A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abusers are empowered by pastors who are not careful how they teach about marriage

John Wesley wrote in his diary:

I talked with one who, by the advice of his Pastor, had, very calmly and deliberately, beat his wife with a large stick, till she was black and blue, almost from head to foot. And he insisted, it was his duty so to do, because she was surly and ill-natured; and that he was full of faith all the time he was doing it, and had been so ever since.

Wesley made that entry in his diary on Thurs., April 28, 1757.1 The frustrating thing is, Wesley does not go on to comment on the man’s testimony. We can only wonder what Wesley thought when he heard the man say that.


1 John Wesley, vol. 2 of The Complete Works of John Wesley, 7 vols., Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1997, 450;
or click here to see the quote on Google Books.

Further Reading

How complementarianism can magnify the entitlement mentality of men, making them worse

“Christian” Enabling of the Abuser Increases His Attacks on the Victim


  1. Kind of Anonymous

    Wow. What on earth is wrong when a supposedly godly man only comments that he talked with this man. One would hope that Wesley was so perturbed by the incident – by the wickedness of the man’s pastor and the intractable arrogance of the man who was so filled with self-righteousness that he was able to continue beating his wife mercilessly until her entire body was injured by his ruthlessness, and was not in any way halted by her certain cries for the beating to cease or for him to have pity – that he had to put down his pen to hunt some lonely place to pray and ask God what to do next.

    I hope his lack of further comment on the matter was a reflection of great anguish of soul over the obvious fact that evil men had distorted the gospel until they had God cast in their own image and assumed Him pleased with actions He would find reprehensible and evidence that they did not in fact, know Him.

    If in fact, Wesley merely decided that this was not in his wheelhouse, and did nothing to rescue that poor woman or bring the wicked pastor to discipline, or in fact if any great name historical Christian figure failed to rescue one so oppressed and harmed, it certainly throws into question just who in Christendom, both then and now, actually knows God and really walked with Him. I can’t imagine God remaining silent over such an evil thing being done in the name of His righteousness.

    • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

      It may interest readers that Wesley wrote this whilst in the middle of a turbulent marriage that most Christian writers would deem abusive.

      I think he already has made a comment from what I have studied on Wesley’s life. He most certainly is to my mind making a comment regarding his disgust as he did not like the legalistic ungodly clergy of the day who knew nothing of the new birth in Christ experience and who opposed him many times. I also know this was not long before he embarked on a journey to Ireland, of which he is supposed to have said to his abusive wife that he hopes he never has to see her again.

      In my mind, reading his journal comment in the context of what has gone on beforehand with a jealous controlling wife who later is said to have been caught trailing him around a floor by the hair until great locks of hair being pulled out. This with even his complete silence on the matter in his journals except one addition when she finally left him, hints that he is already in disgust of this and quite possibly does not write more as it reminds him exactly of his own domestic abuse. His choice of wording leads me to think that he is actually making quite a bold statement between the lines without actually condemning outright or tarnishing his journal with his domestic troubles.

      Wesley had many a verbal conflict with clergy of the day and it seems this was just another statement to suggest the craziness of pastors to actually encourage such, among the many other absurd comments and beliefs these so called men of God had.

      I will perhaps say more later on the subject, but his journals and sermons as a whole, plus his many letters, show a man whilst in no way perfect also having gone through some quite similar problems in the home front as to those of us here at ACFJ, as well as facing stern open air brickbatting [spoken attack] and stoning regularly as he preached.

      This may open up some interesting insights and discussions into a man used as Whitefield was at the same time to see revival in the 18th century both in the British Isles and in America.

      Lots more to say, but interesting post.

      • E

        Yes, the way Wesley said the man INSISTED seems to indicate that Wesley had not been approving of the man’s actions in conversation with him.

      • I have read a bit about Wesley’s turbulent marriage and how his wife mistreated him. But I probably haven’t read as much as you have on that, Now Free. So – thanks for your comment, especially for what you said here:

        His [Wesley’s] choice of wording leads me to think that he is actually making quite a bold statement between the lines without actually condemning outright or tarnishing his journal with his domestic troubles.

        Wesley had many a verbal conflict with clergy of the day and it seems this was just another statement to suggest the craziness of pastors to actually encourage such, among the many other absurd comments and beliefs these so called men of God had.

  2. Helovesme

    Barb, it’s so interesting that you shared this. Just today I was thinking about how abusers treat others as if they are possessions, not people. It is one of the major ways I believe they feel no shame when they abuse others. They are mere property, owned by them and perfectly entitled to “break” them as they see fit.

    This is a problem with humanity in general, by the way. But abusers take it to an extreme level.

    Imagine giving a small child a new toy. You saved up the money to buy it for them, because you wanted to bless them. But now it belongs to them and they are free to do what they want with it. They might not be aware (or care) it was costly.

    Depending on the child, their first instinct might be to see if they can break it. Certainly they might feel entitled to at least try to see what would happen if they threw it around, even if they don’t intend to destroy it.

    This is roughly on par with how I believe abusers think. Except that we are NOT their “toys” and abusers are not children. But they act as though people are nothing more than objects—and they have every right to twist and bend and throw and do whatever they want to them.

    This is also why I believe it’s hard for people around the victims to try to step in and help them. If they get on the abuser’s bad side, those persons are now nothing more than objects that are trying to get in the WAY of how they are treating their victims.

    Back to the analogy—if another child (or adult) tries to take that new toy away because they are mistreating it—-imagine the tantrum that might erupt. “How dare you try to take “my toy” away from me! That is mine, and I can do whatever I want to it! It’s mine, not yours! If I choose to break it or tear it up, that’s my business, not yours.”

    Here in America, we have a terrible history when white people owned black people as slaves. They were nothing more than property to them, to be worked and treated like cattle. They were dehumanized and devalued for so many years.

    One of our first presidents owned slaves. It was said that he was something of an exception in that he treated his slaves very well. He was quite loyal to them and stood up for them if they needed him.

    Since the system of slavery would have entitled him to treat his slaves any way he wanted, should we praise him for choosing to NOT abuse them?

    My answer is emphatically: NO. This is roughly on par with saying that his slaves should be grateful that he didn’t beat them. To be grateful that he treated them as “valuable” property. Other owners did abuse their slaves—and felt that it was 100% their right to do so.

    So, as long as they had no marks on their bodies, suddenly it’s not abusive to own other human beings as mere property, as long as they are treated well?

    This is how other horrible forms of abuse that leave no marks on the body are brushed aside and dismissed. I would beg of us to not go down that road.

    We actually had to put in a LAW, that it was wrong to own our fellow human beings. That’s great! But we had to put it in writing—–that something so obviously heinous is a crime. Otherwise I have no doubt that human beings would continue to be exploited.

    We also have a terrible history in how we have treated children. For a long time in Hollywood, child actors were treated as mere cattle. They were “owned” by their parents, so all the money these children made belonged to those parents.

    You can imagine how that system worked. It tore families apart, because the kids were often exploited at the hands of their own parents. And the money was either wasted or treated frivolously, so when the kids grew up—-they had nothing to show for their years of sacrifice.

    It wasn’t until a law was enacted that protected these children. That is great! But we had to put it in writing—–that something so obviously heinous is a crime. Otherwise I have no doubt that children would continue to be exploited.

    Why in the world would Wesley put something like this in his diary, which was obviously private, and not express how he felt about it? Why did he even feel the need to put this horrible story in his diary in the first place? Did he not know how to feel, how to express how he felt?

    Something so obviously heinous, and beyond disgusting—-and he couldn’t even say: “I have no words to express how this makes me feel.”

    Mark my words—-if you see people, professing Christians or otherwise—-who are treating their spouses and / or children as possessions—-something is terribly wrong. And that is not the same thing as being protective of your loved ones. Those two things do not mean the same thing AT ALL.

    I’ll give an example, because I do understand how those two things can seem interchangeable.

    A family member of ours once got VERY upset over something my spouse and I did. Her husband called my husband up and blasted him for it.

    You might think that was her husband being protective and caring of his wife. NO.

    My husband and I had done nothing wrong. I can’t go into details (it would take too long), so I understand that others might question that statement, but please trust me on this.

    But the mere fact that she was upset propelled her spouse to “do” something about it. He rushed to judgement. He should have sat her down and explained that she had every right to feel upset (that was her right), but that if she gave it some real thought—-she would see that we were not to blame for how she reacted.

    As I see it, her husband acted as though anything that seemingly threatened “one of his own” gave him the right to lash out without thinking. But I do not believe that is love, as the Bible describes it.

    I have already told my husband to NOT defend me if I am truly in the wrong. I am not his property or possession that has to be guarded and defended like that. I would ask that he protect me from anything unfair and unjust, and guess what—-I will do the same for him.

    But it does not honor me to not let me grow as a human being, and as a believer—-if he simply and thoughtlessly lashes out at any perceived threat.

    My fear is that in reaction to men behaving as though they own their wives, the roles will become reversed. As a backlash, now wives feel entitled to own their husbands. The attitude will be to “give them a taste of their own medicine,” or that “wives can do a better job in owning their husbands. Wives will shape them up in no time!”

    I have no interest in owning another human being, especially my spouse. Marriage is too often described as a “loving” form of slavery—-or seen as a symbiotic sort of relationship where one feeds the needs of another. And vice versa.

    A marriage does not have to be abusive to be unhealthy. If your spouse does not treat you as a 100% equal, something is not right. If your spouse doesn’t trust you, listen to you and take your thoughts seriously—-ask him or her WHY. Of all people, it is your spouse that should treat you this way. You’re the one that he or she should confide in and want your feedback.

    Basically, your spouse should take you seriously. You’re not their “toy” to play with and entertain them. Toys don’t “talk back” and actively love you. They aren’t real! And for crying out loud, even inanimate toys are treated with more respect that human beings often are.

    Neglect is a form of abuse, IMO. ACFJ might not agree, which is totally fine. I remember an episode of “The Twilight Zone” where the message was that while toys are not real people, in the arms of children they are loved, and treated as though they are real. In the episode, these toys were neglected. They had no one to love them yet.

    The twist was that they had no idea they were toys until the very end of the episode. They were waiting to be given out to orphans to be loved, and treated as much more than mere possessions. And of course, these orphans were neglected as well. Giving them a doll, something to love and cherish—-was a way to ease their status as orphans. And to help them not feel so neglected and unloved.

    Maybe that wasn’t the best episode to illustrate my point about neglect. But it always stayed with me as a very real example of how neglect is equal to being unloved. Which again, is a form of abuse in my mind. I think people can suffer tremendously when they are not actively loved.

    • I think neglect is a form of abuse, when it fits the definition of abuse that we use at this blog.

      • Helovesme

        Thank you Barb. I didn’t want to assume it was part of the official definition of this site, so I was careful to make that clear that it was my own perception.

        Apologies if it came off offensive—-was not my intention!

      • it didn’t seem the least bit offensive to me. 🙂

    • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

      I very much agree with Barb and others here regarding neglect.

      In relation to Wesley, I think all historians agree with, sadly something that the Wesley’s did not keep to i.e. Charles and John, when they both agreed that as ministry of the gospel and the work of God was so vital that if they ever chose to marry they would consult each other beforehand. They did not want either the proposed wife or the work of God to suffer. In fact they were both in agreement that they were so busy and God’s work was such a heavy workload that to marry at all was at that time certainly not a good idea. However sadly both did not keep to this and Charles makes it very clear that he was in “dread” of what was to happen, as he most certainly, although never consulted, was not in approval of Wesley marrying his wife Mary (Molly).

      Another little background snippet to this piece is that Wesley tried to continue his work, whilst married, and that Charles was not happy with either. In fact, he and his brother had not spoken a year before this and right up to 1760, for various reasons, but part of that was Mary’s indignation at Charles.

      There was much going on behind closed doors certainly and all historians confer [concur?] that Mary as his choice of wife was not only unwise, but really Wesley should not have married at all.

      When you read the accounts of both in their letters, you see a wife who was as many would say, had problems with jealousy and mental instability perhaps, and understandably a rage not at his neglect, but always at his writing to other females. Wesley on the other hand was deeply steeped in his work for God and yet when he did correspond, on the whole it is far more charming and affectionate than most men would do even today towards his wife. Sometimes the old ways of writing are lost perhaps for us today in our viewing of such and exactly what they meant.

      However Mary noticed his tonal difference to her (perhaps as Wesley was being controlled and abused) compared to these other women. I most certainly can concede I had problems trying to conjure up at times affection for my own wife when she was berating and giving me abuse daily. So personally, I see a lot of things in this turbulent marriage [that are in common] with my own [wife] who also tried to isolate me from ministry. Even my family challenged her in things even before we separated regarding trying to pull me away from ministry, asking was she jealous of me getting attention and her not?

      Intently jealous, Wesley’s wife Mary did spy on him and on one occasion while he was speaking at a conference went out of her way and travelled there and whilst he was speaking (not naked may I add but in his robes), she rifled through his clothes left in a room and searching found a letter to a Sarah Raven, whom she hated. She was their housekeeper but had left over, as Wesley puts it, the bad mouthing of his wife to her. Sarah had as we would say today, a chequered past and Mrs Wesley was deeply jealous and suspicious and concerned he was having an affair with her. Something that never happened or as we see from history [if] ever [it] did, it was even [ever?] in Wesley’s mind when writing as his words often bore out.

      Wesley did have a turbulent marriage, but from his letters there is much love still poured out for his wife even in frustration when he says to be silent and yet he still claims he loves her. Something which is apparent even in his only entry regarding her in his journal. Despite it all including the dragging by his hair locks, he still stood by her.

      Btw, it was not lawful at this time to divorce in law except for adultery. Laws changed much later.

      However, this Sarah Raven had trusted Christ it seems through Wesley’s preaching and often asked as did others for more clarification or help understanding elements of his sermons and spirituality and the workings out of that in the lives they led, and from what we read all correspondence was never of a lover nature, but most certainly spiritual matters only. Something which Christian biographers and historians agree were totally of a spiritual nature, the content of all his letters to women whom Mary was intensely jealous of.

      Wesley in no way was despite being asked by his wife, giving up that vital part of his work in letters to help anyone, including many men of whom were mainly prominent businessmen with aspects of the gospel and spiritual matters only. Wesley was a key pin I believe too in that many business men not only were saved, but also they began to run business from a Christian perspective and Wesley encouraged a non-tyrant and certainly those men to be Christian in all attitude and dealings and to put Christ first in everything. Something that many of the clergy of the day could ever [never?] do or would.

      Wesley, because of his dear mother Susannah, had a special place in his heart for women, often writing regarding women as the backbone of society and his admiration of them and what they had to contend with in life, he wrote perhaps in more affectionate terms to them. There never seems to be any problems with this from others including the husbands of wives he wrote to also. Nothing was hidden or secret and certainly he only saw it as part of his work.

      Sadly the two just did not work together as a married couple and it is a sad fact of this troubled man both in his work and in his relationship with others including his brother Charles at this time, and most certainly his domestic situation.

      In reading his letters, part of me sympathises with a wife who may have been neglected but there’s not much evidence she felt that, although how could any person not be under such circumstances and being away so much. However, many relationships due to work commitments work well in such circumstances. It was more the the problem of the jealous rage and accusations that were not entirely founded, and I can very much see why Wesley was repeatedly frustrated by this constantly nipping at his heels as he sought to preach the gospel and as he saw it carry out God’s will for his life.

      Definitely, as Charles suspected and would advise though it was ignored, not a good match. Not one of Wesley’s finest decisions and to which I think Wesley by his statements would agree.

    • Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

      I find that apart from the Christian aspect to Christmas, the biggest tug on my heart is not presents or the celebratory food. It is not even about being with family, it is giving and especially to others who have little or nothing.

      There’s no bigger tug on my heart [then] when I see those abused by neglect receiving from people who have taken the time to care. Time to share their lives together. It just saddens me that it rarely happens the rest of the year.

      My heart is heavy for many reasons at Christmas, but not so much as those who are truly neglected, abused by society, abused by family, abused by even the system. The stories are so many and varied, complex and sad.

      My heart goes out to many who even though surrounded by people are neglected in homes, as well as out on the streets. Make a difference to even one life, especially at this very lonely time for many. Let us not neglect in our abuse to reach out to others who equally are in pain.

      • Helovesme

        Now Free (formerly struggling to be free) I’m trying to catch up on reading your comments!

        Responding to your particular comment regarding the abused during this holiday season.

        So very true and very much rings with my heart as well.

        I could add to your comment but I really think you said it best, and said all that needed to be said!

        I miss my loved one so much (we lost him a few years ago). The holidays especially hurt so bad, but as you said there are so many ways to love on others—-I try to make that the focus.

        But I wish so badly that I could see him again, just for a moment. I would do anything to see him just one more time. I miss him so much it hurts. Nothing fills the hole. Nothing.

        We have had a lot of people get killed this year in America, in mass killings. People were just going about their lives, and they were mercilessly gunned down. Note: my loved one did not pass away in any of these killings. Thankfully.

        For the families and loved ones left behinds, this will be their first Christmas with their losses weighing them down.

        They were taken away in a blink of an eye—-with no warning and no time to say goodbye. And so senselessly. I can’t wait for the day when violence and abuse, in all its horrible forms, is gone for good. When the Lord comes back and takes His own home.

        In the meantime, if there anything to be done to bring them any comfort, solace or a tiny glimpse of joy—-pray that the Lord brings it to pass.

  3. Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

    If you have ever read his journals first of all they are extremely short paragraphs and often just a snippet if something in the day not an expose or sermon or even like here a comment. Often we get glimpses from other letters or things happening in that day that he does not mention. Just because he has not added extra to his comment does not mean he approved. And it means he did not feel like putting anything else on paper.

    We cannot make any assumptions based on one tiny piece, however we can see from his life and his sermons and his other writings a glimpse into the man he was. We get glimpses from others of his time too, like what was happening in the schools he set up and Whitefield and Wesley often talked despite some doctrinal differences there was a respect for each other for the gospel’s sake.

    I also believe if any man was an abuser or supported abuse there is no way the Lord would have used him in the way he did to see revival in many places. One of Wesley’s snippets says he had to just stop talking as many cried their way screaming for God to have mercy, as if falling into hell such was the vision they had if themselves in sin and hell. This does not sound like a man who supported abuse or a God who would support him.

    • Thanks Now Free. I very much agree with you that we can’t make assumptions about Wesley just from this snippet that he wrote in his diary.

  4. Now Free (formerly struggling to be free)

    I do believe Wesley had met this man to challenge him regarding his actions and his thinking. I think this is why the husband “insists” and that seems to imply that Wesley had confronted the man with regards his abuse. The Wesley’s (especially John Wesley) did not shy from any confrontation.

    I agree with Barb. It is a pity we do not read any more than I know of off-hand, regarding what happened. I have read some letters of John Wesley’s before and after this day to various people, and even some written on this day, however there is no actual definite mention of his encounter with that man. However John does write to a Mr Ebenezer Blackwell on that day, and he says after dealing with some spiritual things concerning business:

    In every place people flock about me for direction in secular as well as spiritual affairs; and I dare not throw even this burthen off my shoulders, though I have employment enough without it. But it is a burthen, and no burthen; it is no encumbrance, no weight upon my mind. If we see God in all things and do all for Him, then all things are easy.

    This may give us a little insight into that day.

    He also goes on to talk about his wife being angry with his brother Charles and therefore also with him and he has not heard from her in 14 / 15 days despite his loving letters to her in around that time.

    I know when I read his letters to his wife in the height of abuse, he reminds me of the frustrated man I was and how at times you lose your temper and stand up and say what you feel. He perhaps did not always say things right or well, but it is interesting we never read anywhere in his journals a mention of her at all until the day she leaves him for good. His response says so much of what we have done ourselves in relief.

    Wesley famously wrote in his journal in 1771 after many years of conflict, in his only comment on his marriage: ‘I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.’

  5. Finding Answers

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the original post and the comments generated, each commenter bringing up very valid points for discussion. For me, I would need to know a LOT more about Wesley before I dared venture a comment.

    Some people are verbose in their journals or diaries, some are terse and write bare bones facts about the day, and some write a laundry list of tasks accomplished. So much depends on the individual writer.

    With the exception of a very brief time in my life, I never kept a journal or diary – writing tended to spiral me into very bad mental and emotional states, rather than provide any relief or release.

    The bits and pieces of my life – most of them, anyway – are strewn like breadcrumbs throughout the ACFJ blog. If you thought of my comments as entries in a diary or journal, would reading a single breadcrumb provide much of the big picture? Especially when – at many points – I had no clue about it myself.

    Perhaps some food for additional thought when reading Wesley’s journal entry.

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