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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!”

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.

The Courage to Change: The Serenity Prayer and Religious Domestic Abuse

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer . found in his diary in 1932, became  a mainstay of  distressed people. It’s threefold formula brought peace for many:

          God, grant me the serenity

          To accept the things I cannot change

          Change the things I can,

          And wisdom to know the difference.

Advocate for those sexually abused by clergy, Dee Ann Miller, believes the wisdom should come first. Whatever the order, the interplay of the three factors have sorted out many a dilemma for those feeling hopeless and powerless.

I did not know the Serenity Prayer while struggling with the religious domestic abuse in  my marriage to a Baptist minister. But I knew many prayers that I cried day and night to God seeking to understand and end the torment of the relationship.

Nothing in my long years of Christian practice prepared me to deal with the manipulation of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. None of the rules seemed to apply but I steadfastly continued to try to operate with what I had been taught was true.

What the Serenity Prayer helps a  distressed person see is that we have it reversed. We are trying to change the things we can’t and accept the things we shouldn’t and could change.

We cry out to God to do what we could and try to do what only God can.

Here is where we need wisdom.

What are some examples from my own and others’ experience?

Trying to Change the Things I Can’t

The abuser is doing exactly as s/he pleases. S/he just doesn’t want to be  held responsible for it. S/he would rather make the partner responsible. A Bible verse identifies who accuses us night and day before God. 

It is not someone we are supposed to be married to.  Undergoing mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical torment from our partner is not included in our vows.

“In sickness and in health” assumes these are conditions that come upon us unbidden from the outside, not deliberately created by our spouse.

Only the person and the Holy Spirit can effect meaningful and lasting change.

It is a toxic form of pride for someone to encourage a misused spouse to think s/he can be responsible for “saving” someone. In the Christian faith, believers are asked to present the possibility of salvation to others and then rely on God to do the work.

 It is never up to another person. The faith presents Christ as the savior. And no where is a spouse asked to suffer abuse as an evangelistic practice.

Believers may pray for others but do not have to live with them. I had to face another spiritual danger:  I could not live without resentment while being under constant attack.

Some in the church may take the side of the abuser and put the burden of forgiveness on the one abused. Quoting verses like “forgiving 70 x7” only serve to further the demoralization of the mistreated.

Forgiveness is part of the healing work done much later after the abused  is no longer being victimized. It cannot occur while in the situation.

Those who lay this additional burden on the abused are primarily interested either in upholding the abuser’s power or avoiding taking responsibility for being loving as Jesus demonstrated.

There is no Biblical instruction to live with an abuser as a part of spiritual development.

I finally concluded that part of trying to accept what I should not was maintaining a loving heart while being continually degraded. The spiritual horror of this reality is that the victim in made to feel guilty for being victimized.

Trying to Accept The Things I Don’t Have To

My part of the dilemma in religious domestic abuse was a lack of courage to be honest about my thoughts and feelings.

The abuser gradually whittles away any self-esteem the victim may have had, gradually condemning the qualities s/he used to praise. When a partner expresses disagreement and contrary wishes, the abuser gradually escalates the cost.

At first it may be withdrawal of affection, then screaming, then slamming doors or leaving. The intimidation tactics are well-known and all have the same goal: remove any resistance to being controlled.

I hated conflict.  But wanting to be a peacemaker is not the same as accepting unacceptable behavior. I didn’t know about boundaries in relationship.

My early religious training presented an ideal of absolute service. My needs were not important. This is a flawed approach to relationships and one reason abusers look for victims in churches.

Women especially are taught that total selflessness is the ideal. Exploited obedience is a child’s game.

The teaching that demands obedience from one adult to another, which is the man-made doctrine of submission, relegates the women or man to a child status in the relationship. Interestingly enough, husbands are rarely given this same advice. Rather, when they fault their wives for problems in the marriage, they often find a sympathetic ear.

There is no other description of this unequal and disrespectful pattern except bondage. And it is not God’s will.

When I changed my prayer from one of pleading for rescue to asking God for help and guidance to get out, my prayers began to be answered. No, it wasn’t easy.

 But support began to show up and by moving forward in faith in God’s love and supply, I and my children were able to refuse the idolatrous lie that we should serve an abuser. I asked for the courage, the wisdom and the acceptance and it came.

Easter: Now or When?

“Christ didn’t die for me to live like this!”

The realization came upon me one day as I was struggling with domestic abuse from a minister I had married.

As a young woman, I maintained a conviction that the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lived in me and my essential spirit was eternal.

That was the spirit that kept fighting the abuse. The faith in love and goodness overcoming kept me fighting. But I didn’t understand that reasoning could not overcome insanity.

A man who beats his pregnant wife is insane.

A man who tries to poison her drinking water is insane.

A man who justifies mistresses with the story of David has broken his vow.

A man who enforces prayer each morning and hatred each night is using coercive control.

And it took me years to understand that trying to make a relationship work with such a man was something only God could do. I could not..

A few years before this, I heard a woman say, “If you pray to be crucified with Jesus, you will be.”

The doctrine of imitating Christ by seeking out unnecessary suffering is not God’s will.

The doctrine that we must be locked into an abusive relationship because of a vow is an invention of men using God’s name.

Man-made doctrine is toxic. It is built to control women for the ego of men.

Abuse in the name of God is still abuse.

And so, when will your Easter come?

Is your faith static or dynamic? Does it exalt suffering or the abundant life in the gospel?

The Christ spirit of life was demonstrated by Jesus.

The Christ spirit within raised Jesus. It didn’t leave him in the tomb.

It doesn’t leave you there either.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you it does.

The Abuser’s Best Kept Secret

If you or someone you know is living with an abuser, he or she is overwhelmed.

Even if no force is involved, confusion and  isolation combine to reinforce fear.

High levels of fear immobilize. And that is what the abuser wants. At least on the surface. But we have to go deeper if we are to begin to see a path out.

Reactions to Fear

Standard ways of dealing with fear are fight, flight, freeze and fawn. You may have tried all of these without relief.

An abuser may intimidate through threats of violence, removing fight as an effective response. It is not wise to physically confront someone stronger than you.

He (or she) will block avenues of escape, so flight is not an option.  Isolation is a tool for this.

Confusion often shows up as freezing.  The goal is to remove the ability to process what is happening. The abuser will always be right, always criticize the target’s thinking and feeling.You can’t do anything right, according to the abuser.

Gaslighting makes those targeted feel they can’t trust themselves and keeps them bewildered, immobilized.

Finally the victim is reduced to fawning, using flattery and self-betrayal to ward off attacks. Each time they betray themselves to survive, they lose another piece of the self-respect they need to fight. And so each one of the responses to fear are shut down. Eventually blocking self-protection creates physical illnesses on top of emotional and mental depletion.

So what is left?

Discover His Secret

What doesn’t he want you to know?

The abuser is a parasite. You are the host. The abuser is a bully. You have what s/he wants.The abuser is a liar. You must begin to counter the lies in your mind.

And in the case of a religious abuser, you have to disregard any appeal to God or religious texts used to keep you in bondage.

He is a hypocrite, using God’s name only to control you because he knows your faith is important to you. Like all wisdom literature, the Bible has abstract  ideas which are open to interpretation.

While you can find many comforting and strengthening verses, the aim of an abuser is to turn verses he emphasizes to gaslight you. He wants to escape responsibility and leave you believing that escape will send you to hell forever.

Church leaders who put the church’s image ahead of your survival might shield the abuser.

Find Your Ace

What can you do when you feel surrounded? 

You can counter this wrongful use of your faith by educating yourself on religious domestic abuse, removing some of the confusion. This removes some of the fear. You can then seek support, removing some freezing isolation.

You can stop some fawning with verbal self-defense. You can then consider flight. Whatever you do, though, you can’t help him because he does not respect you.

How do I know this about abusers? Because I learned it and successfully used it to escape religious domestic abuse.

 Understanding I had power turned the tables on my fear and gave me an Ace to play.

An abuser needs a victim

You see, in all history, the oppressor depends on the oppressed. An abuser needs a victim. People who want to misuse others depend on the other person’s desire not to be like them. They know idealistic people don’t want to retaliate. They want to forgive or be the “bigger person” in the relationship.Some man-made doctrines want to keep women controlled. They may even teach women to accept abuse as a path of salvation or being Christ-like.

If the oppressed can identify what the oppressor needs the most, you will discover what your leverage is. And you will start to feel stronger and glimpse a way to get free.

That’s why abusers are masters of image manipulation. They don’t want anyone to see the reality of who they are.

In my case, I realized the years of ministry, prayer and Bible study were a smokescreen for what my husband wanted: control of my money.Most abusers want control, sex , money or all three. My husband of course married me to have the first two, but the one he wanted the most was money.

What is the consistent demand that your abuser makes? What is at the root of all the other demands? What is he afraid of?

He intimidates you to keep you from realizing his dependence on you. In fact he is afraid of that dependence.For example, while it may seem unbelievable, I was actually glad when my husband found a mistress.

That was because she had money. Earlier in the marriage, I would have felt to blame if he had sought out another woman. But now I was so ready to leave that,  instead of moaning and pleading for him to stay, I realized she could distract him while I made plans to escape.

If the abuser can be provided a way to save face, look like the winner, and discover another supplier, escaping is easier.

Stop believing him. It’s a game to him, and like all games, your opponent’s moves are more important than what he says. Actions speak louder than words.

Some games and counters are explained in the Redemption from Biblical Battering workbook or other advocacy resources. Advocates also understand the game. They can help you discover more cards to play.

But for now, your task is to identify your Ace.

He isn’t the strong one.

You are for being able to operate under a vicious and prolonged captivity.

Tred carefully but know you have more cards to play than you thought.

The Key to Your Door

The Key to Your Door.

Those of us who were in a destructive relationship know the strength it takes to cope with those who don’t understand. We often would hear, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

Often those who say this won’t help. They don’t understand the pressures to stay.

Isolation

Lack of money

Violence

All powerful external forces working to keep us trapped.

And as long as I focused on those, I felt tormented and helpless.

The shift that turned the key to unlock those doors began within me. My bottom line. The straw on my back.

And that is what the abuser fears the most.  That is why he began and continues to work to demoralize you. He knows you are powerful.

What was that shift?

Conviction.

Conviction of the core truth about me. Whatever the central button was that he would push, that’s the one I began to affirm the truth about.

I stopped believing the lies.

Each time he hurled an accusation – an insult – a condemnation at me, I had to affirm the truth about me.

My prayer changed. I used to ask God to change me or him. That prayer wasn’t being answered after 15 years. That’s because it wasn’t God’s will.

Now I silently asked God to show me the way to get out. That prayer began being answered.

This practice kept me going as I found

Support

Money

And a way to escape Violence.

Here are some common falsehoods that keep women of faith trapped. These must be overcome to access the strength you need to get out and stay out.

  • Few understand that we may not think of ourselves as victims. Instead we may think we are taking the high road morally.
  • We may have been conditioned to value the ability to suffer, thinking we are pleasing God. We may be praised as “longsuffering” or “patient”.
  • We may be tolerating the abuser’s extra affairs, telling ourselves we will not give in to jealousy – “like other women”.
  • We may believe we have an unlimited amount of forgiveness, emulating the teaching of “70 x 7” verse.
  • We may have been taught to look to our life in heaven.
  • We may have been told we will go to hell if we divorce.
  • We may fear losing social status, asking “What will others think?”
  • We may believe we should stay “for the kids”.
  • We may believe we can keep a relationship going without the other person doing his part.

All of these ideas are not only untrue, they harm us. And they allow the abuser to continue without any consequences while we grow steadily weaker.

It is not pleasing to God to enable sinful behavior in our partners.

It is not God’s will to be yoked with someone who harms us.

It is not our job to earn salvation by suffering: Jesus already did that.

Men have perverted absolute ideals about living the spiritual life into locks that keep us in bondage. They never hold the same standards for themselves.

In this way, they get to do what they want and we pay the price in the name of God.

When I began mentally converting each statement made to keep me down into its opposite, I became stronger in my conviction not to live this way anymore. I knew Jesus did not die so I would live like this.

I used the weapons hurled against me to strengthen me. For example, if he said I was lazy, I reviewed the work I had done that day. If he said I was a derelict mother, I knew the love in my heart that I had shown my children that day.

It’s useless to argue but I can keep my mind on the truth.

And I stopped trying to change his mind, correct him, make him understand, or any other wasted effort that were not my job, no matter who told me it was. I committed  him to God and stopped trying to do what only God could do.

Eventually, this practice did more than stop the demoralization.

It opened doors so I could leave.

It kept me going in that difficult first year out of the marriage with three small children.

I believe God moves for those seeking righteousness.

Leaving an abuser is a move toward righteousness.

Listening for God’s guidance, I found money when we needed it.

Listening for God’s guidance, I found food when we didn’t have any.

Listening for God’s guidance, I got transportation to work after my husband took the car.

Claiming God’s promises, I ignored pressures to return.

Claiming God’s promises, my children no longer lived in emotional terror.

Claiming God’s promises, I found competent trauma counseling to recover.

Claiming God’s promises, I rejected those who would try to enforce guilt, fear or intimidation on me.

Don’t let the lies in. Fortify your mind and heart with encouraging and comforting truths.  “Gird up your loins of your mind” I Peter 1:13.

Get those who understand to help you. There is always a way but rarely a good time to do it. We just have to make plans, take Christ’s hand and step out on faith.

But first we have to find the key in your mind and heart. What is the core belief you need to tap into determination? Courage is not the absence of fear but acting in spite of it.

You have it within. Hold someone’s hand, turn the key in your lock and be free.

Your “Self” on a Shelf

During this season parents have fun moving an elf to different places during the night so that the children get up excited to see where the elf has moved. The elf has powers of observing children to make sure they are qualifying for the delights of Santa on Christmas .

In some unequal relationships, however, one partner only moves with permission,  like an elf on the shelf. There is no joy and a lot of pain since a partner cannot be the same person who has no power in the relationship.

Here’s how your “self” gets put on a shelf.

Do you feel that you are always prevented from free movement in your relationship?

Is any idea you have always explained away?

Is any desire you have for your needs respected met with shame, criticism or even an angry outburst?

Are you free to pursue your talents or skills outside your home?

Are you able to use any money you earn as you see fit?

Is any question you ask challenged as disrespectful?

Are you called insulting names if you don’t follow exactly what your partner wants?

Are you blamed for problems but never appreciated for handling responsibilities?

Do you find you do the giving but don’t receive in the relationship?  Emotionally? Communicating? Workload? Physically?

If any of these are what you are experiencing, you have been put on a shelf. You are being held in a small space and moved around only to fill another’s needs. Your partner believes they are entitled to your service but have little if any responsibility to serve you.

Their idea of a godly partner is “don’t need”, “don’t ask”, “don’t feel”. They believe a partner should only be taken off the shelf when they need her or him.

What is even more disturbing is that some partners enforce this position by appeals to religion. The idea that your full, mature and free self is displeasing to God is a very high and hard shelf indeed.

We dishonor God who created us when we allow someone to keep us on a shelf. We are created in the image of God, which means we share the power of mind, speech and spirit with our Creator.

God empowers us to be more, not less. Some toxic man-made doctrines seek to keep partners limited, easy to control, for the gratification of the other person’s ego and freedom from mutual consideration and respect in a relationship.

This view of another reveals a departure from God’s desire for humans and relationships.

These two pictures are of a woman who was trying to obey a false doctrine that God wanted her to be compliant and limited in order to be pleasing to God but matured in her faith.

On the left is her “before” under the false doctrine. On the right is her “after”, an image of reclaiming her full personhood  in God, free to flourish as her true self.

On the left, her “self” was on the shelf. She’s smiling because she is a person who enjoys helping others. She’s part of a group that downplays her “self” to earn acceptance. She has accepted the false view that her only worth comes from serving others. Her acceptable role is child care.

On the right, she accepts herself and knows she is pleasing to God because of the way she is made. She’s smiling because she no longer has to deny her own needs to serve others.

Which one looks more fully herself?  Which one looks like she’s been on a shelf?

May you be glad, free in Christ this Christmas.

Do You Know When to Call Foul?

Your abuser uses fouls of double standards and double binds without being called on them.

Recently the Kansas City Chiefs unexpectedly lost to the Las Vegas Raiders, who broke the Chiefs streak of 13 wins. The Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, said the Raiders were making plays that no one had seen before.

Business leaders are also on the look out for “curve balls”, to take a phrase from baseball. Sports is a perennial training ground for boys growing up and men in their professions and relationships.

Many women are not conditioned to think in terms of strategy in relationships. While love may be called a game, women stake their lives on them and sometimes lose them.

Looking at what the men in our lives do rather than say can help women understand  when the relationship is a game rather than an authentic sharing. While romantic games can add to a partnership, some games can be deadly.

Survivors have explained how they believed that their abusers meant what they said. They learned through pain that an abuser can switch words and feelings off and on at will, as part of a strategy to keep a victim off balance and controlled. They can play hard ball with threats and intimidating actions. This is not a relationship you want.

For example, when a husband becomes very upset over some minor detail in their relationship, the wife may think he is genuinely upset. However, if she notices and pays attention to her inner voice, she will see whether this outburst is meant to upset her or is an issue of that magnitude. Comparing his behavior with others and in other situations can shed light on whether this is a control tactic or genuine emotion.

When church doctrine or Bible study is added into this game, it is very hard for a woman to detach and see the plays. We are not used to thinking of God as a premier coach helping a believer be MVP.

Two of the most frequent game moves are the double standard and  the double bind.

In a double standard, what applies to the abuser does not apply to the victim.

In some churches, this is based on patriarchy or misogyny, the belief that men by virtue of being men have the right to control women and not be held accountable for how they treat them.

So if a victim confronts the abuser by applying the same expectations for behavior, she will be chided as being unsubmissive, disobedient, faithless or called names such as Jezebel, harlot, whore of worse. These insults are levied at any woman who dares to express herself or pursue her own individuality, which challenges control by a man.

If your partner defines being a man as controlling a woman, the game can be dangerous.

When a church leader contaminates faith to support male domination, he will enforce marriage over safety, peace, and any move that removes the wife from the control of a man. Countless women who have escaped this misuse of faith to ban divorce can attest to how the church closes ranks around the husband.  This model of relationships is adversarial, upholding the boys’ team at all costs.

 Unfortunately church women go along, whether because of fear or mistaken beliefs, and thus cut off one avenue of support for a victim seeking rescue. Perhaps they don’t realize that cheerleaders make minimum wage instead of the millions the players receive.

The second way men use game strategy in relationships is the double bind. In these statements, the victim is in a no-win. No matter which way she turns or what she tries to do, she will be wrong. Often called “Catch-22s”, these are contradictory conditions, instructions or situations set up by the abuser to keep the victim defeated.

Women are creatures who thrive on love and on giving love. Love is an absolute in our world. We resonate with the gospel for this reason. The church teaches it as an absolute. I Cor. 13 sets a very high standard for loving behavior.

If our partners  are not loving, we don’t think that removes the expectation for us to be loving. If anything, the desire to be Christ- like intensifies our demand to meet evil with good, hatred with love. We believe the myth that it is our responsibility to save our partners through love.

This belief becomes the basis for impossible demands made by an abuser. For example, if we comply with abuse, we lose. If we try to escape abuse, the church condemns us. To escape these traps, we have to mature our understanding of  love. It is not loving to allow someone to abuse us. It is not loving to them. They are not where they need to be to grow in faith. Only when I realized that I was not loving my husband by allowing him to abuse me could I see a higher standard of love.

Our abusers are not trying to live I Cor 13. Patience does not mean collusion. We can bear all things spiritually but not be unequally yoked. What does it mean to bear all things?

We who desire peace and the good are distressed when people are mistreated. We live in a world where we cannot get rid of all the evil that is done. We have to bear with it and work for justice in faith. We can avoid anger. Subjecting ourselves to mistreatment which naturally creates anger is not bearing with all things. It is cooperating with evil.

The next time you question whether you are doing enough, loving enough, or being a good Christian, remember the traits apply to everyone. A relationship is by definition a joint task. No one person can make it work by itself.

The game has rules. You were probably kept from knowing them or told you were crazy or evil if you begin to catch on.

Does your partner play by them or just expect you to? If so, the game should  be called and forfeited.