horrific case of church abuse we would love to give all our readers the opportunity to encourage her and add their own comments. Here is what Laura wrote:

I would like to thank you for the encouragement and validation that I have received recently from your work. I wish that I had found this forum three years ago! Even after over 20 years of living with a verbally and emotionally abusive man, the involvement of the church was the single most tramatic experience of my life. I trusted that they would help me but from the onset when they told me “You won’t love him but you will be taking him back,” all of their actions were designed to lay guilt on me to force that end result.

Concern for one of my sons, who was mimicking his father’s actions, led me to call the church.
At the pastor’s request, I documented five typewritten pages of incidents of my husband’s abuse . Included was his reckless driving with children in the car, assaulting a man at another church, screaming at and threatening me regularly, encouraging our son to call me profane names, etc. I thought that at least one of these events would cause them to question my husband’s right to membership in the PCA.

The pastor took my husband to lunch but other than that, did nothing. After 10 months, I discovered that my husband had a secret two-year relationship with a former co-worker.
When I informed the church that I now wanted to pursue divorce, I was told to take back the unfaithful spouse like Hosea. Also I needed to win my husband over… I might be triggering him. I was told that there are always two people to blame for marriage issues. I was questioned about idols in my heart by their counselor which cost me $1100 for her involvement while my husband was never directly confronted with his sin. He was not repentant and threatened me, saying that he wanted to see me dead and he wanted to find a way to kill me without getting caught. I spent almost two years trying to be submissive to the church as they did all that they could to penetrate the bondaries I set up to protect my family. I was so distraught and confused at that point — afraid for our safety but wanting to please the Lord and respect the church. I wondered why I viewed scripture so differently than they did — was I even a Christian? They offered no spiritual guidance — it was like a spiritual desert. Thankfully, the Lord himself held me up.

After one and a half years of dealing with the church’s lack of direction, my health began to break down due to stress. I went to the local abuse center and they listened to me advising me that I was in a dangerous situation. Finally, I notified the pastor that I was leaving his church. On the way out, his children chided my daughter with ‘God hates divorce’. The pastor told me that my conscience would bother me if I filed for divorce and I received a letter saying that God was not pleased with me. I saved all of the letters that I received from the church and now can’t believe how abusive they themselves were. They were a terrible witness for my extended family and friends, as some of them have told me this is why they don’t go to church. Sadly, at this point I would recommend that anyone in an abusive relationship not go to the church but to the abuse crisis center. Even Dr. Phil gives more useful advice. I am praying that your work will be the catalyst for reform in the church before the church becomes completely obsolete on this subject. Thank you, again. You are a blessing!

15 Comments

  1. Dear Laura, many many victims say that the abuse they got from the church was at least as painful, if not more painful, than the abuse they suffered from their spouse. Your case sounds to me like a very extreme example of that.
    So many things they did wrong. Taking the ‘neutral’ stance (which is never neutral in domestic abuse). Ordering you to take him back despite a total absence of repentance on his part. Ignoring the damage it was causing to your son. Taking your husband out to lunch: I’d like to dress that pastor down, big time! Can you imagine Paul taking out for lunch that man who was sleeping with his father’s wife, and saying “Now now, buddy, hadn’t you better act a bit more respectable ?” What a wolf in sheep’s clothing that pastor was!
    Your church defied the Doctrinal Standard of its own denomination, the Westminster Confession which says divorce IS allowed for adultery and the injured party is free to remarry.
    Then they ignored the death threats he gave to you. They were complicit in putting your life in danger. If you had been killed or maimed that church could be charged with complicity before the fact. Indeed, I think you would probably have grounds to take them to court especially since you have all the letters they sent you as evidence. (If you want to do that, we will support you.)
    I’m sure you’ve figured this out already, but I just want to confirm that you were (and are) the one acting in a Christ-like manner, and they were the ones who were not being Christians. May the Lord judge them!
    ((((hugs)))) Barb

  2. Jeff Crippen

    Laura – I affirm everything Barbara said, and I also, as a pastor, want to validate you and condemn what your church did to you. Unfortunately, this kind of treatment of abuse victims is far too typical and if we could scream from the rooftops what is going on, we would.

    These kinds of pastors are the “respectable” lot in their denominations. They often enjoy the luxury of quite comfy church buildings, a generous salary and benefits, and achieve career success in their denominational ladders. Taking the side of the abuse victims jeopardizes much of this. In other cases, they simply have it in their mind that their job is to preserve marriage at all costs (which the Bible does not teach). And then there are churches that become virtually cultic when they press male headship to extremes of patriarchy and thus women such as yourself face an uphill and virtually losing battle the moment they walk in the pastor’s office to ask for help.

    I know this sounds harsh, as if I have a really bad attitude toward pastors – but I myself am a pastor, and I believe that as such I have a right to call on other pastors to clean up our house! And yes, I do have a bad attitude toward pastors and churches that treat victims as you were treated. I am angry about it. I wish more and more and more Christians were angry about it as well. The true people of Christ hunger and thirst for righteousness.

    Oh, and Laura, if you would be willing (no pressure whatsoever), would you email me or Barbara directly? We would be very interested in finding out a bit more about the teachings in that PCA church and if the Federal Vision theology was present, etc. We have run into this issue before in another similar church. Jeff: swordtrowel@gmail.com or Barbara: barbara@notunderbondage.com

    Blessings on you in the Lord Jesus Christ,
    Jeff

  3. Reader-Survivor

    .
    Laura,
    .
    You stated: “Even after … living with … abusive man, the involvement
    of the church was the single most tramatic experience of my life.
    I trusted that they would help me but from the onset when they told
    me “You won’t love him but you will be taking him back.” all of their
    actions were designed to lay guilt on me to force that end result.”
    .
    The encounter that you had with your church is so common among
    Christian abuse victims and survivors that it (sadly) is almost to the
    point that people now ‘expect’ the church to side with the abusers
    and to minimize the damage to the life of — or even turn against —
    the person who is being targeted by the abuser / perpetrator.
    .
    There is no doubt in the mind of many Christian survivors of abuse
    (and their non-Christian family and friends who care about them) that
    “the local Church” (and it’s narcissistic, non-empathetic, bullying and
    almost sociopathic leadership) will often engage in such uncaring and
    hostile reactions toward the target-victim-survivor about the abuse now
    becoming ‘public’ (or otherwise ‘undeniable’ as, let’s face it, many times
    “the church” already ‘know of’ or ‘suspected’ the abuse) — that the only
    term that can then be used for said church is that of of “CO-Abuser”.
    .
    Once these churches (and their leadership) decide to become a CO-Abuser of
    the Christian target-victim-survivor — they often then have the gall to turn around
    and — (having, via their betrayal and cowardice, caused an all new “Trauma Bond”
    on this person) — try to use the resulting F.O.G. (fear, obligation and guilt) to then
    leave the person wandering emotionally-“blind” and groping for support anywhere.
    .
    The reaction of “the church” in general, and local churches in particular, to those
    who have been targets-victims-survivors of domestic abuse is one of the main
    reasons that I (as a Believer in Christ) have been totally turned off from “church”.
    .
    Cruelty, Indifference, Apathy, Selfish Gain and Hypocrisy are just about the only
    behaviors that I have commonly seen among “church goers” (and I will not even
    get into the issue of ‘cliquishness’) — and until “the church” repents of continuing
    to “harbor” unrepentant-abusers — the cycle-of-abuse will continue in “christian”
    homes found everywhere and the ‘gospel’ of Christ will be made into a mockery.
    .
    — R.S.
    .

  4. Anonymous

    Hi Laura. Your story sounds so close to mine in different places, that I wondered if I had written it and forgotten that I had. The abuse I have encountered from my Church is very similar and they are Presbyterian too. I believe, that some of this thinking that says, “stay together, not until death, but even if it means death to you”, comes from nouthetic counseling which is all the rage in the Presbyterian Churches today, as well as others. It places equal blame on husband and wife, and that is exactly what they do–get you to focus on your sin or guilt, so you can see that you are to blame for the abuse and what your husband is doing to you! They believe that all sin is equal, so there is nothing that the abuser has done, that is any worse than what you have done. I do believe this is somehow connected with the Federal Vision teaching as well, which is very “Roman Catholic” in nature, and the Catholics don’t believe in divorce at all, even taking the Eucharist (as they call it) away from people who are divorced, as punishment to them for having divorced. Also, the dynamics of what some Presbyterians believe, which is really no more than Federal Vision teaching, are; anyone and everyone who has been baptized is a Christian, so the Scriptures about leaving cannot apply to you, because he is a Christian; he is baptized and a member of the Church, so they cannot discipline him as an unbeliever; he is repentant and forgiven, just like you!; and (I really love this one) remember, 70 x7, and even if you die trying to win him or just staying with him, it was God’s will for you! I just got lost in the confusion of all the twisting of Scripture, and soon found myself in a heap, thinking the same as you, “Am I really a Christian? What is wrong with me?”

    I completely believe in total forgiveness, but let’s not forget that the Scripture being referred to here says, if he sins against you and REPENTS, you are to forgive 70 x 7. Repent being the key word here. So, perhaps we need to define, once more, what repentance is and what it looks like. There are articles on this blog, if you need help in that area. Also, forgiveness does not require reconciliation with the abuser, another post on this blog.

    I agree with all the comments and advice from Barbara and Pastor Crippen above, (not that it matters) and I want you to know that I will be saying prayers for you. Don’t lose hope. I have left my Church as well, because of their abuse of my entire family, yes, children included, but I know that God has led me away, and your post just reaffirmed that for me, so thank you. God will lead you to a new place, where you can feel safe and loved. I have no plans to share my problems with the next Church, but to reserve those issues for the people who can and do want to really help. That means, people who are either licensed, or people like Barbara and Pastor Crippen, who really understand the dynamics of abuse and want to help those who are caught in this vicious, devilish life of abuse, through Jesus, to be set free from it. I share that with you, because it might be of help to you, when trying to find another Church.

    Hang in there! I know you will find lots of help here!

  5. Diane

    Praying for Laura and her family. How horrible to have had to go through this. My heart just sinks when I read these stories-they never fail to cause me to grieve. When one part of the Body of Christ hurts…the other parts feel it and want to give aid and comfort. I have no experience with abuse or divorce, but I empathize with those who do.
    Jeff wrote-

    “I wish more and more and more Christians were angry about it as well.”

    Amen to that, Jeff. I am angry. And I agree with your commenters about many churches not being safe places– unless one investigates it very thoroughly.

    I have done my part in shedding the light on the SGM/CJ Mahaney scandal over the past year, and of another FV self-ordained “pastor” up in your neck of the woods who married off (via a courtship marriage he arranged) a convicted serial rapist pedophile sentenced to life in prison (reduced to lifetime probation with the stipulation he can NEVER be alone with children, even his own) to a yong girl of 23 last year- to anyone who will listen. I am sickened by it. Sometimes I do not know why I care about these things so much-these men/pastors are strangers to me and I do not buy their books, etc. But the abuse, lies and covering up things anger me so much. You are right…a few people show their outrage, but only a few. Most do not care. Jesus does. He cares about the weak and powerless. Such a caring and loving Lord and Savior He is-yet The Righteous Judge who will not turn a blind eye towards sin. He is not silent. I am glad you and others are not silent.

    I hear the “God hates divorce” verse quite frequently in sermons about marriage. It is never explained. Just that God hates it– but you can do it if you meet the two conditions-adultry, abandonment. Perhaps Jeff or someone could write a short article about what that verse specifically means? Is it divorce that God hates, or was it something else going on at the time. Or, please, if you could, direct me to an archived article if someone has written about it?

    Thanks for your compassion, Jeff, and all.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Diane: Good questions. Barbara will be answering your inquiry about Malachi 2:16 and directing you to her book which deals with it in detail. Yes, this is a VERY important issue to be clear on.

    • Hi Diane
      I’m so gladdened to hear of your outrage and activism about heinous sin in the church especially in church leadership. If we can help your activism in any way, let us know. You might also like to post stuff on my Facebook page as it will then come to the attention of others who are interested in abuse. especially domestic abuse. http://www.facebook.com/BarbaraRobertsNUB

      re “God hates divorce” –– it is a slogan that should be thrown well and truly in the trash bin. That slogan is based on a mistranslation of Malachi 2:16. You can read in depth about this in chapter 8 of my book Not Under Bondage. (see our Resources page on this blog for further details)
      I also explain a little why the slogan is wrong in this interview I did with Angela Ruth Strong
      http://angelaruthstrong.blogspot.com/2011/12/interview-barbara-roberts.html#more

      • Diane

        Thank you so very much!

  6. Njoy

    Thanks to Barbara for suggesting this site to me. Quite often I have suggested women go to a church pastor for help in this type of situation. I will not be so quick to continue that advice after reading Laura’s story.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, we all learn from these stories, don’t we? There are actually very few pastors and churches that really “get” it when it comes to abuse.

  7. Anonymous

    Dear Laura, Praying for you and giving you hugs in the spirit! There are people in the Body of Christ who stand with you in spirit, even if they can’t be found in your local congregation. I hope you will one day find a church where you feel justice, safety, validation and real love.

  8. Rebecca

    Dear Laura,

    My heart aches for you. I have also lived what you experienced in that church. It truly was as painful as abuse, watching a church take the side of an abuser. I placed ‘evidence’ of ex’s behaviors on a Pastor’s table in his office, and he never spoke about it again.

    I am so sorry for what you’ve experienced and am thankful for you that you are finding freedom and validation of the truth, especially here through this ministry and blog.

    When Pastor Jeff wrote: “These kinds of pastors are the “respectable” lot in their denominations. They often enjoy the luxury of quite comfy church buildings, a generous salary and benefits, and achieve career success in their denominational ladders. Taking the side of the abuse victims jeopardizes much of this.”

    and….”And then there are churches that become virtually cultic when they press male headship to extremes of patriarchy and thus women such as yourself face an uphill and virtually losing battle the moment they walk in the pastor’s office to ask for help.”

    That is exactly what I feel I see happening in this C&MA church where I used to attend. A friend of mine was told something similar, in that if her ‘ex’ came back (he left suddenly, taking all their financial assets in the process) she would have to take him back. He did not come back. I’ve learned over the past 4 yrs that there is a pattern of enabling abusers and perpetrators in this church, which is quite extensive and disturbing.

    I too wish more Christians would become angry or unsettled enough to become proactive and stand up for abuse victims and their children. My small part may not bring about any change, but I felt I needed to do something. I posted several questions on the C&MA forum, which led to a thorough yet healthy discussion of abuse, ‘dating while going through a divorce,’ and Pastoral responsibility in addressing blatant sin, or ignoring it. I wanted to know if the C&MA had a different perspective than Biblical doctrine on dating while going through a divorce ( I am not the one dating), and leaderships responsibility on addressing this as well as supporting an abuser over the survivor.

    The short version of the story is that the C&MA National Board claims it apparently does have clear guidelines on the churches responsibility when known abuse is happening, and how to support the victims. If leadership is not doing their part, after Biblical confrontation has been attempted, they are to be reported to the district’s superintendent, and so on. (They also state they do not support adultery in any form, which includes dating while going through a divorce.) I felt I had exhausted Biblical confrontation within this church, as did another church member. I have sent letters and documentation on to the district superintendent,, and to the National Board member who responded to the posts, as was their recommended course of action. It wasn’t an easy decision, because the potential harassment and fallout from ex and the church could be heavy.

    My belief is the behaviors need to be confronted and called out, not out of vindication, but in truth, accountability, and for the protection of all victims, past and present. If court action is necessary, then I’d prayerfully consider this as well. Laura, you have my prayers and support. Anything I can do to help I am willing. You are strong and courageous, God has a hope and a future for you. It is empowering to take a stand and speak the truth in love.

    Rebecca

  9. anonymous

    Laura,

    I am so sorry for what you have gone through, but know that you are not alone. There are probably many of us out here. Yes, I say, “us” as I, too, have experienced what you describe. In every situation where I tried to get help, my husband skillfully sidetracked issues, twisted facts, and convinced leaders I was the problem. They just automatically believed his word over mine. It all started when, like you, I followed the advice of a Christian counselor-author who wrote, “If husband refuses to listen to your presented concerns, you may need to provide some examples …” so since unapproachability was one of the destructive patterns in our relationship, I begun documenting the unresolved situations as they arose and were left undone. I thought surely at the right time God will be able to use this as a tool to help open husband’s eyes to his abuses. But, when the time came that I presented the collected examples (one night after yet another destructive scenario), he threw them down and accused me of “keeping a record of wrongs.“ With my approval he contacted a counseling couple as I knew we needed one and thought surely they would come to my aid. Not. His manipulation was bought hook line and sinker and the idea that I had actually practiced love by providing husband concrete evidence for the concerns brought forth was totally rejected. Instead, they agreed I had violated 1 Cor. 13. Husband made it seem as though I had intended to bring the “list” for them to read. It was never brought as that was not its purpose. The documentation was intended only for him. He chose to misrepresent this truth and created for them the impression I was an angry, critical, and unforgiving wife … This was the beginning of my realization of what a con-man I was married to. Cold and calculating. It was also the beginning of the dismaying spiritual abuse (misuse of scripture, favoritism, and other such confusions) I would experience from leaders.

    Because he got away with his manipulation, his destructiveness was only enabled all the more. His entitlement spirit increased and he went deeper in to sin. Eventually, I discovered him viewing porn as well, and he claimed it was an isolated incident… His blame-shifting attitude, however, spoke the opposite. So when I went to seek third party help again (this time with our church elders), I heard things like: “You are pushing your husband away….” (me ….pushing him??)…. “You need to trust him…” (I had requested access to his credit card statements, but he refused to allow me to see them…??? ) … To that, the elders said it was the husband’s perogative as head and financial leader to determine whether or not his wife should have access to account information…. ??? I could not believe the things I was hearing. They claimed my struggle to trust husband’s word was indicative of an unforgiving spirit…. Sigh…. On and on it went. When I tried to dialogue with them about the growing confusions, they refused to…. and told me I could not ask questions. They accused me of borderline heresy because I viewed trust as being separate from forgiveness. They said I was wrong for believing in a need to see fruit of repentence. They said I had an “inordinant desire to be understood” because I was struggling with all that was unfolding rather than just accepting their guidance… These are just a few examples of what I experienced…

    Thankfully, the Lord gave me the conviction and courage to eventually step away from that church. I did so not in anger but with a private respectful letter to the elders clarifying the confusions, oppression, and inconsistencies encountered. They never sought to reply or show any concern for my shaken confidence in them. I thought I was going to a safer church because I moved to one that hosts the ministry, “Mending the Soul” by Steven Tracy, (a great ministry btw!) but when husband soon followed to this church too and the former elders decided to get in touch with the leadership “to brief them about us…” …everything started coming back around full circle. It is unbelievable that this could be happening even in a church where abuse is supposed to be understood and recognized as reality….. Just like before, though, my questions about confusions are being ignored and I am being treated as though my husband’s word has greater weight. If I did not have the Lord to lean on right now and the MTS ladies group (as well as another online group), I would be totally undone. Thank God for what you, Jeff and Barbara, too, are accomplishing here through this blog. It ministers greatly to my soul and I am certain to others as well. Awakening is just not going to occur until more men like you, Jeff, begin standing for the truth.
    Sorry for the length. Just wanted to share another experience in hopes that all our stories coming together could help make clear the picture that spiritual abuse is prevalant.

    • Dear Anonymous, no need to apologise for the length of your comment. Your story is very valuable and you have articulated it with such clarity. I am especially interested (and dismayed) that a church which hosts the Mending the Soul ministry has been duped by an abuser and his co-abuser allies from your former church. This news angers and sorely grieves me, but does not greatly surprise me. A high degree of astuteness is needed to pierce through the smokescreen of lies emitted by the abuser. Abusers are like squid: they squirt out black ink when under attack, so their enemies cannot see what is really going on.

      Even when people have had training in abuse, they will not necessarily see that a false reality is being fed to them. Maybe with repeated, iterative training and many examples of case studies (such as your story), responsible bystanders will be able to penetrate the smokescreen and get down to the truth. But our experience so far would suggest that only when a person has been directly hurt by one or more abusers, AND has worked through the fog for themselves and analysed and re-calibrated all the history and current events to see the truth for what it is, are they on the way to becoming sufficiently astute to discern a new abuser when one crosses their path.

      When I refer to a person being directly hurt by one or more abusers, I’m referring not only to having been a direct victim of an abuser, but also to being a secondary victim of an abuser. For example, the ‘Daddy’s daughter’ scenario is a relatively common way for a pastor to wake up to this stuff:– if a pastor’s daughter suffers domestic abuse, the pastor may wake up and SEE this stuff for the first time, and begin to recalibrate his doctrines on divorce, forgiveness, submission, etc.

      “They agreed I had violated 1 Cor. 13” … but of course, they didn’t think THEY had violated it, did they?
      1 Corinthians 13 says “love believes all things”. I’ve realized recently that “all things” includes ALL truths about reality in this fallen world, including the reality that evil is evil –– that wicked people are very wicked. Your elders should have told themselves, “As loving and responsible elders obedient to 1 Cor. 13, we ought to believe that this husband is indeed as wicked as his wife is telling us he is! ”

      As for their ludicrous claim that you were in sin for having an “inordinate desire to be understood” I’m almost speechless! It’s as silly as the medieval scholars who argued about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. There’s no verse in the Bible that says it is sinful to desire to be understood. Rather, the Bible tells us that Christ-like character involves understanding others and seeking to be understood by them in love.

      God understands us, he knows everything about us; Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor and our advocate and intercessor; the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete who consoles, comforts, encourages, uplifts and refreshes us. Although God is the only one who perfectly understands us, the Bible encourages us to hope for this kind of understanding from our brothers and sisters in Christ especially as they become more and more Christlike.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Anon – and thank YOU for all of your encouragement to us here and for sharing your story. We hear it over and over, don’t we? This blog is beginning to be a real repository of such testimonies as yours as to the injustices that are regularly being effected upon abuse victims by their churches. Many things in your story jumped out at me, but this one particularly –

      “You need to trust him…” (I had requested access to his credit card statements, but he refused to allow me to see them…??? ) … To that, the elders said it was the husband’s perogative as head and financial leader to determine whether or not his wife should have access to account information…. ???”

      I am a Bible-believing, conservative pastor of a conservative church. And yet those words just scream out at me! This is a totally warped and twisted handling of the Word of God, to tell a wife that her husband has the authority over her to prevent her from seeing their financial details. At what point does such instruction become the mark of a cult? Those elders were stripping you of your legal rights as a wife and as a citizen of this country before the law. Are YOU not also obligated for the debts your household incurs? And yet they say you have no right to see the details? This is why critics of the Christian church and of the Word of God accuse us of being haters of women. God does not give any church, any pastor, or any church leaders the authority to tell you such things.

      Blessings on you in Christ!

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