I hardly slept last night. My stomach is in knots. I feel upset. I’m sorry, but I need to rant a little bit.
I often share articles about abuse at Facebook. My primary goal in sharing articles is to help those who are experiencing abuse to understand what is happening to them and to let them know that they are not alone–because I felt very confused and alone when I first became aware that my family was abusive. I would also like to educate nonvictims about the dynamics of abuse so maybe they 1. will learn how to truly help abuse victims and 2. will learn what to watch for so they can avoid becoming a victim themselves. As a Christian, I especially loathe spiritual abuse because it misrepresents God and causes many to struggle in their faith. I think that abuse in the church cannot be addressed if people aren’t willing to acknowledge it.
Yesterday I shared an article written by Rebecca Davis, an abuse advocate, in which she critique a video lecture called “Living With An Angry Husband.” You can read the article here: Should Texas church shooter’s wife have gotten “Biblical counseling”? The article contains a link to the actual lecture.
One of my FB friends commented on the post that the article is a gross misrepresentation of IBCD teaching and that she has very personal experience with their teaching as she had just finished level two of their certification program. She stated that their counseling is very Biblical and that never would an IBCD certified biblical counselor instruct someone to stay in a dangerous situation. She said that It’s very very sound and while Biblical counseling does address the heart of the victim it’s not done so in a way that protects the abuser or places blame on the abused for any reason, rather helps the victim to respond to their circumstances Biblically because often in these circumstances fear and or bitterness add to the pain and destructiveness of the situation.
I do not mean to be harsh toward my friend. I believe that she is a very caring person who wants to genuinely help people. However, I believe that while the sort of teaching she is supporting “sounds” Biblical and supportive of victims, it is not. In fact, I’ve found that most of the time when people proclaim that they are offering “Biblical counsel” they usually don’t understand the dynamics of abuse and do not help victims. Instead, they actually re-traumatize them.
A lot of the teachings about marriage in the church is written by people who teach or are heavily influenced by patriarchy. Patriarchy is a belief that wives are to be submissive to their husbands in all things. I grew up in churches that taught that men were the spiritual heads of their households, but I think the patriarchal movement has become increasingly more extreme. It can sound very spiritual with verses used to “prove” it. However, underneath all the good sounding stuff, at its basic level, it tends to create an unhealthy and even abusive environment–one in which men make all the decisions and the women are taught that they must support and serve their husband even if he is abusive.
Now, I can almost hear many saying that this isn’t what the teaching of the headship of men and submission of women is about. I also grew up believing this. Because it didn’t seem oppressive, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. However, the last church we attended was led by a pastor who strongly believed it. In his church, be in any “authority over men” in any way. Women were not allowed to speak from behind the pulpit, they were not allowed to lead singing, and they could only teach other women. The pastor insisted on pre-approving every lesson a woman taught to other women. He even read the study books written by women to women and used those books to write the lessons to be taught by a woman to other women in women’s Bible study groups. I often thought that it didn’t make sense because if women are not to teach men then why was he, a man, even reading books written by women? I mean, what’s the difference between being taught by women verbally or in written form? In addition, the church was extremely small–20 attendees at most–and most of the men were new believers and very profane. Some were addicts and one abused his wife. I saw the pastor and his wife do unethical things. Some of the most godly spiritually mature people in the church were women. I began to wonder if God really preferred that godly women submit to ungodly men. Did gender really matter so much to God? The pastor’s oppressive views about women is what made me begin to question what the Bible really taught about women in the church. I did a lot of research and my beliefs changed.
EJ and I started our marriage as equals and best friends. Along the way, EJ was counseled that he needed to take leadership in our home and to “keep me in line.” I was quiet–by no means an aggressively domineering wife–but I did speak up in Sunday School class. The pastor told EJ to order me to work in the church kitchen (because that’s what women do). EJ merely laughed because he knows I hate working in church kitchens. The teaching about submission was detrimental and nearly ruined our friendship and our marriage. Fortunately, both of us loved each other and neither of us were abusive. We chose to throw out the teaching about “Biblical gender roles” and treat each other as equals. We both have equal say in our decisions. Sometimes we do what EJ thinks is best and sometimes what I think is best. Sometimes I serve EJ and sometimes he serves me. Although EJ goes to work and I stay home, he would support me if I chose to get a job. He is very good at encouraging and supporting my endeavors. Sometimes we work together on EJ’s projects, and sometimes on mine. Sometimes I’m outside putting up fences and sometimes EJ vacuums the carpet. We do whatever will work best in our family. If one of us thinks the other is wrong, that person says so. In treating each other with equal roles and value, our marriage regained its strength and we are even stronger friends than before.
Ok, back to the church’s teachings about gender roles and marriage counseling. Again, they say things that sound very spiritual. They say they care and support victims and that they condemn abuse. I think that in the majority of cases, what they say and what they actually do are two different things and many times their statements are vague or contradictory. In practice, wives are pretty much blamed for the husband’s abuse. Abused wives are instructed to not go to secular counselors or authorities (even when a crime has been committed) but to let the church leadership advise them–because they will help them Biblically. Wives are instructed that their marriage will heal if they are more respectful, loving, patient, forgiving, and submissive to their husbands. They are told stories about people who did this and their marriages were miraculously transformed. They are to trust God, to be joyful in that they are undergoing the sufferings of Christ, and under no circumstances are they to divorce. If they do divorce, they are accused of being unsubmissive and disobedient to God. Some have undergone church discipline for not submitting to the church instruction. Even when a church agrees that a woman can divorce for abuse, the criteria of abuse is very narrow–no abuse seems severe enough to allow the victim to divorce. I’ve read of at least one woman who was told that even if her husband kills her, she can take comfort that she will be in Heaven with Jesus. (That’s evil.) Emotional abuse can be as damaging as other forms of abuse, but it is not considered to be abuse because the woman is not physically harmed–so she is forever doomed to live in torment.
Victims (of any age, gender, or marital status) who experience sexual assault are often pressured to repent of their part in the abuse and to “forgive” their abuser. Sometimes a victim is pressured to do this publicly with no forewarning. Of course, in such cases the church can proclaim that a great miracle of redemption has occurred. It makes them look good.
Recently a woman told her story of being raped while she was a student at a Bible college years ago. She was a “good” Christian, an excellent student. She went out with friends at an “approved” restaurant with fellow students. One of them, whom she did not know, put a date rape drug in her soft drink, and when she felt woozy, he told the others that he would see that she got home. They let him. Only, he didn’t take her home. While she was drugged, he dressed her in skimpy clothes, forced her to drink alcohol, and raped her repeatedly. She finally escaped. She reported it, and notified the college where she was reprimanded by college and affiliated church leaders for drinking alcohol, etc. One leader told her that to “make the situation right,” she should marry her rapist. The others stated that in order to remain at the college, she needed to participate in joint counseling with the rapist (who admitted to raping her) and to sit with him in church each Sunday. When she refused, she was kicked out. Other students were told that she was kicked out for disobeying college rules. This is heinous.
Some of the marriage counseling might work in normal marriages in which both spouses love each other and are just going through a time of difficulty. (Although it caused EJ and my marital struggles.) However, it certainly doesn’t work in abusive situations. Unlike “normal” people who tend to respond to love and to repent when they learn that they have hurt others, abusers consider unconditional love and forgiveness as weaknesses to be exploited. Research shows that when a victim tries to become MORE submissive, pleasing, patient, and forgiving toward her abuser, he tends to become more violent and dangerous. In fact, the church advice tends to feed into the abuser’s mentality, which is that the wife is to blame for the problems and she needs to submit to him in all things. I sometimes wonder if people who counsel victims even read their Bibles. Abusers are not merely “wounded people” who need to be “loved to Christ.” In fact, most of the people Jesus encountered did NOT follow him. Instead, they accused, condemned, and eventually killed him. If Jesus’ love was not enough to transform everyone, why would anyone think that we could love everyone to him? Instead, the Bible warns against wolves in sheep’s clothing who appear to be workers of righteousness while they ravage the sheep. The Bible describes evil people who plot and ambush the vulnerable, and who can’t sleep until they have planned evil. The Bible says to flee, avoid, stay away from, don’t walk, sit, or stand with, don’t associate with, and don’t even eat with those who are evil. (The descriptions of a wicked man are the same as the descriptions of what we call abusers.) So if the Bible says all these things, why do so many Christians refuse to believe that evil people exist?
These stories are not isolated cases. It is the typical response that victims experience from the church and “Biblical counselors.”
My FB friend said that “while you read many horrible stories for each of those there are also stories with good outcomes. There are churches that are listening that providing refuge, hope and healing as well as biblical church discipline for abusers. Sadly those stories aren’t told as often as the terrible stories but they are happening. It’s tragic that that’s not always the case and I certainly don’t say that to invalidate or negate the horrible stories but I want you to be encouraged that there really are churches out there that are doing things right too, hopefully with awareness that number will continue to grow.”
It is absolutely not true that the terrible stories are heard more often than the “good outcomes.” Jeff Crippen, a pastor who is the founder of the abuse website, A Cry for Justice, commented on the post: “It is not true that there are lots of churches, or even a few churches, that are protecting victims and disciplining abusers. Nope. I have worked in this field almost full time for over 8 years now and have been a pastor for 34 years. And it is absolutely RARE to hear of real justice being done. People who think otherwise are living in dreamland.”
Jimmy Hinton, a pastor who speaks at churches about sexual predators, commented, “I’ve seen way too many pastors teach that it’s the Christian duty of the wife to be “Christ like” and turn the other cheek, try to win him over with her gentle spirit, be patient, etc. Perhaps if some of these pastors were raped, tortured, beaten, and had guns pulled on them like these women do by their husbands, they may change their theology a bit.” Jimmy has said that about half the attendees at every church he speaks at has stayed after his lectures to tell him their stories of sexual abuse–many for the first time. These are just people who suffered sexual abuse. I wonder how high the number would be if people who suffered from other forms of abuse also spoke up. Jimmy’s father was a pastor who is in prison for molesting numerous children in his congregation. Jimmy continued, “I’d also add that I’ve been speaking at churches for 6 years since my father’s arrest and I have literally not been to one yet where there was not a minimum of 1 registered sex offender. One church had 5 that they knew of. Out of all these churches, only 1 of them actually had looked up the offender’s records. The majority of the churches had never disclosed to the congregation that there were registered sex offenders in the pews. I can only speak from my own experience, but so far nearly every church has taken an extremely soft approach to the most heinous abusers.”
The reality is that most victims do not tell anyone about their abuse. After years of reading marriage books, trying to be a better wife, and dealing with her own sins, when a victim finally reaches the desperate place where she seeks help from the church, their counsel tends to focus on her part of the problem, on her sin of depression, anger, criticism, rebellion, or whatever, as if her response to abuse is equal to the abuser’s torture. Excuse me, but it is as completely normal to respond to abuse with anger, depression, despair, and fear, as it is to feel physical pain when there is a physical injury. I would state that any counselor who focuses on the victims’ “sin” and “her part in the abuse” instead of protecting her from the abuser is absolutely, categorically, committing spiritual malpractice.
Meanwhile, the abuser, who can appear very charming and spiritual, either denies the charges or cries a few tears and is given grace and support. An abusive pastor might be reprimanded and removed from leadership, but in a short time he is back in ministry as if he had done nothing. One FB friend said that the pastor who sexually abused her has become a on-line spiritual coach who “helps” others with marital problems. Most Christians typically defend and protect the abuser and condemn the victim. A court social worker commented at one abuse site that in all her years of being in court with victims, she has seen crowds of church members show up in support of an abuser–even one who had confessed–but has never seen any show up in support of the victim. Most churches welcome an abuser back into fellowship with open arms and no consequences or limitations. I had a friend whose cousin was a girls’ basketball coach at, I believe, a Christian high school. He was arrested for sexually molesting one of the students. I read in a news report that 30 people wrote letters of support for him. I’m sure my friend and her husband were among them. When she first told me of this situation, she said that she felt really sorry for her cousin because this was going to ruin his life and be hard on his family. Hello? What about the ruined life of the girl he molested?
Victims are typically told by the pastors/counselors that if they speak out against the abuser, they are sinning by gossiping and being judgmental. Some are told that they risk ruining a good man/ministry who does God’s work if they say anythihng. If they continue to speak out, they are dismissed as being angry, bitter, judgmental, and unsubmissive. If they divorce or go to law enforcement to report the abuse, they are told they are not trusting God and are removing themselves from His protection. Because of this, many victims struggle in their faith.
This sort of treatment of victims by churches is not isolated or uncommon. It is very TYPICAL.
I, myself, have experienced such things. When I first experienced abusive behavior from my Mom, I was very confused. Every Christian I went to for counsel told me that my Mom was just wounded and I needed to love and forgive her more. Not one rebuked HER behavior. No one told me that I was being abused. No one told me that I could set boundaries and didn’t have to tolerate abuse. When EJ’s family discovered (years later) that we had limited contact with their abusive brother, they wholeheartedly supported him while they condemned us. Five or six abuse experts from various organizations have told us that EJ’s brother was definitely, without a doubt, targeting our son for abuse. When EJ told his family doctor what his brother had done, she was upset and was going to immediately turn him in to authorities. She didn’t only because EJ reassured her that it had happened years ago and JJ had said he hadn’t been hurt. I don’t think police can do anything if there is no evidence, but, trust me, if we ever find out that he actually hurts a child, we will turn him in ourselves. Our families have called us angry, bitter, unforgiving, unloving, unChristlike, and without family loyalty because we try to protect ourselves and refuse to submit to abuse. And I have been told by other Christians that I dishonor God, my family, and myself because I do not have contact with my abusive family. I have asked them, “God says he delivers the righteous from the hand of the wicked. So you are telling me that the fact that I was unfortunate enough to be born into an abusive family means that I am doomed to never experience God’s deliverance? And you are saying that a woman who married an abusive man (and for many the abuse doesn’t begin until after they are married) is also doomed to live in torment forever with no deliverance possible? Tell me, in your opinion, exactly who does God deliver?”
Because of the mistreatment most victims receive from the church, many remain silent. Can you blame them? I don’t. They have been traumatized by their abusers and then re-traumatized when they sought help from the church. And most church members, if they are told anything about the situation, are told that the victim left because she was disobedient to God and rebelled against the church. Many (some?) church members are ignorant of what the victims are actually suffering. If a person has not experienced abuse, it is almost impossible to convince them that the teachings are, in fact, damaging and dangerous. They will believe the church leaders who tell them they care about victims, they will believe that the marital advice works, and they will believe that if only a victim were to be loving and forgiving and submissive, there will be a good outcome. People will defend their favorite teacher or teaching before they question whether there is validity in what the victims are saying.
If I try to show people information written by abuse advocates then it merely becomes “my” expert versus “yours”–and, of course, you will consider “your” expert to be more Biblical than mine. So I have tried to encourage Christians who think church teaching/counsel is helpful to start listening to what the victims themselves are saying about how they were treated by the church and how they were affected by their counsel. But I don’t think any of these people have actually listened to the victims–because everyone knows that the victims who speak out are angry, bitter, unloving, unforgiving, unsubmissive, unChristlike, and in rebellion. And, of course, if they are told that there are hundreds of stories of victims who have suffered from church counseling, they say that I am reading too many terrible victim stories and not enough good ones. It’s really a Catch 22. If a victim doesn’t speak, her stories are not heard. If she speaks too loudly, people get offended, assume the victim is bitter, and stop listening.
(I’m banging my head against the wall now.)
I have found that the only people who believe a victim are other victims. The sad thing is that when a person is victimized and begins to understand abuse, in the eyes of other Christians they have joined the group of victims whose testimonies are not believed–because in the eyes of the Christians the victims are angry, bitter, and need to repent of their sins. It’s an impossible situation. Those who have not experienced abuse don’t listen to or believe victims while those who have experienced abuse are not believed or heard.
I think that many Christians mean well and are just ignorant about the dynamics of abuse. I know that until I experienced abuse, I also believed the teachings, and I thought my Mom/family was loving, and I defended her when people said otherwise. It was only when I resisted her excessive control that I experienced my Mom’s “ugliness.” I have pondered what the difference is between those who are merely ignorant and those who are active participants/enablers in the abuse–or are, themselves, abusers. It can be difficult to tell, but I think that those who are merely ignorant will eventually seek the truth. It might take years, and it might not be until they have experienced abuse, but they will eventually open their eyes and wake up. Those who are active participants in abuse are willfully blind. They will assume that what they know is the only BIBLICAL TRUTH. They assume they know how to help victims without ever actually listening to them. This is arrogance.
I think that if a person wants to learn about a topic, they should go to the person who has experience with it. Ask a computer nerd questions about computer problems. Ask a single Mom about the challenges of single parenting. Ask parents who have adopted children about adoption. Ask a native of a country about their country. They can all answer questions because they have first-hand experience with it. So why is it so hard to understand that it’s best to ask victims about abuse, and about how various teachings have affected them? Don’t minimize or ignore all the hundreds and hundreds–probably even thousands–of abuse stories.
I’m frustrated by people who refuse to listen to or believe the victims. It upsets me so much that sometimes I wonder why I even try to speak up. It’s easier to just keep quiet. But then a victim will privately message me to thank me for speaking out, and I think THAT is the reason why I speak. Also, I always have some hope (although small) that an ignorant person will be willing to hear and see.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice”
(Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT).
“Learn to do good; seek justice [setting things right],
correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Update: Rebecca Davis has written a second post about the lecture, and I believe she’s writing a third. You can find the first two here: