Abuse in a PCA church: Part 1 of Persistent Widow’s story
Having been raised in a combative and dysfunctional family, my husband had been prone to angry outbursts and unpredictable behavior from the onset of our marriage. At times, he was wonderful to be with, attentive, kind and fun. Initially, I thought he had anger management issues and if I loved him enough, things would work out, but in actuality, the course of our marriage could be described as the living Cycle of Violence. [this link starts midstream in a video; to hear the cycle of violence explained, watch it until 11:25] Round and round it went from tension, to explosion, to lavish gifts and acts of kindness, a never ending and damaging cycle.
I earnestly tried to respect him, but because he was so hurtful and volatile, I learned to focus my attention on my children and kept busy with household repairs, gardening, etc. As the years went on, I felt drawn to learn about the Scriptures and that created a gulf between us. He absolutely hated that I found rest for my soul in Christ and he seemed intent on punishing me by ever increasing emotional detachment, insults, crude mocking, and frequent temper tantrums.
Influenced by R. C. Sproul, I read a lot of theology books during those years. I began with Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and his commentaries on Romans and Galatians. These lifted my spirit way above the abuse to a great love for Jesus. I found comfort in the Puritan writers and their godly advice for those suffering so I acquired an extensive library of Puritan works with my favorites being Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, and Dutch Puritans such as Taffin and Teellinck. My lifeline was William Gurnell’s three volume set, The Christian in Complete Armour. That set still sits on my bookshelf, dog-eared and worn from reading and meditation. No wonder, because some chapter designations are: Satan as Accuser of Sin, The Saint’s Proper Response to Satan’s Accusations, The Saint’s Fortification, Satan’s Intentions and God’s Intervention, Why Saints Must Wrestle, How to..How Not to Wrestle, Stand — Do Not Flee or Yield, How to Use the Sword Against Persecutors, Spiritual Promises for Believer’s Sorrows, etc.
Despite my husband’s brooding and tantrums, the children and I tried to keep positive in the time we spent together. The older children and I perceived that there was genuine spiritual warfare present in our home just as the Puritan books described so vividly. When he pulled up in the driveway, we knew we needed to disperse from whatever activities we were enjoying if we could see that he had “that look,” which was most of the time. Over time, his behavior grew more and more frightening. He disappeared frequently and refused to tell me where he was going. His cliché response was, “It’s for me to know and for you to find out.”
Knowing how important the church was to me, he threatened repeatedly that if I told the church (about the abuse), it would be the worst thing I ever did. He did come to church, sometimes arguing with people there, but other than that he had no interest in the things of God. Realistically, while trying to view our afflictions as necessary in the life of a Christian, living in the abuse was taking its toll on us. My health deteriorated through various autoimmune diseases and the unpredictability of my husband’s actions had robbed the household of peace. I have come to realize that the situation was more damaging to my children and myself than I had thought, due to what is aptly referred to as the “fog” of abuse.
My husband had chosen to take voluntary layoff and after that he was home frequently. We realized that it had been better when he was habitually disappearing because now he became intent on mentoring one of the children in his madness. As I saw this child’s personality dramatically changing, I knew that I had to get help. After 20 years of marriage, and a household full of children, I confided in my PCA pastor about the terrible situation we were enduring, my conscience directing me especially for the child’s soul that was perilously at stake. The pastor asked me to make a list of incidents so I presented him with a ten page list giving examples of reckless, high speed driving with children in the car, his screaming profanities at me while pregnant in a crowded Lowe’s store, public acts of vandalism, assaulting a man at another church, and much more. The possibility of divorce had not crossed my mind at that point, possibly because I had become so indoctrinated in the Puritan idea of suffering.
Knowing the Westminster Confession of Faith well, I thought that the issue of my husband assaulting a man during a public event would facilitate disciplinary action, hopefully affording help to the certain child he was corrupting. In the document I compiled for my pastor with the ten page list of abusive incidents, I cited this part of the Westminster Confession:
CHAPTER XXX Of Church Censures
Paragraph 3. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deferring of others from like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.
Trigger warning — descriptions of pastoral malpractice, abuser rants and intimidatory behaviour
The pastor took my husband out to lunch, and he told me that my husband looked nervous but they kept to small talk about sports. I provided the pastor a list of witnesses which included people from another church who witnessed the assault, people from our previous church who observed him fighting at the church picnic, and my adult children. Additionally, the pastor himself said that three members at his church had expressed concerns or complaints about my husband’s behavior. I did not hear anything more from the pastor as he took the lead role in the town musical, Bye Bye Birdie, and seemed occupied thereafter, but providentially in a surprising turn of events, my husband abruptly decided to become an over the road truck driver and left the state for training. I believe this occurred because he thought that the church was on his trail and certainly because of God’s great mercy towards us.
Unfortunately, he did come home on some weekends, fully enraged that I called the church for assistance and with the intent of punishing me. Because I contacted the church, the verbal and emotional abuse escalated to unbelievable levels. He ranted, “Where’s the church, you loser?” and “She called the church!” in a shrill, mocking voice like a lunatic. The last time that he was at my house, he spent a great deal of time sharpening axes on a grinder while making threatening looks and shaking his fists at me with our child by his side.
Shortly after he left again, I noticed that he had used an exceptionally high number of minutes on our cell phone plan. Investigation revealed that he had used 6000 minutes a month, for the past six months, speaking to a woman from his previous workplace. I found her hair in our vehicle and later photographs surfaced of them together, through which I determined that this relationship had been ongoing for at least two years. His statement, “It’s for me to know and you to find out” seemed hauntingly prophetic.
Note: In this series of posts, PCA stands for Presbyterian Church of America.