The Battered Women of Faith: Reality vs Myth

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Do you wonder why church leaders or members don’t help the 1 in 4 abused women of faith in their congregations? Here are 4 possible reasons.

Myth One: She’s weak.

Predators are drawn to idealistic, strong and caring women. The church can be a field day for them to find potential victims. Believing women want to help others, relieve distress, give (too many) chances, and share their resources.

Rather than being weak, the Christian woman’s ideal of forbearance or perseverance will keep her trying to figure out how to change herself or help her abuser.

Those who criticize her for these strengths are not taking into consideration that these are the very traits she has been raised to display and are overlooking the fact that the church does not support her being any other way. Instead they are more likely to tell her to repent.

Myth Two: She’s Unintelligent

A mature faith is not blind but too much reasoning and questioning is not encouraged in some dogmatic churches. Indeed, believers are urged to “lean not unto your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) or “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways  my ways, says the Lord.” (Is. 55:8) 

Abusers or controlling church leaders are quick to discourage a woman from questioning. Indeed the above verses can be used to discourage her from questioning her husband or pastor.

A woman has to defy what she is conditioned to do in many churches. She has to question, trust her intuition and inner voice, and grow in her faith in spite of resistance from members or leaders as well as her abusive husband.

Myth Three: She just needs to be a better Christian wife.

Domestic violence is not a marital problem. It cannot be healed with marital counseling. It is the deliberate subjugation of a person to mistreatment by a narcissist. He only uses God, faith or the Bible because he knows it’s important to his victim. It’s another tool. He is not trying to follow any of the faith demands he is screaming at his wife to follow.

Pastors who are more concerned about saving the marriage or advocating for the husband  more than the safety of the woman are playing the predator’s game. The doctrine of wifely submission will be used against her in counseling sessions.

Domestic violence may occur within a marriage but it is not about the marriage.  The woman is a hostage in her home. 

 Domestic violence is a man’s problem. Any other approach that focuses on her changing misses the mark. She has not failed in her marriage. In fact she is probably overdoing in trying to comply with unreasonable demands that dismiss her as worthy of the most basic humane consideration.

Myth Four: She can always leave.

Churches who are afraid to allow for divorce are more  interested  in their church’s reputation than solving this problem.  They have painted themselves into a corner because divorce is often the only reasonable action.

Going no contact with an abuser is necessary since he interprets any contact as an opening for mistreatment. This is an identifiable diagnosis – Narcissistic Personality Disorder – and the Bible is not an adequate one-size-fits-all solution in these cases.

Members who continue the conspiracy of silence, shun the woman, or want to enforce Bible study and  repentance are only re-traumatizing the abused.

Those who ask why she doesn’t leave are the very ones who will not help her. Understandably they do not want to bring violence into their own homes. But there are many ways to support women short of  taking her in.

Redemption from Biblical Battering: Your Path to Faith-Based Freedom is one of those ways. Using it or similar resources to guide a small group study or having it on hand to give to distressed women is an effective way to open and continue a conversation to help. Holding men in the church accountable is also a first step.

Another way is to refer the suffering woman to Suzanna’s Sisters, a secure Facebook group where women can communicate with licensed counselors who understand  religious domestic abuse or survivors who have been where they are for support. Contact the author for access or to schedule a presentation or training.