“I’ve probably got through a 10th of the emails I’ve received. I’m triaging them”
Reblogged from The Bible Society of Australia, with the author’s permission. Original post here.
Thursday 12 March 2015
Last week, Isabella Young (not her real name) wrote a highly personal account of domestic abuse within her now ended Christian marriage for the Sydney Morning Herald. At the bottom of the article she left an email address.
Since then, she’s received 180 emails, 100 of them detailing cases of domestic abuse within Christian marriages, some of them current, many of them past, and around 6% written by men.
It’s a huge response to an article which countered the idea that domestic violence in Christian marriages is rare.
In her article, Isabella wrote:
“So what would I say to those who would minimise the extent of domestic violence occurring within church families and the inadequacy of the churches’ response to the problem?
You are wrong. Very wrong. You do not know what you are talking about.”
And the response to her article suggests she was right. She says the majority of emails detailing cases of abuse are from people involved in Anglican, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, although she received emails from people across nearly every denomination including Catholic and Orthodox.
Most of the emails were from women with Anglo-Saxon sounding names, who were well-written. Of course, the fact the article was published in a Broadsheet and shared among social networks affected who responded, but Isabella found it interesting most of the women were not from lower-socio economic backgrounds, dispelling the myth that domestic abuse is not a middle class problem.
Some of these people have been helped by churches, but some of them have been maintained in the situation by pastors.
She says it’s been an overwhelming task figuring out how to respond to such personal, sensitive emails while working full-time.
“It’s very fatiguing … This kind of stuff doesn’t shock me in that I expect it to be shocking. But there were a couple of emails that did shock me because of the extreme physical punishment or discipline the women endured. I found that pretty disgusting.
“I’ve probably got through a 10th of the emails I’ve received. I’m triaging them.”
What she plans to do with the stories she’s been entrusted with is still very much up in the air. Without a publisher, Isabella is unsure how to proceed, although she has some ideas.
“I want to actually print the stories, but I haven’t got a publisher. I think there could be room for an anthology and maybe a smaller book with a more curated selection of longer stories to help people understand how these things happen, and just how predictable it is.”
She says it’s surprising how many common threads there are among the stories she’s been told.
“With most of the people who’ve written to me there’s been explicit use of the Bible to keep them in that situation by their abusive spouse … Not just submission passages, the idea that the woman only exists for the man – abusing helper kind of language. The other thing is your marriage vows. People use whatever material they’ve got on hand as a weapon.”
Another idea is to send a survey out to people who’ve emailed her to gather some data which could provide a picture of the nature of abuse among Christians in Australia.
“One of the things that came up through the discussion in the media was that there are no statistics at all about domestic abuse in the local church. So I thought if I send a standard set of questions, we might be able to get a bit more of a typical picture of how this occurs.”
But more than collating data, she’s keen for the church in Australia to come up with strategies and practical solutions to the problem.
“Some of these people have been helped by churches, but some of them have been maintained in the situation by pastors.
“I think each church needs a strategy. One theological college having a seminar or two on it isn’t really going to work. It’s not just the clergy, it’s people in congregations who need to be equipped. You need to look at it properly.”
She cites Melbourne Anglican Diocese as a good example of a church being proactive. In 2013 they published The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne Work Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women 2013-2015, which focused on prevention. They did research to examine clergy attitudes, and they hold regular workshops. She says this is a good start and a great example for other denominations and churches to follow.
“You do need some good wise advice when you’re in this situation. Understandably clergy get incredibly nervous about doing the wrong thing, but that means instead of doing a decisive wrong thing, they do an indecisive wrong thing, and aren’t strong when they need to be strong.
“They need to be strong for these women. If you’ve had someone brainwashing you for decades and then when you finally get the guts to talk to your pastor and he says, ‘Mmm I’m not sure…’ the abused person will think, ‘Ok, well I’ll just go back to my partner then’. You need an alternate voice that says ‘Of course that’s not right, of course the Bible doesn’t say that.’ You need the frequency of that being said to you to counter what your abusive spouse says.”
Isabella also thinks pastors need to be less afraid of meeting one-to-one with women who have come out of abusive relationships.
“They seem unreasonably afraid of a woman falling in love with them by meeting up with them too frequently … But if you’ve just come out of a marriage like this you need men to model being good men, and you actually need to be able to have normal conversations with men so you can see not all men are like your abusive husband.”
You can contact Isabella with your story or feedback: email@example.com
On Twitter @IsabellaYoungsy or on Facebook.
Image: Hibr via Flickr
Notes from Barbara Roberts
If you are telling your story here, please bear in mind this is a public blog and be mindful of your safety. Check out our New Users Info page for tips on how to guard your safety while commenting on this blog.
I have been in touch with Isabella by email. It sounds like she is swamped already with material people are sending her. So if you want to just submit your stories here in the comments thread, rather than send them to Isabella by email, we are happy for our blog to be a repository for the stories at the moment, and Isabella can look at them if and when she gets the time. She may not get the time (she works full time in a paid job) so she may just decide to link this post to assist others and help churches better come to grips with the experiences of victims of domestic abuse.
As you can see from Isabella’s article, she is primarily addressing the Australian situation; so Aussie readers I particularly encourage you to send Isabella your stories by email… but you can put them here, if you prefer. 🙂
19 thoughts on “She told her story of domestic violence in a Christian marriage and this is the response she got”
Thank you for posting Isabella’s article. The circle of awareness is widening. But awareness is just the beginning. ACFJ provides the information and affirmation that is necessary when one begins to tell their story out loud and begin making proactive choices.
[Editors note: Readers, please note that this comment is not by Barbara Roberts but by another reader ‘Freed by God’. We are not sure why Barb’s photo is showing up with this reader’s screen name.]
I agree with her advice to Pastors, especially about not being afraid to meet with women. After meeting with several pastors ( and many counselors) over the years), I went to my brand new pastor and told him my story. One of the most powerful things he did that day was to say , “I want to say something out loud to you because it’s important for you to hear this; This is not your fault! You did not cause this!!”
There’s something about hearing those words from a man. My healing began that day.
He also stood behind me and put his hands on me and prayed for me.
This pastor had been horribly abused by his dad when he was a boy. He understands the doubt and fear that abused people experience.
The elders of this church also gathered around my children and and have protected us as men have never protected us in 32 years of marriage and many churches.
ACTION and decisiveness from our church leadership speaks LOVE to my family. When they learned the truth about my marriage, they immediately paid the retainer for my attorney! They looked me in the eyes and told me they loved me.
Again, I’ve been to many pastors and never had this kind of help.
It’s a tiny Reformed church.
Oh Wow! That is one of the best stories I’ve heard about how a church can respond well to domestic abuse. If I had a medal, I’d award it to that church.
Oh how I relate to that. I longed to hear that from a man. And especially from a male leader. I did hear something like that, eventually, from the Session (body of elders) in my Presbyterian church, but it was not phrased nearly so warmly or with heart. It was a formal letter in which they stated their ruling that I DID have grounds to divorce my husband on the principle of 1 Cor. 7:15.
I longed so much to hear those words said spontaneously to me from the heart of a caring man in leadership.
What I got, in the early stages, was this chilling ‘neutral’ remark from one of those elders “This should not be happening.” That remark says that what is happening is wrong, but it doesn’t say WHO is committing the wrong and WHO is at fault.
And it took me some years before I fully realised why that remark made me feel so uncomfortable. . . . that’s how subtle the fog can be.
“There’s something about hearing those words from a man. My healing began that day.”
Nt12many, I agree with Barb, it is so soothing to hear there are still men out there who will stand by the victims and stand up to their abusers. So few though. I remember a talk I had with an elder, and tears welled up, which he thought were due to talking about my H’s abuse, when in reality my heart was aching when I told him I could not find one man to hold my H accountable and defend me.
So far only Jeff “has been a man there for me” when I listened to his 21-part sermon series advocating for victims. Then Barbara sent me his and her books. Thank you so much!!
No Woman will be falling in LOVE with any man just coming out of one of these marriages. Don’t worry Pastors……
I second that!
Yeah, most of us are so dead-scared of men after all those years of abuse. But at the same time, if a man in leadership DOES believe and support us when we disclose the abuse, I thinkg that for some of us — in our desperation for any emotional comfort since we have been so starved of it for years by our abusers — we might, potentially, be at risk of falling into temptation with a man who shows compassion. But most of us are aware of the risk and can resist and will call out for help from our sisters (like one of our readers did on this blog not so long ago) if this occurs.
The other important aspect of this is that some male leaders are NOT the men of upright morality that they present themselves to be.
A male Christian leader ought to have sexual morality of a very high standard. ‘The husband of one wife’ is almost certainly an idiom like our expression ‘he only has eyes for one woman’ i.e, he controls and governs his sexuality so that it is only for his wife; and if he is single, he governs it to protect all women until and unless he marries a wife.
Some male leaders may actually be reluctant to privately speak to a victim of domestic abuse because they know themselves to be prone to sexual temptations that are sinful.
And some male leaders — this is the bit that irks me most — have a rigid policy of not privately speaking with any woman, especially any unmarried, divorced or separated woman, because they have to ‘avoid the appearance of evil’. I accept that this is a good motive, and a wise Biblical precept. I just think it needs to be better applied in cases like ours.
I remember my pastor would fastidiously heed this precept by never counseling me in his study with the door shut and there had to be another woman (one of his family members) in the house at the time. He would also not step across the threshhold of my house to lead a Bible study which I organised in my house for women victims of domestic abuse, until he knew that at least one of the other women had arrived. He would not be alone with me in my house.
Now, I can accept why he did that, to avoid the appearance of evil, but I don’t think he appreciated (and I never dared tell him) how his behaviour made me feel. I felt like I was tainted, a dangerous siren, like had some incipient seductive montrous female persona deep inside me which would come out and entice any man if it got an opportunity. I felt slighted. I felt demeaned. I felt impugned with a sinful character that I did not (I believe) have.
Now, admittedly, I had been promiscuous years before my marriage, but that was long ago. And the last thing I wanted to do was compromise myself and that pastor! He had been such a good support to me, and had stood against my abuser. I would have been a fool to risk all those positives he had contributed to my life, by seducing him! But I felt that implicitly that was what I was suspected of being: a seductress.
“And some male leaders — this is the bit that irks me most — have a rigid policy of not privately speaking with any woman, especially any unmarried, divorced or separated woman, because they have to ‘avoid the appearance of evil’. I accept that this is a good motive, and a wise Biblical precept. I just think it needs to be better applied in cases like ours.”
Agreed. Strangely, though, male ministers did not shy away from private one-on-one conversations with me if it was to advice me on submission, reconciliation or anything the abuser complained about!
This is where we have a big disadvantage as women, one more 😦 Yet there is no problem for male abusers and pastors to freely talk on a one-to-one basis as often as needed!
Thank you for posting this, Barbara. Encouraging to know that some pastors are caring for the oppressed. The commenters so far have been right on. I’m still prayerfully seeking a compassionate leader.
When I went to the Presbyterian pastor (we were going to a Baptist church where the pastor was no help at all) I asked his wife to be there too, partly because I wanted her input and partly because men scared me half to death at that point. Hearing him say, “You didn’t break your vows, he did that a long time ago” was such a huge burden lifter!
The last thing on my mind is ‘falling in love’ period! Being my second marriage is over, I just cannot imagine being in another relationship. I’m wondering where these pastors get the idea women will fall in love with them if they meet with them too frequently?? That is just silly!
Thank you Isabella for exposing the monster behind closed doors! May the Lord give you strength to continue your work in those being abused!
Falling in love with pastors? I’d rather chew glass.
Apparently, that line of thinking – that females will fall in love with any male that gives her attention – is quite common among Christian men. It explains why many males were reluctant to speak with me after church unless I was with my husband. I can assure Christian males that I am relieved to be single and would think long and hard before ever marrying again!
Hem hem. Maybe that’s because that’s how so many men are. Many men will fall in love (lust) with any females who give them attention. So they project that characteristic onto us women and assume we are as lust driven as they are.
Perhaps they read too many Francine Rivers Books…
This is very encouraging. I think a high quality documentary film is needed at this subject. Pastors and leaders need help to stand against the evil !
The people who set up I Will Stand (who also run the Facbook page I Will Stand) have this idea about making a quality documentary. They formed the idea several years ago.
I believe they have a 503(c) organisation set up already and therefore have in place the organizational arrangments necessary to raise funds for this project. I know the folk involved. I’ll send them a heads-up. Maybe some wonderful wealthy philanthopists (not all our poverty-stricken readers!) will donate money to enable the project. 🙂
I tend to agree that domestic violence in Christian marriages IS RARE. So rare in fact that it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist because, wherever there is violence, there can’t possibly be a Christian head or household. So to me it is an oxymoron to say a Christian home having domestic violence. A home having violence towards it loved ones is NOT Christian, thus it behooves her to let the unbeliever depart and have NOTHING to do with him. Hard to do in reality, but not hard to justify Biblically.
It is hard to come out from under the “covering” of the church and pursue that which God calls us to do. Submission to an abusive man is NOT God’s idea of marriage. It is NOT “AS UNTO the Lord”.