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
I am going to tell you what our former church did but I am not going to name the church because it doesn’t matter. They are down to a few families and struggling for survival and we never talk to anyone there anymore. Essentially, we moved on quickly and have never even considered looking back. Since that is true, you might wonder why I am going to talk about them at all and that is a fair question. The behavior of a tiny church is not important enough to warrant much attention here on the blog regardless of how wrong it was.
So why am I writing about it? The answer is simple: what my former church did is sadly way too common. Hundreds of you readers have written me over the past few months with your stories. Some of them are even more appalling than mine. This issue is bigger than me and bigger than our former church. I am writing about this subject because of the 20,000 people that will read this, thousands of you either have dealt with similar situations or will deal with similar situations and I want to provide some perspective that you might find helpful.
Again, this is about helping those of you that have been abused and also helping those of you that want to help those that have been abused. I am not writing this to abusive church leaders. I am not trying to change the minds of those people. They are dug in and secure in their flawed ideology that they try to pass off as theology and they are not going to change. However, if you are suffering from abuse at the hands of your church, I want you to know that it is OK to stand up for yourself either by walking away or rising up to fight.
Don’t get me wrong: I would rather you just flee rather than fight but I am not naive enough to think that everyone will. I initially wanted to fight too but it did not take me long to learn that I was fighting something that was bigger than me and frankly not a battle I could win. Letting go of the fight and just letting those people be who they are was a tough decision for me but one that I have never regretted. I have no control over those people but I can control whether my family is around them and being influenced by them. If you are in a domestic abuse situation and getting abused by your church too, trust me when I say you probably need to just leave and find a church that is not abusive.
Now, to continue my story. As I have mentioned many times before, the abuser we were dealing with is a typical abuser. Such abusers always think they are special but the truth is they are fairly predictable and use the same playbook. One of the key things that you need to know about them is that they suffer from a fictional worldview. That leads them to make decisions that do not make sense to rational people but make perfect sense to them. Once you understand that, a lot of things make sense including the story I am about to tell you.
In a temporary hearing, certain guidelines were put in place to protect the victim. Most importantly, the abuser officially agreed in a court document to leave the house and never come back to the residence except to pick up and drop off the children. Even then, he was never to be in the house itself.
You would think a court order would keep an abuser on the straight and narrow but note what I just said: abusers do not think like the rest of us. Essentially, this residence restriction was a boundary and abusers hate boundaries. I knew from the beginning that he would do everything he could to go into the house. In fact, within one hour of the victim’s return from Michigan, a locksmith was there changing the locks. We had no reason to believe that the abuser would surrender all keys or not make copies of them. However, I also knew that the abuser would try other tactics too. Abusers almost always work from a Hyde/Jekyll paradigm and he is no exception. Sometimes, he would be the sweetest guy in the world, offering to come in to help her inside the house with this or that. Other times, he made threats. By the way, even though this protection has been in place for close to a year, he still has not given up on trying to get back in the house and even this morning, was still complaining about it in an email. (He says he finds it offensive.)
A few days before she returned, here is an excerpt of an email he sent her:
The house is just as much mine as it is yours. Since you abandoned me and the house and your job over five months ago, you have no right to bar me from my home. If I need to gain entry into my home, I will give you 30 minutes notice. You can leave if you wish. I have tried to remove all items that are mine or that I will need but I may have forgotten something.
Now, I took that seriously. First of all, it showed a complete disregard for the court order he had just agreed to and signed. Second, it was a threat to her safety. I knew that if the abuser was willing to disobey a court order, the victim would need help with protection. Up until that point, Marla and I and a few friends had been handling everything but we knew we could use more help especially during child swaps because we knew that was when he would most likely try to get into the house. Our plan was to at least initially make sure someone was there out of sight watching at every swap, either in the house or across the street at a friendly neighbor’s house. We were happy to do it (and did do it many times) but our church had deacons that lived in the area and we thought we would ask them for help.
So I wrote a very polite letter to the deacons explaining the situation, providing a copy of the abuser’s email threat, and asking them if they would be willing to help provide support during some of those swaps. I did not ask them to confront the abuser. I just asked them to be there in case of trouble (out of sight if they preferred). Deacons are supposed to be servants in the church and I thought they might be willing to serve a church member that was getting threatened by an abusive husband.
I was wrong.
One deacon (a close friend of ours) understood the situation and agreed to help independent of what the other deacons decided. However, he was on his own. I got one email from the head of the deacons and it was a nonsensical refusal to help. The other three deacons ignored my request completely. I later learned that they spent hours discussing it among themselves and complaining that I had asked for help but not one of them picked up the phone to call me and amazingly, not one of them so much as reached out to the victim to ask her what she needed.
Think about that a second. I alerted them to a very real threat and they could not be bothered to even call the victim and ask her if she was safe.
You might wonder if you are not getting the whole story. For example, you might wonder about my family’s standing and the standing of the victim in the church so let me tell you about that. The victim was the leader of a whole section of AWANA before she left, always at church when possible, a member of the praise team, and well respected and liked. I was running the music program in our church (volunteer), was a leader in AWANA, and my entire family was involved in the ministry of the church as much as anyone there. In short, all of us were heavily involved in serving the church but when it came time to help us, the church was not interested in reciprocation.
That being said, there obviously is more to the story and I will tell you about that in coming posts. For example, there was a lot of petty angst toward me from the head of the deacons that I did not even know about at the time. In addition, the abuser was working behind the scenes to turn the deacons against the victim and me. I want to go into that in particular because that is a common abuser tactic and it will help some of you.
Now, in their defense, two of the four of those deacons eventually apologized for this particular situation but only after I really called them out on it in very direct ways in front of other church leaders. The other two (including the head of the deacons that created the problem) never admitted how wrong their response (or lack thereof) was.
Regardless, the deacon response to the email was very telling. It told me they had no clue what a deacon was supposed to be. It also told me that they were more interested in controlling the situation than helping the situation. The spiritual abuse that was lurking around the corner. I will get to that soon.