Distressing but needed news has been multiplying as three situations have come to light around religious domestic and other abuse.
First, the SBC released their 205 page list of “credibly accused” leaders who had violated women’s souls, hearts and bodies along with any others who loved them, for the entire family and friends are affected when someone is violated by an authority in a position of trust.
Secondly, a soccer student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence was killed by her “godly believing” fiancé. Her mother had the insight and courage to explain to shocked residents: “He used her faith against her.” This underlies all religious abuse.
Lastly, many of us advocates felt strongly that Marylane Carter had been murdered, not a suicide as the law enforcement had ruled. When her uncle, who was associate pastor with her husband, committed suicide, it sent a message. He was the one who found her body when law enforcement did not.
Those of us who understand and advocate for victims of this perversion are sadly relieved that more is coming out. It is not shocking to those of us who are all too aware of men using the name of God to control, dominate and abuse women.
They are attracted to those churches which uphold male power and denigrate women as inferior.
But how did this become so widespread? Why is it being uncovered in so many faith organizations?
When a system represses a natural part of being human, like the sexual urge, the result is going to be perversion. When a system blames half the membership as creating the evil, as too many churches do, it creates a red flag. It is similar to saying “Don’t think of the elephant.” The forbidden is alluring, creating an unhealthy fascination with destructive behavior. A church that preaches incessantly about sin is not preaching the gospel of Jesus, which emphasizes human worth.
This approach removes the humanity of women and presents her only as an object. Her body is her total reality in these men’s eyes. If she is seen as a second class soul, she is going to be preyed upon.
In the case of the tragic loss of #Regan Gibbs, we see how so many women fall prey to predators in the church. Tragically Regan seemed so deeply steeped in her desire to serve God that she totally missed the irrationality of her fiance, a religious psychotic. Few realized that some mental illnesses feature religious grandiosity or other associations, such as believing one is a Messiah above normal people and exempt from accountability. Those who knew her praised her Christian devotion.
First of all, anyone speaking in the “code”, those formula words and phrases from the Bible or faith writings, is welcomed into the congregation without any questions. Critical awareness of behavior or other factors is abandoned in the fantasy that they are safe.
Secondly, obsession with Bible study, church attendance, or other religious activity is often encouraged to the point of compulsion. Other normal activities are shamed as being part of “the world”. Trying to monopolize members becomes imbalanced in a person’s development. The constant preoccupation with approved authors, Bible, faith writings, music etc can actually work against facing reality. The “wolves in sheep’s clothing” then operates.
In fact, #Barbara Roberts writes “The very qualities Christian women are encouraged to cultivate re the very qualities that are most attractive to abusive men.” (“Waking the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in Its Midst, https://cryingoutforjustice.blog).
That is why clarifying your faith concepts is so important. Without discerning and “rightly dividing the word of truth”, abstractions like “suffering” “sacrifice” “faith” “will of God” and others become clubs used to shame, guilt, intimidate and control believing women. They become used in verbally abusive ways as labeling, name-calling, accusations, and other condemning and judgemental ways.
Examples: “You’re faithless if you don’t..” “You’re selfish if you….” “Don’t lean to your own understanding…” “Be meek and humble of heart”. There are favorite verses of abusers that are consistently used by religious abusers.
Of course those enforcing these statements never apply it to their own lives.
The ideal of “carrying your cross” is one of these undifferentiated formulas. What is the cross made of? Does Christian living mean going out and seeking unnecessary suffering? Does it mean being a martyr or a doormat? If unquestioned or unexamined, these general ideas can remain accepted with harmful results. Unfortunately these are too common for many in the church.
There is enough suffering by being a part of the physical world. There is no need to seek out unnecessary suffering. To do so can become emotionally pathological. “Subduing the flesh” only increases concentration on it. Monks who flaggelate themselves or anyone who invents suffering thinking it is pleasing to God has not understood Jesus.
What was Jesus’ cross? Political power was afraid of him. Religious leaders were afraid of him. That was his cross. How many of us risk helping others see their freedom and dignity in God even if it upsets political and religious authorities? His cross involved being willing to die without retaliation, confident in the overcoming life of Spirit. There was no mournful position of taking on what you don’t want to and then wanting others to praise you or building resentment up when they don’t.
In contrast, misusing this idea involves guilting people to do what others want with no relevance to the accurate idea or application to their faith journey. Jesus healing was not a cross. His teaching others was not a cross. His loving children was not a cross. Ironically, others can encourage taking up a cross to please themselves when Jesus’ cross was part of not pleasing people. And he only did it once. He didn’t live that way every day,
Sexual abuse makes headlines but women in religious domestic abuse are not used to seeing their situation in these terms. They may assume their “wifely duty” omits any of their own desires or preferences. Many don’t see domestic abuse in the continuum of abuse in religious bodies.
Abusive ministers may not have a congregation. Their wives and children are their group. They suffer alone behind closed doors. If they are a part of a church, the church will not support the victim.
The movement is addressing porn addiction, but many wives do not even know their husbands are addicted or that this is abusive to them, since the mindset of porn is objectification of women. Some try to make women feel that they are at fault or deficient if their husbands use porn. Reject this accusation if it is put on you.
The Guidepost organization that has created the report and is handling ongoing deliberations about what needs to be done has a hotline at 202 864 5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com
If you know someone still struggling with faith confusion in religious domestic abuse, direct them to my self-help workbook that will clarify the ideas and tactics used to keep her confused and in bondage thinking it is God’s will and that she will go to hell if she doesn’t stay in the relationship. Redemption from Biblical Battering on Amazon and Kindle.
“It’s hard to fight an enemy with outposts in your head.” -Sally Compton
Although fears of leaving are complex, one thing is sure: no woman has to do it alone. Many have gone before her and are reaching out their hands to her.
I know. I am one of them. And now there are more than ever.
Join the private support group Susannas Sisters on Facebook by contacting me here or at @RedemptionfromBB on Twitter or FB.\
Other resources are found at
@SbcSpeak on Twitter for SBC Survivors Speak
For Such a Time As This Rally @SBCForSuchATime
I am involved with DeeAnn Miller in creating a Survivor Retreat for Fall 2022. @writer_dee on Twitter for more information.
Gretchen Baskerville. The Life-Saving Divorce. On FB
Ashley Easter “Courage 365” on FB