PCA Interrogation, Hard Lessons, and Emerging from the Fog: Part 3 of Persistent Widow’s story
With the Peacemaker mediation (see part two of this series) having concluded in November, I heard nothing more from the church. I went to church with my children each Sunday and the session (PCA term for the governing body consisting of the pastor and elders) avoided looking at me and were silent on the matter. I still wrestled with what I had done wrong and what I could have done better to have received such a puzzling and unsympathetic response from the mediation. I considered that the church viewed my family like paper dolls that they played with when convenient and put away in the drawer as they willed. Life just isn’t like that. They seemed unconcerned that the abuse was ongoing even when they were not interested in dealing with it. Basically, I was getting the same silent treatment from the church that I had gotten for years from my husband.
Trigger warning: emotional and verbal abuse from church leaders
Although the church was silent, my husband was not. He had cut off financial responsibility and again was screaming and ranting at me on the phone. This long process was also stressful financially as I was saddled with paying for his bills and unable to refinance my mortgage. The financial pressures were nearly unbearable. I called the friendlier elder at his home one Sunday evening asking for guidance. He seemed annoyed and said that I was confused, but gave no information concerning when the church process would conclude. My attorney had inquired if we were going to move forward with the divorce and I told her that I was still waiting for the church’s response. I felt like I was stuck on flypaper, knowing the right direction to take but being unable to make it. One Sunday I brought a new series of threatening phone messages for the pastor to listen to after church. The pastor reluctantly agreed to listen to just the most disturbing message, but as I struggled to find it on my phone, he became frustrated and rolled his eyes in disgust. I perceived then that I was despised.
The pastor and the friendly elder called me to a private evening meeting with them to discuss matters. My adult daughter wanted to come along to support me, but the pastor refused because he said that her presence would “cloud the issues”. When I arrived at the church, the pastor appeared agitated, pacing the hallway and seemed greatly relieved when the elder arrived. I was motioned to take a chair in his office and a prayer was said. The room seemed pressure filled and uncomfortable. I explained that I cancelled the Peacemaker agreement because my adult children and I were afraid that my husband would become manipulative through it and that I was very afraid of him.
The pastor was stern and unemotional. He told me that he didn’t want me ruining his Sunday by talking about this at church. The “friendlier” elder said that my call intruded in his family time and he had a written list of complaints about that call that he read out loud. Then the elder got within inches of my face and said in a disapproving and condescending tone, “I don’t even know you. I thought that I knew you.” While shaking his head, he repeated that phrase as one might scold a dog for chewing on the carpet. It was awkward, and although I tried to remain composed, I was so sorrowful that I was unable to retain the big tears that streamed down my cheeks. I knew that I couldn’t hold the force of the tears any longer, so I dismissed myself into the night and drove home crying and overwhelmed.
With my heart weighed down with the sorrow and misery of what life had become, I wrote a letter to the pastor. Here are some excerpts from that letter:
I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that I may have caused you or the elders and I realize that to call you at home was not considerate of your family time. Besides that, I am really sorry about my behavior being confusing. I was confused. I was looking for some kind of encouragement from you as my brothers, but I assume that you have another role in this process…
I do perceive that the session has suspicions about me. Honestly, this is very hurtful. I think we share the same spirit… He said that he didn’t really know me although I think that I have walked in a way that reveals my faith. I have volunteered, helped people in need, taught the children, and tried to steer my household in the way of the Lord despite great obstacles. … My husband, meanwhile, has demanded that none of his income go to the church and he recently stayed in bed rather than come to church… He has also managed to find things to hate in the [church] members and troubled his family continuously. I feel that [the elder] is trying to justify him or at least make the case that I am somehow to blame in this… [the elder] had a written critique of my phone call which is embarrassing to me as I shouldn’t have called either of you. I know that I talk too fast — I am a poor verbal communicator. Again I am sorry that I did all of this. I am sorry to have either of you repeat what you already said, perhaps I am not a good listener, either.
However, it is true that the mediation has left me confused. I don’t know why my motives in the bracelet situation were so important in the mediation. More time was spent on this that my husband’s road rage, his driving the family recklessly, or other serious matters. [The elder] seemed concerned that I spoke of [my husband’s] cruelty with my adult children — did I do something wrong? Secrecy facilitates abuse. I don’t know why [the mediator] mentioned that I was no saint. I have never tried to portray myself as someone who is perfect…
…it should have been known from the information that I presented that [my husband’s] behavior is that of a mentally disturbed person. I believe that it was not constructive to find fault in me as it only confirms the blame that he has shifted to me for years and caused me more self-doubt and confusion.
Despite weeks of more introspection and soul searching, I do not know what I could have done to fix this marriage. I have worn myself out with thinking about it and don’t think that this is a healthy thing for me to focus on any longer. The mediation was very troubling and expensive for me. I hope that you were able to derive some benefit from it. Since then someone who loves me said it sounded like the counsel that Job received…
Throughout the mediation, besides Christian encouragement, I had hope that someone would give me some guidance on how to deal with [my husband] either from a spiritual or psychological perspective. It would have been responsible if [the mediator] would have sized up my husband’s problem professionally and advised against setting up contact until he was evaluated. At the time, I feel that I had no guidance and was trying to please the onlookers. I did not know what the church expected from me and I was blindly trying to comply.
In the conversation that I had post-mediation with [the mediator], I told her that I tried my best with [my husband]. In response, I heard her say that I waited too long to get help. However, it seems that to others I did wrong to talk about this with anyone. So it is obvious that I cannot please anyone, at this point I don’t really care if I do. I only want to please the Lord and be faithful to him. This has been my goal for many years and I believe that I have accomplished this in this relationship…
After the Peacemaker mediation, I struggled through the most depressing and darkest period of my life, and I was later diagnosed with PTSD. Ironically, I believe that it was brought on by the church intervention. But God knew what I needed and he gave me wise and godly friends who listened to my plight and offered sound Scriptural counsel. By replaying this horrific series of events over and over in my mind I became more assured that the church’s actions were unbiblical and irrational. Maybe I wasn’t crazy. I was beginning to emerge from the fog. A month later, the pastor and elder requested another evening meeting. This time my two adult daughters and teenage son wanted to come and support me. The pastor again refused others attending, but because I sensed that I was now stronger, decided to go alone anyway. I was now prepared for the worst.
The second meeting began like the first. Impatiently, the pastor again said that I confused him and the elder said that he was sorry that he made me cry at the last meeting. The pastor had prepared the following questions on a handout concerning my letter. I was asked to read the handout and answer the questions. [formatting in the block quote below as per their original handout]
Notes for meeting with [name] dated January 8th, 20XX
To address items in her letter to me (not sent to [the elder]) postmarked Dec.13 20XX
Questions about statements in the letter:
You said, “I was looking for some kind of encouragement from you as my brothers, but I assume that you have some other role in this process”
1. Have we discouraged you, and if so in what specific ways?
2. What other roles do you think we are taking?
We believe we are to encourage you, but encouragement
— is not always agreement
— sometimes needs to say difficult things that a person is not seeing in themselves or others
— is not limited to an individual when it comes to marriage, but prioritizes things that will encourage real healing in the marriage.
What do you mean by, “I think we share the same spirit? Who is “we” and what is the “spirit” that we share?
What kind of suspicions do you worry we have about you?
1. How might we express disagreement with you without making you feel we have “suspicions”?
2. Do you think we should be in agreement with you totally?
How was the mediation like the counsel Job received — he was told that he was punished by God for sinning. I don’t remember anyone telling you that?
They waited for me to respond to the questions. I scanned over the questions several times, but I perceived that my answers would not meet with their approval. It struck me that their uncertainty that I had written about the Holy Spirit was confirmation that they were not thinking spiritually and I began to think that it wasn’t me who was confused, but them. Rather than trying to appease them, I politely excused myself and left.
[Go to Part 2 of this series]