A survivor and I were talking about how her refusal to reconcile with her abuser might get her excommunicated from her beloved church. Her feelings reminded me of untangling from X and his parents. Here are some of the things I wrote to my friend:
Leaving X didn’t just cost me the marriage, the house, the promising financial future that we looked forward to. It cost many relationships, relationships that I had been in for decades. Our roots were all entangled. The untangling is so difficult, so confusing. I knew what I was risking when I exposed X’s issues. I knew that if he didn’t change, I’d lose all of that. But having us live in freedom from his wrath one way or another was worth the risk. We could not continue like we were. He didn’t surrender to Christ and I divorced him. We are still better off than we were when we were together and he was boiling over with rage and each day was filled with fear and dread.
I lost most of his family.
I thought X’s family was this wonderful sitcom family. His mom was my best friend. I had loved being around her since I was a teenager. I thought she loved me like a daughter. I thought she loved X enough to challenge him and hold him accountable; to insist that he get help. I thought she understood. I thought his dad was the quirky dad who parrots political pundits too much and gives away movie spoilers EVERY darn time. So cute. So endearing. We ate dinner with them a couple of times a week. I called her when I needed prayer. I told her my hopes, my fears, my dreams. All I wanted in life was to be happy with that family, to see them smile and laugh. I thought we were as good as it gets. I thought I was safe when I was with them. I wasn’t.
A friend pointed out that so much about that family is spurious. It’s a facade hiding mold (porn) and filth (abuse) and death (willful blindness to it all). When I saw what it was costing X, how it was harming his soul, and I demanded that they hold him accountable, they turned on me. I became the problem. I became the bad kid who ruined “our Sundays.” My refusal to be abused, to take it and make everyone think everything is my fault and my responsibility, exposed their cowardice; exposed the fact that this is all pretend, that no one is interested in bringing glory and honor to Christ. They are interested in looking good; in convincing themselves that they are all okay, maybe a little quirky, but just fine. And because I won’t go along with the charade anymore, they look bad. I must be bitter, crazy, conniving, thieving, unstable, dramatic, power hungry, overreacting, unreasonable, not willing to listen, listening to the “internet people” rather than X’s dad. I was called all of that to my face. Who knows what I was called when I wasn’t around.
When X’s adultery was exposed, I was blamed for the exposure even though his co-adulterer’s husband is the one who outed them. I am the scapegoat. I tried and tried to help them understand. I thought they loved me, that they loved him. Now I believe that they don’t, but they think they do. What they really love is the veneer they created. And now I have cost them what they loved. I really thought I could get them to see. I thought they would help my children, help X, help me. Listening to them put us all in danger. Trying to enlighten them was exhausting and made me physically ill.
I think this is a similar dynamic to what you are experiencing with your church. I think you love your church and you think they love you. They think they love you like X’s parents still think they love me but I am a bitter crazy person. X’s parents are willfully ignorant of what their son has done and the lifelong implications of it just as your church is ignoring your abuser’s sin and how it impacts your future together. X’s family thinks this could all be solved if I would just be reasonable and go to a marriage counselor and “work this out.” They are willfully ignorant of the fact that couples counseling for abuse situations is contraindicated. I believe this is the case with your church too. They will not see because it’ll cost them too much. Are they aware that CPS could take your children if you expose them to an abuser? Are they aware of the risks they are asking you to take with your kids? I don’t know how their legal department hasn’t thrown a flag on this play ages ago. You and your kids are at great risk. I don’t want y’all to be the sacrificial lambs that get hurt because of their willful ignorance and their idolatry of marriage. Your church staff thinks they are helping you. They are “for your marriage.” What marriage? That’s not a marriage! It’s a torture chamber. You, your children, and your husband/abuser are being harmed by their naivety. They are hurting everyone you love. They don’t mean to. But they are. I am praying that they will learn, but YOU don’t have to be the one to teach them or make them understand. Your job is to get out and get healthy. Your job is protect your kids and trust God to deal with this community that you love so much. He is faithful. I am praying for you. I am praying for your church. You can get safe and get away while God deals with their errors. And this is an error!
Here are some questions you can ask yourself or, if you are a friend helping someone untangle, you can ask your friend:
It seems to me that you believe your church loves you and cares about your safety. Is that what you believe? Why do you believe that?
What do you think might happen if you go back and he re-abuses you or your kids? What might be the consequences of that?
Since every time your church talks to you it exponentially increases your distress, what is holding you back from walking away from your church?
What if you brainstorm on paper a list of the pros and cons of going back to your abuser?
Dear readers, you can untangle. God will help you. I am thinking of the post To Fish or Cut Bait and thinking that the same scriptures that encouraged me there could apply as you untangle from your church. Trust God. He will make a way.