How is the PCA responding to victims of domestic abuse? by Lynette English & Valerie Hobbs.
Lynette English is a survivor of domestic abuse. Her story shows how one PCA1 church engaged in victim-blaming and serving the status quo, but another PCA church responded by living out the very essence of the Gospel.
…I was married to a seminary graduate, who was called to diaconal ministry and social services for many years. He was a deacon in our local church, and we played the roles of stalwart and contributing members of the church.
However, there was always something “off” in our home life, so we embarked on years of on-and-off marriage counseling of various kinds. The women’s Bible study at my church played a key role in my spiritual walk. As an adult third-culture-kid, I had a few issues of my own, and life with my husband was very difficult. The Lord was leading and teaching me, but there was most definitely a cognitive dissonance between my marriage and the rest of my life. Counselors and advisors were always quick to point out my sin, and I was quick to accept the blame. Some of that was good and needed, but it was a lot like having surgery without anesthesia. I’ve come to learn that spiritual growth can come with kindness and compassion!
I didn’t apply the word abuse to my marriage for a long time. He never hit me, but I didn’t realize that holding me down, blocking my way, kicking in a door, or driving erratically were forms of physical abuse. …
Read the full article by Lynette here: A Tale of Two Churches: Abuse and Protection of the Vulnerable in the PCA– a testimony of a journey through brokenness unto healing.
1 PCA stands for the denomination called The Presbyterian Church in America. You can read Wikipedia’s article on the PCA here.
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Dr. Valerie Hobbs has written three articles about how the PCA has been responding to abused women. Dr Hobbs uses the case of Jessica Fore (another abused woman) as a springboard for her reflections on trends she has noted in the PCA. Dr. Hobbs, Ph.D. is a Fellow in Christianity and Language, Greystone Theological Institute and a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, University of Sheffield. Here are her three articles:
- Beyond Symbolic Gestures: The PCA and Underprivileged Women — Collateral damage: Abused women whose churches fail to minister to and care for them
- Portrait of a Deviant Woman — Vulnerable members of the church are frequently portrayed as abnormal and even deserving of suffering
- Serving the Status Quo
We have previously publicized Jessica Fore’s case on this blog here. And you can read more about Jessica Fore’s story at Jessica’s blog here.
- Posted in: Unjust church responses
- Tagged: church response to abuse, hope, PCA, protecting victims, survivors' stories
I truly enjoy stories like this–simple, everyday persons who have such rich stories to tell. I am amazed and so glad at how the Lord is working. I also loved hearing about His mercy and love towards her—NOT to demean her, but to strengthen her. Encourage her! Making her feel like a real human being.
I related to so much of her story. I’ve had persons try to rebuke me or convict me of sin or confess hurt feelings to me, but they have done it in a way that made me feel shamed and humiliated. It was more about about blame and condemnation. There are certainly things that are fine to bring up, but there was nothing constructive about it—just one sided & brutal.
Any idea why she kept getting encouraged not to “go rogue” almost right away, almost as if they anticipated her trying to rebel against them, or resist their leadership? Lynette seemed to trust them from the beginning (or wanted to) but already they were warning her not to cause trouble. Is this a way to keep her in line, promoting a spirit of fear?
Any idea why the idea was put out there that if she loved him enough he would be “forced” to change? He would find it “irresistible?” This seems to reinforce very wrong / dangerous thinking, that a wife has certain “powers” over her spouse. I’ve been married for 16 years and the Lord has made it clear, over time, that no human being (even with their best interests in mind) can or should try to change another human being. That is His job.
I do think one of my favorite parts is the warmth and acceptance she received at that smaller church (she was allowed to sit in the back and simply cry. No pressure to serve or pitch in per se. They let her come as she was, broken and needing a soft place to fall). And of course the other place–they wept with her. They listened to her. They believed her. They understood her pain. I am hoping she was also able to make new friends, since she spoke of feeling like a social “pariah.” I think she was gracious to say that people didn’t know what to say to her, or how to treat her—but staying away from her and not checking up on her or reaching out to her is just wrong—more like being covertly aggressive? Don’t take sides, don’t make waves—and therefore you’re not guilty of anything? I do wish she had had the chance, as she asked for, to speak to people and ask for help. When you don’t know how to help someone, it means something to be filled in on such details!
I have often felt like Lynette but I have a hard time telling my stories b/c I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus: “Aren’t we all a mixed bag of excellent skills and miserable weakness?” was an excellent way to put it. I am incredibly glad she told hers, though. Perhaps persons at her former church will read it—and come out with their stories, or one of the leaders that treated her so shamefully will go the whole distance and fully repent (my perception, when those Elders reached out to her, was that they were sorry, but really?) Or again—treated her like “collateral damage.” We won’t accept full responsibility for our actions so we’ll just “get rid” of the so called problem.
I recently read some posts by a famous, influential Christian online and I was sick to my stomach. I saw things that are normally commended by the masses, but I noticed a lot of holes, after being a part of this blog for awhile now. I know persons who follow this leader and respect this person and many persons in general do look up to them. I would love to reach out to the writers of this blog sometime for insight, simply to have some guidance.
Hi Helovesme, I will contact Lynette English to tell her about your comment. She may wish to respond to your questions.
Re the questions you might have for the ACFJ team, I encourage you to use the search function on the blog — put in key words of things you are wanting more info on. And also you can look in our Categories and our Tags to dig into subjects that especially interest you. And our Hall of Blind Guides is another place you might like to look at. Explore the tabs in the top menu to find those things. 🙂
Thank you Barbara I will do that! I have read many, many of your FAQ links over time but no doubt I’lll go back and try to find one that will especially help me out now.
Hi Helovesme, Lynette says she will be looking at you comment in the next few days.
Helovesme, thank you for your questions and comments. I feel sad every time I read that someone relates to my story – there are so many of us! Thank you for sharing part of yours. I’ll try to answer your questions.
Telling me not to “go rogue” did not happen right away, but after a period of time when I understandably began to balk at their “care.” I don’t think they meant it as a threat, but it came across that way to me. I think they meant it as a caution. As long as I stayed within the bounds of their authority, they could protect and care for me. If I didn’t listen to them, they would no longer be able to help. That sounds so ridiculous to me now, but it seemed to make sense at the time!
As far as loving my husband, I think the person who pushed this agenda identified with my husband and his anger and control issues, but he had been so changed by the gospel and the love of his wife that he couldn’t imagine that anyone could respond any differently than he did: with heartfelt repentance. In a normal marriage, this may be a correct course of action, but as we’ve come to learn, this type of response only further entitles the abuser and entrenches his behavior. This man’s faith was real and based in love, but naive and ill-trained. I don’t believe he would give the same advice today, some 20 years later.
I still pray for reconciliation and repentance from my former church leaders. As far as my friends, I think many of them didn’t know what was going on, and for those who saw my ex-husband alone in church, perhaps assumed the worst about me. I don’t really know. Sometimes I find out that someone thought I was just going to a different service, or they were going through their own struggles at the time and weren’t paying much attention. I find it better not to assume motives, but trust that in time, the truth will become known. Over time, I’ve been able to become reacquainted with old friends. I’ve also made new friends, and have an entirely new life. God has been good! As the poet George Herbert once said, “Living well is the best revenge.” I don’t mean revenge, but I think as God has allowed me to rise above my circumstances and build a rich, full life, it is a testament to His kindness and faithfulness that is hard to deny. I pray that my life would be a testimony to God’s faithfulness, even through sorrow, rather than get stuck in the places where I hurt. I still hurt – I’m not “all better.” But, God is with me in the hurt, and I pray that’s what people see, and find hope for their own journey, as I find hope in the stories of others. Thanks, Helovesme!
Thank you, Lynette, for being a light in the darkness!
Can identify with so much of Lynette’s story – the feelings and fears instilled because of spiritual abuse.
The social problems it brings is just further isolation. Daily I feel intense loneliness and if it wasn’t for this site I don’t know where I would be.
On reading, it just occurred to me that many of the church people and friends just abandon you. It’s extremely sad when you have poured much of your life into helping them through many troubled waters. Why in your hour of need, not a word has been said?
Just so sad we come through so much extra abuse simply due to a few bad spiritual leaders. It’s crazy.
I walk every day in fear of who I just might meet from church or other fellowships I was involved with. There are places I never dream of going near just in case I end up having to explain myself or end up in awkward situations. It’s true people do avoid or hide from you? I have had it lots and it hurts so much.
I struggle with thoughts of “what all do they know?” “Why am I being avoided even by ones so close to me back then?” “What is being said about me? It must be so false and trashing my character further?” “I have kept so silent and dignified (only here or with family do I say anything) my abuser most certainly has not [kept silent and / or dignified]?” “Am I who was a nation-wide leader and preacher become the scum as many are told I’m a wife-beater or abuser? I’m so disgusted at very thought if it!” “Do they think I left church and split with my wife because of my abuse?” “Why do the other two fellowships I regularly attended and ministered in never once have personally contacted or asked for me? Surely they would have wondered why I suddenly just disappeared?”
So much collusion and cover-up. So many unanswered questions and it breaks your heart.
I never go near a church, it’s too small a world. There’s nowhere I know of who would fully accept me. Those that might are too unsafe for me. I am too well known and everyone knows someone who knows me. Gossips and busy-bodies remain at their wicked work today just as much as in the apostle Paul’s day.
I remain totally isolated and live each day ‘in hiding.’ That’s totally not me and no one seems to understand or / and be brave enough to care.
I don’t think anyone but those going through it fully ‘gets it.’
Being a different person to your wonderful new neighbours yet trying to hide your life from them. Socialising to a point until they start to get too close and ask questions.
I’m so fearful of what might get back to my wife or her family; my family; my work; my old church etc. Telling no one anything due to self-protection. It’s all too risky?
Living on constant ‘look-out’!
Oh if only some spiritual leaders could see the devastation they bring when matters are not dealt with properly and left unresolved.
I let my guard slip recently and shared a little bit of my past and got very badly hurt. The victim’s life can be an extremely lonely life. Trusting no one sometimes.
Thanks Lynette for sharing your story and things that encouraged me. I only hope and pray that you find another place like your little church once more. I guess they are out there but hard to find.
Since you’ve been so well-known in church circles in your country, that makes it extra extra hard for you Now Free.
You are not alone in feeling those things. I know that bad things are being said about me, things I believe are not true, and the people who are saying them believe they have the best of intentions and are seeing things correctly….
What it comes down to is the liberty of the Christian conscience. I do what I do because my conscience tells me to. And if other people think my choices are wrong, well I can’t help that. As Martin Luther said, it is neither safe nor right to disobey one’s conscience.
Thanks Barb. I know my heart, and my conscience is clear before God. I keep that in mind always and it’s all I need. I also look at Jesus and realise He got far worse and before His accusers He stayed silent often. We can learn a lot through that alone. He understands and He has been there.
It’s not easy but we move on and forward.