Opening note: This is a highly personal story that intersects with someone else’s story. I have her permission to write but she is telling her own story on her own blog.
Here are links to this entire 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
Part 18: Final church problems
Part 19: How to neutralize an abuser
Part 20: The saga concludes
Part 21: Updates
Part 22: The very end
On a particular Thursday about a year ago, I spent much of the day communicating with a close friend, planning her escape from her husband. The next day, she was going to leave while he was at work, taking their three children with her and going to her parents who lived almost 1,000 miles away.
We worked on details. We were watching the house constantly and during that last night she would be in the same house with him, we wanted to make sure she had a way to signal if something was wrong. We worked out plans such as contingencies in case he shut off the credit cards and left her stranded and out of gas. We talked about how to make sure he could not track her through her phone.
The next morning, after he left for work, she called me again and we worked on a letter that she would leave him: a letter begging him to understand why she had to leave, declaring her love, and promising to give the marriage another chance. And then, after cleaning the house and taking out the trash (remember that because it is important), she and the kids got in the van and left. I monitored her through that day until she arrived at her parents some 16 hours later.
And then, finally, Marla and I were able to go to sleep…
It had been a rough week. For the previous several months, Marla and I had been working on that situation. My friend was on my praise team and she had slowly started to tell me what was happening in her family. I begged her to go for professional help but she wouldn’t. I asked her why she would not get help from our church and she shared with me that she had gone to the pastor and other leaders of the church and they had failed her miserably.
That is when I started to realize Marla and I were on our own. We began researching and were dismayed to find out that her situation was one of classic abuse. After a few months, we first asked her if she considered herself abused and a few months after that, she actually began to start to see through the fog that victims experience. At that point, we began to gather evidence.
At the beginning of that fateful week, my friend confronted her husband with some of the evidence that she had and he reacted as abusers usually react. He at first denied the charges and then when he could not deny anymore, he found ways to deflect the blame back on her. Later that night, he started right back into his abusive practices and was able to emotionally force her back under his control.
Based on what we knew was going on in that house, we knew that she was no longer safe there and we implored her to leave. She finally summoned up the strength and planned to leave on Thursday, but when I saw her that Wednesday night at church, she had lost her resolve and was defeated again. I was desperate for her to leave but I knew that she wouldn’t.
Ironically, that night, due to a technical problem that exposed secret communication with us, her husband found out that Marla and I were working on the situation without his knowledge and things fell apart fast. He texted both of us, furiously demanding that we step out of his way. Fearful for her safety, we immediately sent people over to the house and got her parents involved. Things settled down for the night, but his response was what was necessary for my friend to finally realize that she really needed to leave. The next day was Thursday, the day we planned her escape.
Looking back, I would never have guessed the chain of events that would come from the decision of my friend to leave her husband that next day for what was originally supposed to be a month or two while he got help. I was not necessarily surprised by how the abuser handled the situation and how things ended though it was quite the roller coaster. However, in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined how poorly the situation would be handled by the pastor at the time, and then after he left, remaining church leaders.
I am going to write about this at length over the coming months. I want to talk about what Marla and I learned (we are not abuse experts but have had to learn a lot very quickly), hints for how you can identify abuse situations in your own circle, and how to help when you see problems. I want to tell you what I know about how abuse works and how victims give up control in ways that most of us cannot even imagine. There are things I will tell you that will seem completely unrealistic if not pure fiction. I would not believe them either if I had not seen them with my own eyes.
And, I am going to talk about the way my (former) church and its leaders failed in this situation. Let me tell you why. First, it has become very apparent that this situation is not isolated. Due to both ignorance and errant theology, churches mishandle abuse situations and end up abusing the victims themselves. These churches are not all from one denomination but they tend to have certain common characteristics.
For many valid reasons, most victims are not able to go public and talk about their experiences. While I understand that, it is necessary for more people to shed light on the problem of abuse and how the church mishandles abuse if we want things to get better. Shedding light is something I can do.
Some of you are already getting uncomfortable and others of you are wondering why I would risk making enemies by taking on errant thinking in the church. You may be wondering why I would risk my music career over this issue.
Let me try to explain…
Last month, I took Kelsey to Philadelphia to meet a Catholic theologian named Geffrey Kelly. She is working on a national history project and her topic is the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Over his long career as a monk, leader in the church and professor, Kelly has written many books on Bonhoeffer and while we listened to him talk for six hours, I could have sat there for six weeks.
If you want a short refresher on Bonhoeffer, he wrote extensively on theology but his major influence was not his writing. Rather, he impacted the world through the way his theology impacted his life. In a time when the German church was largely pro-Hitler, Bonhoeffer put himself at considerable risk by standing up for the Jews and other minorities and eventually he got involved in plots to assassinate Hitler. He was caught and hung right near the end of WWII.
If you want to summarize Bonhoeffer theology in a few sentences, here it is. He believed that the church had a responsibility to stand up in the world against evil and make a real difference in social issues. He had enormous disdain for a church that isolated itself from the evil of the world, ignoring issues like Nazism in order to protect itself. Bonhoeffer considered that cowardly. He talked about churches trying to exist in two spheres: a spiritual sphere on Sunday but unwilling to apply what Christianity really means on Monday in the real world where the rubber meets the road.
Bonhoeffer talked a lot about cheap grace vs costly grace. He believed that Christianity requires sacrifice (costly grace). Christians are required to stand up against evil and make a difference even when the cost is high. We are not called to just get along and ignore the skeletons in our own closets or the evil in the world we live in. That is cheap grace.
While churches tend to slap down those that rock the boat and make things a bit uncomfortable, Bonhoeffer believed that rocking the boat should be normal for Christians.
I am no Bonhoeffer but I get it. I can’t know what I know and not speak out even if there is a cost. Someone has to. Churches have gotten away with maltreatment of victims largely because they have been able to sweep it under the rug. Victims are silenced. Leaders are protected. Congregations are pressured to keep quiet.
The bandaid needs to be ripped off and certain erroneous thinking needs to be exposed. You don’t fix problems by hiding them and even though telling the truth may be painful, it is necessary to reverse the problem. I have fought for one woman for 18 months but now it is time to fight for other women that sit in your churches with smiles on their faces but go home to face abusive husbands.
More (a lot more) to come…