STORIES OF SURVIVORS OF RELIGIOUS DOMESTIC ABUSE
(Accounts with “*”are from a 2017 ABC news report on the work of Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson: “Raped, Tracked , Humiliated: Clergy Wives Speak Out about Domestic Violence”)
When Jane speaks of her faith, her face shines. When she speaks of the violence from her husband, a senior Anglican priest who worked in a series of parishes, she trembles. When she speaks of the church’s lack of response to her plight, her jaw sets in anger. For 20 years, her husband disregarded her in their intimacy. Disturbing her sleep, punishing her if she said no to sex, watching pornography, and drinking were prevalent. If she refused, he would mistreat the kids, so she would comply to spare them. Finally her health began to deteriorate and she asked for a break from intimacy. He pretended to agree and offer her support but then raped her that night. He confessed to a church member who told Jane to report him. No further support was extended to her, however. A year later, she left. The dehumanization of wives resulting from husband’s sexual demands is not uncommon. One woman reported her husband wouldn’t let her have the housekeeping money unless she had sex. “Consistent forced intercourse hospitalized another woman. It is hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea of a church leader being so debauched, but it is more frequent that most imagine. Wives pay the price. Clergy wives are especially isolated, charged with being paragons, raising ideal children, supporting her husband, ministering to the church, and always unpaid. This leaves her financially ill-equipped to leave. Members side with the abuser or ignore her needs.
I met my husband at an evangelical church. One of the things that attracted me to him was the way he took control when a decision had to be made. As a relatively new Christian, I heard others talking about the woman had to be sure before marrying, because she would have to agree for her husband to be the head of the marriage. I thought they were just playing with words. I was a professional woman who had made my own decisions for many years. Surely as a wife I would have half of the say in the decisions. But they were serious. And even more disturbing was that my husband used the submission verse to “fuel his cruelty”. He dictated everything from the start. A few years into the marriage, I discovered he planned to kill me. If I asked about his pay, he would go on rants. He questioned any personal purchases I made. I dreaded his sermons about the godly marriage because he would harangue me endlessly after church. If I made a reasonable request or offered another view, he accused me of “challenging his leadership”. The church does not understand that insisting on the one-sided submission “perpetuates domestic violence”. I didn’t expect ministers to support me and they proved me right. I pleaded with them to speak to my husband, cloaking the problem by saying his “depression” was ruining our family life. They never did. We don’t need to be hit for it to be soul-destroying domestic abuse. I am ashamed and humiliated that I allowed him to terrorize me for so long.
Listen to Natalie Collins, who survived domestic violence, explain how her faith first trapped her and then helped her heal.