A Story of Abuse and Shame: Setup by the Religion of the Pharisees and How Jesus Set Her Free!

The following is an abuse survivor’s story which she has graciously and bravely agreed to share with us. Identifying details have been changed but all the rest of the story is quite true. Notice in particular how the shaming of a Pharisee and Pharisaical system set this young woman up as a target for a very wicked abuser and contributed to keeping her in bondage. Also we see numerous examples here of Christian schools and missions agencies with an appalling lack of care and caution. Read, learn, and see Christ in action!

Potential Trigger Warning: This story will no doubt trip those triggers in some readers. But it has a happy ending!


My background and the setup. I was raised Episcopal. I believe I was raised with a pretty healthy theology….although there was a drastic disconnect between what my parents taught us and what was going on inside our home. By the time I was 20, I had all but discarded everything I had been taught. I still had a “decent” relationship with Christ but I was pretty certain He did not want anything to do with me and my utter sinfulness.

When I was 22, I got engaged to a man who was not a believer and he and I had sex. At 24, both of my parents died suddenly. It was absolutely traumatizing for all of us. A counselor showed up on our doorstep a few weeks after the accident. She was a friend of my mother’s. She asked if she could come in and, possibly, bring me some comfort. She shared some verses from Job with me and, (sadly) in my utter vulnerability, she pried. She asked if I had committed (what seemed to be) the unforgivable sin of having sex before marriage. I cried and said “yes”. She suggested I break off my unhealthy engagement and go to a very conservative Christian university. She also told me that a godly man would have a very difficult time marrying me. She gave me the impression that I was damaged goods.

Five months after my parents died, I had moved myself from my home state to the east coast and enrolled at the university. In November, I met my husband. I had zero self-esteem and zero self-image. Although I was a pretty girl, I believed I was ugly. Several convocations at the university further stressed the fact that I had ruined myself by having pre-marital sex. I told my then fiancé about the sex before marriage….and he used this to manipulate me into believing that no man would ever want me but he would tolerate me. I was 25….I thought he was my last chance to be married. Two lies were at work: (1) I was used up and undesirable by a godly man and (2) If I didn’t get married, I could not please God.

We were engaged one year after my parents died. I was insecure and afraid. I thought that Dan was a godly, protective “man of God”. He was studying to be a pastor / missionary. We were married the next year. Dan felt God’s call to ministry and graduated from seminary. Later I would be accused by him of ruining his ministry.

Dan is a talented / gifted musician. When he was 14, he was leading a revival and he caught the eye of a young Baptist missionary. This man took news of Dan back to the church and they all decided to sponsor him. When he was 19, they brought him to the university. I met him when he was about 22 and we married when he was 23. He then took us to seminary where he studied for his MDiv. This was a conservative seminary.

Dan was only truly a pastor for about one year. It was short-lived because our marriage was already disintegrating and the senior pastor was about to be ousted. We both knew we had to get out. We went back to seminary and he applied to be a missionary to a few places but he never really followed through. He has this weird theology that somehow makes him guilty all the time — as though he “owes” God his life — in a slave / missionary kind of way.

No honeymoon — I had a dark and foreboding feeling and experience. The first deep sadness came over me as I realized I had married a man who did not see me as a whole person. He saw me as a woman — and a woman, in his book, did not seem to be worth much. I was expected to cook, clean and work hard for our week away. This sense that he saw me as a “half-person” grew over the years. It got worse the longer we were married. Using Scripture, he kept me under his thumb. He repeated verses over nearly a dozen years that kept me “in my place” — verses on women being submissive and staying in the home….verses that spoke that women needed to be quiet and respect their husbands. This continued throughout our marriage and was compounded by his time at seminary and his time as a pastor. I felt chained.

Dan showed me verses (I can quote them from memory) that said that my body belonged to him and he could do anything he wanted with it. He routinely gave me the impression that he could have sex whenever and however he wanted and that God blessed it. It didn’t matter what time of day or night it was….whether or I was sick or had a baby or whether it was consensual….I was to have sex with him at any given moment. Sex was painful for me. Somehow, he made it painful every time. I cried alone in the bathroom after every time we had sex. I dreaded sex but felt I had no way out. I believed I had married him and now I had no choice except to endure this life because God wanted me to. He believes that the children and I are his property. And he treats us this way.

Emotional abuse — Anything that happened that was bad or negative in our lives was blamed on me. Dan had a way of keeping the children and me guilt-ridden. By doing so, we were kept in enormous bondage to try to please him. He was impossible to please. No matter how hard I tried to be a godly and good wife and mother, he would not compliment me and he complained. No matter how pretty I tried to look, he refused to notice. He later admitted that he “did not want to make me vain”.

Each pregnancy became more difficult. My body near-broke with each child as I had four C-sections and, finally, was diagnosed with the worst case of diastasis the ob-gyn had ever seen. My abdominal muscles split from top to bottom. During the last C-section, I lost too much blood and the doctor told me that it would be a tremendous risk to have anymore children. We had learned from the Family and Marriage classes at seminary that having children was a blessing and a sign of God’s favor….so we tried to have as many as we could. The surgeon told me my tubes must be tied and I must not become pregnant again. I allowed him to perform the tubal ligation. My husband kept me in a place of guilt and responsibility for years over the fact that I could not have any more children.

Another example of emotional abuse was that my husband did not want me to look pretty. He did not like me to wear make up or stylish clothes. He became very agitated and angry when another man simply spoke to me. He made me feel like a flirt and a whore who “attracted” these different men. He did not believe I should even look them in the eye or speak to them. Again, my husband used God and Scripture to justify everything he did. He had a pornography addiction from the time he was 12 until now. He would vacillate between seeing this as a problem in our marriage and telling me that it was not a big deal. He was suspended at the university for using the library computers to look at porn and also put on probation for a year at the seminary for his addiction. Over time, his porn addiction wore down his views of women completely. He saw them all as seductresses — including my small daughters. He treated us with very little dignity. He saw us all as manipulative. He would speak about the women who were were trafficked and for sale as though they wanted to throw godly man “off the straight and narrow”, instead of women who were stolen from their homes and beaten and raped. He treated our oldest daughter as though she was destined to be seductive. He spanked her and accused her of manipulation when she was only 3 or 4 months old. She hungered for his love and he refused to give it. He withheld love from everyone. He bred insecurity in all the children. They were never enough and could never be enough. In his mind, it seemed they were all born to serve him. He was destroying us on the inside.

There was always a sense of darkness and confusion. The children and I felt like we were crazy. There was an enormous amount of crazy going on. For instance, we could have a conversation like this daily:

Me: Why did you just tell James he didn’t do a good job on his artwork?

Dan: I didn’t say that.

Me: I just heard you say it. I know you said it.

Dan: You must have mis-heard

Me: No, I know you said it.

Dan: You are dreaming things….you are misunderstanding….you are making it up because you want me to feel like a sinner.

Me: No….I’m not crazy! I just heard you say that to our son!

Dan: Look at you! You’re acting crazy! It’s you….it’s not me! Look at you!!

He also did this to the children. We could see him doing something but….somehow, he didn’t really do it and we were all crazy. We were not allowed to speak ill of him or we were condemned for disrespect, which was a serious crime, according to the Bible. Dan came from family where all of the family keeps the abuse quiet and under-wraps because “leaking” it out would be a far worse sin than what is going on within the walls of our home. For a time when we lived near his family, I discovered it was an incestuous, cult-like mess of a family. Sexual abuse among the children and pornography were rampant, although they all went to a highly fundamental and conservative “church” where women were considered an after-thought and pride was out of control. When our daughter’s cousin touched her inappropriately, I felt the need to protect them. I spoke to Dan and his mother about what had happened they saw it as no big deal. I hovered over the children and did my best to keep them from being with their grandparents and cousins alone. Dan was very much under the control of his father. His father called the girls and me “whiny” and “weak”. He spoke ill of us to my husband and would perpetuate the abuse.

Dan would play on the emotions of the children. He would cry at the drop of a hat but also break out into a temper at the drop of a hat. There was absolutely zero self-control. For example, he would cry in front of our six year old daughter (by cry, I mean sob) until she felt so sorry for him that she would do anything he wanted. He consistently went back and forth between anger and sobbing. He also went back and forth between a form of hyper-spirituality and a dark depressed time of believing he was “not saved”. In fact, he “became saved” a dozen times. Promising change but going right back to his old ways every single time. If I wasn’t what he wanted me to be….if I was afraid or shy of him….he would accuse me of not forgiving him after the abuse….he told me that if I did not forgive him (meaning, continue to be married to him and live as though nothing bad just happened), that God would not forgive me my sins.

I went (about 6 times) to different men at the seminary for help. Women did not seem to be around the seminary / church in any helpful sort of capacity! Every time, the man scolded me and threw me back in.

“Submission” — Often, Dan would “punish” us for not being submissive. A month before we left him, we took a vacation in the mountains. He became angry at all of us  for a reason I cannot remember. We were traveling along a steep ridge in the mountain, hiking downward. The children were very young. The baby was in a baby backpack on his back. He was so angry and growing in anger that the children did not want to walk by his side. They huddled around me, afraid. But the ridge was narrow and we really should have each had two children a piece in order to make it safely down. He screamed that one of the children needed to walk with him. They froze out of fear. None of them wanted to go to him. He demanded and they hid behind me. He walked up into my face and said angrily and sarcastically, “Fine. None of you — even your mother — has to submit to me. You’re on your own.” He stormed off and left the rest of us by ourselves on the mountain. We had to find our way down alone. It was difficult but I made it. I found him later at the bottom of the mountain. He didn’t talk to me for 2 days.

I was always in trouble but never knew why. Days of silence or anger could go by before he would tell me what I had done. When he did tell me, it was usually something about how I had said something to someone else he didn’t like.

We were isolated. Dan didn’t like any of my friends and constantly told me this. I had to hide the times I saw friends often. I was always disapproved of by Dan and his family.

Dan still sends letters describing me as a sinner. Telling me God is not with me and that God will not bless the children and me for leaving. He paints a picture of a sinful, adulterous woman but then “graciously” offers to take me back. He acts like he is my only hope and that I will never make it in this world without him.

Physical abuse — The physical abuse grew in volume the last 2 years of our marriage, although there was a great deal of intimidation, screaming and over-spanking that went on before then. When our first child was 2 and 3 years old, I noticed Dan getting angry at him. He would do such things as flick him on the back of his head….grab and bruise his upper-arms….force and drag him to make him do what he wanted. He was demeaning. He took away his dignity at every turn. While treating James with very little respect as a human being, he would treat our daughter (as previously mentioned) as a manipulative seductress-to-be. He once spanked her 15 times when she was only 3 years old. He often spanked them much more than necessary. He gave no warning — he would drag them by the arms to the bathroom and just spank them mercilessly. I could hear them begging him to stop….promising they would be good. He did not stop. It broke my heart. I spent much time trying to get in between Dan and the children when he was about to “let them have it”. He would push me aside, unless I was able to calm him down. Even then, he told me I was not submissive and would not allow him to be the father God wanted him to be.

In the months leading up to our departure from him, Dan became much more aggressive. He would sulk around the house but throw fits of rage whenever he felt the kids weren’t obeying. A month before we left, he became angry at my 8 year old son for disobeying him in the store. While in the store, he grabbed him around the shoulders and his back, lifted him up and screamed at him in his face. I noticed deep bruising on the sides of James’s spine later that night and asked Dan where those strange marks came from. He replied, “I don’t know! I was wondering that, myself!” When I asked James privately, he told me about the store incident.

During those last months, the children and I always had bruises on our upper arms from Dan’s angry grabs and drags. The children also routinely had bruises on their faces from him forcing them to eat food they didn’t like and bruises on their little legs from aggressive spankings. He routinely hurt the boys from the haircuts he would give them. James still will not allow anyone to use clippers on his hair. One time, a few weeks before we left, James stood up to him and said he would not allow him to give him a haircut. Dan became extremely angry. He screamed at all of us. I intervened and gave James time to get away. By the time I had his father calmed down, James had spent 20 minutes hiding and crying in the shower. I found him in a little ball, shaking in the stall. I will never forget it.

I will also never forget the time that Dan grabbed James off of his top bunk and held him upside down in anger. I still remember the horrible noise that came from him when he was forced into that position. It makes me nauseated. I held James for a long time after those types of things would happen. I would tell him that it wasn’t right and that God was not like his father. This last time, I asked James if he was afraid of his father and he said “Yes”. I knew we had to find a way out.

Dan and I would argue during those crazy conversations described above. If I did not agree with him, he would grow in anger and volume. A handful of times, he would escalate into physically abusing me. For example, he once had me cornered in the kitchen. He had a tight, painful grip on me and I couldn’t get away. I was cornered and struggled. He threw me against the wall — hard. I could not lift my children for 2 weeks after that. Or raise my arms at all. Another time, he pinned me down and spanked me. He yelled, “You just will not submit to me!!” With each syllable came a punctuated spanking. Another time, he pinned my arms down by my side and squeezed me hard. I struggled to get out of his grip. My arm flew up and hit his ear. He made a tremendous drama out of my “hitting him” and even went to the doctor. I never went to the doctor although my ribs were bruised. He talked about how I hurt his ear to anyone who would listen. I never heard what the doctor said….he was never given any medicine or treatment….

There were two times where I went into, what I can only describe as, a black, emotional coma. I felt like I was crazy. I climbed into bed and didn’t get out for 2 days and 2 nights. The children remember this (sob!). He had to feed them. I wanted to die. The oppression was so great that I just wanted to kill myself. I have never experienced this again. It felt demonic. I am not sure what to make of it.

My mothering — I took genuine and loving care of all of my babies. I read all the books I could find on how to be a good mother. I breast-fed all of them for a year and made my own baby food. I kept them on a good schedule and tried hard to be a good mother to them. I always took them to the doctor. Dan worked night-shifts and went to school in the morning for most of our marriage. So, the parenting responsibilities fell to me. The time with the children was sweet but we always dreaded the weekends when Dan came home. He was usually angry and tired and we all felt the brunt of that. I decided to homeschool and did so, successfully for 3 years. I loved being with my children. It was a lot of work but I cherished it. I learned about nutrition and health and I began trying to cook organic and make my own bread, etc. Being a mother was a bright spot in my life.

Departure — After 9 years of marriage and our fourth baby was born, it became clear that our marriage was disintegrating rapidly. A friend came to visit for a few days while he was interviewing for a job in a nearby city. He noticed things. He said this to me: “You know that this is not normal, don’t you?” I knew things were really bad.

I tried to leave but had no money and had just had our last baby. I didn’t know where to go. My parents died before I was married. The kids and I became more isolated. The abuse was getting be be great. We couldn’t take it anymore. My friend, noticed bruises on our arms and I was honest with her. She encouraged me to go to the pastor of our small church and we did. I told him everything. Dan agreed to get counsel with him for one month, every day. We had already been in a type of biblical counseling for nearly 3 years with two other men / counselors. But, I wanted to give it one more try. During that month, things got darker. I knew we had to go.

My friend and her husband went with me on a Friday night to a travel agency. They bought the children and me tickets. On Saturday morning, we left with four suitcases. My intent was to never go back. I knew it was completely over and I knew I had to get the children to safety. Since then, I have worked hard with the children to provide them with all the security and stability I could offer. They have thrived in the news schools — even being placed in the higher accelerated learning program. They have done better and been more secure than I have ever seen them. We laugh now — we are free! For all of us, any thought of returning to their father is a sickening thought.

The kids and I have only been to church a handful of times during the past year. I can hardly stand it. Anytime I hear anything that only slightly resembles where I have come from, I am nauseous (literally). I had to drive by the seminary a few months back and I started to have a panic attack. Although I believe I did the right thing….I still have to stay far away from my family, my ex and his family. Just the slightest bit of exposure to them and I begin to doubt myself. It is amazing what 12 years of oppression can do to a person.

I believe every word of the Bible. I had to pray a few years ago that God would give me a clean slate. I had to stop “reading into” the Bible all the things my ex-husband would tell me and all the things the seminary had said. I begged God to reveal Himself to me in His way. I found I didn’t really know Him at all — I just knew what others had told me about Him. I almost threw the baby out with the bathwater. I started reading the Bible in places the seminary had not touched upon. Like Joel.  And Amos and, especially, Isaiah. God began revealing Himself to me as He is….the One who sets the captives free.

[April 8, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to April 8, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to April 8, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to April 8, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 8, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

7 thoughts on “A Story of Abuse and Shame: Setup by the Religion of the Pharisees and How Jesus Set Her Free!”

  1. Thank you for sharing this — I am glad that God have you strength to survive and get out of that situation (I know leaving can feel weak, but it is not, it is strength).

    This part really spoke to me:

    I found I didn’t really know Him at all — I just knew what others had told me about Him. I almost threw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I remember the exact moment and place where I cried out to God those words: “God, I don’t know you at all!” I didn’t mean “know” as in salvation, but as in understanding what He had for me or expected from me. I thought I had stuff figured out: insert Jeff’s service and out pops God’s blessing. But all of those assumptions were dashed.

    And after I cried out, instinctively the answer: “That’s right, you don’t.”

    I wish I could say that everything changed for me in that moment — it didn’t, but it was the start of something new and powerful. It sounds like you went through a similar process.

  2. First of all — THANK YOU, JESUS — that you’re still here to share your testimony and in the process help others to break free of the dark, demonic legalism that keeps so many in the church in bondage. I really appreciate you speaking out and being so honest about what happened.

    The bottom line is that this guy was his own god. Out of respect for God he should have loved and cherished you and your children, but instead, as in every abusive relationship, power and control became more important than love.

    Know that I feel a lot of your pain and that you are covered by Grace with a capital “G” — the marital contract was violated and I believe very strongly that God condones your freedom. He knows the plans He has for you.

    I’ll bet that you’ve taken appropriate steps in documenting and helping secure your family’s safety, but I’d encourage you to visit Document The Abuse to learn about the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit (EAA) if you’re unfamiliar with it.

    Thanks, and blessings on you and your little people!

    1. Thanks, Wildninja. I have put the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit link on our Resources page, just under the hotline phone numbers. And thanks, Anonymous, for sharing your story. Your wonderful friend who bought you those tickets! I bet all the angels in heaven were smiling when they saw that.

  3. As a sister said the other day, “Have you been a fly on my wall, watching the events of my life?” Sister, your history walks like mine, albeit without so many bruises. I am taller than my ex, I think that may have intimidated him a bit. But, OMW, these guys are unnaturally strong. They think they barely touch you, but they leave bruises or wrenching behind when they are finished. God be praised, He gave you strength, He gave you courage, He gave you help, He set His daughter free AND her Matthew 18 children! The Gospel was alive and well that day….and it still is!

    I am firmly convinced that God will move heaven and earth to save one of the little children that believe in Him. So watch out, you who think you get away with offending one of His little ones. No threat, but a warning because of a promise that God Himself made.

    Women did not seem to be around the seminary / church in any helpful sort of capacity!

    Daughters of Zion! Do we not see the cry? Do we not know the need? We talk about women’s role in ministry….sisters, this is a great need! How much earlier could this family have had help if someone would have stood against the traditions of the “church” and been there to help them find God’s grace?

    For myself, I know I needed a woman to help me understand the Scriptures concerning God’s word to me (which I eventually found at a website with much the same name). I needed a sister who understood my fears, my emotional fragility BEFORE GOD….not a politically correct “today’s” woman who just won’t let a man own her. This didn’t help, because of the brainwashing surrounding submission and headship authority and women’s place. That needs God’s promises to break free from.

    May God receive the full reward of His sufferings in and through us all.

  4. Barbara, you are brave to put this post out and I’m sure many will benefit from this testimony.

    I am so happy for you (the Anonymous writer of the testimony) and your children to have escaped the madness. I am the last one to push divorce when there is another solution, but in your case, divorce and leaving this man was the only way out. Your kids safety (as well as your own safety) was at stake and no person should have to endure that kind of treatment.

    Children deserve to have happy childhoods! I believe God made a way of escape for you….I pray you and your kids find happiness and healing all the days of your lives. I have never been abused by my husband, or my father, but I was verbally abused by someone in leadership in my church. Abuse is never acceptable! NEVER!!

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