Filing for divorce and early rumblings at church (Abuse series: Part 12)

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Here are the other parts of this series:
Part 1: My story of abuse (Introduction)
Part 2: Seven things you need to know about abusers
Part 3: Dealing with victims of abuse
Part 4: It started with a crossword puzzle
Part 5: Getting help for an abuse victim
Part 6: Taking the next step
Part 7: My church’s initial response to abuse
Part 8: Your marriage counselor may destroy your marriage
Part 9: Cutting off communication
Part 10: How to choose sides in an abusive situation
Part 11: The strangeness of a spring break

Once the abuser came back to Georgia and started visiting his woman friend every night, the marriage was over though he didn’t know it. To fulfill the promise he had pressured her for over spring break, she was communicating with him every day and he was putting on a show of repentance, trying to coax her back to Georgia. He lied regularly of course and more than a few times, she almost gave away the information she had clandestinely acquired when those lies were especially egregious. She was especially distraught when she found out that the woman he was visiting was someone he had had a relationship with previously in their marriage. (This kind of issue had been common throughout their marriage.)

When it became clear that divorce was inevitable, she found a lawyer. While this might sound strange, even after hiring a lawyer, she still struggled with cutting off communication with him and their communication turned primarily into him pressuring to get her to come back to him. He set an arbitrary date and would not stop his relentless manipulation, alternating between begging and ordering her home. While waiting for the divorce to get filed, she caved under the pressure and eventually verbally agreed to come home in a few weeks even though she knew that would not happen. Many of you might not understand why she did that and I am right there with you. I told her to just stop communicating with him again. The truth is she couldn’t stand up to him still; she misled him instead. It is not something that she can explain to this day.

Early in the divorce proceeding, there was a temporary hearing to establish child support, protection for the involved parties, and set up a temporary visitation plan. The victim knew that once she asked for that hearing, she would have to return to Georgia.

As she made her plans, one of the things she did was notify the church of her upcoming return, her divorce, and her plans to attend the church again. Now, remember that up until that point, she had heard from virtually no one at the church for months besides Marla and me. They showed absolutely no interest to be frank but once they knew she was returning, they got very interested. Not very much in her as it turns out; no, they were interested in her plan to divorce.

It all started about a month before she returned when I got an email from another member of the church requesting a meeting. He was fairly specific about when and where and strangely seemed to get annoyed when I asked for a few changes. That should have been a clue. Eventually, it was agreed that the meeting would be at my house and he brought another member (a deacon) with him.

Over a roughly three hour meeting, I began to get a sense of what the victim was up against. I heard a lot of strange ideas about divorce and marriage, complaints about our involvement in the situation, and demands that I stop writing about abuse publicly. One of them told me he did not want his children going to church with divorced people. They also asked me to convince the victim to put her pending divorce on hold (as if that was my decision or place).

Now were these men malicious? No they were not. I have no doubt that they thought they were being helpful and I have no doubt that they thought they were following the Bible. Nevertheless, the rhetoric was alarming. One of the men came across as very pompous, apparently thinking that a counseling degree in college made him an expert on abuse. The other was more respectful but clearly was influenced by extremist views on divorce and marriage and he was saddled with some pretty archaic views about women.

It was clear that neither was at all informed on the issue of abuse and frankly, it would soon become evident that they did not want to learn. In the absence of a pastor, they also clearly thought that they had a right to set church polity in regards to the matter of divorce even though the church constitution did not address the issue of divorce at all. I will speak more on this later.

Eventually, after three hours, I stood up and ended the meeting. Frankly, I was not very nice when I did it and I had to apologize later. I just said we were done and they took their cue and left. I forgot about the meeting quickly and the next month passed without much going on. However, things were about to go nuts and that is where I will pick up in the next post.

Read on: Part 13: What are those deacons good for anyway?

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