A Cry For Justice

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

How can you get your pastor to help?


Here’s the pattern I’ve lived and seen in others. We KNOW our husbands are doing some awful things. But we don’t want people to hate him or judge him. We want him to be loved and get pastoral care. We hope that a little talking to will wake him up and he will straighten up and fly right. There will be a tug of the Holy Spirit, a turning away from sin, and we can live happily ever after. No big confrontation. No big lawyer bill. No wagging tongues. No 911. Just a pastor tending his sheep and keeping us all safe. Because I was trying to be careful, I spoke victimese to my pastors at first.

Pastors, here’s an ACFJ translator for when a target of abuse comes to you seeking help.

Concerned = Scared out of our minds
Grumpy = He’s a tyrant
Communication problems = Name calling and blaming tirades.
He’s not getting enough rest = Stays up all night looking at porn.
Please pray = Please ask if I’m safe. Ask me several times in several ways because I won’t want to say that I’m not.
Financial problems = He believes he’s entitled to spend on whatever he wants and the rest of us should eat ramen.
He’s struggling = He’s not a Christian. Please share the gospel with him in a one on one setting (not a sermon that you hope he’ll respond to) and don’t allow him to deflect with a joke.
He’s worried about his mother = His mother won’t leave us alone and I can’t live like this.
Anger/temper problems = He’s violent. Please help.

So we tell the pastor we are concerned. That we want prayer. That he’s struggling and grumpy. Very minor stuff. Please don’t hate him. He’s struggling and I’m concerned that the kids’ relationship with him will suffer because he’s not communicating with them well… Exposing “little” sins backfires because the target comes off looking like the church lady who judges her husband for being too worldly. I think it needs to be a Shock and Awe campaign from the get go and with as much hard evidence as can be gathered.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking. Instead of using minimizing terms and hoping that the pastor will understand our hidden meanings or that he’ll follow up with the abuser and see the issues for himself, I believe that it might be better to go straight to the top of the list of the abusers’ horrible deeds; to expose the very worst thing going on, well documented if possible, and expose it to the pastor and an elder. Tell him we feel unsafe. Tell him we need the church to act. Tell him we want the husband to surrender to Christ, and you need the church’s help. If the church doesn’t take you seriously when you expose something horrible, I suggest that you get to one that will.

Shock and Awe.

I would suggest that you not try to diminish the problems and that you not worry about how the church staff would think of him if they really knew ____. One thing I hear often at our church is “never be surprised when sinners sin.” Of course people who are not surrendered to Christ are going to act awful. EXPOSE it. Expose the thing that scares you the most. Get pastoral care for the scariest, most alarming thing you know of. Tell them. And if you have evidence of the shocking thing, present it. If you start with the little thing that isn’t so scary, but still a sin, just not one that would evoke revulsion, in my loved one’s experience at least, you get written off as a judgmental shrew who disapproves of “Breaking Bad” or the zombie show everyone loves. Bring the stinky thing into the light to get help. Don’t minimize it. Start with the big scary thing. Pastor will still love [your husband] no matter what you say. If he’s a true pastor he will love him enough to confront the sin that will kill him if it’s left alone. Shock and Awe. Use the big thing first. Don’t try to protect his reputation in front of the pastor. Tell the pastors the truth about the scariest thing. If they don’t know, they can’t help.

If your spouse is an abuser, we want to equip you to get help quickly and to recognize if you are getting help or if you are are being placed in a holding pattern while the pastors pray for the 2nd coming to occur so that they don’t have to do anything courageous. We know that you might be reluctant to seek help for the reasons listed above, and Julie Anne Smith adds

In my circles, this hesitancy in telling it like it is has to do with the teaching that women are to respect their husbands. To talk negatively about husbands in any way = disrespect. This is bad teaching. We were told to gently approach the subject w/husbands and if they disregarded us, then to give it to God and pray that our husbands’ hearts would change. We are to suffer for righteousness sake and to discuss this with anyone else is gossip.

It is the perfect framework for abuse to continue. Also, keep in mind, for men who believe this kind of stuff, their default response is: wife was not submissive. So, it does her harm to report it to pastor.

The difficult part is that how many of us really know how our pastor handles abuse situations?

I agree. I had those same reservations. That’s another reason why I spoke victimese! I didn’t want to be disrespectful. A caring pastor would care enough about BOTH of you to get you care. Putting boundaries and restrictions on the abuser’s behavior would give him the chance to demonstrate his repentance over a l-o-n-g period of time. But there’s no way to know how a pastor will handle it until he actually does. Pastors say all kinds of things. What HAVE they done? What WILL they do? WHEN? When? I want a date. If they say they’re going to do something, ask WHEN and follow up. If they don’t do anything, they won’t.

I have seen a loved one trying to get her church to help for years. Her husband has screamed swear words at her in the pastor’s office and the pastor did nothing. Like the spineless pastor depicted in Sexual Issues, her pastor didn’t want to take sides. Vomit. She is still looking for her husband to change. But instead of learning healthy boundaries and coping skills, she tries to punish him for his tyranny. This doesn’t work and he only gets meaner. My getting to safety has helped her see that it can be done. I tell her that I did nothing and I do nothing with a motivation to punish X. When she reacts to her husband that way, it makes her appear to be crazy. The church writes them both off and hopes they move away…

For me, my previous pastor handles it by not taking sides, and then using the three types of abusive control. And that’s one reason I am not there anymore. God very kindly took me out of that place. I have many friends there who love and pray for me, but that is not a safe place for targets of abuse.

This presents some questions. How do we know if if our situation will be handled safely, if at all? One suggestion is to ask the pastor “How would you handle it if a woman came to you seeking help to deal with an abusive husband.” If he doesn’t know, you might further test the waters and send him an article or two from ACFJ or another resource. Then you could ask him what he thinks of the advice provided here. That will give you an idea of how your issues will be handled. We hope that more and more churches, pastors, seminaries, and Christians learn how to recognize abuse and how to help deliver the oppressed. But if you aren’t in a safe church, our experience leads us to believe it’s better to find one than try to convert the pit of despair into a spa.


  1. Heather2

    Yes, Ellie!!!!! EXPOSE them!!!!! It has taken me three decades to agree to that. I understand fully that we all tend to make choices to hide it for various reasons. I did. But in hindsight, I say EXPOSE them. Let God deal with them. And anyone who would misjudge you needs to be cut out of your life.

  2. Lisa

    This is great stuff! Except for one thing, the victim isn’t really minimizing her husbands junk. She really thinks that way herself. We don’t see the horrific nature of our husbands, we focus on all the little things, the things we think are fixable. The big stuff is our fault anyway, right? If I was a better wife he wouldn’t get so mad, if I had a better body after having 8 kids then he wouldn’t need porn and be so tired. After all, he has to stay up late because he cares so much about the kids and wouldn’t want them to see.
    I really like your “translation” chart, that is all very true. I don’t think any woman would go for help if her husband was just grouchy, tired, too concerned for his mother…it takes a lot more for us to just ask for help about these little signs. This willingness to ask for help about these little things, is the awakening in her heart that there is something really wrong.
    Another great article. Thank you!

  3. Brenda R

    This is good stuff!! I wish I had had more insight before consulting my Pastor. I was far from cool, calm and collected. I am sure he thought I was a psycho creating my own problems at the time. He never did anything. He didn’t speak to my husband. He never asked me how things were going. Three years later we were divorced. I have sent my pastor articles from ACFJ, invitation to Leslie Vernick’s webinars which he said he had on the calendar, I have never gotten a response to it, a list of books that he could reference, abuse pamphlets. I’m not sure that any of it has made a difference or if he has put much effort into it.

  4. Anonymous

    Thank you Ellie. What a well versed article. Right from the beginning I stated the truth. All pastors and their wives (there were several) squirmed and then said, “let’s pray”… so we did … and then I was left with, “We shall continue to pray for you.” Not once did they suggest meeting with my husband and thus, they didn’t.
    That attempt at seeking leadership for help had me so confused as a new believer with young children. I didn’t see JESUS in this at all but yet I was so brainwashed into being loyal to ‘c’hurch leadership … after all ‘they watch over the flock’, right??
    “But if you aren’t in a safe church, our experience leads us to believe it’s better to find one than try to convert the pit of despair into a spa.” Still looking but in the meantime I am forever grateful and humbled that the Lord has led me to ministries like ACFJ to stand in the gap.

    • Barnabasintraining

      “But if you aren’t in a safe church, our experience leads us to believe it’s better to find one than try to convert the pit of despair into a spa.”

      Yep. Not gonna happen. They will only launch a counter conversion effort, and they have the pulpit, and the board power, and probably the people/congregation too. And they will use them.

  5. Isaiah40:31

    Very well written. And I agree that the ‘translator code’ is right on. I remember using a lot of those myself …. and no one ever got it, and I was too scared to translate for them.

  6. Bebaioó Charis

    What if we were simply taught the truth about psychopathy from the beginning?

    Romans 1:20-31″29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

    2 Tim 3:1-5 “1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

    The above two verses are extremely accurate definitions of people who are born with the brain functioning of a psychopath. They are BORN this way and it is the way they will ALWAYS be.

    There WILL be terrible times in the last days……..and it appears as though we may be living in them. Why is it so terrible? Because there are SO many of these people but we are never allowed to admit it. Those of us with a conscience are forced to endure all the responsibility for these people and when we’ve finally reached the maximum abuse level that we can tolerate without dying from sheer rape and exhaustion (not unlike the concubine in Judges 19) we get trite, worthless answers like those from the pastors in the article. Why does nobody help us? Many reasons probably but one of the biggest is that there are MANY psychopaths in the pulpit (and everywhere else too). MANY. If you think about it, it’s a perfect job for a psychopath. People seeking his counsel, asking for his advise (he thinks he’s God so of COURSE others should seek him out and rightfully worship him) and then HE gets to dole out frivolous answers or say some garbage about obeying and submitting and that we need to pray harder, and give more of ourselves. Those of us who love the Lord and who are the true peacemakers, (because we have Jesus in our hearts) will try like crazy to make sure we aren’t somehow the cause of the strife. So months turn into years because we were never told that this is not a relationship problem that has anything to do with us, but that it’s simply a result of the fact that these people were born without the ability to love. (They can NEVER love although they may appear to, this is simply a perversion. In place of love they can idolize, and this is what they do. They always idolize themselves first and then occasionally they will place this on another person for a time, but then it is back to worshiping themselves alone. )

    1 Cor. 1:1-3 “…but do not have LOVE, I am nothing……..but do not have LOVE, I gain nothing.” This is the TRUTH concerning psychopaths. They can NEVER gain anything that is of value to the Lord because they have been rejected. They can NEVER gain wisdom; they can NEVER gain insight into themselves or others; they can NEVER give love away but they can CERTAINLY steal, kill and destroy those who belong to the Lord….IF we are never told the truth about them and so learn to spot them and to guard our hearts and our minds through God’s word.

    If this is new information for you, please take heart. We’ve been so lied to by everyone, but NEVER did God lie to us. He’s told us in his Word that this is how it would be. Luke 12:53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father…..” Luke 23:29 “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and
    the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ For those of us who’ve married people who were incapable of loving us and then given birth to children who are like this as well, it is MORE than devastating. We’ve been taught (by the church and by psychology) that love can fix everything, but this is true ONLY if this love is of God. We are not mistakes (those of us with a conscience), and psychopaths are not mistakes either. This is the way God made us to be, and yes, some people are marked out for condemnation from long ago. Why? God himself only knows but it could simply be that he did this for US, for those of us who belong to him so that when we realize that a person is a psychopath we will not tread with them. That he let us learn the truth about evil (how utterly devastating it is), and that these people have chosen ABOVE ALL ELSE to reject him and to worship themselves. If it is devastating to us, how much more devastating is it for God who wants all people to turn to him?

    So how are we to reconcile this? How are we supposed to accept that we’ve never been told the truth? How are we to grow and heal and learn when we were never allowed to know the truth? By accepting the truth. That’s it. We must first accept the truth of this so that God can then work in our life. He alone is our true comforter; he alone loves us more than we can even fathom, but without the truth of this, we can’t be set free, we can’t even begin to mourn so that we can then receive his comfort.

    Have you ever noticed how much business Jesus took care of while he was busy doing the work of walking to the cross and then dying on it for our sins? It’s amazingly spectacular if you stop and think about it. As he’s walking he’s also talking, tells the women that they should pay attention to the signs and that the women in the end times will be blessed if they never had children, gave his mother to John for him to care for, told the man on the cross that he would be in heaven with him, and more. And this is AFTER being flogged, ridiculed and stabbed in the head with a crown of thorns. But what did Jesus NEVER do? He NEVER denied that it was HORRIBLE. Jesus was NOT a positive thinker, he did NOT deny that this was HARD. That it was DEVASTATING. That if God would allow him to, he would opt out. And Jesus does not expect us to deny that this is HORRILBE. That when we married and gave birth that it would be to people who HATED us, who could never love others, and will always be abusive. He DOES tell us that it WILL be as HORRIBLE as it is, and that for those of us who can love so deeply, will be so deeply hurt.

    So back to seeking help from a pastor by being honest about how devastating it is to dwell with a monster. It is probably futile in most cases as many pastors are without a conscience themselves, or are not educated on how dangerous, predatory and prevalent psychopaths are. And we have been wrongly taught that when there is a conflict between two people,that the answer or the way to resolve the problem is for both to meet halfway. This is absolutely impossible (and dangerous) when dealing with a conscienceless person as they are always just trying to fight and to manipulate for the sake of manipulating and gaining dominance, and they desire no resolution. Psalm 55:21 “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” But, we are blessed to have places like this to go, websites like this. Websites like this is where you may find truth and hope and help. I don’t know what I would have done without the truth I’ve learned because so many people have turned to places like this and spoken the truth. But God knew, didn’t he? He knew that we would all need each other, that we would need places to go to find the truth, to know that we are not alone and to know that others have been devastated by evil. And this too is not a mistake. This too is part of his plan. To be here for us when we needed help, and then he provided this for us.

  7. Marah

    I’ve done all those things over the years too, the minimizing. I was just reading in “Why Does He Do That?” about trauma bonds, and I totally see my need to ‘protect’ him being a result of trauma bonding. I’ve been so grateful for the good things he’s been for me that I felt s deep compulsion to guard his reputation. I never wanted anyone to think badly of him…just help me.

    But you know what I’ve learned? Nobody is interested in helping you if they don’t understand your need. And the only way they will understand is if you can communicate clearly, directly, without too much emotion, and without mincing words. Terrifying for those of us who have made a lifestyle out of keeping our needs as unobtrusive as possible.

    • This all reminds me of a true story I heard from a victim.

      She had been assaulted by her partner, but there were no obvious marks (blood, bruises). She went to the police to report it. She reported it in a calm almost robotic voice. The police said “You are too calm for all that to have happened to you.” They didn’t believe her. So she went back to her abuser.

      • Marah

        Ugh. We just can’t win, can we? I’ve been reading the chapter in the Bancroft book about preparing for custody fights. One of the things I’ve come away with is the notion that I must guard myself hard that I don’t become flustered or terribly emotional (angry, sad, terrified, etc) with the court people, because that can tend to feed into the abuser’s attempts at discrediting. And they all seem to know exactly what how to get a rise, don’t they? I’m working on my acting skills. So far I’ve been exemplary in my responses to my husband, but I haven’t filed the papers yet (am dreading what happens when I do).

      • Not Too Late

        Marah, I worked on my acting skills too. In the end, very few legal professionals believed I could have been an abuse victim and my attorney said that the judge would probably not believe me. I joked that I should have been on as many pills as I could. No, in the end, we can’t win, not in this system. But we win the war. Justice prevails in eternity.

      • Marah

        Sigh. Yes, sometimes when I start to despair, I try to remind myself that He is not, is *never* deceived.

        In my case, there hasn’t been any physical abuse for almost 18 years. I’m mostly dealing with manipulativeness and control. My husband knows how he’s always been able to make me lose my cool in the past, whether snapping back at him or dissolving in tears. Neither of those things will make me look good.

        I am so, so, so, so glad that at my kids are older (12-17) and see the dysfunction in their dad. I’ve read a lot that indicates how rare that often is. I really think my lifelong interest in each of them as individual people have been instrumental in this, starting with their first days of life when I decided to follow the “attachment parenting” methods (just as an aside, I was HORRIFIED when I read the Ezzo stuff when my oldest was a baby – was sickened to think of trying to force my precious newborn into some arbitrary schedule, teaching her that her needs would not be met as they arose).

        My kids and I laugh a lot, enjoy spending time together, and all tend to have an unusual ability to see behind facades. I’ve been so blessed to have been able to spend so much time with them as we’ve homeschooled, and that we never fell into the patriarchy mess that many other HS families did.

        So I’m not in nearly as much of a difficult situation as some of the other dear moms and dads here are. Mine are older, aren’t fooled by their dad, and have excellent relationships with me and each other. That doesn’t stop me from worry and fear though, for their continued safety and emotional and mental health.

        I’m just praying hard for GOOD lawyers, judges, custody workers, etc.

      • Not Too Late

        You are blessed indeed, Marah. I will pray that you have the best lawyers, judge, custody workers, etc. My friends and I prayed for my case, and indeed, I did get the best ever DV-aware lawyer, the most sympathetic judge, a DV-educated custody evaluator, etc. God worked in ways I never thought possible. Most of all, it was over very quickly.

        God bless your children too. Some of my children can see through their father, some can’t. I am the hero to some, the villain to others. The difference is when I left. Some were permanently harmed by living with abuse for a long time.

      • Marah

        I’m glad at least some of your kids see it. How do they interact with the others? I can’t imagine the pain of dealing with that.

        I re-read my comment just before yours and was a little embarrassed: I think it sounded self-congratulatory. I didn’t mean it that way at ALL. I just was thinking out loud, trying to figure out why my situation is different…so far. I’ll admit, I do fear that my son could someday fall prey to his dad’s “poor me” act, and turn on me. There are no indications, but knowing how common it is, it worries me. So I look for anything that might prevent that, such as analyzing why it isn’t that way already. But I think it comes across as “I’m so awesom, if others had done what I did they wouldn’t be facing such heartache.” And that is patently NOT TRUE. Just wanted to clarify.

    • Ellie

      “Terrifying for those of us who have made a lifestyle out of keeping our needs as unobtrusive as possible.” OH MY! Yes, that is it!

  8. Jean

    I know this post is 6 months old, but just want to say how grateful I am to find you all. Thanks for allowing people to come and express their truth without being deleted or shut out as some other so called Biblical sites will do. The majority of the women and men who post there are like parrots, they say the same things. but they jump on any wife who comes to the site to ask why they defend men and tear the wives down. I have read somewhere, that what is in a person will come out, so this tells me a lot about such sites.

    I have read on a few sites that pretend to be Christan, but spend most of their time telling wives that they are to blame for any sin that their husband commits, because she was not submissive enough or respectful enough. One such site, even goes so far as to allow men to come and say how terrible their wives have become and then say thanks for telling all the wives off. But then the site owner tells the wives that they are to blame and that they must have been disrespectful and hurt the husband’s feelings.Then she tells the wife to go and apologize to the husband for not being respectful enough.

    Someone has got to help heal and tell wives that they are never the cause of a husband sinning. God told husbands to be the leaders, and to lay down their lives for their wives and to honor their wives, not act like spoiled little boys who are vindictive and want to make everything all about them. Husbands are to be Biblical too, not just wives. See how easy people are deceived and follow behind others.

    • Hi Jean and welcome to the blog 🙂

      I believe the sites you described here are very much enabling abusers. Abusive men look for those sites and when they find them, they have a feeding frenzy, and the site owners either do not realise they are enabling abusers by publishinhg their comments, or (worst case scenario) may be abusers themselves. Some abusers masquerade with female names on the internet, when it serves their agenda and gives them more of an audience to spread their myths about the causes of abuse.

      We sometimes get comments submitted from abusers but we usually do not publish them. We only publish them when we think that by publishing the abuser’s comment we can then expose and denounce it for what it is: lies, myths, abuser-ese, etc.

      As a result of this policy, not many abusers ‘try it on’ at our site. They have realised that we do not give them any oxygen.

      And the key to all this, is to learn how to recognise the language of abusers. We have a tag for that. You can find it in our Tags menu at the top of the blog. 🙂

    • thepersistentwidow

      Jean, Great to have you here! Welcome!

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