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.


Posts in this series

Part 1: Abuse in a PCA church: Part 1 of Persistent Widow’s story

Part 2: The Nightmare of Peacemakers Mediation for Domestic Abuse: Part 2 of Persistent Widow’s story

Part 3: Is this post.

Part 4: Death Threat from Abuser, but Church Refuses to be Educated About Abuse: Part 4 of Persistent Widow’s story

Part 5: I Wish I Knew This About Peacemakers Before I Went: Part 5 of Persistent Widow’s story

Part 6: PCA Church’s Final Reply: This is Church Discipline? — Part 6 of Persistent Widow’s story

Part 7: PCA Church Receives Rebuke from Therapist/Life Coach: Get Educated! Part 7 of Persistent Widow’s story

45 thoughts on “PCA Interrogation, Hard Lessons, and Emerging from the Fog: Part 3 of Persistent Widow’s story”

  1. Oh my. I think my heart stopped a few times reading this. Just more invalidation, cruelty, dismissiveness and ungodly behavior. I was reading in Jeremiah last night about not having any shame…not even knowing how to blush. That seems to be an apt verse here. 😦

    From the outside looking in there is something I question. They seem to put a lot of emphasis on accusing you of needing them to agree with you. What is that about? Where are they getting that from? I can’t help but wonder if this is a line of thinking your husband introduced to them privately or perhaps it is their own version of it they concocted on their own. It is exactly the kind of thing my husband did. He would take “truisms” (or universally accepted principles) and use them to manipulate people against me. He would say things like “She expects me / marriage to be perfect but no one is perfect. I can’t complete her or be everything for her. She thinks everyone has to agree with her or they are against her.” He would use that last particular line to then say I had “trust issues”. I think this is the same kind of mentality used by some New Age pastors to get streams of followers- spew off these universally esteemed principles in order to gain popularity and loyalty. (We are free and not under the law…live free! God loves you and accepts you just the way you are…look at how important you are to Him!…and other such twisting).

    Your story is opening barely scabbed over wounds within my own church and counseling experience but reading the validation of how grotesque this behavior is has also been healing for me as well. Wow. Just wow.

    1. Valerie, They did claim that I just wanted them to agree with me several times in letters and in personal discussions. I have no idea why they said that. I never asked them to agree with me but to discipline my husband as per the Westminster Confession of Faith they claim to follow. And if for nothing else the assault issue at the other church. I think that my case is unique in that I brought forth other issues for discipline than the domestic abuse alone and they still did nothing. This speaks loud and clear that if they won’t discipline public sins, it is likely that they won’t discipline domestic abuse issues. I have wondered does it mean that men are exempt from discipline for sins like assault if they are married? Then the scrutiny shifts to the wife? Would a single man have been given a pass for assaulting someone like my husband did? Frankly, I think this is where their theology falls apart and it becomes evident that it is human reasoning and unspiritual.

      Another mystery is why the elder said that he didn’t know me and was so interrogative in his approach. Granted I didn’t know him very well as I only saw him at church, but I don’t know why it was such a big deal here. Maybe it was to guilt me into paying the Nouthetic counseling or because they were disappointed that I didn’t fall in line with what the Peacemaker mediation came up with.

      Another possibility is that the PCA Book of Church order allows discipline for “contumacious” people. That means people who will not obey the rules-their rules. Maybe when he said that he didn’t know me, he didn’t expect me to be contumacious. Although at that time I didn’t know what the rules were and I thought that they were just lacking policy and procedure or uninformed about abuse. Had I known that these were their rules, I would never have been in their church in the first place.

      Throughout the process I communicated directly with the pastor but noticed that the elders were giving me disapproving looks at church. I sensed the possibility that the pastor was misstating my intentions and so I began sending copies of my correspondence to all parties involved. It was all very strange and their reaction is still a mystery to me.

      1. Another mystery is why the elder said that he didn’t know me and was so interrogative in his approach.

        I’ve read this post several times in the course of editing it before publication, and each time I read it, that vicious interrogation by the elder — his repeating “I don’t know you” like he’d dress down a naughty dog — struck me as really weird. Now this has been raised in the discussion thread, I’m wondering whether he had used that line with someone else before: maybe a member of his own family. It seemed excessively vindictive, as if he was taking vengeance on someone from his past, nothing to do with you (PW) at all.

      2. Seems to me like this was a little game that was intended to wear you down psychologically mentally and emotionally, and finantially.
        To hold you in a state of doubt and confusion to cause you to questioning your own thoughts and position in the matter.
        Especially now considering that the pastor had reservations about having your family members there by your side, supporting what you were trying to convey.
        Had they been there that would have made it tough for them to refute.
        That would have added more merit to what you were saying, and made you look more undeniably credible right?
        Had your supporting family been there like you origionally wanted and planned, it would have most likely turned into a standoff.
        Their truth against your truth.
        That would have at least helped you feel better knowing that your family got to see how horribly they treated you, and denied your truth, and then at least you could have all shook the dust off of your feet together before you left.
        Sorry you had to endure that alone persistantwidow.
        If I’ve learned anything about these types of “group mediation c’hurch gatherings” , it is not attend them without at least one or more advocate for yourself.
        They seem to be all about breaking down the victims defences, denying her truth, and confusing the issues.
        Shame on them for treating you that way and projecting themselves to be men of God at the same time.

      3. Saying he didn’t “know you” also struck a chord with me because this is also something a woman said to me who actually did know me quite well. I had confided in her about the abuse and she showed she believed me by her words and response to me. Then suddenly she switched her demeanor toward me weeks later and said “she didn’t know me”…meaning she got new information that led her to believe she was totally wrong about me. I later found out my husband had gotten to her and her husband and told them who knows what but she basically accused me of lying after their interaction with him. So….when I read this in your post I also couldn’t help but wonder if your husband had quite the wild tales he told him or a third party that led this man to say that to you. Translation: “I was wrong about you…you had me fooled…after hearing what I heard I no longer feel I even know who you are.” Just a thought since that is what happened in my case.

  2. “Ironically, I believe that it was brought on by the church intervention.”

    Yes- in my case the role the church played was, at the time, more painful than the marriage. Mostly because I’d spent years dealing with the marriage and I knew what to expect, but the wound from people I thought I could / should trust just destroyed me. I remember getting extremely physically ill to the point I had to stay home from work due to the stress I received from my church.

    Thank you for sharing your story- I hope it will be enlightening for many.

  3. I am so angered by this post- my first gut level response is not very spiritual!! And I don’t usually use profanity.
    I’m so sorry PW. They are so wrong! I’m glad you see that…and we are ALL coming out of that deathly fog, where we were being hurt / abused and believed it was our own fault. A horrific lie.

    On an emotional level, it is a very deep wound when you make yourself vulnerable to someone and instead they harm you. I’ve been through a very severe spiritual abusive church situation and it has left deep wounds, I find them more painful and troubling than the DV actually.

    At this new church they offered up a prayer / altar call for “those with a broken heart.” I wish I had just waited in my seat. But I didn’t. Instead, I went forward for prayer. However, the woman praying for me- in another room kept saying “you just look so sad…” As a sort of rebuke. “What’s wrong with you? Get over it…” Ummmmm…..didn’t you just hear what I said? I am going through a divorce with a covert abuser who is attempting to brainwash my special needs child!! I repeating the info . She gets into “But have you forgiven them Have you REALLY?” Uhhhh- yes actually. That was a major doctrine of the cult…extreme forgiveness. I did that in my abusive marriage too.

    Next the old line….”if you’re hurting, it’s because you haven’t forgiven.”
    WRONG! Wrong wrong!

    I came home feeling pain and despair. Thankfully a very old friend called a few hours later- who recently earned her Ph.D in psychology and works with ….trauma victims! Isn’t God amazing!! We hadn’t spoken in years!
    She validated my story, the pain esp. the time and process of grieving. She also understood narcissism…and greatly encouraged me.

    I hope this blog encourages you and all of us, that the pastor’s behavior was so cruel, abusive, and wrong…and we can begin to heal.

  4. Who do these men think they are?! They should be totally removed from their positions. Twisted, sick, and perverted is their role as leaders.

  5. What PW came to see eventually is what it is vital for us all to get a firm hold on. Namely, that not everyone who says they are a Christian is, and not everything that calls itself a Christian church is. The actions of PW’s pastor and session demonstrate that they were not Christ’s undershepherds at all, nor was that a church at all. They were false shepherds, such as plagued Jeremiah in his day, and Christ had departed from the so-called church long before. And these counterfeits are by no means rare in our day.

    One of the marks of a false church and false church leadership is that they oppress the oppressed, as you can see in PW’s story here. I suspect that what really ticked them off more than anything is that these men were dealing with a WOMAN, and she wasn’t bowing to them. That means that a prevailing, ruling, boys’ club had long since been established in that church. You can bet that the contagion had spread to other marriages in that place as well, and the whole ugly event gives us reason to ask some serious questions about the marriages of that pastor and elder.

    1. Jeff, this is in the Lutheran Confessions, The Augsburg Apology, XXIII:

      “For Daniel 11:37 attributes this mark to the kingdom of the Antichrist: hatred for women.”

      I found that interesting, and after some reflection on this Genesis 3:15 came to mind, “And I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman.” So Scripture confirms that the spirit of Antichrist will persecute women especially and this gives us a clearer picture of why this is happening in so many ‘c’hurches.

      And yes, come to think of it, there was a marriage crisis epidemic in that ‘c’hurch. Jeff, you are very wise.

      1. Satan hates women. From the beginning he knew that Christ would come as the Seed of the woman and crush his head. He and his seed continue that hatred ever since.

      2. Oh wow. Somehow I never saw that before. Yes, it’s true. 😦 A hatred for women is particularly satanic. I mean, I’ve known that for a long time, but I never put those verses to it. :/

      3. I feel I am missing something regarding the Genesis passage. Isn’t Gen 3:15 where we are first told about the condition of man to the devil until the future time when Revelation unfolds? It states in that passage that the emnity is between his seed and hers. Her seed is Christ; and all (men and women) who are in Christ are also His seed. Doesn’t this passage describe the state of God’s children (kingdom) at large being in constant opposition to the forces of satan and his kingdom? Christ, the devil’s arch enemy was a man. It is all who are of Christ that the devil opposes. He worked in Jezebel but he also worked in Saul. The devil prompted Herod to kill all the baby boys in attempt to keep the Messiah from coming. I feel I am missing something by this passage being taken to be primarily about women. Can someone help me with that?

      4. The Lord God said to the serpent,
        ” . . . I will put enmity between you and the woman,
        and between your offspring and her offspring;
        he shall bruise your head,
        and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:14a,15)

        There is enmity between:
        —— Satan and his offspring, people such as religious hypocrites of whom Jesus said “You are of your father, the devil”, and
        —— the woman Eve and her offspring Jesus, and by extension all those who have been born again and are in Christ, adopted as children of God, and created (by regeneration) to be the Son’s bride.

        All believers, whether male or female, are collectively the bride of Christ, and so in that spiritual sense we all have that female role in relation to Christ. Sorry if that seems unseemly, I know this theology has to be handled carefully. There is enmity between the woman and satan, and since all believers (inc. Christian men) are the bride of Christ, both male and female believers are hated by satan just as satan hates ‘the woman’ in Genesis 3:15.

        I’m thinking off the top of my head, so please don’t take offence if I say this wrong. I don’t know how much one can press the point that satan hates women. I’m not wishing to be disrespectful of the Lutheran confession, or to disagree with it outright, but the Daniel citation it gives seems a little bit of a stretch to prove the point that satan particularly hates women. Here’s the passage:

        And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these. A god whom his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. (Daniel 11:36-38)

        Who is the God that is ‘the one beloved by women’ that Daniel is referring to there? It may be the true God. But the passage says that the tyrant king/antichrist “shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers or to the one beloved by women”. To me, that does not suggest that the gods of his fathers are the false gods and the one beloved by women is the true God. I think the meaning of the passage is too ambiguous or indeterminate to be sure of drawing a firm conclusion from it that ‘Satan particularly hates women’.

        However, I think that Genesis 3:16 “he will rule over you” clearly says that one of the consequences of the Fall is that carnal, world-dwelling, unregenerate husbands will have a tendency to rule harshly over their wives.

        Since that is a tendency of men since the Fall, satan of course plays with and feeds that sinful tendency. It’s one of his most reliable means of keeping people in his domain of darkness. From the Fall, the stage was set for satan to play that song over and over again — getting men to dominate women and create havoc in the world for generation after generation. And my thesis is borne out by the world wide statistics about male violence against women.

  6. First of all, thank you for the trigger warning on this article. I did experience some emotional and physical abreactions, reading this horrific true story very similar to my own. I desire to validate what the writer experienced and Jeff’s statement as well. God met me in the pain of my own abuse, but I have been diagnosed with PTSD just like this woman.

    There are no words adequate to describe the relief I have experienced in finding this website / ministry. It is a lone voice in the darkness, and is precisely what is needed and not to be found in any traditional “Christian” (so-called) church I have experienced. There have been several. Jesus has indeed “left the building” so to speak, and SATAN has JOINED THE CHURCH. I have found the true bride of Christ to exist primarily, though not entirely, outside the traditional / commercial church walls. Thank you for this message of truth, and for your labor of love.

  7. Thank for your story. I have learned so much from people on the inside of the evangelical church and it’s court system. How does one begin to question people who appear so religiously correct and above the rest of us? It is dawning on me that this is exactly the problem. We are dealing with modern day Pharisees. At my church, They like to remind us that Jesus did get angry, implying that Jesus was not just a sappy, soft-hearted guy who talked about love. If you look at the scriptures you see that Jesus only got angry with abusers; Pharisees who abused others and money changers who abused his Fathers House. He never scolded the humble or needy. What do they do with I Corinthians 13? Maybe nothing; maybe the subject of love is not so important. Do we believe in the inerrant, infallible Word of God? Well believe this:
    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
    I Corinthians 13:13
    I must admit that I have not fully recovered from the abuse I experienced. I am trying daily to let God work in me to forgive them; but the sting is still fresh. And why should I keep quiet when I know they are abusing others? Who is going to stand up to the system that has been in place for hundreds of years? All the leaders have vested interests in position, power, authority and income/retirement money. It makes perfect sense that those who are unimportant should be set aside. How awful this must be in the sight of God who loves us, especially those who have no power or authority. This is the whole message of the Gospel. The good news for the neglected, the sinner. The righteous don’t need a savior. How are we missing this?

  8. “You can bet that the contagion had spread to other marriages in that place as well, and the whole ugly event gives us reason to ask some serious questions”.

    Thank you Ps. Jeff for this statement. My experience has been that most ‘C’hristians’ do NOT understand evil. They do not recognize evil. They will not name evil. They do not even resist evil. They tolerate evil. In fact, they go beyond tolerating evil.

    When they pass the point of “tolerance”, they actually embrace evil. And then they call it ‘love’, or long-suffering, or patience, or…love… or gentleness, or kindness, or ….love….or evangelism, or being ‘on mission’ or ….love…..did I mention love? It’s not love.

    The question ruminating in my heart this week while reading PW’s story is this: whether it is blatant evil (like terrorists) or ‘subtle’ evil (like these idiots) how much evil is OK for these people? At what point does ‘a little evil’ become ‘a lot’ evil? When does evil become intolerable? At what point can evil no longer be denied? At what point can evil no longer be disguised in ‘marriage’ or ‘family’ or ‘friend’? At what point does it hit ‘critical mass’? At what point do the so-called leaders say, “Gee, maybe we should have nipped this in the bud?”

    I would LOVE to ask this question in open church. I would LOVE to see the Pharisees seethe and be unable to answer. Because whether it is a lot or a little, it cannot be defended. It cannot be ignored. It cannot be dismissed. It cannot be minimized. Evil is leaven. Leaven puffs up, it grows, it expands, it pushes, it invades the host.

    “A little leaven leavens the whole lump”. Evil is contagious. It spreads to others, as you said.

    Like the measles outbreak, evil multiplies. Evil begins in the “magic kingdom” and grows bit by bit until it becomes a plague that threatens an entire church, or a even a country.

    How much evil is OK? How much evil is permissible? How much evil will be tolerated? How much evil is “just a little bit evil”? And if that ‘little evil’ originates from the same source as ‘horrible evil’, then why oh why is it tolerated at all?

    How many wolves are allowed in the sheepfold?
    And when will the innocent sheep be protected & valued & defended & yes….LOVED????

  9. 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

    So the two of them against you, and them being authority figures too, while we’re at it.

    because he said that her presence would “cloud the issues”.

    “Cloud the issues” or level the playing field and possibly provide corroborating testimony to your account? Interesting how there were no witnesses to what they said, except each other… and the lone you.

    When I arrived at the church, the pastor appeared agitated, pacing the hallway and seemed greatly relieved when the elder arrived.

    Uh huh.

    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,

    Cowardly bullies who want no witnesses and no challengers.

    The pastor had prepared the following questions on a handout concerning my letter. I was asked to read the handout and answer the questions.

    So the pastor had time to plan his strategy for this second two-on-one meeting while you had to wing it on the spot, alone.

    How this is not abuse of power completely escapes me.

  10. Their very weird line of questioning reminds me of the way my husband would claim not to understand what I meant or what the “right answer” was when I asked him to tell me how he felt. It, I think, was a form of gaslighting.

    PW, my heart goes out to you for the compounded abuse to which you’ve been subjected. It was wrong, manipulative, and actually took financial advantage of you (robbing the poor). The gaslighting from clergy makes my skin crawl. One thing that has helped me in moments of great pain is realizing that Jesus completely understands the pain. Knowing He has walked this path before is comforting. Our God knows our pain intimately. That keeps me going.

  11. This literally, makes me nauseous. I think it reminds me of my own story and the PTSD I was left with after decades of abuse and then the “c”hurch abuse. But, PW you have inspired me to finally finish writing my story and share it here.

    All I can say, is that I hope these kind of men have lives that are happy and blessed and cared for and that they are loved beyond measure by their families and prosper abundantly in this life – because their eternity is going to be hell.

  12. PW after reading your story I wounder if it might be the case I had. A family member went to a pastor we worked with. They asked if he would please speak to my husband for he was not treating me right. He had a violent temper, control and a down right unchristian conduct. They were shocked that the only thing the pastor told my husband was, “Remember to get up front and preach you must practice what you preach.” Then he laughed.
    My husband came back with “Yes, wouldn’t think of any other way.”
    He didn’t do a thing!
    It was several years latter that I found out that Pastor was a narcissist also. A real charmer. He could preach and draw a crowd and talk about God in the family, but he was found having eyes for other women, a violent temper and treated his wife in public like an angel but behind home doors he was not that nice.
    I then saw why he didn’t set down and talk to my husband and tell him he needed to change if he wanted to continue to work with the ministry.

      1. Joanne, we have a tag for Red Flags . It contains posts that discuss visible signs of an abuser as one gets to know a person.

        We also have a tag for Identifying Abusers; that one is for signs you might more likely see once you have been living with the abuser for some time and are starting to tentatively ask yourself “Am I being abused?”

        And you can search all our tags in the tags tab in the top menu.

      2. This is an excellent lecture about Narcissism: “Dr. Diane Langberg, clinical faculty with GTRI and Biblical Seminary lectured on the characteristics of narcissistic leaders and the temptations for systems to support them. Why post this since we are an organization focused on trauma recovery? It is a sad fact that many organizations, when faced with the choice of protecting an abusive leader or victim, choose to protect the leader (and thus the organization) rather than the victims of that abuse. All too often, victims report that the failure of the system to respond well to their cries for help cause more harm than the original abuse. This video is part 1 of five and is entitled: “Introduction and Assessment” (length: 22:23)”
        Global Trauma Recovery: Narcissism and the System it Breeds (Part 1 of 5) [This link is broken. Biblical Seminary is now named Missio Seminary. Here is the new link to the video Robert Simpson mentions: Narcissism and the System it Breeds: Part 1 – Introduction and Assessment. The video is part way down the page. Editors.]

      3. Thanks for sharing this link Robert. It is really good. One difference I noticed is her school of thought that the narcissist is hiding his vulnerability whereas Simon and Bancroft see the narcissist’s core as more of an issue of their attitude of entitlement…that is Simon and Bancroft (as I understand their positions) state the sense of entitlement isn’t so much a symptom but rather the core issue. When you dig deep, deep down, what is there? Langberg seems to think its more insecurity whereas S & B say its the entitlement.

      4. Valerie, you’ve put your finger on an important point there.

        Here are my speculations – since I’m not a counselor I am only saying what I’ve gleaned and heard and read from a few counselors and from many abuse survivors who’ve been to counselors.

        Many abusers put on a show of having hidden insecurities. They do this to manipulate people of good will, and they work out who is naive enough to buy their pretence and they milk them for sympathy and support. Many counselors (and pastors) are naive enough to fall for this.

        George Simon says that most mental health training is premised on the belief that all people basically feel insecure and are neurotic to some extent or other. This training conditions the professionals to see what they expect to see — a client who is insecure deep down inside. And it conditions professionals to not see what is before them with character disordered clients, especially when the character disorder is of the covert-aggressive type.

        However, I have the impression that there are some wise counselors who have somehow or other developed the wisdom to see through the covert-aggressive abuser’s display of ‘insecurity’. To call it for what it is: a game, a ploy, a tactic of manipulation — and to call the client to rigorous honesty and accept nothing less than true authenticity and full accountability. Such counselors seem (from what I’ve heard) to sometimes witness an abuser breaking down, showing not the fake insecurity, but a craven genuine insecurity that comes from some trauma(s) in that client’s past.

        Now, not all abusers are trauma survivors, says Dr Simon. And many abusers exaggerate or fabricate stories of being trauma survivors. However, some abusers really are trauma survivors, and if they break down (give up all their fake pretenses) they do show true insecurity.

        Having said all that, the fact is: many people are trauma survivors but have not gone on to become abusers.
        So if a person is a trauma survivor and has become an abuser, it was that person’s choice to become an abuser. The trauma that person experienced, and the legacy of insecurity it left them with, is not the cause of the abuse and is not an excuse for their abusiveness.

        I feel that people like Diane Langberg are ones who can probably discern accurately between the faked insecurity of the abuser who is trying to manipulate others, and the genuine insecurity of an abuser who really breaks down.

        Sadly, there are not many counselors who have that discernment. And my impression is, that kind of discernment is even more seldom found in pastors.

      5. Valerie, insecurity vs entitlement… ? Interesting point. From what I saw with my narcissistic H (and other narcissistic people I came across) he definitely has some insecurity and complex of inferiority issues. But then… I suspect that these subtly serve to position himself as a victim and, while he’s at it attract the sympathy of others (counselors, allies). Thus he can rationalise his entitlement and all the more as the latter enable him and even come to see the true victim (the abused wife) as the one to cause his insecurity, aarrgh! Indeed their brains are wired in the uttermost convoluted Machiavellian way.

      6. Innoscent – I saw that exact trait played out in a couple of abusers repeatedly. Playing the victim by claiming inferiority and fear. And of course, since they felt inferior or afraid, it was ME who was at fault for making them feel that way!

      7. Personal translation of Innoscent’s bang-on thoughts – “I’m so weak, I NEED / REQUIRE / DEMAND you to take care of all my needs and give me lots of leeway because’s I’m just a sinful man who has it so hard.” (and thinking in his head – and if you don’t, I ‘m going tell everyone how hard-hearted you are) Leslie Vernick showed me how this is abusive in her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage in Chapter 3 on destructive patterns – ” I need you to need / love me to be OK”. Been there, heard this too many times, now walking away.

      8. Innoscent, yes exactly! This describes how my H has been as well. It really had a chicken/egg element the more I think about it. You said that your H seemed to have insecurity issues and I saw that played out as well. In fact I felt sorry for him that he seemed so unsure of himself in some ways to the extent that I felt I needed to protect him from being hurt (by anyone). Yet this seemingly insecure person was well adept at devising evil plans as well as slandering me (and others) behind their backs. Even when I started to get out of the FOG and realize he was abusive I still felt sorry for him to a degree as I thought he was just so terribly wounded. I saw him as a dog who barred his teeth out of fear and not malevolence. More recently, however, I am seeing his behavior not being fear based but indeed malevolent. Believing there is a damaged wounded child at their core is what gets targets, counselors and other bystanders to feel sympathy toward the abuser at the expense of holding them accountable. It is also what facilitates the mindset that the abuser just needs to be approached from a different angle so he will be enlightened. But as George Simon says it isn’t that he doesn’t see, its that he disagrees.

      9. Thank you Barbara for that thoughtful response. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you laid out. The abuse is still too raw and fresh for me to step back from in order for me to feel comfortable taking a firm position on one school of thought or another. Just today my H sent me into a swirl of confusion over this very issue…all in a 20 second conversation.

        I think that subconsciously I have been taught along the way the theory that people are basically good- a theory that people are sharply divided on. To be honest I think this site is the first I’ve ever…I mean ever…introduced to something other than the indoctrination of “we can love ’em to Christ”. I spent many, many years believing that was true of my husband who only increased his cruelty and ability to manipulate… yet I (not on my own but only through God’s wisdom, strength and guidance) have been able to witness to and affect others for Christ in a brief amount of time.

        How is it that my witnessing to my husband only increased his wickedness toward me yet with others has brought them closer to Christ? I can hear the rebuke already…that I simply wasn’t enduring or patient enough with my H. God’s timing is not our timing. Sigh. Regardless, I tend to lean toward the sense of entitlement at the core based on my own exp and other survivors. And yes, it is grievous that even counselors do not see through this. Several of them in my case. 😦 Thanks again Barbara!

  13. (Hosea 6:6) For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

    This Bible verse, how many times have you heard it quoted in church? It is often used to make those of us with a heart for the Lord, come to heel. “Mercy, mercy, empathy, mercy!” “Give it up!” “Show us who has a conscience so we can rape you! It’s our right!” These evil ones throw us into the fire. They sacrifice our hearts, minds, bodies and souls on the fire so that they can keep the status quo. But those of us who belong to Jesus don’t do anything alone. And when they chuck us onto the pyre, they are actually throwing Jesus in our place. They are sinning against God.

    Evil is real and very active. It comes in human form. As others have stated, most of us had no idea what it even looked like, so initially we embraced it and called it good. But as we now know there is a world of difference between thinking something is good and it actually BEING good and once we have been shown the difference through God’s work in our life and through his Word, we no longer accept evil as good.

    (Isaiah 5:20) Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

    Before the downfall of Mark Driscoll, when people were still flocking to his church, I read an article written by the wife of one of the many men Driscoll had destroyed who had served in the church. This woman went into minute detail, describing the many scenarios that had taken place in the years of abuse. One person who commented on the article questioned why the wife had to describe things so intimately. Why indeed! Why this is done is for many reasons but one of them is to show a pattern of abuse, or a system of abuse that can be followed and identified. While I was reading the article I couldn’t help but notice how the pattern of abuse was so like how Hitler worked. The building up of the next tier of leadership while using up and destroying those currently in positions of authority. It is also very much like how the hierarchy of the evil one and his minions operate. This quality of hierarchal manipulation is an inborn trait of people who are born without a conscience. It is amazing to watch if you are not part of the hierarchy. It’s a grotesque dance done with dips and curtsies, bowing and simpering, with each evil one innately knowing the moves and each one vying for the position of head of evil. Although each one desires to be in the alpha position, they are willing to kowtow to the lower ranking ones in order to work their way up the chain. Where you find evil you will always find a variation of this behavior.

    Thank you, PW, for describing in detail your story of abuse. Some of us need the details in order to know that we are not alone or crazy, and some need it to be reminded how resilient we actually are. That we survived such an abominable attack from those who were supposed to offer us love, compassion and mercy and instead aided the evil one in hanging Jesus on the cross. We don’t come alone.

    1. Anonymous – This is top notch excellent wisdom. Spoken obviously by someone who has been a target, a victim, and a survivor. You know evil. You have met it and you have emerged victorious. Thank you. Revelation 12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

    2. This quality of hierarchal manipulation is an inborn trait of people who are born without a conscience. It is amazing to watch if you are not part of the hierarchy. It’s a grotesque dance done with dips and curtsies, bowing and simpering, with each evil one innately knowing the moves and each one vying for the position of head of evil. Although each one desires to be in the alpha position, they are willing to kowtow to the lower ranking ones in order to work their way up the chain.

      Wow! What a great description!

    3. This quality of hierarchal manipulation is an inborn trait of people who are born without a conscience. It is amazing to watch if you are not part of the hierarchy. It’s a grotesque dance done with dips and curtsies, bowing and simpering, with each evil one innately knowing the moves and each one vying for the position of head of evil. Although each one desires to be in the alpha position, they are willing to kowtow to the lower ranking ones in order to work their way up the chain. Where you find evil you will always find a variation of this behavior.

      Thank you for saying this, Anonymous. It’s brilliant.

  14. PW and others,
    I’d be interested in hearing about your healing journey post spiritual abuse. I find myself being very very triggered in almost every church I visit…or something falls apart a few months into it- either a DV trigger- horrid marriage advice trigger- or a spiritual abuse trigger. I feel that I need to go to church but getting there is a battle, and I’m usually depressed when I leave.

    How do you cope? I feel like a professional church hopper and I know all of the phrases by heart. I find myself feeling cynical about the performance aspects. ..

    1. Lighting, I quite often attend a church and leave after the first hymns and the Bible readings (before the sermon starts). I find that works for me. Sermons are the usually most dangerous parts of the service, for triggering. It can happen from the prayers said from the front too, but I work hard at putting up my mental / spiritual carapace and I that helps bounce the Pharisaic prayers off my shell before they enter and really disturb me. I try to focus strongly on connecting with God, rather than with what the man at the front is saying. If the man at the front happens to say or read something that is edifying to my spirit, I let it in. But otherwise I bounce it off, so to speak.

      However, it’s taken me years and years to learn this skill, if one could call it that. And it would not have been possible in my early years of having come out of the fog, and being still very wounded and raw from the various abuses. So don’t be hard on yourself if you find that you are too raw to effectively achieve this.

      And I have made up my mind that there are certain people I will NOT listen to when they are in the pulpit. They may say things that are all true, but the spirit they have seems dead, or so ‘muzzled’ that it may as well be dead. That bothers me so much I find it’s worse than a waste of time to listen to their sermons. I find that after a sermon like that, I have to spend too much time and energy decontaminating…

    2. Lighting, When I finally left the PCA, I did not know where to go. I was not surprised to find that the churches I visited had shallow doctrines and I felt like a wet cat, out of place and miserable. My daughter liked the youth group at a local Baptist church and I thought that I would tough it out there since as she was happy, but when John Piper was quoted from the pulpit, I knew we had to get out of that place.

      I figured that if I was having so much trouble, our readers at ACFJ must be too, so I started contacting various denominations to find out what their position was on divorce for abuse. The only denomination that gave a truly favorable reply was the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and so I decided to check them out personally. Because the abusive church was a small church, I decided to check out a big LCMS church thinking there would be accountability in a large group. I went in there intending to make a list of everything that was wrong with the service and slid into the back row with my pencil and paper. I was very suspicious because the impression I had coming from the Reformed books about Lutherans was that they were practically Roman Catholic, so I wanted to verify how bad they really were.

      As it turned out I noticed that the service was different, but I could find nothing unbiblical. In fact, I really liked the music, the sermon, and the fact that they read such large portions of Scripture. It was better than the last church and beyond my expectations! I talked with the pastor and asked if John Piper was popular there. He said that he didn’t know anything about John Piper and had no interest in him at all! I went to doctrine class for new members and all of my questions were well answered. The adult Sunday school class is scholarly and I learn something every week. I feel no stigma for being divorced because it just isn’t a big works-righteousness deal like it was at the other churches. Women are treated with dignity and respect. The church has been supportive of me and that I work with ACFJ. It has been all good!

      In fact, this is where I should have been all along. I am really pleased because there is set doctrine and the membership is of one accord with it. I have been very blessed at this church and I am glad that I kept searching.

      It is amazing how God can redeem the worst situations.

  15. “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,”

    Barnabusintraining – you hit the bull’s-eye: “Cowardly bullies who want no witnesses and no challengers.”

    WHY no witnesses??? Bullies have a lot to hide.

  16. TPW –

    Wow, I’m catching up this morning on 100+ emails, having been tied up in attorneys’, counselors’, (lack of) settlement meetings, hurry-up-to-get-abuser-with-child-now meetings (where he didn’t show anyway), etc for the past week, and your story is SO similar. Different church hierarchy or structure, but same deets:

    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

    We haven’t gone through mediation, but took an outside-of-the-church approach (Christian marital counseling three times with each time a fail; His lying in session with the last counselor ended it for me – placing on me the things he had done).

    Yet when I finally mustered up the strength to speak details to the leaders at church, I heard these comments: “Well, I don’t know because I wasn’t there.” or “You have to seek the Lord to learn more about forgiveness.” or “Well, I don’t know why that leader in church wouldn’t read your prayer request; It may be an issue with the flesh. You should pray for him.” and on and on. When I typed up a brief history of life with the abuser, the pastor said he’d “put it away to read against that day.” I wonder if by that he meant the day my husband actually hurts or kills me, then he could bring my document out for evidence.

    Something strange that the pastor asked me do was alter a documented conversation in the testimony that I had given him. It referred to a conversation that the pastor had with my husband. The pastor told me to change some of the words because “I don’t want this kind of a document to be made about me.” That struck me as odd, because if he’s living as a Christian man with his wife and family, why would one be written about him? (He was afraid because at the time I was moving toward drawing the authorities into our marital situation – and perhaps this minister isn’t the man he represents himself to be so he didn’t want anyone coming to him about the words he had actually told my husband. I won’t put them here, but he told me that it was a lie what was written, but in the same conversation admitted to what he had said to my husband – and it was what I had written originally.) Being under such stress at the time, I told our pastor that I'd alter the document, which I did, but I added a footnote with the original wording and the date of my conversation with the pastor asking me to change it and the reason why.

    One night as I was crying in the pastor’s office about some things at home, the pastor walked around his desk, stuck his fingers in my face using his thumb and pointer finger to make the space of about an inch or less and said, “You are THIS CLOSE to a nervous breakdown.” When I told someone at church about that, she said, “You shouldn’t talk to the pastor anymore. You don’t want him getting up in court to say that.” Then she told me that the following week was Pastor Appreciation Sunday and showed me a special poster and was beaming about the idea of presenting it to him.

    The deacons of the church, who the pastors informed about the situation, never said one word to me. Not once. My abuser left our church, then returned, so child and I fled. I never got a phone call from anyone in the church about it. By and large, the church remained silent. They love to talk about love, but the don't love to live real love.

    This is true for me as well: “Basically, I was getting the same silent treatment from the church that I had gotten for years from my husband.”

    And this: “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.”

    That’s where I am now, by his design. But I’ve spoken to the Lord that we will be content with what we receive from His hand. I know that ’tis not I who provide for my child anyway, but He does. I just wish it didn’t all have to be thrown away on needless “settlement,” “mediation,” court, etc. But…. going through the church in your case sounds an awful lot like the same thing. Even to the point of having to pay for it, which is all the more egregious.

    I’m grateful for your testimony, TPW. You are blessing many by its sharing.

    1. When I typed up a brief history of life with the abuser, the pastor said he’d “put it away to read against that day.”

      That document which the pastor put away ‘against that day’ will be brought forth as evidence on the Day when he faces the Lord of Universe.

  17. I wish I had read this before going through Peaceewise mediation with my abuser. I came out of the 3 days feeling more hurt and confused than I was going in. They were also careful not to label his clearly abusive behaviour as abuse, and made me repent of my “sinful” responses to his abuse. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to read the pain and abuse you’ve endured from the church and the Peacemaker counselor.

    1. Dear N, the people who did mediation with you should never have done it. Mediation is not appropriate for abusive relationships because the power imbalance between the parties is far too great for it to ever produce a fair outcome. Couple counseling is also not appropriate when there is abuse. So many Christians do not know this, or if they know, they don’t care.

      Welcome to the blog. I changed your name to N, to protect your safety. I encourage you to read our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      After reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page. You might particularly want to check out the link on that page about couple counseling – it explains why it is not appropriate for abusive relationships.

      Another thing I think you will find helpful is this PDF: Honouring Resistance – How women resist abuse in intimate relationships [Internet Archive link].

      If you want us to change the screen name ‘N’ to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain) twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

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