A Cry For Justice

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

They Are Giving You Just Enough Payout to Make You Keep Pulling the Slot

A friend and I were corresponding about her church’s response to her as she seeks help to deal with her abuser until she can safely escape him. This church has strung her along for years, asking how she’s doing, promising interventions, having long conversations that leave her thinking, “At last! Someone gets it! They will talk to [husband]. They will help me!” But then months will go by and nothing is said. Nothing is done. Recently she had another one of these conversations, but the email the pastor sent as a follow up didn’t match up with what they had discussed and even placed blame on her and told her to work on learning to understand and respect her abuser. Do you relate?

Here’s what I wrote to her:

My concern is that the email the pastor sent, which is basically the only documentation you have that you two spoke, didn’t match what you talked about. X said such wonderful conciliatory words, beautifully framed in humility and promises to care for the children and you, and with reminders of his sacrificial giving in the past. But the documentation was all framed to protect HIM, not the children, not you, only him.

Who is being protected in your scenario? How? Why? A pastor who wants to learn to protect targets of abuse should be seeking that education himself. He shouldn’t have to be prodded along by the targets. But as it is, you are the one educating him. You are having to tell him such basic things as that fact that he shouldn’t attempt to counsel an abuser and his target in the same room!

You hope that they will eventually find a way to know what to do. But here is my concern, they are giving you just enough payout to make you keep pulling the slot. You are still investing too much energy in their broken system. Pits of despair don’t become spas. Spas are built intentionally and with a great deal of research and education. I know someone who owns several successful spas. She had to learn how to make people healthier, how to treat them so they can relax and benefit from the treatments. It didn’t fall on her and it didn’t happen because she was pestered by people with sore muscles. If after bringing abuse to their attention, your church isn’t SEEKING out knowledge on helping targets, it’s because they don’t want to know. They want to have a nice cafe where everyone looks spiffy and fun, not a spa where hurting people find healing. They hope that the problem customers who holler “ouch” too frequently go away. They will push you to conform and be quiet. If you ever have another meeting with your pastor, I beg you to ask to record it and to record it. I am curious what he will say when he is on the record.

You mentioned how your abuser’s insistence to remain unaccountable in certain financial areas throws a wrench in the whole family’s finances. What you said about hoping he puts you in the red so that others can see how harmful his actions are is very similar to what Rosie said in Don’t let your dead body prove you’re right. Another friend does the same thing. Her husband is from another country and I have worried that he’ll grab their kids and flee to his homeland. I have asked her to put the kids’ passports at her work where her abuser can’t get to them, but she won’t because she wants that proof that he’s really that bad. This is a common thing that I see with targets of abuse; this waiting for some thing to happen, a particular thing that will vindicate them and prove how right they are. But the people who are willing to believe already do. The ones who don’t, don’t want to. They are willfully ignorant. This is the same thing I went through with X and his parents. I thought they were good parents and they would finally see what he was doing and they would step in and tell him to stop. I thought X loved and respected his parents enough that if they would give him a talking to, he’d seek help. X knocked me down while his father was five feet away watching and ignoring my pleas for him to help. He refused to discuss the attack. He doesn’t want to believe what he saw. And he has found a way to make it my fault.

Even the help they (finally) encouraged X to seek wasn’t for X’s benefit, or the kids’ or mine. It was for THEM, so they could have their fairy tale life back; family dinners surrounded by all of us, Christmas mornings, etc. They put on a good show, but the people who refuse to really learn about abuse, the ones who will talk to you, and promise you things, and then put blame on you, aren’t protecting anyone but themselves, and they won’t. And no unpaid bill or even a smoking gun will convince them to. I wrote Trying to Explain… as I was processing similar emotions to what you’re describing.

You’ve made a good safety plan and you are following it. You are surviving and you will make it. You will be free. But in the meantime don’t count on a big payout of vindication from your present church.


  1. Valerie

    Ellie, such wisdom in your response! While it dresses itself up a bit differently for the surroundings, what is described by this church is what an abuser does too. An abuser is skilled at Intermittent Reinforcement- giving you (or at times just promising is enough) “rewards” for staying or not making waves. It is the concept behind Vegas slot machines. Yes, we can see from Vegas it is very effective. 😦

    You are so right in how you describe a person’s willingness to “get it”. When I saw porn on my husband’s computer I thought I might finally have the proof I need that he isn’t the person the church thinks he is. A counselor, however, rightly informed me that even this would not be effective proof for those who don’t want to see the truth. They might simply state he is lonely or that since this is a common problem it didn’t prove anything. I never brought this to the church because I believe the outcome she described.

    I had a similar experience with my church to what you described. At first seeming open to listening but their feigned concern was revealed when they, too, accused me and invalidated my experience. I offered to give them Jeff and Barbara’s books to help them understand the situation but they ignored my offer. They weren’t committed to the truth, only status quo.

  2. Anonymous100

    Ellie, I relate to ALL of this!!! Have sat with the Pastor and his wife, have called them several times, to say narc-abuser husband has abused me physically, verbally, emotionally and now financially. NOTHING comes of it. I have multiple health issues and he is denying me money for all the things the doctor prescribed. Even went to some men and their wives from the church he spends time with—they were cold as ice. And this whole bit from other Christians that they don’t want to take sides is EXACTLY what they are doing; they are taking the abuser’s side!

    I have learned I must get busy with the task of forging forward with activities that will benefit me the other side of this horrible pit of a marriage(?) It’s so very hard, my age and poor health are a huge obstacle. He has already positioned the finances so as to saddle me with HUGE debt.

    Church, family, friends have all left me to deal with it on my own. Only one person, who is not a Christian, has tangibly helped me.

    The church is WILLINGLY deaf and blind to the abused. They are too busy coming up with a new youth program, their latest building project, or some game night!

    • Anonymous100, I don’t want to patronise you or minimise the difficulties you are facing, but if you haven’t already done so, you might find some support from secular DV practitioners.

      • Anonymous100

        Hi Barbara,
        I was all set to go one week, someone was going to accompany me there as it is in a bad part of the city, but they backed out. I’m trying to find someone else to go with me.

      • oh wow. That is sad. And frustrating. Women’s services for domestic abuse need so much more funding — if it were better funded, that one might not have to be located in such a bad part of the city. Have you phoned them? Maybe they can make a visit to you — or to a safe place of your choosing. Some Women’s Centres do outreach and can send their workers out to meet the woman in her own home or a safe location that she has nominated. And if you are visiting them, you might want to phone them anyway first as they may need you to make an appointment or put you on a waiting list. Sorry for the cold water, but it’s better to be prepared and do as much homework (research) as you can first, so you don’t waste unnecessary energy on a trip that wasn’t very productive.

        I’ve BTDT, so am passing on tips for new players . . .

      • but of course, if you are in an emergency, you would not need an appointment I would think. However, if you can, it’s a good idea to phone them in advance and find out the way the work, so you can fit in with their procedures and policies if possible.

  3. Grace

    What an excellent article, very well put. I pray it will reach the attention of pastors who would benefit from it.

  4. Heidi

    Sounds too familiar! First pastor I went to promised help and broke my confidence & told my abuser I was seeing an attorney. That kept me trapped for years.

    • Hi Heidi, welcome to the blog. 🙂

      First pastor I went to promised help and broke my confidence & told my abuser I was seeing an attorney. That kept me trapped for years.

      how awful! I would like to sue men such as him. I can dream at least, even though I never will get the chance to make it happen.

  5. M21

    When you begin to become aware that you are being abused or not treated right, it often signals not just one relationship but often a pattern of other abuses…because in your abusive relationship you learned dysfunctional and unhealthy behaviors and values so you became vulnerable to other abusers. You may see friends, co-workers, family and even your church is not healthy or not supportive of you. It’s so painful to let go of something that was once so meaningful and important. But have courage because you deserve so much better, and seeing the truth about these abusers frees you to heal, grow and move into a better life.

  6. survivorthrivor2

    I can hardly believe what I am reading and yet I lived it, too! I don’t understand at all, probably never will. Why is it so difficult (impossible) for these so called men of faith, Pastors, teachers, councilors, worship leaders so quick to protect these abusers? Is it just the “good ole boys club?” Really? In church? What are they afraid of? Do they think that God doesn’t see what they do; or more importantly what they don’t do?

    I had breakfast with a friend that had recently come back into my life; the conversation was so disappointing and sad. I had spoken to her briefly about my abusive situation, she didn’t seem shocked. We kept talking about varied subjects, but the focus kept shifting back to marriage. She finally began to speak freely and described some incidences between her and her husband that I knew were abusive and controlling, fear-based and completely wrong. I’m not even sure she was fully aware of what she was saying. But, it’s as if women are now coming out of the wood-work about abusive situations! I always thought I was all alone (as most of us did, as well), and because I am willing and not afraid to speak my truth after years of silence, because when you do try – no one listens, it seems as if it’s freeing other women to do the same. As though God is doing something…..a stirring…..a groaning for justice…..redemption may be near for the forgotten & ignored and perhaps a day of reckoning for the abuser. Am I alone in this? Does anyone else feel the beginnings of our recompense?

    • as though God is doing something…..a stirring…..a groaning for justice…

      yes I feel that too. I think the survivor advocacy movement is growing, thanks to the internet. They cannot keep us silent and isolated any more! But I am not sure about the recompense being all that close at hand. I don’t have a sense of that yet. I suspect the enemy may press down harder as the survivors and truth-tellers gain in numbers. It may be a battle right up to when Christ returns. But He will certainly bring recompense in the end.

      • survivorthrivor2

        Thank you, Barbara…..my heart aches and I’ve cried a lot today. I feel like my whole life has been a lie and a scam…..

  7. Sarah

    Our society and churches demand we prove ourselves right with proof. My church said that I had no proof he would hurt me at church. He hurt me at home but that was not proof. HUH? Also because I protected myself during the separation so he could not hurt me again, the courts said he was cured. So really? It’s the outside pressure as well as the inside need to show others

  8. J

    This is my story.

  9. freetolove

    I never even tried to discuss my situation with my Pastor, but when he heard I had left the situation – he had the church write me a letter telling me I was no longer allowed to be a member of their church – without EVER even trying to find out my side of it. They accepted every lie my abuser told them about me. I was so upset when I got that letter. It still hurts to think about.

    • thepersistentwidow

      freetolove, Your church did you wrong and you have every reason to be hurt by their response. The fact that they excommunicated you without any prior communication is outrageous and inexcusable. It appears that congregation is a haven for abusers and the Lord removed you from a bad place. God often uses what appears to be the worst experiences for our good. I am sorry that you were dealt with so unfairly, but that church is not for you. Praying that you find a church of true believers that will comfort you in the love of God.

    • hi Freetolove,
      can you please email twbtc (her address is in the About us page) — it’s just about your screen name — you’ve used two diff ones, and maybe you didn’t mean to.

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