A Cry For Justice

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

How the Church can help victims heal

I left a comment at Chris Moles’s blog and I wanted to share the thought with you:

Chris said, “When she is willing and able to walk through her pain in community, surround her with loving sisters who will comfort, pray for her, and hold her accountable to the process.”

I would like to share what that looks like for me. My friends hold me accountable and it is very helpful. They hold me accountable to my boundaries. If I am allowing X to violate them, thinking that my showing “flexibility” will encourage him to do right, they tell me to stop it. If I am ever thinking that I should ____ to try to entice X to Christ or to change, they throw a flag on the play.

My friends also humbly recognized that processing my trauma was above their pay grade. One friend in particular would insist that I seek professional counseling. I didn’t want to. I knew the best counseling for my situation was at a shelter and I was ashamed to seek help from there. But I did and it was very beneficial to my recovery. My friends also asked what my counselors had suggested and then asked if I was doing those things.

One friend is in charge of the child protection policy at church. She has had a great deal of training in recognizing manipulative patterns and people who are trying to use guilt and people’s hope against them. She is not afraid to call X’s pity plays for what they are. I was so used to making excuses for him and I was still holding on to hope that he was changing or would change. But my friends, my pastor, and my counselor have NEVER suggested that he was/is changing. They pointed out that his boundary breaking behaviors are abusive and a changed man would honor boundaries without complaining or seeking adulation.

I would ask churches to not suggest to a target that her abuser has changed or will change, but to hold her accountable to no contact and other healthy boundaries until there has been evidence of a change in his heart; honoring boundaries, no deal making or manipulation, no complaining, doing right for Christ’s sake instead of for image management’s sake – and for a long time (at least a year). The target will know little things that you don’t. The target will know ways that he uses to demonstrate his superiority. There are code words and phrases. There are postures and facial expressions. Just the way X breathes sometimes was a signal that he wanted something. Please never try to persuade a target to go back. If that happens, let it happen because she has peace about it. Your priority, Church, is to keep the people in that family safe and lead them to the Cross, not to keep them married or convince them to remarry.

21 Comments

  1. Still Reforming

    Ellie, Thank you SO much for this. My abuser came to church yesterday, after having told the pastor that he wouldn’t come back so not to make anyone uncomfortable. The abuser also told my mother that he wasn’t allowed to come to our church by a court order I placed on him, therefore the pastors won’t even allow him back. (There is no court order, but he said this lie to gain my mother’s sympathy to receive something quite large he requested from her, which he did get.) Yesterday my child and I were so startled to see him – this on the day of our church’s big Thanksgiving dinner – that we had to leave. It was so unnerving. My mom and I emailed back and forth about it, and she said (in essence), “You’re allowing him to control you.” But as I thought more on this, I realized that it’s akin to being stalked. Would you want to sit down with your stalker and share a meal? No. No one from church has called or emailed me about our leaving either. I don’t think they understand the nature of abuse or the abuser, because they have no experience with it themselves that they can discern. They see the mask. They see the facade. What they don’t see – to them doesn’t really exist.

    • Moving Forward

      Just came very close to going through this. Since even before he left us, he had quit coming to church for over two months. Now that the separation papers are in progress, which he agreed to at the time, he has been spending his time backpedaling and trying to weasel his way out of it. That included telling all the kids that he would see them in church on Sunday when he was here for visitation. Strange, how he couldn’t find the time to tell me. I was around, keeping an eye on things, and we did talk. Thankfully, one of the children told me, and then I found out they all knew. Needless to say, when he showed up in church, he got our long pew all to himself. We attended a church in a different city. It was so amazing to sit there, in a bubble, totally safe from him, as he had no idea where we were. I wish I could have that feeling of peace and security all the time. I talked to my pastor this week, and how confusing that was. He is pretty much just sitting on the fence. He cares about both of us, doesn’t want to take sides, both are welcome, no problem if we need to sit on opposite sides of the church, at least he is not like other pastors and trying to make us reconcile, etc. For the kids sake, who all want to keep attending, we will take our chances, but don’t be surprised if we suddenly all disappear should he decide to show up again. After all that subterfuge, he wants me to believe he is a changed man, please let him come home? Forget it. Nothing has changed.

      • Still Reforming

        We do indeed share similar stories. As for me, I decided to leave the church. The abuser can stay. My pastor’s pretty much on the fence too – which means he’s on the side of the abuser. Because to be “on the fence” while knowing facts about the abuse means that the pastor doesn’t support the target of the abuse, therefore – I’m outta there.

  2. granonine

    Excellent post. I encourage my clients to always set strong boundaries with absolute, unequivocal consequences. A year may seem like a long time for no contact, but a lifetime of misery can be spared if this time limit is honored by both parties. Finally, many well-meaning but misguided churches do see their role in marital conflict to be exclusively that of reconciliation, the sooner the better. Such an attitude give the abuser all the power, all the time.

  3. A-Freakin’-men!!!

  4. joanne

    Why does God allow abuse? If only we could escape the power some have to hold us hostage. Am I hearing that there is hope of recovery?

    • joanne

      And who makes that possible? Does God intervene in the affairs of men?

      • soldiergirl

        Good recomendations for the church to follow. Thank you for this Ellie.
        I wish all churches would take the scales off of their eyes on this subject and learn to listen to and help the victim escape her abuser.
        Unfortunately for as long and deep as most abuse has been going on in the average marriage, i see little hope of possibility for restoration, even after a lengthy seperation.
        It seems like the abuser is only intrested in doing something for the victim if there is a pay off in it for him.
        Also I can really relate to the term “hostage” in an abusive relationship, because the tactics used are similar to a what a kidnapper or criminal would use .
        Like threats, bribes, demands, negotiations, ultimatiums, and more.
        Much of the time it feels like Im dealing with a modern day terrorist in desguise.
        I do think there is hope however, but it will most likely require us to become proactive taking small steps towards creating independance, and setting firm boundries until we see the path of escape becoming more clear.

    • Dear Joanne, yes indeed you are hearing that there is hope of recovery. From our observation and experience, recovery usually involves the victim detatching/ getting free/ escaping/ fleeing from the abuser.

      Getting free from the abuser can take a variety of shapes and methods. It always involves some element of disattaching from and shedding, or pushing off, the lies one has believed, such as the belief the victim often has that ‘It’s all my fault, and if I change x or y or z about myself, this marriage will be much better.”

      It usually (but not always) involves physically separating from the abuser so the victim and the abuser no longer live under the same roof. This can take place either by the victim leaving, or by the victim having the abuser removed via the powers of the justice system; and then maintaining strong boundaries against being sucked back in to the toxic relationship by the pleas and manipulations of the abuser and the allies he so zealously enlists to his cause of ‘restoring the marriage’. Most of us have found that aiming for No Contact with the abuser is generally the best policy, but not always is No Contact possible esp with the way the family courts and the justice system manages (or mismanages) domestic abuse perpetration, and deals with child custody after divorce.

      It also involves the victim having the courage to face difficulties and uncertainties that may come with being a single person or single parent, rather than part of a couple. And the courage to face the stigma and judgements that many people will disdainfully bestow on the victim when she discloses that she has been a victim of abuse.

      But most of us have found that although it’s a tough gauntlet to run, things do get better in the long run and we end up having lives that are far happier and less fear-filled and we were able to be more authentic and productive in our Christian faith than when we were in the abuse.

      • Begin Healing

        “But most of us have found that although it’s a tough gauntlet to run, things do get better in the long run and we end up having lives that are far happier and less fear-filled and we were able to be more authentic and productive in our Christian faith than when we were in the abuse.”

        I am mid gauntlet right now. I am filing for divorce, abandoned by my church family, being beat up in the legal process, and exhausted. I needed to hear that encouragement right now Barbra. I never EVER thought I would be tempted to go back to him but the fear from all of the change, less time with my precious babies, and financial stress is very VERY real. I will keep moving forward. Please pray for me, my lawyer, and my babies. God has shown His love to me through this process and He is providing. I just struggle every day to hold on to hope that He will continue to be there with me. I am so full of fear and anxiety some days.

      • Still Reforming

        Begin Healing,

        Me too. You and I are at the exact same spot in the process. Similar details to with respect to church and family, legal and finances. In fact, the past few days the thought that keeps plaguing me is: Do I need to apologize to God for being afraid? Does my fear indicate a lack of trust in Him? I don’t want to be afraid, and I don’t want to not trust Him. The unknown of how this will all unfold is daunting, and I want to rest in Him.

      • Ellie

        I am often afraid. God knows this. I tell Him and I ask for His help and guidance. This passage ministers to me a great deal “2 Chronicles 20 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

      • Still Reforming

        Oh Ellie, I love that verse. Thank you for that. I find myself running into roadblocks as it seems so few people understand or appreciate the very real fear that manipulative and deceptive abuse brings with it. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I tell the accounts to attorneys, counselors, church leaders, etc, there seems to be this kind of barrier that these things are just poo-pooed or trivialized or because there’s no black eye or visible mark. It frightens me and then I think, “Okay, God. You’ve been doing things so far that only you could have done. I see this. Please, please, oh please show Yourself mighty in this. Protect and deliver us, O Lord. Deliver us from the evil and let these enemies of Yours not triumph here. We are the widow and orphan for whom You care. Deliver us fully to worship and serve you not in fear, but in peace and safety.”

    • “Does God intervene in the affairs of men?”
      Yes, most certainly. Sending His Son to be incarnate in the flesh to live a sinless life and die a propitiatory death for our sins, that is intervention, is it not?

      But more prosaically, God certainly does intervene in the affairs of men and women. However, the usual way this happens is by people choosing and acting according to their choices, and then God either helping and assisting them in their chosen path, or impeding, blocking, even sending judgement on them for those choices and actions — something God often does with abusers, and will certainly do on The Day of Judgement, should those abusers not have repented.

      If a victim chooses to leave her abuser, for example, God may help her by providing housing and financial assistance in various ways, some of them ‘run of the mill’ like Governent or charity assistance, and some of them miraculous and totally unexepected, like a job offer when she wasn’t even job hunting.

      Sometimes God may intervene dramatcially, even striking dead the abuser (this happened in the story of Abigail and Nabal in the OT) but that dramatic intervention may not happen, so it’s not wise to bank on it or to delay taking action until a lighting bolt comes out of the sky. More often, the victim makes her own common sense, practical decisions that will help her build a safer life for herself in the future, one as free as she can reasonbly make it from the machinations of the abuser.

      One thing we recommend is for victims who may be thinking about what choices they might wish to make for their safety and wellbing, it is usually helpful to make an appointement with a domestic abuse agency to talk over one’s situation, one’s fears, one’s hopes, and most importantly, one’s options. The practitioners at those agencies do not **tell you what to do**, but they do give you information and present a range of options for you to consider, so that you are more equipped to make your own decisions at you own pace. They know the local laws and welfare service system much better than we can ever do on a worldwide blog like ACFJ.

    • JJ

      Joanne, I would like to share with you a journal entry I made about three months after separating from my abusive ex-husband. This is what life was like for me after just three months of mostly no-contact (had to have some due to having children with him). To go from daily verbal & psychological assault to this. Wow. It still blows my mind. Maybe this will give you some hope.

      “20 May 2012
      Wee hours of the morning

      Had a wonderful moment tonight. I was sitting on the couch in the living room. Upstairs my son was taking a shower before bed. One of my girls was also upstairs getting ready for bed. My other daughter was sitting at the table eating a snack before bed. We’d had a really nice day hiking at a local nature & wildlife preserve. I sat there with that “good tired” feeling. I watched my beautiful girl eating, heard my other children upstairs doing their thing, and realized I felt peaceful, calm, contented & relaxed. No one was pressuring us or yelling at us to hurry up & get ready for bed. No one was fussing & breathing heavy that the kitchen counters weren’t perfectly wiped down or the laundry done. No one was angry with us for staying up “late”. No one was pointing out the flaws in the day or that things didn’t turn out exactly as hoped for. I wasn’t feeling tense & afraid. I felt safe sitting on the couch. I wasn’t worried that at any moment one or all of us were going to get in trouble.

      That moment of realization struck me like a bolt from the blue. I wasn’t afraid. My kids weren’t afraid. I didn’t feel inferior. I wasn’t in trouble. No one was mad at me. Even better, we were all free to just be who we were and end our day in a relaxed manner. We could take the good feelings & thoughts from the day to bed with us and just enjoy the moment, savor what life had offered to us today.

      Such a simple moment. And yet, coming out of an abusive marriage, for me it was a profound moment filled with layers of meaning, depths of revelation, and vistas of hope for the future. To finally again have the freedom to simply “be”. To have that be good enough. To appreciate the ability to relax. To appreciate the feeling of being safe. To simply sit back & observe my precious children going about their lives at the end of the day. What a gift. What a treasure.

      To be present in the present. I don’t have to hide. I don’t have to disappear. I can be here, alive, in the present moment, and I’m good enough. I’m good enough to be here.

      I’m present!”

  5. joanne

    As I look back, I see miracles. God started opening some doors and closing others before I was fully aware of the manipulation and control I was enduring. The threats were covert until the day he snapped. Because I had become financially independent, he was losing control.

    It wasn’t until the abuse became overt that I recognized the patterns you have described. It has been almost one year since that event. I have struggled to understand how a Christian can be abusive. I had no framework to understand how that is possible. Finding your web page has really helped me. Thank you.

  6. anotheranon

    Begin Healing, Praying for you now. Praying God will do a mighty work in your trial. He has done so for me in a medical situation. A dear friend told me once to praise God for His answer to your prayer even before it comes to you.

  7. anotheranon

    Barbara, thanks for your thoughtful comments here. They are an answer for me as well.

  8. Please, may I have help? I don’t know where else to post this, but it is on behalf of another abused wife who is afraid to come here and voice the query herself.

    Yesterday she discovered that someone within her husband’s circle; a friend, a family member, someone from church — she doesn’t know — gave her husband Steve Brown’s book, “Three Free Sins; God’s Not Mad At You.” We are not familiar with the book’s content nor context beyond what we could read of it on Amazon, and she is disheartened to think that her husband will, yet again, have more fodder for his perspective that his distinct and wholly disfunctional behavior towards her is not abuse, and that he is “fine.”

    Do you Barbara and or Jeff have any insight into this book of Steve Brown’s, and whether her fears of it further damaging her in the hands of her husband are founded? Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    • I’ve made this question of yours into a stand-alone post, Ceekay.:)

  9. Anonymous

    How wonderful it would be to find this in a church.

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