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Hidden violence

Spousal abuse is a widespread sin that many churches ignore at their—and their members’—peril

Hidden violence

T: To protect privacy, we are not showing her face. (Jim Mone/Genesis)

On Jan. 27, 2015, T—to protect privacy we are using only an initial—emailed leaders of her nondenominational church in western Washington state: “I’m asking for HELP! I’m desperately asking for help.” She said her husband had abused her with threats, lies, blame-shifting, and manipulation throughout 24 years of their marriage. She felt lost, afraid, broken.

For the elders, this email was more perplexing than surprising: For seven years, T and her husband had been active church members with marital problems, and many people had devoted hours of marriage counseling with them. The couple even flew to Missouri to participate in an intensive four-day marriage conciliation program. Now T was saying that after all that effort, things had become worse—and she was now claiming “abuse.”

The elders were facing a challenge that’s increasingly common in churches, though many leaders choose to ignore it. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. Some say the statistics are even higher for emotional abuse. The elders of this suburban evangelical church have now dealt with at least six cases of claimed domestic abuse in the last 10 years.

To learn more about how churches work through such cases, I visited what had been T’s church—until it excommunicated her. I interviewed elders, listened to five women who had accused their spouses of abuse, verified their stories with the elders, met with two families that had confronted the elders about the way they had handled past abuse cases, read through pages of documents and email exchanges, and conferred with abuse specialists. I found out what the elders themselves had realized: Dealing with domestic abuse charges is ugly and messy, full of hurt and brokenness and sin.

Like many other Christian couples, T and her husband met at church. At the time, she had just left her second marriage. She had a baby son and was unsure about ever marrying again. But, as T tells the story, for three years the man who became her third husband wooed her, telling her all the things many women yearn to hear: You’re beautiful. You’re such a godly woman. You’re everything I want in a wife. I want to take care of you and your son.

When they married in 1991, T thought her new husband was a wonderful, sensitive man who was crazy about her. She says all the lovely words and affection ceased three months into their marriage. One day, she and her husband argued: She says he shut her up by lifting and slamming her onto the ground. The impact snapped her ankle.

Her husband told the elders a different story. He said he did not intentionally break T’s ankle—they were horse-playing, and what happened was an accident. The elders believed him. (I repeatedly sought a meeting with T’s husband to get his side firsthand, but he refused. At his request I emailed him a list of questions. He never answered them.)

T says she kept quiet about the unhappiness inside her home for two decades: “I wanted to look good. I idolized marriage and wanted to appear like I had everything together.” Once she started saying she had been abused for all those years, the elders wondered why she had been silent about her marriage dynamics during so many years of marriage counseling. They say her husband accused T of mentally and emotionally abusing him by criticizing, manipulating, and falsely accusing him. Now the elders were in a bind: Who was telling the truth? Who was abusing whom?

One elder said he and his colleagues were at their “wit’s end,” stuck in a “he-said/she-said situation.” He said he knew the husband as a “kind person with a servant’s heart” and T as a faithful women’s ministry leader for years. The church’s family pastor said the elders were “trying to separate the weeds of so many years of counseling from the sudden abuse claims. It’s like different-colored Play-Doh that’s been mushed together. You can’t separate them.”

T says it took her a long time to use the language of “abuse” because she didn’t know what it was. In 2014 she started reading books about domestic abuse: She says the stories of depressed and distressed women sounded like her own story. Then during a counseling session in Missouri, the counselor suddenly sent her husband out of the room and told her what she had just described was sexual abuse. She burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. She then sent the email to the elders accusing her husband of abuse. She was hoping the elders would support her.

Soon after she sent that email, two pastors and a pastor’s wife met with T. One pastor (no longer at the church) who had counseled T and her husband said he didn’t believe her because the man he knew wasn’t the man she described. After the meeting, T continued sending emails to the leaders asking for help but received no response. Today the elders say they could have responded to her faster, but they say it wasn’t due to a lack of care. Rather, they felt stymied and unsure how to move forward.

Then T took several actions that alarmed the elders. She moved out of her house and filed for a legal separation without seeking their counsel. She said that was a way to keep her husband financially accountable for all his secret bank accounts, but the elders saw it as sidestepping their pastoral leadership and moving toward divorce—a violation of their church covenant.

During a counseling session … the counselor suddenly sent T’s husband out of the room and told her what she had just described was sexual abuse. She burst into tears.

The elders asked both husband and wife to take a domestic violence inventory test, a self-reporting tool used to assess accusations of domestic abuse. The husband took it but T refused, an action the elders saw as further noncompliance. They met with the couple a second time and conferred with T’s marriage counselor, who told them he didn’t think she was in any danger.

T saw the elders as not following through—other than two meetings, she didn’t see or hear much from the elders, and she didn’t see any change in her husband. She was alone in a new apartment, struggling to make ends meet, still sending the elders updates about her situation but not hearing back or seeing any action. Feeling abandoned and defeated, she stopped attending church. Again, the elders read that as a lack of submission to them: “It became clear that she was just going to go her own way.”

When the elders heard that T had been meeting with other church members to tell her story of disappointment with them, they accused T of causing division within the church body. In March 2016—14 months after she charged abuse—the elders sent her a 10-page letter saying they did not believe her accusations. If there was any indication of capital-A abuse taking place in the couple’s household, they wrote, it was from her.

The elders asked her to repent, threatening to remove her from church membership. T refused to withdraw her accusations of abuse. Two months later, the elders excommunicated her and sent a letter about that to the entire church. Today, T’s ex-husband is still a member of the church, while T has moved to Minnesota, feeling the church had spiked a scarlet letter to her chest.

Meanwhile, the elders stand by their judgment. They said they had “poured heart and soul” into the couple, but ultimately, T chose to “stretch out [claims of abuse] to justify her way out of a really tough marriage.”

Today, almost two years after the excommunication, T’s story is still stirring confusion, division, and hurt in the church. Congregants took sides. Several church members confronted the elders asking for answers: One couple left the church because they disagreed with the elders’ decisions. Another couple, part of the church for 14 years, circulated a letter calling the elders to repent.

Benjamin Brink/Genesis

G: “I was pleading with them for help, and it felt like they were saying, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad.’” (Benjamin Brink/Genesis)

AFTER T LEFT THE CHURCH, two more women came to the elders with claims of abuse.

One of the women—G, a mother of five—suffered abandonment by her first husband and had been married to her second husband for 10 years when she asked to meet with church leaders. She printed out a chart outlining various forms of abuse and circled the ones that she’d experienced from her husband. She also jotted down a 20-page-long list of abusive incidents.

When she showed a pastor and his wife the chart, they said they had experienced conflicts in their own marriage and recommended a marriage communications class. “I was crushed,” G told me. “I was pleading with them for help, and it felt like they were saying, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad.’” After the meeting she sat in her van at the church parking lot for a long time, weeping and praying, “God, You’re sovereign over this. I don’t know why they’re responding this way, but this is not OK.” (The pastor is no longer at the church and did not respond to my interview requests.)

One day, G’s daughter became scared enough of her father’s yelling that she called the police. The church elders told G’s husband to move out of the house temporarily. They got together with the husband to set up some rules and boundaries, then sent him to anger management counseling. When he seemed to show signs of repentance, the elders suggested that G and her husband move forward into marriage counseling. G refused: She wasn’t seeing any changes in her husband’s behavior.

The husband eventually admitted that he had been abusive to his wife, but then accused her of abusing him too. The elders floundered and agonized: Whom to believe? Finally, they decided they needed professional help and suggested the couple see abuse counselors. But it had been more than a year since G had first asked elders for help, and she had lost trust in them. She left the church. Her husband is still a member and is seeking to divorce her.

The elders examined themselves. The church’s executive pastor declared, “We may be trained Biblically, but we lacked practical wisdom.” In September 2017, the church invited a Biblical counselor who specializes in abuse training to teach them how to do better. They then identified what they could have done differently with G and her husband: They should have met with them separately and invited another woman into the room with G so that she felt safe. They could have asked better intake questions to draw out patterns of abusive tactics.

The elders concluded they also could have answered emails more promptly and sent church members to care for her and walk alongside her. While G was frustrated that nothing seemed to be happening, the elders were spending dozens of hours in elder meetings discussing the case. The executive pastor says, “We were working for her, but not with her.”

Three months after the church leaders’ domestic abuse training, a church member one night yanked his wife by her hair, whipped her with his belt, and punched her several times. He then acted like nothing happened and asked if she’d like to go out for dinner. The woman, D, refused, so her husband took two of their kids out for burgers. When he left, D called a deacon and a family friend. They came over immediately and called the police.

The elders quickly got involved. They didn’t start with marriage counseling, but asked the wife what she needed first. An elder welcomed D and her children to his home. A deacon invited her husband to stay at his home for as long as he needed. The elders set up a team of church members who took care of practical needs such as picking up the kids from school, meeting the husband at the courthouse, and checking up on D. Today D and her husband are still living apart, but the husband has confessed abuse and they have begun marriage counseling with the goal of reconciliation.

That one potential success is not enough for other church members who say the leaders should re-evaluate every past case. Recently, the elders asked to meet with G again, and one pastor apologized to her for not having been better equipped to care for her.

As these three cases suggest, refereeing domestic abuse situations is not easy. They often do not provide obvious evidences of broken bones or bruises. Most of the damage from domestic abuse is invisible: It involves repetitive behaviors that terrorize, dehumanize, objectify, degrade, and control spouses. Such abuse is a hammer to the soul, pounding over and over at the personhood, dignity, and freedom of a spouse. 

Many church leaders don’t understand the dynamics and effects of domestic abuse, or don’t even believe that such evil exists in their pews (see sidebar). Instead of addressing the deeper heart issue behind abuse, church leaders typically address the behaviors by recommending anger management counseling, couples therapy, confession, and forgiveness.

One problem, though, is that when one spouse is unrepentant and unchanging, the other may shoulder the extraordinary burden of constantly asking for forgiveness, offering forgiveness, and repairing the relationship. Often, the victim then reacts out of anger, hurt, and bitterness, which provides the abuser grounds to frame the victim as an unstable, delusional, and malicious henpecker. The victim who keeps emailing, calling, and texting the pastors for help may be perceived as an irritating, relentless commotion-maker.

When that happens, who else will care to listen to the victim’s cries?

—with reporting by Christina Darnell

This story has been updated to correctly describe why G’s daughter called police.

‘A satanic distortion’

Bethlehem Baptist Church Pastor Jason Meyer learned something shocking in 2015. Three women in his Minneapolis congregation were victims of domestic abuse. They claimed the church wasn’t helping. Leaders heard whispers of victims afraid to come forward. “It was a wake-up call,” Meyer said. “We didn’t know this was happening.”

Many pastors don’t. LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors last year: Forty-seven percent didn’t know of any victims of domestic violence in their churches during the previous three years. Another 15 percent said no one had experienced domestic violence.

Sociologist Christopher Ellison found that “men who attend religious services several times a week are 72 percent less likely to abuse their female partners than men from comparable backgrounds who do not attend services.” With national numbers of women in physically abusive relationships hovering between 25 and 33 percent, that still leaves a lot of abuse, but few church leaders know how to handle such problems. Sometimes their help actually hurts.

Bethlehem Baptist Church

Offering support to victims: Pastor Jason Meyer (Bethlehem Baptist Church)

Bethlehem elders invited Biblical counselor John Henderson, author of Abuse: Finding Hope in Christ, to train them. They started a Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART), led by a survivor of domestic abuse. Meyer presented the joint elders’ statement in a sermon, “Fooled by False Leadership.” He denounced “harsh lordship” by husbands and male leaders, called abusers to repentance, and offered help to victims. He called all forms of domestic abuse a “satanic distortion of Christ-like male leadership because it defaces the depiction of Christ’s love for his bride.”

Since then, Bethlehem has walked through roughly 27 cases on its three campuses. Chris Moles, a Biblical counselor and pastor who has counseled abusers for more than 10 years, helped Bethlehem develop strategies to hold abusers accountable and avoid common missteps. Moles used an adage to describe the lack of preparation within churches to address domestic abuse: “When you hear hoof steps, you think horse, not zebra.”

Most pastors and counselors are familiar with the common “horse steps” of marital problems, but few are trained to recognize the “zebra steps” of abuse. When a woman (or occasionally, a man) approaches them with marriage turmoils, they conflate the symptoms of abuse with normal marital sins. In other cases, church leaders may endanger a victim by alerting an abuser that she is seeking help. Moles also exposes faulty theology: If pastors convey an unbalanced view of submission without requiring a husband to love his wife, abusers feel empowered and victims imprisoned.

Still, Bethlehem refuses to write off those who abuse—and this part of the program is not without its critics, says Kïrsten Christianson, who manages DART cases. Statistically, few abusers will repent, but God hasn’t made us privy to who the select few are, she says. “We pursue the hearts of those who abuse until they reject being pursued.”

At Bethlehem Baptist, the learning curve has been steep, volunteer burnout is a problem, and discipleship is key. The church pairs new volunteers with experienced ones. Together they check in regularly and pray with a victim and develop a safety plan. Training is hands-on. Meyer says elders now do more pavement-pounding and know their people better: “Our elders are out there more, being shepherds. … Not just addressing messy situations, but all situations.” —Christina Darnell


Sophia Lee

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.


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  • not silent
    Posted: Thu, 05/10/2018 07:57 pm

    Thank you for this article.  It takes courage to address something like this in the church.  I acknowledge that there are always many sides to any situation-and ALL of us are sinners-but I have seen from unfortunate personal experience with friends and family how widespread misconcptions about abuse and trauma can cause victims of abuse to be treated as if they are the only ones who have sinned and need to repent.  People who don't have experience with abuse (or even those who do) may not realize that abusers don't necessarily look like thugs but often seem like very nice people.  They may not see themselves as abusers and may believe the victim "made" them angry or convince themselves that what they are doing is justified, even if they are secretly beating the tar out of a victim or almost killing them. 

    An abuser may be able to look an elder or a best friend in the eye and say they are not abusing anyone because they have convinced themselves what they are doing is not abuse. Because it is not unusal for abusers to distort reality for the victim so that they can manipulate him or her, the victim may have become so cowed and afraid they aren't sure what is real anymore-therefore, the VICTIM may by the one who appears guilty and full of shame and who can't look anyone in the eye.  

    Many people also don't understand that often people who are experiencing abuse are often afraid to talk about it because of intimidation by the abuser and/or fear they will not be believed.  This fear is often made worse when they DO speak up and people don't believe them because they didn't say something sooner or because there are no visible marks.  Fear may cause a victim to retract a very real story of abuse, and it may not just be fear of retaliation or of not being believed.  A victim may fear having to live alone or not having money to live on. 

    Finally, the person who has been abused may be experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems as a result of the abuse; and this may make them appear unstable.  If the abuse began in childhood, the mental health issues could be even worse.  Meanwhile, the abuser may seem calm and unflappable because he or she feels in control.

    Obviously, all sides of any situation must be considered; and even victims are sinners who must repent of sin, but they should never be subjected to ongoing abuse.  I am certainly not an expert-just someone who has learned from difficult experience-but I am pleased that there are experts who are providing education to churches about this issue.  Even though I have tended to take the side of the victim, many abusers were abused themselves-they need fellowship from the Body, treatment, and the same grace we all need.

    Posted: Wed, 05/16/2018 05:03 pm

    Not Silent, your words ring so true - - YES, to everything you are saying! Thank you for commenting and speaking up.

  • TY
    Posted: Fri, 05/11/2018 10:02 am

    I've spent my life training biblical counselors in East Asia and this topic is part of our usual curriculum. Thanks for this informative article, and alerting us to the typical church leaders who lack experience with the sinfulness and deceptiveness of abusers (similar to the way people with any kind of addiction respond to investigative queries, with persistent lying to protect their own interests).  The article also points to some churches who have developed counseling awareness--Bravo to church leaders sharing likeness to the kingly protection of Christ! I recommend a good book by Leslie Vernick The Emotionally Destructive Marriage and her website for other resources   She is a very well-informed and case-wise experienced counselor to properly analyze and confront abuse cases. She offers a very wise set of principles to hold abuser accountable as well, not just accepting false promises and lies that abusers typically give. She also wisely notes that marriage counseling is not recommended if an abusive liar is one of the people in counseling (scoffer, mocker, divisive fool in Proverbs should be separated from). Diane Langberg also has some good books for both counselors and survivors of abuse, especially sexual abuse, Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse, On the Threshold of Hope, (+ workbook) and the difficulties of counselors (and church leaders) facing abuse atrocities in Suffering and the Heart of God. Another related resource is Betrayal of Trust by Stanley Grenz & Roy Bell, about abuse by those in authority, such as church leaders or counselors themselves--average of 1/10 influence-leaders may abuse their authority with those under their supposed care to seek personal gratification with their flock, and the need to properly investigate claims of leadership abuse presented by church members. With stories like this of abuse and church failure to protect in both church and marriage, feminism seems to offer a correct analysis of the problems of male abuse of authority, and substitutes female leadership instead. The way forward is not role reversal, but role reformation: husbands being accountable to love and sacrifice and wives enjoying the protection and selfless concern of husbands; church leaders being trained to protect victims in the image of Christ the King, and woe to those who cause one of these little ones to stumble! May the Lord, though his shepherding church and her leaders, have priestly mercy and kingly protection for his victimized people. May the Lord lead abusers to sincere repentance (2 Cor 7:10-11). But if they are not willing to repent, may the church and her leaders show his cursed face to all cowardly abusers and faithless liars, representing his future judgment by excommunication from the fellowship/membership of the church in the present (Rev 21:8)! 

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Fri, 05/11/2018 09:21 am

    The issues that have already been raised by the above comments are excellent. I would add to that that there are certain theological issues that also end up creating the backdrop for sweeping this terrible issue under the rug or blaming the victims. The doctrine of sin as promulgated by evangelical churches tends to flatten distinctions between sins, suggesting that they are all equal, or that "we are all sinners," which draws a false equivalence between abuser and DV victim. The victim is pressured to acknowledge her own "sinfulness" in the marriage, which she hestitates to do in relation to these issues, while the perpetrator, particularly if he is well integrated into the church, is going to be more than adept at making "confessions" of "failings" as a means of deflecting serious consequences. This puts the victim into the defensive posture either of re-concealing their status as a victim lest they be further blamed for it, or fleeing the church altogether lest she receive further hostile and skeptical treatment. The church is fooled into (or fools itself into) believing in "grace," which is always oriented at giving sinners the benefit of the doubt when they say they are sorry, rather than grace that provides comfort and support for those who have been wounded. This is a stark distortion of the gospel in the evangelical tradition that provides such a focus on the message of sin and forgiveness, but lacks a corresponding focus on issues like restoration, healing, and recovery for those who have been hurt by the sins of others, which is at best seen as an implication of the gospel, rather than its core.


    I would add to this that the complementarian models of church leadership often pushed by evangelicals lend themselves in particular to creating a hostile environment for DV victims, since abused women are often brought, either by themselves or with their abuser, before a group of only men. When one adds to this the description of "biblical womanhood" that has been pushed by, among many others, men like John Piper that the biblical woman is supposed to be characterized by (among other similar descriptors) being "meek," "delicate," and "gentle," you also get a serious problem. A DV victim who is seeking help and finally unmasking her abuser is usually anything but meek, delicate, and gentle. In these situations, the mask of normalcy that typically hides the abusive relationship appears to offer a far "better" version of what the woman supposedly "ought" to look like. This means that her progress towards freeing herself from an abusive relationship is often reinterpreted (and, I might add, grossly misinterpreted) by church leadership as a regression of her character into resentment, bitterness, and hostility. 


    Finally, the assumption among elders (as represented in T's sad story) that they are owed obedience and deference as the core part of their position as ordained leaders frequently causes church leadership to fall back on this in these situations, especially when they feel that their "advice" is not being heeded. It is hard to imagine something more harmful, consiering that abuse of all kinds is fundamentally about the abuser asserting power over his victim. When the church "leadership" demands the acceptance of their "assistance" by asserting their authority over the victim, whether they mean to or not, they align themselves with the abuser by removing agency from the victim. Small wonder that abuse victims very often find the church to be one of the least safe places to be open about their experiences.

    Posted: Wed, 05/16/2018 05:06 pm

    Amen! Excellent comments you have added to the article and the other comments.  Thank you for the resources you named. I will add them to my reading.

  • JG
    Posted: Mon, 05/21/2018 10:08 pm

    Your comment is spot-on, but this particularly stands out to me:

    "A DV victim who is seeking help and finally unmasking her abuser is usually anything but meek, delicate, and gentle.... This means that her progress towards freeing herself from an abusive relationship is often reinterpreted (and, I might add, grossly misinterpreted) by church leadership as a regression of her character into resentment, bitterness, and hostility. 

    Finally, the assumption among elders (as represented in T's sad story) that they are owed obedience and deference as the core part of their position as ordained leaders frequently causes church leadership to fall back on this in these situations, especially when they feel that their "advice" is not being heeded. It is hard to imagine something more harmful, consiering that abuse of all kinds is fundamentally about the abuser asserting power over his victim. When the church "leadership" demands the acceptance of their "assistance" by asserting their authority over the victim, whether they mean to or not, they align themselves with the abuser by removing agency from the victim."

    So many churches have been guilty of this - hearing an allegation of abuse, and rather than investigating it properly and dealing with it biblically, instead hauling a female victim into an inquisition of men and asking her "don't you think you're being bitter? You should repent, because that's sinful. You're probably not walking with the Lord." 

  •  Deb O's picture
    Deb O
    Posted: Fri, 05/11/2018 10:40 am

    The people who have commented thus far 'get it' and that makes my heart glad. I am pleased to learn about even more resources for victims and the church from the article and commenters. My story is nowhere near as tragic as those reported and so many others who go unmentioned, but I had to walk away from my last church for some of these same reasons, while my husband continues to be welcome to attend. The elders did not get it. But thank God for those who do and those willing to learn. Real love requires justice for the oppressed.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 05/11/2018 10:35 pm

    The question of divorce is another theological issue that unfortunately has become a stumbling block to resolving the problem of abuse.  Jesus and St. Paul discussed marriage and divorce in very broad terms.  I think that we ought to apply their statements with great care to genuinely abusive relationships, which are abnormal.  God permits exceptions, as when David ate the bread of the Presence--a very significant exception.  He also abhors legal  misapplication of holy obligations, as with the law of Corban.  I believe that God never intended marriage to entrap people in dangerous relationships.  So in my opinion we should never make anyone feel obligated to stick with a dangerous marriage.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Sat, 05/12/2018 06:05 am

    Another issue that I have run across in my profession: Church leadership is often pressing for reconciliation and "saving the marriage," and they do this by encouraging both parties to "forgive," which ends up putting the onus on the victim. Her refusal to "make amends" with her abuser is interpreted as her recalcitrance rather than her escape, while the abuser often makes a show of being "forgiving" towards the perceived (or real, but comparatively minor) faults of the victim. This demand for forgiveness on the part of the leadership wraps itself in the guise of the gospel, but functionally it puts the church firmly on the side of the abuser, who typically maintains control over his victim in part by a cycle of abusive behavior and "reconciliation" that comes with a show of promises not to harm the victim again, combined with efforts to convince her that she is at fault for prompting his behavior. The church is often more than happy to be convinced by this display, in part because we have convinced ourselves of the "miraculous" character of grace, which makes us gullible, and because it purports to signal that the problem is over, which can allow the whole terrible situation to be swept back under the rug. We might say that this too is a distortion of the gospel that places such a heavy priority on the moment of "conversion" or of the interior "faith" intentions of the individual, rather than the slow painstaking and identifiable growth in practical sanctification, which is reduced to nothing more than the "evidence" of what actually matters. In the same way, DV victims are expected to extend unqualified forgiveness based on the mere profession of repentance by their abuser (which abusers are only to happy to offer), as if somehow this were the way Christians are called to imitate Christ.

  • SH
    Posted: Sat, 05/12/2018 10:22 am

    Thank you for this article.  Something that wasn't mentioned is the prevalence of spousal abuse by the leaders and pastors of the church. 

    There are many wise comments here; it is true that the commands Jesus gave concerning husbands and wives cannot possibly apply in an abusive situation, as it only makes things worse.  

    If anyone is reading this comment and is a spouse of a person who is in leadership in a church; don't doubt yourself.  Don't doubt your ability to hear God's voice and His will for your live.  Listen to what HE tells you to do, not what your abusive spouse is saying, or even what those around you are saying.  God can bring miraculous change to your life, and through your pain, He has taught you lessons few will learn, and He will use you in amazing ways, to His glory and to your freedom from abuse and pain.

    [Comment edited by moderator]

  • Cbusht
    Posted: Sat, 05/12/2018 12:14 pm

    What shall be expected when one of the highest held examples of Godliness has a wife who had considered not divorce, but murder. Tongue in cheek or not, this is an example of valuing the facade of "marriage" f   a   r   above  relationally honoring God and each other. Without the confidence of unconditional comittment to "marriage" in this way there would be a bit more carefulness put toward the actual relationship rather than the facade.

  • DB
    Posted: Tue, 05/15/2018 10:14 am

    How could my evangelical church, which did so much right, have gotten spousal abuse so wrong? My letter to pastors and elders citing spouse abuse went unacknowledged. When I obtained a restraining order, they rebuked me, "Would Jesus have done that?" A third restraining order, HER arrest for assault, a criminal prosecution, and our divorce.followed. Throughout, never did the pastors and elders utter a word to me. So sad.


    National Certified Counselor


    Posted: Wed, 05/16/2018 05:17 pm

    Both of these articles are much needed in the church, I can only pray and hope that pastors and elders everywhere will actually read them. 

    I write as survivor of emotional and spiritual abuse. When I finally spoke up, no one believed that my christian college and seminary trained spouse could be such a person as I alleged. He's never repented and today pastors a church, after he filed for divorce and left me.  Praise God, years later after going through much counseling myself, God redeemed my life and brought me a man who loves me as Christ loves the church!

    Today I have 3 girlfriends, all married more than 20 years, all christians married to christian men...all 3 are living your articles. Living with husbands who refuse to repent and who've turned the shame/blame on them, going to churches where the leadership refuses to acknowledge the sin of the husband.  My heart is grieving and broken for these 3 friends. I know their pain and turmoil.  How sad that as women, we actually pray and think, Oh if there were only broken bones and black & blue marks to make the church leaders believe! 

    Please keep writing more articles and bringing this crisis to light in the church. We must keep speaking boldly.

  • JP
    Posted: Sat, 05/19/2018 12:51 pm

    I lived with a very emotionally abusive husband for 26 years, believing in the sanctity of marriage and afraid to get a divorce. Early in our marriage he was physically abusive, but being smart, ended the physical abuse. The deception and mind games were incredible, yet the outside world saw him as a nice guy. I always knew something was wrong and believed that I just needed to work harder on the marriage by going to church, bible studies, listening to Christian radio shows, etc. Now I know that he has every trait of someone with a covert narcissistic personality disorder. When the discard happened he just walked out, found another church, obtained a new church 'family', and filed for divorce.

    I believe the church is a perfect place for abusive men to 'hide' in, and consistently fails to protect the most vulnerable women and children. This article consistently puts this failure on display. 

  • Larrygeo
    Posted: Wed, 05/23/2018 11:48 am

    While I am against any kind of abuse, verbal, physical, or emotional, I believe this article left out some information that seems important to me. First, you mentioned that T had been married three times. What is the story behind her three marriages? It seems we are not getting the whole picture when you leave out what caused the first two divorces. Secondly, you did what almost every article on this subject does, you left out the fact that women can be abusive as well. In my years as a pastor, I have discovered that there is more to the story than what, generally, is the first look at any situation. Abuse from anyone, male or female, is unacceptable.

    Posted: Thu, 05/24/2018 05:11 pm

    I am left wondering why any woman would put up with abuse: physical, verbal or emotional.   Men who treat their wives or girlfriends this way are insecure bullies and need to be confronted.  Parents and pastors would do well to help single young people understand that Christian husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Churches should help women know that they do not have to tolerate abusive behavior. (Paige Patterson, take note!)

  • GinaInOregon's picture
    Posted: Thu, 05/24/2018 10:44 pm

    We need to pray for our church leaders for discernment.  We have come alongside a wife who was abused and helped her escape.  But we also knew a wife who was abusing her husband but claimed she was abused!!

    This family in our church was struggling, so we came around them, with other families coming alongside as well.  The wife was witnessed verbally and emotionally abusing the husband, demeaning him and polarizing the kids against him.  When friends & church leaders confronted her, she polarized the church by saying her husband was abusive and the church leadership was abusive.  The only people who believed her were those who had spent time with her, But Never Spent Time With the Family.  After being confronted she pulled the kids away from their friends who were in families who disagreed with her.  She then moved to another town without her husband and has kept the kids from their dad.  

    "Unholy Charade:Unmasking Domestic Abuse in the Church" is a helpful book.

  • islander
    Posted: Sat, 05/26/2018 06:44 am

    I went through a several-month period where my husband was emotionally abusive, and regularly threatened physical abuse. It was related to control- he had a ton of unforgiveness in his heart from years past, toward me and many other people in his life, and it had poisoned all his insides. But he knew how to be a good Christian on the OUTside, and he truly thought he was doing a good job. The pressure built when he couldn't keep a lid on the poison, because it was overflowing into his daily life, and threatening his Christian reputation. He turned this feeling of losing control outward onto something to blame outside of himself, and that happened to be me. I tell you this because he truly didn't know what was happening. God was dumping his insides out, and he had trained himself to believe that it all was everyone else's fault but his. He thought that if he could control me, he could control the mess, because I was the only one who really knew how deep the mess was. 

    I am writing this several years after God has brought my husband to deep repentance, taught me to trust Him in the dark, and restored our marriage after much work, mostly from my husband, because I built an emotional wall; I wanted to see it before I believed it. 

    Here are a few tips for husbands or wives, if you find yourself in a similar situation-

    Turn immediately to God, and stay there, stuck fast to Him. Ask Him to erase all of the hateful words. Ask Him to replace those words with His words about who you are. If you harbor those words, you will develop a distorted self-image, and you will be drinking the poison. Then that poison will be coming out of you.

    Be truly vulnerable to God alone. He alone is to be trusted with the tenderest parts of our hearts. I think of John 2, when Jesus said he would entrust himself to no man because he knew what was in a man. That doesn't mean you don't reach out with love and grace, but it is from a place of protection- the Lord's protection (and not SELF-protection, which can also distort responses, and add poison to an alreadly poisonous situation). 

    Ask for help, from those who love your husband and want the best for him and your marriage. This is tricky, because we can recieve some pretty terrible advice, even from folks in the above-mentioned category. But this also saved our marriage. He felt terribly threatened after I did this, and started to become more violent, but because I only told his mother, our pastor, our marriage counselor and a mutual Christian friend, his shame and humiliation was not long-lived and he eventually became truly humble and vulnerable- a brand new thing- without feeling condemned by strangers. 

    When you ask for help, check your motives, and check them again. Is your hope ultimately for healing and restoration, or for vengeance and retribution? People who are pulled into the situation will be able to tell the difference. They will not like it if they feel you are using them as a weapon to shame and punish your spouse.

    Seek safety. There was a point when I considered leaving him for a time, but I wanted to go where he wouldn't experience unrecoverable shame. This may not be an option for you, but it is something to consider. If you are truly in danger, go! even if it's just for the weekend, but may turn out longer. And let the Lord handle it from there- He may want to get your husband/wife to a place of deep brokenness and loss, where s/he can experience the unearned grace of God, maybe for the first time in his/her life.

    The marriages that survive abuse are the ones where there is DEEP, MUTUAL repentance and understand my words are coming from a place where my husband was already a believer, and was able to hear God's voice, which ultimately saved him, and our marriage. Clearly all marriages are unique, so take these words with a grain of salt!