The saga concludes (Abuse series part 20)

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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  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.

10 thoughts on “The saga concludes (Abuse series part 20)

  1. Hannah says:

    Was it worth it?? Greg, I know you and your wife chose to make an enormous sacrifice in this situation and I know in many ways life will never be the same. But on behalf of abuse victims everywhere I thank you, and applaud you, for your courage and selflessness. As a past victim of similar abuse myself I deeply wish someone had done for my mother and siblings and myself what you did. Praise God the situation no longer exists, in spite of the many who offered to help us but eventually chickened out:(. Your sacrifice was rare indeed- perhaps you do not realize how rare. I hope the woman you helped understands (or will come to understand, if not now) how deeply grateful to God she can be for you and your wife!

    I also want to put in a word for the Church:). I have seen plenty of local churches that fit neatly into the pattern you describe. But praise God I can also list several churches and pastors from my experience of just the last few years who are quite the opposite! I am not talking about churches which are mere social clubs devoid of doctrine, either. I am talking about churches that dig deep into the Word and that seek to truly know each other as individuals and help one another and grow together in the knowledge and grace of God. They have not shied away from honestly addressing abuse. I hope this is some encouragement to you, and I pray that the Lord will provide for you a healthy church in due time! Not a perfect church- that’s Heaven:)- but a healthy one. Fellowship is important. (In fact isolation from fellowship was one of the key elements of the abuse we underwent.)

    As a final comment I want to say that I am astounded to see what the power of God can do in the heart of a victim to choose grace and forgiveness. Please note I am NOT talking about the erroneous “forgive and forget” concept. I am talking about the choice to harbor no bitterness, to sincerely wish and pray for the best (i.e. change, as unlikely as it is) for the abuser. Although my mother is now divorced from my father for her own protection, has practically zero contact with him, and has no illusions as to his character and condition, I have never seen her display even a hint of bitterness. Anger, grief, devastation, sorrow, betrayal- yes. But she has no desire to see him hurt in return. Although she will never trust him again or feel romantic affection for him again, the love of Christ still flows from her toward him, and she encourages the same from her children. I know this may sound strange or dangerous, but I wish you could see it in action. It is incredible. Despite his sins, my father is still a person in need of the love of God! He chooses not to accept it, but it’s there:)

  2. LB says:

    So much I could say. The confidence you’ve lost in churches- sad, but inevitable. It is hard to trust again, after trust has been broken. I hope you and your family will find a supportive church family again one day. It is getting rarer these days to find a pastor in ministry for the right reasons. The judging from family members, instead of love and understanding- also very sad. But I hope that in addition to your reaping the rewards of helping this victim, that also one of the things you’ve gained is your children seeing a father make right, tough decisions. Your kids have suffered and paid a price along with you, but hopefully what they’ve gained is better.

  3. Heather says:

    Hi Greg,

    When you first started this saga, it really hit home because I (and many I know) have been the victims of horrific spiritual abuse. In this case, I am the child in the situation who grew up in a “church” that turned out to be a cult. The church leaders inflicted spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse that as a child I thought “normal” but only now am coming to grips with how unthinkably bad it really was. Fortunately, I have amazing parents who eventually realised how wrong the whole system was and helped my spirit from being crushed and broken. We officially left a couple of years ago (after 5+ years of gradually being less and less involved and more involved with other churches).

    This brings me to now, and your final post. I skipped many of the posts sorry because I was overseas for 3 months, but I wanted to reassure you that there are definitely many good churches out there. I don’t know about USA but here in Australia, I have a fantastic church that loves God and just wants to glorify Him. I know that if I ever had abuse issues, my pastor and the leadership team would take it very seriously. Having said that, you talked about how you can’t trust the church with abuse issues. Well, that’s true of many church *institutions* but the church itself isn’t an institution or a building. The church, the true church, is made up of Christians from all over the world, those called into a relationship with God. When your friend came to you and your wife and you helped her, that was the church helping her. My little circle of Christian friends who were there for me and helped me when my church *institution* did not, was the church helping me. And so on and so on. It’s completely appropriate to lose faith in many church institutions, but I have complete faith in the church that God is building 🙂

    I hope your friend’s kids don’t have lasting ramifications from what happened. I’m 23 now and will carry scars for the rest of my life but I can truly say, if it wasn’t for the lowest of lows and darkest of Hells I have walked through, I wouldn’t have the deep faith and knowledge of God I have today. All the best with finding a new place of worship – it can be a daunting search!

    • Greg Howlett says:

      Thanks for writing Heather and I am glad you have found your way out of the cult. You sound like a delightful person.

  4. Nicki says:

    So happy to hear she is doing good and has her children with her. To have come out of an abusive relationship, but the courts giving your children to the abuser would have to be more heart wrenching then anything imaginable.

    I appreciate you writing this series. As the pastor and wife, my husband and I have never had to deal with a situation like this in our church, but hopefully if we ever do, we will have the common sense to realize that there is always two sides to every story, and not take one person’s word for anything. People can be so deceitful and manipulative. We did have an issue where my husband had to confront a man about involvement with a minor, and it was amazing how my husband became the bad person because he tried to protect a child. The legal counsel we received told us exactly how the individual would respond depending on his guilt or innocence. They were exactly right.

    • Greg Howlett says:

      Research shows that if someone claims to be a victim, he/she is almost certainly telling the truth and only telling the tip of the iceberg. The default should be to believe someone comes forward (though of course you have to be careful there too). My email is full of heart-wrenching and nauseating stories of churches who believed the abuser over the victim. Thank you for caring.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Greg, thank you for your series and as a member of GBC, I want to reiterate my disgust for what happened in Becky’s situation. The men behind that disgraceful situation are mostly sidelined at the church and it is my prayer that they will never be leaders again. You and Marla and the kids were also treated horribly. You were a faithful member of the church both in service and financially for more than a decade, serving not just on the piano and music but in many other areas. There is no way any of you deserved to be forced out in the way you were. The statement read when you left that contained lies about your family was not Godly in any way and we as a church will answer for it to God some day. I wish your family the very best as you search for a new church: I will stay anonymous as a public commenter but you can tell by my email address who I am.

    • Greg Howlett says:

      Thank you much. I have moved on and while I have no respect for Mike and his cohorts, I really do think it was for the best for my family to get out of there and am not holding grudges. Stand strong against the patriarchal nonsense and next time this happens, please help your church support the victim rather than the abuser.

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