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
Part 12: Filings for divorce and early rumblings at church
Part 13: What are those deacons good for anyway?
Part 14: The “repentance” game
Part 15: Isolation
Part 16: When the church goes off the rails
Part 17: When the church goes off the rails even further
When I left this story last time, our family and the victim and her children had just walked out of a meeting and out of the church completely. That is not quite the end of the role of the church in the story though.
The day after the meeting, I started hearing from the men in the meeting. For the most part, they were polite and regretful. Two of them readily admitted that their head of deacons had acted atrociously and they assured me they had confronted him. (I have no doubt that is true because later that day, almost certainly at their insistence, he called and gave a very weak apology.) They also began to ask us to reconsider our decision to leave the church and asked for another meeting the following week.
The request for the next meeting caught us off guard. We were very sure that we needed to leave the church and thought that another meeting would just be dragging out the inevitable. On the other hand, we did not want to necessarily leave on bad terms. In light of that, I negotiated with several of the men and initially agreed to another meeting.
During the subsequent back and forth, I again realized how fruitless more meetings would be. It became very clear that there was little if any common ground. For example, one of the men kept telling me that it would be better if the women did not show up for the meeting. Very frankly, that made me want to vomit. These men wanted to discuss the future of the victim without her even being in the room. Furthermore, they did not want Marla in the room in spite of the fact that she stood to gain/lose as much as me.
Let me call that what it is. That is sexist thinking, it is regressive thinking and it is inexcusable thinking in 2017. I believe that their unhealthy view of women was a huge factor in why those men piled on the victim in this situation in such an absurd way. Nor is that kind of thinking enormously rare; if my emails these days are any indication, that thinking leads churches to constantly mishandle similar situations. Women are expected to put up with some abuse because of bad teaching on submission and when they come for help, simply because of their gender, their words do not carry the same weight as those of their abuser husbands.
Eventually, we decided that the enormous gulf between us on that issue and others would make a future meeting a waste of time and I notified them that we were not doing any more meetings. I also offered to work with one of the older men (the more reasonable ones) on a joint statement to let the church know why we were leaving and to try to smooth out the situation for their benefit. Remember that Marla and I had been at the church for a dozen years and were very visible. I had run the music for the past few years and we both helped out in numerous projects and ministries. Our leaving abruptly without any explanation would be disruptive. To me, a joint statement, while probably not normal in such situations would help and I also felt it would be good for both sides to hold each other accountable for the words that were said about what was going on.
The deacons completely ignored my offer of a joint statement. They probably did not feel I had the right to speak before leaving, but I had no intention of leaving without an explanation regardless of how inconvenient they might find it. I decided to write a statement on my own and the victim wrote a statement as well. The statements we wrote were factual and professional and I distributed them easily to almost everyone in the church (including the deacons) in a group email.
Every response I got to the statement was positive. In fact, two of the men in the meeting that were not deacons wrote and stated that I had been accurate and fair. However, the deacons themselves were clearly not happy and they got together and wrote a statement of their own which they read in church the next Sunday. Amazingly, they chose to take the low road and attacked me with spin and falsehoods. When I heard what they had said, I wrote and asked them for a copy of the statement. They ignored me.
That is pretty much the end of the church saga. They lost a lot of people over the situation (pretty much all the younger families except for those that lean patriarchal). They eventually got a pastor who goes along with their patriarchal ideas. You might wonder if they ever apologized or try to make things right with the victim. The answer is no. Two of the older men in that meeting subsequently at least reached out a bit to be friendly to her but amazingly, none of the deacons have ever said a word to her again. The new pastor has never contacted her at all either.
Speaking for my family, I guess I will just end with this: while the circumstances were not ideal, I am glad that I got my family out of an unhealthy church. We have not looked back and while we are scarred, we are also much wiser.
Read on: Part 19: How to neutralize an abuser