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 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
I have spent much of 2017 talking about this abuse situation and it is now time to draw it to a close. I want to give a few closing thoughts and update you on where things stand now. I may write more in the future about new developments but for the moment, I am going to make this the last article in the series.
To start, here is the current status of the key players.
The abuser is unchanged, still a pathetic, delusional little man who has convinced himself (and most around him) that he is the real victim. He has learned nothing and never will and the people that love him are too fooled to help him. They in fact just enable him to become more and more detached from reality. There is little hope for him.
The victim is a success story. She has come a long long way from the scared woman who allowed her abuser to control her like a puppet during that fateful week in Michigan a little over a year ago. She has a great job that allows her to be home most of the time with the children (she homeschools) and unlike many women in similar situations, she is not at all dependent on her former abuser’s income. Her strength and independence has allowed her to shut down his constant attempts to control her over and over again. While it is certain that he will never give up trying, he has no chance of ever getting close enough to her to control her again.
That being said, the victim has paid a heavy price. She is largely isolated here in Georgia with few friends (due to his PR efforts to destroy her and the failure of her church to help her) and it is a hard thing to realize that the perfect family life she dreamed about was a mirage all along. She certainly does not mourn the loss of the abuser in her life but she does mourn the loss of her life due to all those years of misery.
The children of the marriage are perhaps the biggest losers of the situation. The abuser does plenty to undermine their mother and create situations where they have to choose sides. That will never change because the abuser will never change. He has also destroyed their past friendships, leaving them isolated as well. Only time will tell what damage they too will suffer from his abusive nature. The best thing they have going for them is their mother who can model strength for them and teach them how to resist emotional abuse.
The church I have written so much about is still on the decline, a tiny congregation of members that lean dangerously patriarchal. We have no contact with anyone there as a general rule nor does the victim. I hope they can refrain from abusing other people but beyond that, I really don’t have much interest in what goes on there.
As for us, I have to be honest: this has been a difficult year in some ways. There have been a few things that have happened (including this situation) that have very much damaged our confidence in church. We have not joined another church though we visit regularly. We will never go back into the kind of church we left but it has been a bit disconcerting to see the same problems in many other churches spanning all denominations.
Some friends have asked me if our involvement in the situation was worth it. I really don’t know how to answer that because I don’t feel that I had any choice but to do what I did. It was my fate and my involvement was inevitable because that is who I am. I am absolutely incapable of watching things happen without getting involved even if there is risk and danger for me personally.
Am I glad it happened? Yes and no. Yes because it helped me grow and got our family out of an unhealthy church. That has needed to happen for a decade but we were too comfortable to move. This situation was the catalyst we needed. On the other hand, I can’t emphasize enough that this has cost us immensely in ways that you might not imagine. The abuser has slandered us (especially me) badly and as is human nature, very few of the people he talked to bothered to pick up the phone and ask me for my perspective. We lost friends by leaving the church but we also lost friends not in the church and have even experienced stress in family relationships. Everyone has an opinion and there are plenty that are very quick to judge us for what we did.
There has been a heavy price but on the flip side, I am much more at peace. In fact, I feel that I have more friends than I ever have had and they are good friends. They are not church friends but that is irrelevant. Ironically, just after leaving the church, my businesses (including music) started a period of explosive growth and I have been too busy to think much about anything else.
As I close this out, what I am about to write is painful and it is going to be upsetting to some of you. I have always tried to be real with you and I am going to tell you about a big change in thinking for me.
A year ago, I wanted to write on this blog to help wake up churches to the problematic way they (in general) handle these situations. I suspected the problems were widespread. In fact, we had plenty of warning of what we were facing. The victim’s father, a pastor himself, warned her not to even bother going back to the church when she returned to Georgia; he knew what was going to happen. In retrospect, our situation turned out pretty much completely as many before us would have predicted. That in itself is pretty solid evidence that the church at-large has a problem with abuse. I knew that and I wanted to help.
However, over the past year, as I have written, watched, and heard your stories, I have changed my mind. I have lost confidence that anyone really can help the church get its act together in this area. It is a huge problem rooted in deplorable theology that is way bigger than me or our situation. To a large extent, I think that I have given up hope that the church is going to change anytime soon (though society will eventually force change as it has in many other areas where the church has been behind the curve). Honestly, when considering fads going around in conservative Christian circles such as their so-called “permanency of marriage” teaching, I am pretty sure that many churches are actually moving in the wrong direction and away from anything that resembles sanity. There are good people trying to counteract the nonsense and I applaud them. However, I am not going to be one of them. My investment in this topic going forward will not be focused on the church.
In fact, I am going to go a step further and this is where some of you will get mad. What I am about to say is based on my research and the hundreds of abuse victims that have written me over the past year that tell me the same sick story over and over again.
If you are in an abusive situation, you probably need to think twice about going to your church for help. That well could be a mistake. If you are lucky, they will just be ignorant about the topic. However, unfortunately, there is a very significant chance that they will make your situation far worse. Churches tend to spiritually abuse the domestic abuse victims that come to them–especially women. Don’t let them do that to you.
Maybe your church is different. I hope so. If not, don’t put your marriage under the authority of heavy-handed men that don’t have a clue but are full of bad advice that may destroy you. Rather, go to true professionals. Call your local shelter for battered women. Get an attorney and get legal protection. If you want a Christian counselor, find one outside your church that has a good reputation and real experience in this area. In general, while there is plenty of bad advice to be found outside the church too, you will probably get better advice from people that work with abuse constantly and understand it. If you have to choose between a typically ignorant church leader and a trained abuse professional, I recommend the latter every time.
Remember this: ignorance wrapped in misapplied Bible verses and sappy Christian cliche is still ignorance.
For those of you who are in church leadership and shaking your head at what I just said, here is what I would say to you. If your church is an exception (and I know there are exceptions), thank you and keep it up. However, if your church is typical in the way it handles abuse, I hope that some of the things I have written will help you make some changes.
One more word for those of you that are in abusive situations: there is hope for you and I want you to walk away from your bondage. You may or may not have much of any ally in your church but regardless, get help. The church’s response to abuse is bleak but that does not mean your future has to be.
I will leave it at that.