PCA Church’s Final Reply: This is Church Discipline? — Part 6 of Persistent Widow’s story
Once again there was silence from the church. I wrote them a letter with my observations of the situation to that point hoping to receive some indication of where the process was going.
Excerpts from my letter to the church:
I came to the church … to ask someone in leadership to directly confront my husband about the sin of abuse that he was inflicting on my family and the pressure that he was exerting on my 13 year-old son to act in way not pleasing to God. A list was provided with a factual and easily verifiable account of [his] vandalism and abusive acts towards his family and community. I felt that to request this assistance from the church was biblical and reasonable. I wanted [my son] to see that the church cares, and that church membership entails being accountable for our actions. I felt that [my husband’s] public acts would bring reproach to the Gospel and to the church body. If we hadn’t needed help, I would not have brought this situation to you.
The direct result of my bringing this to the church is that [my husband] went to lunch with [the pastor].
The indirect, and the most beneficial result of my bringing this to the church has been that [my husband] made preparations to leave and then proceeded to do so.
The wicked flee when no one pursues. Proverbs 28:1
… I had asked for [my husband] to be confronted for his sins. Should [he] repent, there would be hope that the other problems could be worked on. As a result of the church not acting swiftly to hold [him] accountable, the abuse escalated.
… At this point, the situation was outsourced to a woman with no authority in the church … I felt compelled to pay the nearly $3000 for her service despite the fact that I made it clear to her and [the pastor] that it was inappropriate for this situation … If I was in error for thinking that it was biblical for only men of leadership in the congregation to hold [my husband] accountable, it was never explained to me.
… According to the Westminster Confession Chap. XXX, paragraph 4, it is the responsibility of the officers of the church to admonish church members for sin. … I never received confirmation that the church takes any of the issues that I brought up seriously, and it is not surprising that [my husband] would feel the same way.
… The counselors at [the abuse center] said that I am in a dangerous relationship and that my children and I will suffer if I continue in it; honestly, this seems to be the more reasonable and more biblical viewpoint. I brought literature to [the pastor] about this and no one seemed interested in looking at it or discussing it with me … the secular counselors know that the actions of the abuser come from a wicked spirit which is why they teach that emotional and verbal abuse are the same sin as physical abuse. Christ taught that what comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart … [he] has been cursing and threatening me for years. … Why will the church not hold him accountable for not loving his wife? If I am of no concern to you, do you not realize the terror that children are living in to witness this?
… My friends and family are well aware of [his] issues and hoped the church was helping me. They often ask how I am doing and how this is progressing with the church’s intervention with [him]. I have been embarrassed to tell them for fear of discrediting the church and the gospel that we preach. But not anymore; I must make a distinction … I was told to accept the unfaithful spouse as Hosea did … I perceive that this was only mere opinion and not spiritually discerned. Even family from the Catholic Church know that this is not proper application of Scripture and are disgusted. Using Scripture to further personal opinion is an abuse of your God-given authority.
… [the pastor] said that my conscience will condemn me for not continuing to wait and pay for more counseling … why would I think that counseling would do any good since [he] is not repentant and says he wants to see me dead? I assume that if I paid, and he quit going to the sessions (which is well documented with abusers), only then I would get emotional support from the church. Yes, this would be a win-by-default, I suppose, but at what financial cost? In other words, how much will I have to continue to pay to get a clean conscience? I have very limited resources and this sounds like something Johann Tetzel, a 16th century preacher and salesman of papal indulgences, would have marketed.
… Is there any reason that [he] cannot be held accountable for his own sin? I would be much more impressed with his sincerity if repentance was his motive, rather than the selfish desire to “Get my life back.” I do not know why I am held in contempt by the church for recognizing this. [His] actions have long suggested that he was an unbeliever, despite years of church attendance. Perhaps if he were directly confronted with the severity of his sin and told that his sin is against God and God alone, he would desire to get counseling out of repentance. Isn’t this biblical? Isn’t that what we want for him?
Since [the pastor] has said at least four times that he was confused about my being discouraged by this process, I am hoping that by investing time and effort to write yet another letter, you will finally be able to empathize with my position. Because for 1 ½ years, I have felt either ignored or subject to whims related to a personal agenda, at this point, I would consider the decency of a considered written response on behalf of the entire [church] session. According to [the pastor’s] January 8 note, there are difficult things that I am not seeing in myself. Could you please be specific as to what I need to change and why? Also, I would like to see Scripture proofs that my conscience should be conformed to. If I don’t receive a biblical statement from the session which contains more than the aforementioned Hosea passage, then for practical reasons, I will need to proceed sensibly without your support.
The Church’s Response with Scriptural Proofs and Final Decision
Over two months after I sent the above letter and nearly two years after I approached the church to discipline my husband for his actions, I received the church’s final decision letter in the mail. It was a joint letter in which everyone involved received a copy. The letterhead reads, Preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and Sharing His Love with one Another. Following are excerpts from this letter. [TRIGGER WARNING: spiritual abuse by misuse and selective quotation of scripture, sin levelling, mutualization of blame for relationship breakdown, false guilt laid on victim; wrongful disclosing of victim’s confidences, thereby increasing victim’s risk of retribution from abuser]
Up until the last few months, the elders have not been compelled to make any type of written or official statement of their views of the issues you are experiencing in your marriage. That is because we considered ourselves to be in a process of shepherding and discipline (Matthew 18:15-18) rather than any type of final stage. Now that you have each stated that you are unwilling to work on restoring the marriage, we believe that it is appropriate to make a statement of our views.
Here two paragraphs were written exposing all of the issues that I thought were confidential between the pastor and myself including my concerns of my husband’s psychological and spiritual state. Nothing was held back. Everything was listed out in such a matter-of-fact manner that I found it shocking and I was concerned that my husband may seek retribution against me. The next two paragraphs listed my husband’s complaints such as I caused him to be angry, I was critical of his personal friendship with the other woman, he was criticized for everything he does, blamed, etc.
… [He] expressed a willingness to begin counseling and work on his issues with anger, but believes that [she] was never interested in working on the relationship … therefore he no longer sees a point in going to counseling … she refuses to acknowledge her own faults. … he believes, his reaction, even if strong, is necessary to maintain some sense of self-respect or manhood. In his words, “I challenge any man in my situation to have done any differently.”
… She is convinced that the hours that he spent talking to [the other woman] on the phone, the meals and events that they had together, all of these indicate an adulterous relationship, if not physically, emotionally. The elders see [this relationship] as inappropriate, but do not see it as adultery justifying divorce … [The relationship] was inappropriate in its frequency (hours a day on the phone according to phone records) but is not the same thing as adultery. … It is impossible for us to determine whether actual death threats are occurring …
… [She] also pursued supportive companionship outside her relationship with [her husband]. [She] increasingly turned to the support of her older daughters…We have observed vacillation in some times agreeing to wait on counseling and sometimes not. We have observed [she] will discount opinions as unqualified that don’t agree with her own assessment. In short, we have observed several things that [she] should work on in herself. … We believe that [she] is demanding and hold [sic] to her opinions rather than evidence presented. We believe that she needs to be more willing to consider behavior in herself that is inappropriate. We believe that she is sometimes unable to see her own issues and, therefore, also needs the assistance of counselors.
…The issues are many and ongoing…Each person looking for the church (and other relationships and authorities) to agree with them…
… Ephesians 5 reminds couples that the husband is the head of the wife and that she is to submit to him, his way of encouraging that is not by anger or force, but sacrificing himself and giving himself up for her (Eph. 5:25) . . . Harshness, name-calling, fits of rage are never justified in a marriage.
… [she] believes that [he] is abusive… because of years of ongoing abuse. In our opinion, it is clear that [he] has acted in anger and outbursts of temper. Actions that resulted in physical confrontations seemed to have been over-reactions. We do not diagnose a person as abusive, but encourage them to seek counseling…When Peter talks about the responsibility of a wife in a difficult relationship (a husband who does not obey the word) in 1 Peter 3, he says that the wife should seek to win her husband over by the conduct of the wives. Even without speaking a word, her respect and submission to God and her husband are primary tools in winning him over. Then Peter gives an example of what that conduct looks like: Sarah obeying Abraham and calling him Lord. Abraham had put Sarah in some difficult situations, (Gen 12:10-20, Gen 20) situations that could easily be labeled abusive today, but her mandate was not to flee the relationship, but to treat him with godly and respectful conduct
… We do not condone abusive behavior in any way, and we encourage a woman who believes that she is threatened to take measures to ensure her safety … every effort should be made to correct the problem through counseling or other means …
… On the other hand, we believe that [he] needs to understand that his expressions of anger cannot be justified by [his wife’s] behavior. Colossians 3:19 says that husbands are to love their wives and “not be harsh with them.” [His] yelling, name-calling, angry outbursts, etc. can certainly be characterized as harsh … Harshness, name-calling, fits of rage are never justified in a marriage …
… we do not believe that divorce is justified. Although inappropriate relationships have occurred, physical adultery has not. Although angry behavior has occurred, we believe that the focus should be on correcting the behavior through counseling, not on justifying ending the marriage.
… While some of these issues are more severe and threatening than others, we cannot say that one or the other person is responsible for the divorce. It is a joint responsibility. We believe it wrong to pursue divorce. We do not believe God is pleased with it…Since you appear to be set in your actions to end the marriage, though, we are compelled to recommend the direction Scripture gives. In particular we would point to 1 Cor. 7:10-11 … A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
… And this is our opinion in your situation. We are not in a place of agreement with you in proceeding with your divorce. If you are determined to proceed with divorce, we would implore you to remain unmarried or seek reconciliation…
… We would also share the contents of this letter if, in the future, God leads either of you to another body of fellowship.
… Mercy triumphs over sin and love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). It is our prayer that mercy would cover your past and open up a possibility of a future for the relationship you both vowed to God to maintain until death do you part.
Posts in this series
Part 6: Is this post.