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?
Part 14: The “repentance” game
Part 15: Isolation
Part 16: When the church goes off the rails
In my last post in this series, I discussed the deacons’ plan to “resolve” the abuse situation in the church. Pretty much from the moment the victim got back to Georgia, while the deacons were useless in regards to practical concerns the victim had, they began pressuring her to meet with them. I knew what their plan was: their goal was to convince her to put the divorce on hold and they wanted reconciliation.
At this point, I made a controversial decision: I advised her not to meet with them until there was a new pastor in place. Her dad, a pastor in Michigan, told her the same thing. Let me explain why:
1) It was clear that they wanted to put her back in a dangerous place that we had worked hard to get her out of. Her emotional state was fragile at the time and she had finally worked up the courage to do what we all felt was the right thing (to end the marriage). The abuser was doing everything he could to break down the barriers and get her back and it was clear that the deacons would help him in his quest by pressuring her to take him back. You cannot imagine how disastrous that would have been. If she had ever made the mistake of going back to him, her life would be a living hell today.
2) They were claiming authority they did not have. Neither the Bible nor the church constitution granted those deacons the power they were trying to grab. In the Bible, deacons are servants with very little authority at all and even though it is often customary in Baptist churches for deacons to see themselves as leaders, our particular church constitution gave them no such leadership. Therefore, we considered their involvement in the situation illegitimate.
3) Several of them were extremists with strange ideas about marriage. Furthermore, they demonstrated ignorance about abuse and an unwillingness to learn anything. In other words, while good counsel is a helpful thing, they offered no real value as counselors even outside the realm of their deaconship.
4) Some of them were talking to the abuser and passing along information about the victim that they had no business passing along. In fact, it appeared that at least one of them was flat out acting maliciously. Very frankly, we didn’t trust them.
In the spirit of transparency, I informed the deacons by letter that I had advised the victim to not meet with them until we had a new pastor. To put it mildly, they were furious. One of the deacons had already resigned out of protest by that point but the others got together and wrote me a letter. While it mostly consisted of grammatical/spelling errors and Bible verses taken out of context, the overall gist of it was that they demanded three things of me (and Marla): we were to step out of the situation, we were to “reconcile” with people in the church we were in “open” conflict with, and we were to meet with the deacons in the coming week.
I asked some questions. For example, I asked who I was in “conflict” with. In fact, I had to ask several times and it was inexplicably like pulling teeth to get the head deacon to provide the list. Their list was the abuser himself (ridiculous for a few reasons), the deacon board, and one other person in the church that came to my house to lecture me and I ended up asking to leave (I wrote about that here).
I offered to do a meeting at my house and I even offered to invite the victim to come to the meeting. They refused because my house was “not neutral.” (I am not sure what they were scared of when they outnumbered us so drastically.) Eventually after a lot of back and forth, a meeting was finally held at the church a few weeks later. The deacons invited three other older men in the church. They did not want the victim to come but she came anyway.
And so things came to a head. I readily admitted that I lost my temper in my house with the one man in the church and offered to reconcile with him. I also asked all the deacons in the room to forgive me for conflict with them (really there was conflict only with one). However, two hours later, we had established that the deacons were going to church discipline Marla and I unless we asked the abuser for forgiveness, stepped out of the situation and agreed not to write publicly about the situation. I was unwilling to agree to those demands for several reasons and so we were at an impasse.
Then the victim asked them a question. She asked them if she could be subjected to church discipline as well if she did not “reconcile” with the abuser. All three of the deacons in the room answered yes.
We sat there stunned for a moment. Then the victim stood up and resigned her membership and walked out. I stayed a few minutes longer but then also resigned my family’s membership. When asked why, I said that I was not going to go to a church that would discipline a victim of abuse for not reconciling with her abuser. (Nor will I in the future.)
There was a second reason why we chose to leave the church: the head of the deacons was incredibly malicious and acted like an immature child in that meeting and not one of the men in the room had the courage to tell him to straighten up or leave. Honestly, in retrospect, I regret that I did not personally tell him to either get a grip or the meeting was over. Regardless, I realized during that meeting that we were at a church that not only had unqualified and immature people at the helm but also a place where no one else with influence had the guts to take a stand against evil leaders. (In their defense, a few of the men confronted that deacon in the coming days and I appreciated that even if it was too little too late.)
That is the last time any of us have ever been in that building. But while I wish I could say that is the end of the story with the church, it isn’t. I will share more later.