The “repentance” game (Abuse series – Part 14)

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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
Part 12: Filings for divorce and early rumblings at church
Part 13: What are those deacons good for anyway?

I know I have been talking about this for a long time but I am doing so because I think it might be helpful to some of you. Of all the posts I have done so far on this issue, I think this is one of the most important and potentially most useful so I hope you will take the time to read it.

In the months leading up to the victim returning to Georgia, some of the deacons at least pretended like they were interested in getting up to speed on the situation and abuse in general. To their credit, they wanted to confront the abuser (who was technically still a member of the church though he no longer attended). One of them asked me to send him resources about abuse and I sent over some articles and websites that I had found helpful. (I never heard back from him after I did and that is important but I will get back to why later.)

There were a few meetings about how they intended to confront the abuser and in those meetings, I cautioned them to be careful because I knew by then what tactic the abuser would employ. In a phone conversation with the deacons, the victim told them the same thing. We knew that the abuser would put on a show of repentance and we warned them that it would not be real regardless of how sincere it appeared. We had already been watching his “repentance” for the past six months and we knew that it was not real. We knew things that he was doing in secret and we knew the lies he was telling.

A week or two before she returned, the victim noticed something of interest one night when the abuser was on FaceTime talking to their children. He was dressed for a meeting and she noticed his demeanor was different. Rather than being down in the dumps as was normal during that time, he seemed cheerful and optimistic. When the kids asked him where he was going, he told them that he was going to a meeting with the church deacons.

I remember the victim telling me about that later that night and she said she could tell he was up to something. She instinctively guessed what his plan was going to be: “repent” and shift the blame to the victim because she refused to reconcile with him. He was going to make her out to be the villain and he was most definitely going to make Marla and me out to be villains.

Basically, the abuser’s goal for the deacons in a nutshell was to try to get control of the situation by using the church leadership to pressure the victim to reconcile with him and to pressure Marla and me to get out of his way. And like puppets, they fell for it. Even after they received multiple warnings of his deceitfulness, he was able to convince them at least to some extent that he was repentant and ready to return to the church. I would not say they fell for his act 100% because he did some dumb things over the next few months that showed some cracks. However, they fell for it enough to come to some strange conclusions about the victim.

What it came down to was this: due to some pettiness and a lot of naïveté on their part, the deacons were used. The abuser thought he could control the situation through them. As it turned out, he was wrong but only because he did not realize we were all willing to take a stand and leave the church over the issue. Because of that one reason, he soon learned that he no leverage there and once he figured that out, he stopped meeting with the deacons. One of those men talked to a friend of mine recently and told him he could not understand why the abuser quit meeting with them. It is not rocket science: they were of no use to him anymore and as soon as that dawned on him, he dropped his repentance act with them in a big hurry.

I will pick up with the story next time but I want to say again that what I just told you happens over and over in churches all the time. Remember that abusers are comfortable in conservative Christianity because of its belief in patriarchy but also the Biblical admonitions about forgiveness. Abusers know they can abuse at will and in situations where church leaders are naive, wipe the slate clean with a show of repentance, putting the pressure on the victim to forgive “70 times 7.” That is how the cycle works.

The truth is this: if a victim has heard her abuser “repent” a few dozen times and then watched him go right back to abusing, it is overly simplistic and naive to tell her that she just needs to keep forgiving and taking him back. At some point, it is very clear that the repentance is not repentance at all. For an abuser, “repentance” is just part of the process of keeping control. It is his go-to strategy whenever the victim starts to gain power.

Yes, to this day, this particular abuser claims to have “repented.” However, I got a true picture of the abuser’s “repentance” just last week. He sent an email to the victim in which he grossly overreacted to an insignificant thing she did and then attempted to rationalize his overreaction by saying she was devious and deceptive. Why? Because in the months before the divorce, she had the audacity to secretly document certain evidence of their “private affairs” (as he called it). He actually complained in the email that she has never apologized for doing that.

Does a truly repentant abuser call his victim devious and deceptive because she documented his abuse? Does a truly repentant abuser refer to his abuse as “private affairs”? Does a truly repentant person caught in extramarital situations put the blame on the person that collected the evidence to catch him? No, this is not repentance; this is a delusional, make-believe mindset where right and wrong are turned upside down.

Yes the Bible does teach repentance and forgiveness. This situation however is not an example of true repentance. Be sure that you know the difference if you get involved in similar situations.

Read on: Part 15: Isolation

2 thoughts on “The “repentance” game (Abuse series – Part 14)

  1. JLee says:

    This is an interesting find, as I’m in this situation currently, only my husband is the pastor of a church. I separated from him a couple months ago, have had no support or communication from the church whatsoever (even though leadership knows why I left), but thankfully am receiving counseling and help from another Christian ministry. In my limited communication with my husband he is apologizing, repenting, and taking responsibility for the abuse, pleading with me to come back, and believes that because he is repentant and committed to never abuse me again, I can forgive him and we can have a beautiful marriage, that the Bible leaves little reason to permit divorce, God’s will is for reconciliation, etc., – the gist of it being that since he has repented I’m obligated to reconcile – saying it without saying it. I’ve been counseled to wait a year before considering reconciliation, I can see why. Also, as I am getting stronger on my own, I’m realizing there is very little on DV written by, practiced by, and believed in by the church that actually protects women, making it difficult to find help regarding DV from Christian counselors and even friends. Even when I opened up to a Christian friend of 20 years about the abuse and my separation she told me off about how I need to go back immediately because he got counseling, how separation will harden my heart, that I can’t wait for him to be perfect before returning because everyone slips up, etc. All that said, thank you for this series. I hope in time to be able to help others in the church too who are going through this.

    • Greg Howlett says:

      I love how “Christian” abusers put on their theologian hat to preach to their victim that God is against divorce. Very convenient for them.

      I agree with the wise counsel about a year. In fact, it sounds like you are doing a lot of things right. The limited communication is great and getting real help from outside the church is great. For those that are reading, the way her church responded is typical and she would not be wise to get counsel from them. Their counsel would almost undoubtedly be complete rubbish.

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