These women disclosed domestic abuse to their church leadership. Here’s what they were told.
I recently tried to raise awareness with a group of people that there are women at their church on Sunday who are hiding in the bathroom crying because their husband is smiling and chatting with everyone in the lobby and everyone thinks he’s just great. But she knows that the image he portrays at church is different than who he is at home. At home he is abusive and controlling, and it really hurts that everyone thinks he’s so great and has no idea what she’s going through. Someone responded with, “Well why doesn’t she go tell her church leadership?!” That may seem like an obvious solution, but unfortuately it’s not always that simple. I reached out to a group of abuse survivors and asked them to share their experiences with asking their church leadership for help when they were experiencing abuse. The replies were absolutely tragic. If you are someone reading this who has a desire to be a refuge to people experiencing oppression, please read and heed the stories that follow and be a voice of righteousness within your own congregation.
They said I breeded with this man and I should throw his stuff on the lawn and change the locks. Ah, yes. Change the locks with all my extra money, and huddle in the house with the kids when he came home?
Even though the staff believed me, they added a ton of chaos to the situation. Didn’t listen to me or experts on how to handle the situation which made my kids and I even more unsafe. Tried to control what I did. It was horrible.
“They said they didn’t see that side of him; that I was just overreacting.”
“They said I was too controlling.”
“They told my husband that I had come to them which put me in more danger.”
“They told me I was being too emotional.”
“They told me ‘it’s not that bad.'”
The church kicked out [my friend] for daring to divorce her abuser, then sided with the pedophile to convince the judge to force reunification with the daughters he molested.
“They prayed that God would fix it. Then they carried on like nothing ever happened and I never heard from them again.”
“They told me to have compassion for my abuser.”
“He had beaten my children but they told me I shouldn’t be separated from him.” “They kept all of his lies a secret from the church.”
My pastor: “Wouldn’t you rather suffer some temporal abuse in this life than for you and your children to suffer eternity in hell if you leave the spiritual protection of your male headship and marriage?”
“They made me step down from teaching Sunday School, but he was allowed to keep his position in the church.”
“The pastor said he would pray for me and that was it.”
“They said I needed to forgive and forget.”
“They asked what I did to make him treat me like that.”
“They said he was just immature.”
“They believed his lies.”
“They betrayed my trust and told personal details of my situation to people around town.”
I told the pastor my then husband was raping me, hitting me, holding knives to my throat and guns to my kids heads. The pastor told me the Bible made no exceptions for divorce for anything other than continuous adultery and I was not free to leave for abuse.
“The pastor told me I was a bad wife and that he would be violent too if he were married to me.”
“The pastor told me not to go to the hospital after I was beaten.”
“They believed his fake show of repentance. Then I was expected to forgive and forget.”
“I was told to keep marriage vows of ‘for better or for worse’ and this was the ‘worse’ part.”
“They ignored me and later terminated my membership.”
“They told me I was destroying my marriage by trying to get away from the abuse.”
“They recommended I clean the house more and have more sex.”
I told my husband if he didn’t tell someone about his porn use, that I would. He did and the pastor said he would pray for him and said nothing to me.
“I was told to suffer so I could be transformed into Jesus’ image.”
“The pastor told me to stay with my husband so it would bring glory to God.”
“They said I must not be making his home a nice place to come home to and that is why he used porn and left me for days at a time.”
“They said it was none of their business.”
“My parents were abusive and the pastor told me to be sweet and obedient.”
As a young person I went to my then church to get help with my father abusing me in the worst way. I had an appnt w/the pastor & sat for hours watching him as he ignored my presence & my having an appnt. Later my father, a pedifile, was promoted to deacon.
“They told me it would be unsubmissive to pay the bills so I could have power and water to take care of my children, because my husband said I wasn’t allowed to.”
“They told me if I took my child to the doctor when he needed medical attention that I was usurping authority over my husband.”
“They said I wasn’t allowed to say anything negative about my husband.”
“They let him serve communion even though they knew of his unrepentant abuse because ‘everyone sins.'”
Over the course of my 30 year marriage, I went to at least 3 different pastor’s wives, two different pastors, a Christian counselor, a church counselor, and numerous church friends seeking help. All efforts were concentrated on my staying, learning to cope with the situation, becoming a better wife, and trusting God to change his heart.
“I was told to apologize to my husband for talking about him.”
“They told me I had to forgive by acting as if he’d never hurt me.”
I was a child of DV. My dad was adored by our church. I went twice to the “lead” pastor, begging him to help us. He told me, “You can’t tell anyone about your dad’s sin because it’ll be too hard for him to repair his reputation once he is repentant.”
Perhaps it’s shocking to you that this is the horrific way abuse victims are being treated in churches. I believe there are several reasons why this happens:
1. Some churches are well-meaning, yet ignorant about abuse.
A victim may attempt to disclose abuse, but it appears on the surface to be a minor issue. For example, a victim saying “He’s not very nice to me” may sound to someone who only knows the abuser as a charming person as a matter of everyone gets stressed and has bad days. It may seem like the victim is taking an average imperfection of her spouse’s and blowing it out of proportion. It’s important for those in church leadership to know how to recognize when there’s more to the story.
2. Some churches acknowledge the abuse but adhere to interpretations of the scripture that allow abuse to continue unchecked.
Teachings like “God hates divorce” or “Christians should practice radical forgiveness” lead church leadership to counsel victims to reconcile with their abuser instead of focusing on the victim’s safety.
3. Some churches are harboring wolves within both the congregation and the leadership.
There are plenty of instances where spiritually abusive responses to a victim’s pleas for help are not due to ignorance or errant interpretations of scripture. Sometimes those in the church leadership are abusers themselves.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse and you are considering going to your church leadership for help, I do not mean for these stories to dissuade you from doing that. I simply want to present the reality of what others have experienced. That does not necessarily mean that you will have the same experience at your church. Here are some indicators that a church is likely to believe and support you:
- They talk about abuse from the pulpit and make clear the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
- They host training for their staff about the dynamics of abuse and coercive control.
- They give abuse survivors a voice to speak about their experiences and do not pressure them to keep quiet.
- They display materials that educate the congregation about abuse and give information about how to receive help.
- They have financial resources allocated to supporting the practical needs of abuse victims.
- They believe that abuse constitutes biblical grounds for divorce.
- They have a track record of removing known abusers from the congregation.
While these are not absolute guarantees that your experience will be positive, they make it much more likely that it will. Additionally, even if a church does not have all of these in place, that does not discount the fact that people in your church may have kind and humble hearts who are willing to listen. Even if they do not yet have specific training themselves, they may willing to receive outside assistance from an organization who has the ability to help them navigate the process of supporting abuse victims well.
For those reading who have a heart to help, I encourage you to stay connected via email so that you can be a safe place for the oppressed.
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