How a Pastor and His Wife’s Eyes Were Opened to Abuse: A Letter to Pastors
Our readers might recall that some weeks back we said that we had heard from a pastor and his wife who greatly encouraged us. They explained how this blog had helped them come to understand the nature of abuse and to see how they needed to change their counseling methods in dealing with abuse situations. They graciously agreed to write this article not only for our readers, but for any pastors and church leaders who might read it. Many thanks to them for taking the time to tell their story!
An open letter to other pastors and their wives from a pastoral couple who have learned what abuse really is. . .
The “A Cry for Justice” blog was first introduced to my husband and me in January 2012, by a close friend who was going through a divorce. My husband is a pastor and formerly pastored the church where this friend attends. Not only was he her pastor but we also provided marital counseling to her and her now ex-husband. My husband has over 40 years in pastoral ministry, serving that particular church for over 20 years. Our denomination, that church, and our own theology would be characterized as very evangelical and very conservative.
I preface my thoughts with this information, because our denomination, that church, and our ministry would fall into the category that Pastor Crippen has identified as having the “deficit that is plaguing our churches – the pervasive lack of understanding of abuse.” At that time for us abuse would have been defined as physical abuse and only that; divorce was allowed for infidelity and nothing else; and pastoral counseling did everything possible to save a marriage. Issues were very black and white. There were no variations from a hard, strict, and legalistic view of the issues through a very narrow interpretation of scripture. On a side note, as our friend was going through her divorce process, our former church essentially ostracized her, not with any formal process, but through their narrow thinking that if there was no infidelity, then there should be no divorce. If you follow the blog, you are aware that Pastor Crippen has addressed this view – held by many renowned evangelical leaders. We, in fact, suggested, and she took our suggestion, not to attend that church but to use the Sunday morning worship time as a concentrated time of her own study of the God’s Word. She did that, primarily by listening to Pastor Crippen’s sermons via the Internet.
Now as we look back on this particular counseling experience, as well as others, we learned how very wrong we were in how we tried to help these couples. Through reading the blog and following what Jeff Crippen has taught pastors and churches, we realized that we really didn’t know or understand anything about abuse. I remember sitting in counseling sessions listening as her abuser would repeatedly tell us “I don’t get it”, “I’m not smart enough”, or “you don’t understand”, especially concerning the role of a husband and submission within a marriage. My husband and I would leave those sessions and spend hours trying to simplify what we were explaining in an attempt to make it more understandable. Now we know abusers try to cover-up their actions and control of their victims with these types of phrases. They argue that they are the head of the home and only their opinion counts and wives are instructed to listen and obey (“submit’) without questioning their authority. Now we know that they were abusers using controlling and intimidating arguments to get what they want – absolute control! Then they, the abusers, would also try to gain our sympathy by trying to convince us that they could not understand the help and suggestions we, as counselors, were offering to them.
A familiar response was “I don’t get it.”
It wasn’t until this past year through reading, following the blog, and walking with our friend through her divorce, that we realized that abusers use these tactics and feel entitled to do so in order to get and keep control of their spouses and family. Could we have helped to prevent the divorce that our friend was going through? No, we don’t think so. Her now ex-husband did and still has a cold, calculating heart; he continues to be manipulative and controlling. In our opinion he would be one of those who profess to be a Christian but their lives and actions show something completely different, certainly none of the characteristics described as the Fruit of the Spirit. We now realize that this man is an emotional and verbal abuser and has no desire to change. Although he no longer has any relationship with our friend, his abusive actions continue with his children and with others. Through much prayer, sharing with them how their father is an abuser, and his abusive tactics now directed at them, our friend’s children are making great strides in understanding abuse and not allowing their dad to continue to emotionally and verbally abuse them.
Again, before our recent understanding of abuse, our view of abuse was limited to physical abuse. And we were too ignorant of what abuse entails to identify other abuse as verbal, neglect, emotional, and even sexual within the confines of a marriage. The one thing we were able to identify was that one spouse always thought that they were right, the other one was in wrong and there was no in between for the spouse who thought they were always right! We did all the ‘normal, marital counseling techniques: we shared and studied Ephesians 5 and prayed with the couple. It was so inadequate, but at the time that is what we thought was right and needed to be done. We, like most other Christian counselors, would get caught up in trying to fix the marriage because that’s what God would want. We were naïve in believing that we could actually do that.
Today, we would take a totally different approach. We would counsel the husband and wife separately for some time before a joint session, if any. This allows the spouse who is suffering the abuse to speak freely without fearing repercussions from the abusing spouse. We never doubted what a victim would tell us about what was happening in their marriage, but we do believe that some victims hesitated to actually share everything because in most cases both husband and wife were involved in our church and they didn’t want the pastor and wife to think badly of either one of them. So they seemed to be good at skirting the issues. Sometimes we could probe and get more of the ‘real problem’ revealed but more often not. By meeting separately, some of these barriers to getting at the real problem would be more easily revealed.
In summary we would like to acknowledge that we didn’t know how to identify abuse, how to really help the abused spouse, or how to get our church past its narrow, legalistic views. If there are pastoral couples reading this blog entry, may we suggest you go to the blog archives and search under “Pastors and Abuse” for the 10 part series that Pastor Crippen wrote in July 2012 that specifically teaches Pastors what they need to learn about abuse and maybe then change about how they counsel and help abuse victims within their churches. NOTE: Here is the link to part 1 of that series: Pastors and Abuse (Part 1)