Abuse comes in many forms. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Unfortunately it is also pretty common among Christians, even ones who go to solid, Spirit filled churches.
This post is pretty disturbing to me. It was written by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. But I know her very well. I know that this is an accurate account of her story. I’m pretty sure I visited at least one of the churches in this story. It was an ordinary American church, filled with people who love Jesus. A Bible believing church where everyone brought their Bibles to church and the pastor preached from the Word.
I have heard many, many complementarian people state that they would never advise a woman (or less commonly, especially in patriarchal marriages, a man) to stay in an abusive situation. But I have never, not one time EVER known a church that helped a woman to escape from an abusive marriage and stay out. I’m *not* saying it doesn’t happen. I am suggesting that it isn’t common. It isn’t nearly as common as actual abuse is. And we need to do better. All of us, no matter what our philosophy about marriage is.
I was married to a “Christian” man. We went to church every Sunday. We prayed before meals and talked about the Bible. We went to small groups on Wednesday nights, sometimes even at my house.
When I was pregnant, the church prayed for me. When I lost the baby, they prayed for me then too. When my husband called me a stupid, spoiled brat in front of my pastor, the pastor offered to pray for us.
When a church member told an elder about an argument she’d overheard in the parking lot, with quotes like “no one will love you again you fat b!tch” and “People act nice to you because they feel bad for your dumb @ss,” they called us in to talk to us, and my husband apologized and they prayed.
When I got up the courage to tell them my husband threw me across the room and hit my head on a barbell, knocking me unconscious, they prayed for me again.
When I told my pastor that he routinely strangled me until I passed out, he finally offered marriage counseling.
The pastor and an elder discouraged me from talking to the women in my small group because it would taint my husband’s reputation. I was told to confide in the pastor’s wife, as she would keep my secrets.
For almost three months, the pastor “counseled” my husband. While he would refrain from pushing, hitting, or putting his hands around my neck for a few days, whenever he was upset, he would go right back to it.
I found out he was cheating on me — again. Now, when I told my pastor that, he said I had Biblical grounds for a divorce, but God hates divorce, so I should keep trying to save my marriage. I kept going to marriage counseling, because that was the right thing to do, the godly thing to do.
Meanwhile, my nights were getting worse. He never stopped abusing me. Neighbors called police. Since we had conflicting stories and there was no proof, they would not arrest him. They told me to go to a hotel and file for a restraining order the following Monday. I told the pastor on Sunday, and he called my husband, went to the house and told me he worked things out.
Finally, I told someone at work about what was going on. She told me, “That is why I am not a Christian. Your God hates women.” I realized she was right. I mean, everything I read in the Bible, every service was telling me about how I needed to submit and be meek.
I decided I was done. I was done allowing the church to dictate my life. I kicked him out. He was surprised. He stalked me, threatened me with a knife, kidnapped me. The police refused to file charges because he happened to drive onto tribal land before someone helped me. He finally flew to his hometown when his mother was sick. I moved and changed jobs.
During our divorce, the judge decided I did not take my marriage seriously and ordered marriage counseling. When I told him about the abuse, he asked for proof. He told me that next time, call the police. Luckily, my husband never came back and after two years, I got my default divorce.
After this experience, I stopped going to church. I still prayed, but I thought God did not really love me. I was a woman, and he obviously preferred men. I was far from him. I made several questionable decisions. I ended up pregnant. I was told by so many people that the only “correct” thing to do was get married. After all, God hates fornicators. I could not raise a Christian child unless I was married. My child would never be baptized because I was not married.
I cried the day I found out I was having a daughter.
Her dad and I eventually got married. I want to clarify — I did not want to be married. I did not even think I was in love. At some point, he stopped drinking for a while and I thought God maybe was blessing us since I had done “the right thing.”
He shortly started drinking again. Constantly. Every weekend he would leave Friday night and would not come home until Monday morning. I was pregnant with my third by this point. He wrecked our car. He brought home some man looking for drugs at 4:00AM once. He told me how horrible I was, how lazy I was. Meanwhile, he never helped in the house. He was the man. He went to work, came home, and played on the computer.
I was put on a heart monitor and the baby was checked weekly because I was fainting. It turned out to be due to exhaustion. I almost got kicked out of school because I was working too much. He was wasting every check on his weekend. He got fired from a job I got him, where we had our health insurance, for showing up drunk.
We were going to a different church, with a different pastor. He offered us marriage counseling. I agreed. My husband left us.
I had a 3 week old baby and two toddlers, a part time job, and a lot of bills. He did not help. He gave me no money. He showed up to counseling once in a while, and the pastor thought that was a great sign.
The whole church knew about our problems. They all “encouraged” me: to stay. Not one thought about my kids, not one thought about anything but the “sanctity of marriage.” I declared intent to get a divorce. I had witnessed emotional abuse in my birth family for years. I did not want that in my relationship. The church stepped in. They literally begged me to wait six months. I did.
Six months later, no change. My husband was living with a female “roommate.” He still paid me no child support and very rarely saw our kids.
People from the church would drop by my house and ask my children about any “friends” that came to my house. They were making sure I was staying faithful to my “marriage.”
I stopped going to that church and got a divorce. I stopped going to church altogether again.
My churches supported my husbands no matter what.
Their idea of encouragement was to pray that I stayed strong through this storm. They thought that as a woman, my place was with my husband. Period.
Oh, except if he cheated. Maybe.
If he almost killed me, if he drank away the paycheck that was to pay our family’s rent or food, none of it mattered.
I was doing my Christian duty and staying married. How is that a picture of God’s love? Even as I write this, I hate what the church did to me. I still struggle with what I was told.
What am I supposed to tell my daughters?
In an attempt to address the heartbreaking question this woman ends with, next week we will have a post from a Christian midwife about how we can help women in situations like this, and what you can do if you are in a relationship like this.