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A Fearful Faith

 Easter approaches to celebrate new life shown in Nature’s spring and thoughts of victory over death.

Where is that victory for those living in religious domestic abuse?

Why would some churches, preaching the belief of life over death, support abusers over victims?

The soul attacks levied against women and men who stay in religious domestic abuse belie the words preached on Easter morning.

The life force in Nature seems stronger than words preached on Easter morning

That’s because, too often, the faith that is promoted is based on fear.

Some organized religion has chosen the side of a static, not a dynamic faith, because of its power to control.

A dynamic faith emphasizes abundant life from the Spirit within. Believers are encouraged to seek their fullest development as pleasing to God. Confidence that God is love, love prevails, is the reason for life. The good is the basis for human relationships. Human dignity works with God to uplift everyone.

A static faith leaves the believer a beggar, relying on power outside of them. A belief that their worth comes from salvation rather than the power of God within. It emphasizes fear and suffering rather than victory. God may or may not answer pleas and the believer never knows just what God’s will means. Even if they do, they have no power to live it.

Nature shows us that there is no life without a Power outside and inside ourselves to keep  us alive. Christ revealed the identity of that Power that dwells within at all times, just as the life force is working in the earth even when we don’t see it.

When churches rob women of faith from claiming their inheritance from the resurrection, they are promoting a fearful faith.

Women are not second-class souls. The power of the resurrection belongs to them as to all believers.

How can you help a fearful believer refuse to be subject to the bondage of religious abuse and claim God-given freedom?

How can you help a religious body claim spiritual equality for victims?

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The Church on the Power and Control Wheel

Most people familiar with the abuse cycle, known as the Power and Control Wheel, realize how important it has been in helping define the toxic tactics of coercive control.

In the early days of identifying domestic abuse, others involved in advocacy had mistakenly thought it was one-dimensional: violent. The Power and Control Wheel, developed out of work with women in shelters, described the wider dimensions of tactics used in abuse or coercive control.

The Wheel was first devised during the 1980s in Duluth, Minnesota by Dr Eilen Pence Since then, it is a key tool for understanding domestic abuse. Victims said it was the first thing that made sense to them, that described what they were going through.

But some churches are saying 40 years later that they are not aware of the problem, even though 1 in 4 members are affected. Or they are saying they don’t know what to do. Or worse, they say it’s none of their business.

So how did some churches become abusive?

Because of publicity and financial pressures, churches are examining practices that contribute or excuse abuse within its leadership or members. Recently the Southern Baptist Convention came to terms with its collusion with abusers after 20 years of victim testimonies, seminary presidents objections and loss of church revenues. The Catholic Church’s story is widely known. But these two groups are by no means the only religious organizations in which abusers are found.

Because the pastor depends on the good reputation of the church, the church image and financial support are the primary concerns. Damage control measures are used:  turning a blind eye and blaming the sufferer preserve their image and group identity.  Group dynamics find ways to remove threats. Social status yields the money and power that feed collusion with church abusers.

Faith cliches are used to avoid accountability or hide offenses. They collude with the predator and blame the abused, primarily because the majority of abusers are men and victims are women  Churches have put upholding male power over helping the hurting, and all that that stance requires. 

Church policies and practices can enforce HALF (4 of 8) of the tactics in the Power and Control Wheel of coercive control.

  1. Minimization, Denial and Blaming*

A victim coming for help to a church leader or member will encounter Denial.  Statements like “Are you sure you’re not overexaggerating?” indicates  they don’t trust the victim. Or the leader might say the husband is “under the devil’s influence”. So it’s the devil, not the abuser. ( Partner is then responsible to pray him out of it, so if that doesn’t work, church will go on to blaming victim.)

Minimization is communicated in statements such as: “He’s under a lot of stress at work.” “He’s had a hard day.” “But look at all the good he does.” “Every marriage has its ups and downs.” “Oh I can’t ever see him doing that kind of thing.”

Blaming is tried the most: “Have you given him enough sex?” “Are you submitting?” “Just pray more.” “Just have faith.” “Your love can save him.” “But he’s such a good father.” “Do you want the kids to not have a father?”
What did you do to provoke him?” “Renew your mind” (Don’t think about what is happening to you.) “Be ye angry and sin not.” (It must be your fault if you are mistreated.)

2 Isolation

Churches members can unofficially shun the victim or actually tell them to leave if they will not “repent” of “gossip” about their partners. If they don’t “forgive” they are accused of being “bitter” “hard hearted” or worse”.

 “The church is made up of sinners” means the victim is wrong to expect them to be helpful. “No church is perfect” means don’t ask them to correct their harmful practices.. “You can’t trust your feelings.” means trust what we say instead. “God is all you need.” means don’t ask us to practice what we preach. “You don’t have enough faith.” is a way of saying  “look to God, not us.” In other words, you are on your own.

3. Emotional Abuse

While the previous tactics are emotionally harmful, there are others as well, like name calling (“Jezebel” “Whore of Babylon”), labeling (feminist, lesbian, disobedient, rebellious), and demeaning jokes about women as silly, weak, or nonsensical. (“Well, you know how women are. What can you expect?”)

Additionally, short of kicking someone out of the church, ignoring can also be used. Invitations can be withheld, phone calls not answered, or removal from email lists without any explanation. Corruption is very harmful. In corruption the victim is warned not to tell anyone, not to “air dirty laundry”, think of the church’s image, and similar threats. Exploitation involves shaming the victim if they don’t cooperate, expressing expectations that they should not hold the abuser responsible, or guilting them for being a victim.

 4. Male Privilege

Coercive male power has been elevated to doctrine in too many churches. Coercive teachings about biblical manhood and womanhood emphasize submission of wives to husbands as their Lord.  Too many do not allow divorce.

One woman told me she would rather suffer hell here by being abused than

forever be in hell because of divorce.

The doctrine of complementarianism steps around equality by teaching the idea of “offices”: that is, partners are equal but are “ordained” to do different things. The effect is inequality, because gender is the standard for offices.

For a time “Christian discipline” was taught, in which a husband could whip his wife to correct her.

Members in destructive relationships find little if any support from pastors or members. They may have contributed funds and volunteered faithfully for years but find the wall against them is solid. It is a one-way relationship: as long as they are helping the church and adhering to the code of acceptable womanhood, they can belong. But if they assert any needs that conflict with church image (male power), they find themselves alone. This is very painful for a woman of faith and further jeopardizes her ability to escape harm.

This is why women are leaving the church. There is no support for them there. It is too painful to remain. They are finding more of Christ’s love and acceptance outside the church.

Church women can help the church get off the wheel and bring them back.

*Dee Ann Miller has invented the term “DIM” thinking as operating in church collusion in abuse. DIM stands for “Denial, Ignorance and Minimization.” DIM allows money and upholding men in power to operate above concern for victims.

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The Evidentiary Abuse Affadavit

Few victims in abusive situations think there is much they can do to defend themselves while in the situation.

But there is!

Born out of the Stacy Peterson case, the E.A.A. was created to insure that the victim’s words about her fears and previous violence will not disappear if she does.

For the victim it is simply documenting their history and experiences in a notarized document. The addition of any type of documentation such as police/hospital reports, photos, letters, emails that help substantiate their stories and DNA samples if possible is always helpful. Having this type of Affidavit would eliminate the hearsay argument that was such a hurdle in the Kathleen Savio case. Making multiple copies will ensure that this information will find it’s way to law enforcement in the event anything should happen to the victim and they cannot testify on their own behalf.

The Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit (E.A.A.) is the mastermind process of violence expert Susan Murphy Milano that combines video taping (of the victims actual words attesting to the abuse) coupled with creative witnessed and notarized legal documents that successfully satisfy legal hurdles often faced in these cases. A unique packaging of testimony, documentation, perpetrator historical profiling, and pre-collected evidence delivered to established safe and legal persons, wrap this delicate issue up for successful prosecution.

See #documenttheabuse.org for more on how to generate this court-worthy evidence.

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A Veteran Survivor and Advocate for Victims of Church Sexual Abuse Reflects on the recent Victory over Collusion within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Many sufferers of religious domestic abuse (RDA) feel they are the only ones going through the trauma, isolated in their homes.

That is because, of those who did reach out to their church leaders, most found no support but blame, guilt, and judgement.

Church leaders, if they are not the perpetrators, have little if any experience understanding religious abuse.

Compound that with teachings that blame the abused and uphold the abuser, and a woman or man will not find the solace and comfort they need by confiding in their faith leader.

It may help religious domestic abuse victims to know that survivors of church sexual abuse (CSA) have been fighting since the 1980s to bring perpetrators to justice and remove them from church leadership.

This decades-long action finally bore fruit when the SBC reversed its decision on October 12 and will allow predators to come to justice.

Dee Ann Miller is one of if not the earliest survivor advocate in this fight. While domestic abuse partners are often sexually abused, many do not understand how these two forms of religious abuse are related. But Miller understands how collusion in the church re-traumatizes everyone. I recently had a conversation with Dee Ann and want my readers to hear her vast background, experience and wisdom.  I hope it gives courage to anyone still fighting alone in her or his home, feeling abandoned by their church.

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Suzanna J’s Story, Winner of the 2021 Redemption from Biblical Battering Thriver Grant

“Dear ladies, any one of you, in any stage of confusion, conflicted beliefs, inundated with shame, feeling you’re between a rock and a hard place, angry, afraid, guilting yourself out of inability to forgive, memory loss issues, losing touch with what’s really going on and what’s being told you is going on… being afraid or ashamed to reach out, feeling you will not be understood or believed,  for those who are afraid your theology expressly forbids divorce and that the covenant of marriage is unbreakable, short of death, infidelity  ( extra- marital affair) or abandonment, here is my story. I hope it will be of some benefit to you..

 I and many others were marinated in the theology that if you do leave, there is no recompense. You are not permitted to remarry unless widowed.

 The beliefs I bought into and held fast in the circles I was exposed to and fellowshipped with at the time, had no answers except what wasn’t working:  submit, forgive, love, pray and trust. I was passionately in love with Jesus. I was the type of woman who didn’t see much gray area in my faith walk. I easily believed and bought into this belief system. I wanted to be “ NO COMPROMISE” for Christ and willing to suffer for His cause.

 I didn’t realize my abuser was privy to my zeal early on… and used it.  Free of accountability, he had an easy path,  living a covertly abusive lifestyle of chemicals and porn,  betrayal, deception, constant lying and purposefully saying and doing things to make me unable to trust my reality.  He lived a high life while I deteriorated .  I wanted to be a good Christian wife. Even at his workplace,  I covered his actions, his lies, with his employer. I took the blame  to enable him to keep his job and his reputation.

I did this for him, our daughter, myself, and to try to reflect a Godly marriage to others.  As years passed,  my astute 12 yr old, who I homeschooled , had observed our interactions. She was the first one to intimate to me that there was something wrong, and he was not treating me, or her.  as a believer and man of God he claimed to be. I began to notice these things. After a time, our good pastor. having only seeing a small sample of my husband’s behavior,  admonished him that he was dealing with me treacherously.

As most of us do, I tried and tried, knowing his issues, and hearing him cry to me so often that no one ever stuck by him once they got to know him, and that I was his only friend in the world, and that he wanted to change but was unable to do it on his own. I stayed, read, studied, prayed, talked, prayed, loved, explained, sought help, prayed, fixed things, talked, listened, prayed, read some more, researched some more, prayed more, sought different resources  for both of us.  Was it me ? Strongholds? Fear?   His issues, which would take a book to explain and expound upon? Or the old favorite: The Devil.

I was deteriorating mentally, spiritually and physically until I was an utter wreck. I came to realize, finally, that the things I was holding to were fallacies.  Good marriages  were reciprocal, the man ministering in knowledge and understanding, to his wife, treating her as his equal, his love and friend, co- heir in raising up a family for the Lord and to the inherited riches of Christ as a faithful couple. What I had was a twisted, convoluted version of a marriage, and the abuses were so covert and slowly  built over timeout that I didn’t see them very well. 

When I did think I saw things, they were undermined by his lies and spin on things, leaving me more foggy, confused and less trusting of my own thinking and ability to get out and make a way for myself and my daughter in the world.

 I was a shell of who I had once been and  totally lost, yet I ran. I believed leaving, being away from the toxicity, my mind would clear, my strength in the Lord would return, and my faith would be strong again.  I would be ok!

But getting out was only a first step. The effects of the victimization were still influencing me to feel needy or unworthy.   I had been treated with contempt when I spoke up. My passive ex had been happy to play the part of a victimized, silent, overwhelmed husband. Church counselors saw me as a troublesome, ungrateful and unsubmissive wife. My husband did not stand up for me.

 I stood by this man with his best interest at heart. As many spouses of faith, I hoped  he could be reached, we’d all be ok, in God’s will and that it just took time and perseverance. I had swallowed the assumption that marriages were a test. Until I succeeded and was able to love and complete him into joining in and trusting the healing process, I’d not have succeeded or have been good enough a wife, or Christian sister or friend to him. And I would have failed in being a good mother to my daughter where her dad was concerned, or where any of us were concerned, for that matter. It was as if, he was broken and I alone held the secret, for our reputations as believers and for my daughter to not feel less than in front of Christian friends if her father were portrayed as a loser.

 I didn’t know what course to take for so long. After leaving, I carried the shame of putting my daughter and me through so much toxicity.  I marinated her in a false representation of a God- ordained or God -blessed union.

The worst was discovering, at the end of our marriage, he knew he had deliberately gaslit me- clipped my wings, cut me down, ridiculed my ideas – all  because he could not function and would not let me rise either. He was afraid I’d be successful, grow and wise up, then leave. Like many, I was isolated at home or surrounded by other believers who he knew. They upheld corrosive beliefs that women should stay and take abuse, pray and trust it will get better, even to the point of losing their minds, losing touch with their faith or the health of their very souls, as well as their physical bodies. When I came to the end of myself, I could not find much validation for my plan to leave to save my life. 

It was out of desperation and self- preservation that I left. I had been led to believe my will to survive was not faithful.  I ran, believing I would be fine, once gone.  I was working. I came back to my hometown. It was a bad choice because I was victim- shamed by my original abusers, my father and stepmother, and soon began faltering: splintered, in pain, afraid and feeling less than human. I fell apart. In this state, I ran to a friend for solace. I was already weak and emotionally shut down. I could not function, think , work. Guided by past teaching,  I married my friend so I would not live in sin,  have a roof over my head, and help. I needed emotional and physical support to continue my career goal of  portrait photography.

I learned later I was having severe CPTSD symptoms. When my friend showed the slightest kindness, I folded. Other than a few kindnesses from my paternal grandparents, I had not known what it was like to be treated with care and affirmation or the milk of kindness. The needy toddler inside had learned to settle, losing her grip on reality around trust, honesty or fidelity.  My new husband was not one to understand the need for fidelity. He seemed clueless around relationships, or how to make amends or when they may be called for . Mutual respect and communication were outside his skills.  My frustration and anger grew and my new husband lashed out violently as a habitual reaction to any situation. I had run from a frying pan into a fire.

We did not last long. But I had nowhere to go or money of my own, so we remained cordial by living separately, as I learned, and grew, in knowledge and understanding of what God truly thinks of such marriages. I saw the blatant, even if covert, abuses toward his precious daughters, and what fidelity, unity, walking together looks like. This was the work I hadn’t done before.  It can’t work if one-sided. Each one must lookout for one another, in truth, before the Lord with communication, healthy compromise, commitment, consistency, confession and amends, tenderness, trust, love and laughter together…peace. Caring for one another’s hearts, all the things I had only a counterfeit of. All the things I tried to give, but learned the other has to desire the same, accept your gifts, appreciate your contributions, not exploit them and your tenderness of heart and your vulnerability, using what you trusted of your inner self, your hearts secrets, against you.

I began to see a different picture of God. I sought out others who had much the same experiences and began to heal. However I was healing from my present relationship, the one I had run to, the one that was more covertly damaging, but also dealing with my mind fog, my shame and confusion, trying to grasp my reality , sort out truth and rebuild my relationship to this Jesus who loved me more than a mere, mortal and abusive man. He cares for my soul and my relationship with Him so I began to let my soul be reprogrammed.

However  I still wasn’t able to grasp the trauma of the 20 years with my ex who was my first love and the father of  my beautiful daughter, who we still shared.  I had begun marriage with the dream: with trust and hopes of all the things I believed were a part of a loving Christian marriage.

 I still believe the same, but my ex-husband could not share in that. He could not give what he never truly had. All the devotion and desire for him to change would not change him, if he could not face his need or what it would take for him to face in order to desire change. This I realized, finally, more fully than just intellectually. And that change came as my head and my heart connected concerning those twenty years. I began to read the workbook I had found after reaching out for help from the author. For me, it had more depth. I need hard facts. It’s how I am, and I need explanations, clear and solid, no nonsense unadulterated truths, no matter how hard. It was God’s timing that I read Shirley’s book. It had more straightforward facts and not conjecture. It had more citations with it as well as a clearer explanation of the things that had gone on in my marriage. It helped me see the reality and the depth of damage caused me and my faith and the way the faith community had re-traumatized and re-victimized me and thereby, my daughter as well. I had looked to them, seeking validation and answers that were never forthcoming.

I began to be able to wrap my head and heart around the ways their non- help had caused me to doubt my own thinking and stay in the torment for way too long, until it was almost too late. Sometimes we need to hear a fresh voice that speaks to us, in our individual ways of comprehension and at the right time to really hear. For me, it was a journey that came full circle and landed at the point of more fully understanding, allowing me to work on my issues, with clarity and not hide from them.

I can only now seek to continue to heal and be a gentle example, empathize, speak truthfully and keep boundaries as the Lord leads from here on. Hopefully I can walk in peace and communion with Him and others in a more balanced life of love, caring and truth with a real centering that I had only postured, believing it was genuine because I so badly wanted it to be.

Now, I sojourn through my remaining years.  I embrace my journey through continued healing and being used in the lives of others, seeking to learn how to love others and loving my Lord. I have a genuine purpose beyond what I ever thought I had, not based on fixing another and wishful thinking and desperate pleas and inability to grasp reality.  I see more and more clearly every day and I am thankful, at peace and can pray and praise my Lord freely, finally.  I am assured in my heart and steady in my belief that the best is yet to come!”

Am I to Blame for Being Abused?

Many victims ask themselves why they were attracted to their partners if it weren’t God’s will.

They firmly believed that this marriage was ordained and took their vows seriously, completely intending to stay married for life.

Yet they find themselves in a relationship in which they are relentlessly punished for trying to make it work.

Their best intentions are ridiculed.

Their kindnesses receive cruelty.

Their obedience receives pain and disrespect.

They ask themselves if there was something wrong with them that they were chosen to suffer like this.

They ask themselves if somehow they were foolish, naïve or not hearing God’s voice clearly.  Are they being punished for some wrong they did?

This self-blame and searching for answers serve the abuser. S/he can keep heaping blame, guilt and intimidation to control the victim.

While the victim is in the spin cycle of confusion and self-doubt, crying out in anguish for answers, the abuser can do what s/he wants with no responsibility.

The abuser is not interested in a relationship. S/he is only interested in controlling someone for their own benefit.

Abuser-narcissist-predator-manipulator: it doesn’t matter what the label is. It doesn’t matter why s/he acts this way.

What matters is how you can find your way out of  pain and regain safety, sanity and  serenity, which is your birthright as God decreed through Christ.

Here are some of the orientations that an abuser looks for in a potential victim.

Unfortunately some church doctrines teach these as desirable, primarily for women. If women try to comply but are mistreated, too many churches do abandon them to those who mistreat them.

  1. Self-sacrifice.  With no- limit giving as a standard, a good person is plagued by guilt or resentment. The abuser preys on this as long as possible.

Corollaries of this misconception are beliefs in subjugation (one partner should submit to another) or perfection (endless effort to prove worth).

  • Fear of rejection/abandonment. Without examining past wounds, a woman or man may believe that they are somehow unworthy or defective .

Shame tells a person they are a mistake rather than someone who just makes mistakes. People with this feeling put no limits on being mistreated. They believe it is not acceptable to have needs.

They may have been taught to keep their feelings to themselves or never ask for what they need.

They may have been taught to not “get in the way” or “always put others first.”

 If this has been a past experience, the relationship with the abuser may feel familiar or a repeat of the past. This is always how it has been or how it always will be.

The victim has learned how to put up with it but not to fight it. People-pleasing becomes a mandate rather than a choice.

Even worse, some legalistic churches choose to emphasize how sinful people are. They have no goodness except in Christ. Sermons constantly emphasize how we all fall short, are displeasing to God, etc. instead of the full life Christ’s resurrection gives the believer.

I do not want to perpetuate the stereotype that all victims think they deserve it. But after prolonged demoralization, a person would succumb to these feelings.

I knew I did not deserve it, but for too long I couldn’t figure out how to cope with it or get out. I kept trying to “fix it”, which is futile. The old cliché would appear that helped others feel better and excused them from trying to help: “Well, she must be ok with it or she would leave.”

  • Women’s conditioning to find worth from partners. In the past, women had to depend on men for social status, finances, and other necessities.

This is still true to some extent. But even if a woman is financially independent, she is still held to the standard of status through a man.

Churches who uphold male power discourage her from seeking freedom from abuse. Family and friends, even well-intentioned,  might also because they do not understand the realities of her situation. But God did not ordain men to be superior just because they are men. Believing so is idolatry.

People who seek out those with these past wounds can also have similar experiences in the past but they have decided or been conditioned to take the opposite approach to the experiences.

They develop grandiosity or entitlement. They may have vowed never to be misused again and so demand others do whatever they want.

They do not accept limits to their behaviors.

The bottom line is they do not value relationship. They value a person to use.

Their partners cannot help them because they do not respect their partners.

It is up to the victims, then, to take steps to secure their own safety, sanity and serenity.

Their partner is not going to.

But we are here to support anyone seeking to live free of abuse. Contact me through the form on this site, FB, Twitter, or LinkedIn to access a support network.

Are Church Women Afraid To Help Members in Domestic Abuse?

Recently the inability of too many church leaders to respond to the 1 in 4 church women in destructive relationships has been revealed.

Women are leaving the church because they find no support for them when they are in dire need.

Those who do seek help find an amazing and ridiculous array of excuses not to help them.

Recently one woman in a dangerous marriage was at her extremity. She told her pastor she was losing her sanity. His response was, ”Maybe it’s God’s will for you not to be sane.”

Instead we know the Bible verse: “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound  mind.” KJV, 2 Timothy 1:7.

So we see it really doesn’t matter what the Bible says. Verses will be commanded or ignored based on the primary goal: keeping a woman under the control of a man, sometimes by force but certainly with church collusion.

A man’s inability to understand a woman’s plight might not be a new issue. But I want to know why so many church women are part of this collusion. They seem to fear supporting a church sister in distress. The Women’s Aid Society doesn’t touch her with a 10-foot pole. No bake sales will be held to help her escape.

When I was married to an abusive pastor, the silent shunning of the other church women was deafening. Gone were the concern for missions, the foundational teachings to have compassion, to free the oppressed, to do to the least of these as to Christ. And 25 years of service exerted no leverage.

Instead it seems more worldly fears were in charge. Would the distressed woman become a single woman who might come after my husband? Do church women have more faith in upholding men’s power than in Christ’s doctrine of dignity?  Is social status from being married the priority and the abused spouse the enemy?

Or is it the acceptance of the toxic doctrine that any trouble is always the woman’s fault? And the subsequent duty to keep quiet and be as unobtrusive as possible? Fear of guilt by association?

I want to know and understand. Because I found some women of faith outside my church who helped me. That’s why I know there are two kinds of church women: those afraid to speak up and those who helped. Those who helped had marriages of partnership, not patriarchy.

Does the way church women respond to women being abused reflect their own married relationships and beliefs about their worth?  

The first church woman who helped me took us into her home. She didn’t ask her husband if we could stay that night. In fact she took us in twice. She didn’t ask then either. Their partnership included an agreement to help others who came to them.

Another church woman helped by watching my children without charge. She did not get any backlash from her husband. Doing what you can when you can was part of their understanding of following Christ’s example.

If a home is destroyed by fire, the church may help. If there is a death in the family, the church may help. Does a need have to be “socially acceptable” for the church to be involved? Jesus didn’t think so.

A church leader told me that contributing to the women’s shelter is enough. That they shouldn’t get involved. But when the Bible and faith concepts are misused to abuse in the home, that is the church’s responsibility. They do need to send a strong message that this is not what Jesus taught. Because the idea that women must submit to husbands no matter what is quoted even among non-Christian abusers. The church influences and undergirds culture.

 Helpful women of faith understand that the spouse at this level of violation is not part of marital relationships. It does not occur because there is a simple misunderstanding that responds to marital counseling.

When this level of abuse occurs – sustained verbal and emotional abuse, mental pressure or coercion, even without physical violence, these church women understand the behavior is occurring within a marriage but is not part of a marriage. The marriage does not cause it; it is the setting. One member is using the marriage as an arena to control the other for power through guilt, shame, intimidation and fear. The legal or religious status of a marriage works against a victim escaping.

This behavior occurs in other settings. But in no case is it “caused” by the other person. The misuse of Scriptures and faith by an abuser is deliberate. The church may be  upholding abusers by promoting unequal relationships.

When that happens, more prayer, Bible study, pastoral counseling, exhortations to forgive, turn the other cheek or other platitudes are inappropriate and re-traumatizing.

The question will be why she stays, not what can we do to help her.

Currently it seems more denominational and independent agencies are active in advocacy and education for church leaders. Faith Trust Institute has been training church leaders and members since 1976. Still so many do not know this organization.

Churches have known about domestic abuse for over 30 years. They have ignored the consistent evidence that 1 in 4 members are abused. Or when brought to their attention, groups like the Southern Baptist Convention have used the committee-study-recommend-ignore pattern of dealing with it. Or if a church leader is the abuser, move them to another church.

The primary barrier to addressing Christians in abusive relationships is the church climate itself. Since women do the majority of the functional work in the church, I am calling on them to lead in the transformation of this church culture. Judgmental and condemning approaches to suffering spouses must be removed.

The assumption that an abused spouse is to blame, that it is a matter of sin that can be overcome by the usual remedies of church, and that the victim is somehow “less than the kind of people who belong to our church” must be overcome. Ministry to suffering members may be the gift that brings the church back to its original purpose: manifesting God’s love. The Good Samaritan bound the wounded man’s hurts, paid for his care, and restored his dignity. He did not tell him he had to repent, try harder, pray more, attend Bible study, tithe, forgive or live with and give his attacker more sex.

Imagine this story if the victim by the side of the road had been a woman. She would have immediately been assumed to be a prostitute, deserving of the abuse, and unclean for anyone to help. Apparently, we have not grown beyond this view in the church today.

Where fearful church women should show compassion, they are instead colluding: heaping scorn, disdain and judgment for those suffering from a partner’s cruelty.

Whether church women are fearful to assist their suffering sisters because of their own relationships, the desire for social status, or a reluctance to displease the leadership, the result is the same. They blame the victim and pander to the abuser.

If it’s faith, it’s faith in fear. Women of faith can do better.