The Pastor’s Wife — An All too Frequent Ally of the Abuser
I thought that if I went to my pastor’s wife and told her what was really going on in my marriage, she would certainly understand and help me.
After all, she is a woman too.
There are godly women married to pastors. My wife is one. This post is in no way intended to be a blanket condemnation of pastors’ wives. My intent is to talk about a widespread (very widespread) problem in local churches which is hurting many victims of domestic abuse. That problem concerns the pastor’s wife.
If you are the wife of a pastor, you are in a unique position. You may use it for great good, or for great harm. The fact is that the majority of abuse victims we know (and we know many) have not been helped by their pastor’s wife, but just the opposite. They were further oppressed and shamed by the response of one who they thought would understand and help.
The pastor’s wife is…a woman. As such she is going to be seen as a hopeful source of help for other women. It is very intimidating for a woman who is abused to walk into a pastor’s office or into an elder meeting and tell men how her man is really living behind closed doors. We all know how that usually goes: she gets shut down, told she is disrespecting her husband, needs to submit more, look to her own sin, yada, yada, yada. You know the drill.
So she goes to the pastor’s wife.
What happens? Usually, the very same thing. The pastor’s wife repeats the same drill. Only this time the response is even more damaging and hurtful because it is coming from a woman! After all, if a person of the same gender, a person who is also a wife, a person who is the pastor’s wife, says all these accusing things, they must be true, right? The thing smacks of this for the victim:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
For it is not an enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me — then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man[insert “woman” here], my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng. (Psalms 55:12-14)
Pastors’ wives, please hear this. Many of you are doing as much or more to enable wicked abusers and to oppress their victims than men are. Or at least just as much. I am thankful for the occasional exception and I say again I am not denying that some pastor’s wives have been a great help to victims, but those cases are far, far too rare. As a pastor’s wife, you must understand that you can be key to helping or harming in these scenarios. Your words are powerful and must be words of truth, not falsehoods spun by the enemy.
Now, why is it — how can it be — that a woman can enable, justify, minimize, the abuse of another woman? What in the world is happening? Let me suggest some common reasons:
- The pastor’s wife is an abuse victim herself, but has not admitted it or seen it. It is not at all uncommon for pastors’ wives to contact us (and missionary wives) and reveal that they have been abused by their “saintly” pastor/missionary husband for years and years.
- The pastor’s wife desires to serve the Lord and she has been duped by the patriarchal climate and theology she is immersed in at her church. She actually thinks that she is speaking for the Lord when she tells the victim to silently submit. She really believes that divorce is the worst sin a woman could ever commit. (NOTE: We here at ACFJ say that divorce for abuse is no sin at all!)
- The pastor’s wife may well be (and probably is in most cases just like her pastor husband) totally ignorant of the nature and tactics of the abuser. So she gives her counsel, and it is bad, bad counsel. If you don’t know what the problem really is, then you are going to deal out bad medicine (that might just get somebody killed).
- The pastor’s wife may be a narcissistic, sociopathic abuser herself! Oh yeah. I bet some of you have met just such a “sister in the Lord” in a local church.
- The pastor’s wife may be functioning as a tool that her pastor husband uses to help keep the women in the church “in their place.”
There are no doubt more reasons than these and I encourage our readers to suggest some more in the comments to this post. Also, please feel free to share your experiences (good and bad) with us here and tell us how a pastor’s wife responded when you went for help.
Recently my wife and I started to watch a movie on Netflix. I don’t remember the title, but I do remember this. We got about ten minutes into it and I told my wife, “Oh man, this is going to be one of those ‘christian’ movies that depict total fiction.” Sure enough, turns out the lead character played the wife of a pastor. She was buzzing around the church, greeting people left and right, holding her own family issues together, making sure to say just the right thing to just the right people at just the right time as they came into the church building. “Did you get that recipe I sent?” “Can I help you get those kids settled down?” “How is your mother doing, I heard she was….”. And on and on she went.
That might sound good to you, but my wife (who tends to be far more patient than me) looked at me and said “I can’t watch this stuff!” We shut it down. Why? Because the thing is a lie. It depicts people and a pastor’s wife who in real life you know full well will never stand for truth, and who will hug, hug, hug an abuse victim and then send her right back into the abuse only in worse shape than before. Guilted. Shamed. “Yep, my work is done here.”
If this all sounds too harsh, too judgmental, too condemning to be true, then I invite you to read the comments that I am sure are going to come in response to this post. Some will recount how a pastor’s wife was a lifeline. But I suspect there will be more who have a horror story to tell. One which is being repeated daily in local churches all over the world.
Pastor’s wife? Listen and learn — and repent as necessary.