Feminism, Theology

victims and abusers, and why church is not safe

my fair lady
[trigger warning for abuse]

If you follow me on twitter, you might have noticed that I watched My Fair Lady this past weekend, one of my favorite movies from when I was younger, but a movie I haven’t seen in years. And while I enjoyed the nostalgia and singing all the songs again, it was not an entirely pleasant experience and I probably won’t watch it again. Watching Professor Higgins, listening to him sing “Let a Woman in Your Life,” realizing that he never uses Eliza’s name and instead prefers to call her wretch, insect, and baggage, and understanding for the first time that Professor Higgins is an abuser . . . it was rough. The scene when the maids are ripping Eliza’s clothes off her body and you can hear her screaming, begging them to stop, pleading with them not to touch her– I had to bury my face in Handsome’s arm and try not to cry.

Our culture– our movies, our books, our television shows– is filled with abusers. It seems like everywhere we go, we can see an abuser being presented as a regular person. Many times, these abusive characters are written to be sympathetic. These abusers are given story arches that tug at our heartstrings, and all their abuses are ignored. Look at him, the writers ask us, look at how sad he is. Don’t you just want to help him get better so he’ll stop being so mean to people? The problem is, that is exactly the method John* used against me to convince me to stay with him. Don’t go I need you he’d say, so I wouldn’t. I would stay with him, accepting his abuse and believing that I could help him get better.

This attitude that abusers are just regular people who can be jerks sometimes appears in evangelical contexts, too, but with another concept tacked on: because every human being is wicked, perverse, and evil, we are all equally awful people. “There but for the grace of God go I,” they say in pulpits and podiums all over the country, and the people listening to these sermons hear about how “aren’t we all capable of doing things to hurt each other?” and somehow what happens is that everyone is a victim, and everyone is an abuser, and the ability to stop and say no what that person is doing is evil and I need to get away from them disappears.

Recently I heard a lesson based on Psalm 52. PerfectNumber, who blogs at Tell me Why the World is Weird, has been going through the Psalms, re-examining them, and has been showing me a picture of a God who cares about justice and seeks out the poor and oppressed, and seeing the Psalms in that light has been incredibly restorative to me. I can read some of the Psalms now and see a God of Justice who hates it when abusers hurt people, when the poor are ignored or taken advantage of, a God who comforts good people when they’re hurting. That is beautiful, to me, and is one of the reasons why I still think the Bible is valuable even though I have questions about it.

But, in this lesson, a couple things happened. First, Psalm 52 is about Doeg, from I Samuel 21 and 22. Doeg sees David at Nob, and at some point when he thinks that the information is valuable, he tells Saul– and Saul orders to have the priest Ahimelech, who gave David the holy bread, executed. When Saul’s guards refuse to kill the priests, Doeg is willing, and he kills Ahimelech, 85 other priests, and then slaughters every single last person and animal in Nob.

In short, Doeg is evil. He is only interested in using whatever he can for his own advantage, and is perfectly willing to kill priests and slaughter an entire village. That is what Psalm 52 is about– David is describing a man who “boasts of evil” and “plots destruction.” David is talking about an abuser– and that God will bring justice, and that people will “laugh at him.” In my experience, the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a narcissistic abuser is to be laughed at.

However, while the teacher talked a little bit about that, the main focus of the lesson was “how should we respond to problem people? How should we react to troublemakers?”

Problem people.

Troublemakers.

The abuses, the violence, the narcissism, the obvious self-interest, the willingness to slaughter innocents just to get ahead completely disappeared. Doeg was a “problem person” for David. The teacher spent some time asking us to envision the “problem people” in our lives, emphasizing how we probably have tons of people who cause problems for us because they’re selfish. But, we need to examine ourselves, he said, because we could very easily be someone else’s “problem person,” and we shouldn’t forget that. We could be someone’s Doeg. And, if we have a Doeg, a “problem person,” in our life, we should just trust the lord to take care of him or her.

I wanted to scream.

Because there is so much wrong with that. If we have a Doeg, who is not a problem person but is in fact an abuser, in our life– we should absolutely do something! Being in a relationship with an abuser is incredibly difficult to escape, and when the Church seems to constantly be sending the message that abusers are just problem people and we could be just as bad, too, it makes it that much harder for victims to get out. Victims don’t need more reasons to stay in an abusive relationship– they already have reasons. What they need is for a pastor or teacher to love them, to look them in the eye and say abuse is wrong and if you’re being hurt you don’t deserve it and I’ll do whatever I can to help you get out. Saying “oh, that abuser who is perfectly willing to use violence? He’s just a “problem person” and we’re all “problem people!” is … well, it is evil in its own way.

There’s another way abuse is ignored and downplayed, another twist on the “we’re all equally evil” theme. A while ago I heard a sermon that was about how much Jesus cares about us and how no matter what we’re going through he’s there for us and can help us with whatever’s going on. At the beginning of his sermon, the preacher spent a lot of time describing a bunch of different scenarios we could find ourselves in– except almost every single example was connected to “poor decision making” in some way. The only time he mentioned abuse was so vague and non-specific it could have meant anything from “your friend gossiped about you behind your back” to “your father raped you”– and it was at the end of a very long list on all the ways people are capable of getting themselves into terrible situations. He never, not once, during the entire sermon made a distinction between situations you are responsible for creating and situations where it is happening to you and none of it is your fault. In fact, he did the exact opposite– he conflated poor decision making with abuse not once, but six times.

Abuse is not normal.

Abusers are not normal.

They are not “problem people.” Not everyone is capable of abuse. We’re human, so we’re capable of doing hurtful things, selfish things, but that is different from abuse, and we desperately need to recognize that they are not the same.

Abuse is evil and the church needs to stand up and say something about it. Pastors need to look into the eyes of 20% of the married people in his church who are probably being abused and say the words abuse is wrong and you don’t have to stay there, you don’t have to live with them. Youth leaders need to sit down with their teenagers and say you have the right to determine what happens to your body. Sunday school teachers need to listen to the children in their classroom with the awareness that 1 in 4 girls  and 1 in 6 boys are being sexually assaulted or raped by a relative or family friend.

But, in my experience, churches tend to be silent. Pastors don’t talk about it. Teachers use softened language. No one wants to look this bleak reality in the face. And because we are silent, because we refuse to look victims and survivors in the eye, because we are blind and deaf, because we tell each other that abusers don’t really exist and we’re all equally capable of doing hurtful things we don’t have the right to say “this is wrong, this is evil, and it must stop.” We ignore the victims and survivors in our churches when what we should be doing is shouting from every single rooftop that the church is a safe place, that we will love, and we will help.

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  • Rachel

    Here’s something else I get when I point out problems like this in the church: “It’s bad that Christians do these things, but people everywhere (sweep abuse under the rug/fail to help people get out/confuse annoying people with truly abusive ones…whatever unrelated problem I’m bothered by). Don’t bash the church.” These kinds of statements usually seem to come from people who are eager to point out sin in “the world.” It misses the point that the church claims to follow a higher standard and holds itself up as a place of safety and “holiness” (in quotes because this is a loaded term).

  • A lot of churches aren’t equipped to deal with abuse well, like you’ve said, but the reasons break down differently. There are some with horrible theological philosophies that say it’s the right thing to stay in an abusive situation because of the example of Christ. *hulk smash* And so, people feel the pressure to stay in their situations because the church will not support them. *more hulk smash* That’s screwed up.

    My hope is that those voices who are now speaking out (like you) will reach to those who need to hear it, so they know they are doing the right thing by leaving their abusive situation.

  • Tamara Rice

    Amen, Samantha. I saw you speaking of two lies that get fed in too many faith circles here:

    1) “We’re all equally capable of doing hurtful things.” (no, no, no–we are not all capable of everything, thank you for pointing that out and also, if we are afraid to “cast the first stone” when it comes to abuse, we haven’t really figured out what that whole scene with Jesus was really about.)
    2) Every passage of Scripture has an easy application for the average person. (I don’t know why that stood out to me, but when you said the pastor made that passage about a crazy, abusive evil person to be about “problem people” it just made me shudder. Not every passage needs a quick and easy application.)

    But mostly I just really echo your sentiment that pastors should be speaking from the pulpit to the people in their congregations who are being abused. Because they are. They are sitting right there. And if the pastor isn’t telling them what to do to get out of that situation then the church is safe for abusers. End of story.

    Thank you, Samantha, for this. And, yes, My Fair Lady … oh, yes, he was an awful, awful man. Why did any of us ever think that was romantic??

    • Your #2 here is vitally important to remember, and is totally worth its own post.

  • When my best friend was murdered last year by her abusive husband and his cult-cronies, it was the first time I truly understood the Psalms and parts of the Old Testament in new ways. It was like, I suddenly realized how much evil there is in this world, and that God HATES it, too. He is not okay with abusive people who lord it over others. He is not okay with murder and rape and slavery and injustice. He is not okay with it. Period. I think we can paint God as just this meanie up in the air who wants to punish for nothing in particular. No, God sees the EVIL and it hurts Him and it makes Him angry, as it should. As WE should be angry and fight out against injustice and evil wherever we see it.
    Jesus Himself said we are to be innocent as doves, wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). When my best friend died, that took on a whole new meaning to me. It was like God was saying, “WAKE UP! There is evil all around you, and you must be wise about and discerning. Because abusers will pretend they’re good, and they’ll use all sorts of language to make everything seem okay.” And that’s where we must as wise as the serpents. Because there are many serpents are out there, taking advantage of good, well-meaning people.

    I think what we have to be careful of is hate, though. And that’s where I think Christians try and preach the, “We’re all sinners, so let’s just be compassionate.” Which IS true. And we have to battle hatred and taking vengeance into our own hands, etc., in evil situations. And I do believe anyone can be redeemed. BUT I think we also must realistically look at people and realize that evil people often will NEVER come to repentance. Most abusers and murders, etc., will go right back to doing what they were doing before. And they can’t just get away with things that are truly detrimental to others. Justice must be served.

    I guess I’m just glad I serve a God of justice. Because He truly will take care of these things. And yes, it might not sound happy-slappy-Jesus-lover-turn-your-cheek-etc, but after you’ve experienced real evil, you get it. You get why God must be a wrathful God sometimes. Because there are things that truly are horrible and evil.

    • Melissa

      I remember reading about your friend last year in the newspaper. It was so sad. I am sorry for your loss.

  • “I wanted to scream.”

    Please do. Maybe not literally, maybe digitally like with this blog post, but please keep screaming. Your voice is changing things — changing people. I’ve pointed people to your blog posts when they dismiss someone who has been in an abusive situation, or raped, and they’re being dismissive of that person’s trials. And me just pointing them to those words has been sufficient to change minds.

    Keep screaming. You’re doing good.

  • Samantha,
    Thank you for sharing your journey and your frustrations. It is difficult to fully appreciate your perspective, and I find myself wanting to argue against it. I won’t because I am on a journey trying to be better at hearing and honoring the experience of someone else. I am learning just how unhelpful the church and we pastors can be, even though we mean to help. But too often we ignore the cries for help. I know I often feel helpless to help, but am learning just to be present. I am enriched by your life experiences and your perspective. I appreciate you and the help you are for my journey. Peace, Mark

    • Mark, by taking the time to read and listen, you’re going in the right direction. Not everyone will understand every other’s experience. It’s a journey and it’s not easy, but it is, in my opinion, our responsibility as Christians, to seek compassion, to seek justice, to seek connection… Didn’t God do that much for us?

      It’s hard to hear that the Church is failing, but we must be vigilant, and we must hear these voices… it’s the only way we can learn how to reach out, and how to heal.

      As a pastor, I’d recommend partnering with other like-minded leaders in your area, and praying together on the subject. There’s an excellent ministry called Cross Current that’s specific to reaching out to sexual abuse survivors and addressing people lost in sexual sin. Looking into that training might be a good place for your church to start.

      God bless.

  • I totally understand what you are saying. My sister was on staff at a church and was sexually assaulted by a senior staff member for over a year (she was living at his house with his family – a wife, two sons and a daughter) but because he had mentally controlled her for that time as well she felt equally responsible. So the church fired him but decided it would be best if my sister “moved on as well”. She was treated the same as the man who had abused her.

    I think in our attempts to be merciful, to preach redemption, etc. we have tried to lessen the severity of abuse. “it was just a mistake. They are only human. They have an anger problem”. Thus creating a safe haven for abusers and not victims.

    Thank you for speaking out about this.

  • Beth

    Yes and yes. The church we just left has been protecting a porn addicted wife abuser. When we found out that the pastor said she had to leave the church filing for divorce from him, that was the last straw of many for us. To this day, people at that church won’t talk to her. She refuses to leave. So people treat her poorly. Rather than protecting the victim they are protecting and heralding the abuser. “If she’d been more submissive, he wouldn’t have had to x, y, and z….” Makes me sick.

  • frasersherman

    There are also lots of stalkers in movies, too, because in lots of rom-coms, obsessively pursuing someone and never taking no for an answer is a sign of Great Love.
    I’ve seen the “We are capable of bad stuff” malarkey in secular contexts too. David Brooks a couple of years back proclaimed that everyone who thinks the Penn State child abuse scandal is horrible is just pretending outrage to feel virtuous and morally superior.

    • Courtney

      YES on the stalking! I can’t figure out where this idea came from that stalking is romantic, but it makes me want to SCREAM every time I see it in a movie! People either play it off as cute and pathetic (“awww, look at him, just like a little puppy following her around”) or suave and charming (“he’s always leaving her presents and showing up at just the right time. I wish a guy would do that for me!”) Stalking is not normal behavior, and is in no way romantic.

      • AMEN Sister. That’s what drove me so freaking crazy about the Twilight series. We won’t even mention that number-of-colors book…. BLAH.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Though it can be just clueless. I know I’ve done some pretty dumb things when it came to the opposite sex (through sheer inexperience), and there is this mythos that stalking behavior is romantic/shows how much she means to you. I think the difference is when I heard that what I was doing was approaching IRL stalking behavior, I stopped.

  • I am not sure how to express this, or how to do so without giving offense, but after some consideration, I will try.

    I think that your characterization of Doeg as evil is accurate, if we define evil as being “only interested in using whatever he can for his own advantage”. But it’s not clear that he is an abuser, nor is it clear to me that abusers are evil or abnormal. In a way, it seems to me that you and the preachers each make a mistake; the mistakes are superficially different, but at heart, similar.

    The kind of abuse you describe seems to me to be a crime against agency. The abuser works to compromise, wear down or utterly destroy the victim’s ability to choose the life s/he wants and choose the means of attaining that kind of life. Abusers use all kinds of tools — violence and especially the threat of violence, denigration, insults, physical restraint, psychological isolation, and so on. But the basic goal is to prevent the victim from choosing goals and means to attain goals, so that the abuser can substitute goals and means of his (or her) own choosing.

    Looked at that way, you can see why the religious groups you describe are blinded to abuse. I am not and never was a member of such groups, so I am going only on secondhand description. But any group that believes “every human being is wicked, perverse, and evil, we are all equally awful people” is fundamentally incapable of supporting healthy agency. How could they trust wicked, perverse, evil people to choose good goals or good means to attain those goals?

    When I say that you are making a form of the same mistake, I mean that you are, in a sense, denying abusers their own agency. They have chosen terrible means to attain whatever their (possibly perverse) personal goals are, but it was, in fact, a choice. In fact, it was a choice made again and again until it became habit. What makes someone an abuser is, at base, a set of repetitive bad choices rather than some sort of abusive “essence”.

    In a weird way, I agree with the religious teaching you cite in your post. We DO all have the capacity to become abusers. But most of us, prompted by empathy or a sense of fairness, make other choices, at least most of the time, Abusers can learn to make better choices, too, but that is not a task for the abuser’s victim(s). In a healthy religious community, it ought to be the task of the leaders to make sure that both abusers and victims get actual help in building (or rebuilding) a healthy ability to choose. Obviously, that is not going to happen in the settings you describe.

  • I still wish you would come to my church… This is one reason I landed there. The lay counselor I saw for several years was phenomenal. During one discussion, she sat there, her mouth dropped open and she said, and I quote: “Your (family member) did WHAT?”

    And she cried and prayed with me, and just acknowledged that it was NOT OK.

    That was what I needed. Not some huge psychological breakthrough, not a confrontation, not a huge digging-up-the-past drama… Just an acknowledgement that what had happened was not ok… that young-me deserved better. That someone else had failed, and that I was hurt by that failure. THAT was what broke through a wall of silence and opened the door that has led to some real progress in healing from PTSD. I may never be “cured”, but I’d like to think I’ve come a long way. Love covers a multitude of sins, but real love doesn’t call an abuser a “problem person”. It sits back and lets reality be real… and real love acknowledges the not-ok and calls it what it is.

    We could use a lot more of that in our churches.

  • Terri

    @insanityranch, you made her exact point. You’re not disagreeing with her. She is insisting that churches *treat abusers as though they have the agency they actually do have* in abusing others. She is tired of churches not being willing to use honest terms about abuse, papering it over and calling it more “acceptable” names. The whole essay was about holding abusers responsible for their abuse. I’m not sure how you got from her essay the idea that abusers don’t have agency. That’s the opposite of what she said.

    I would disagree that what makes an abuser is a set of repetitive bad choices. If a husband hits his wife, that’s abuse even if he’s never done it before and never does it again. Same with Doeg: His mass murder was evil even if he had never murdered anyone before and never murdered anyone again. Abuse does not require repetition to be abuse. It can be a single act. I’m not sure what an “abusive essence” is.

    • Hi, Terri —

      My concern is with (e.g.) this part of the post:

      ———————-
      “Abuse is wrong.

      Abusers are not normal.

      They are not “problem people.” Not everyone is capable of abuse. ”
      —————————————–
      Let me be as clear as I can. Abuse is morally wrong, which is a category different from normal/abnormal. Abusers are people who perpetrate a wrong, not people who are essentially different from the rest of us. Their behavior is unacceptable, and they need to be prevented from continuing to harm others, even before an effort is made to change their behavior. But trying to “essentialize” them as abnormal does nothing to either understand or fix the problem, which is their behavior.

      Again, I have a problem with conflating “evil” and “abusive” or conflating “evil” and “abnormal”. “Evil” has no explanatory power, and it actually gets in the way of fixing problem behavior. Generally, we use the term evil when we want to give up on understanding someone: “Oh, he’s just evil.” The only reason I didn’t offer any challenge to the characterization of Doeg as evil is that Doeg is dead. Nothing can be done about him at this point.

      I would not consider Doeg an abuser, because he didn’t try to constrain his victim’s choices. (And the husband who hits his wife for the first time is not necessarily an abuser, though he may well be.) Murdering someone to curry favor with a corrupt king is wrong, and so is hitting someone, especially if that someone is weaker than you. Again, it’s useful to distinguish between different kinds of wrongdoing, if the aim is to actually make a difference in how people treat each other.

      • While I appreciate your point, I disagree with you, and I think most counseling professionals disagree with you, too.

        There is a difference between an abuser and a person who sometimes does abusive things. Abusers can be identified as people with specific disorders and moral dysfunctions, and I believe the claim that abusers are abnormal is founded is psychological research on personality disorders. Some of these are known as antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissitic personality disorder. You can read about these conditions in books like Why does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men or Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.

        The dominant cultural narrative is that abuse and abusers is normal, acceptable, commonplace, etc– and as long as we keep accepting abusers as normal, regular, average people who aren’t consistently doing sadistic, monstrous things without regret or consequences, violence will continue.

        • Kraw-k-k-k. Technically, they are all abusers. And huge numbers of people have some abusive impulses. But the “Axis 2, Cluster B” personality disorders have little or no empathy and sense of shame, and so are less likely to reform. If someone becomes an abuser because they believe it “god commands it” or because it is accepted by their moral teachers, they may sometimes be reached through their sense of shame or their empathy with their victims. If a person with one of those personality disorders changes their conduct, it is likely to be as a result of overwhelming social or legal pressure or an actual religious conversion.

          • Kraw-kkk indeed! (I love ravens — all the corvids, really.)

            I am not saying that there cannot be neurological / psychological reasons that people find it easier to use abusive behavior. But I think you are right that reforming social expectations would make a difference in both the number of people who choose abuse as their modus operandi and the kinds of abuse that could be successfully perpetrated / hidden. That would not be a small improvement!

          • ako

            Actually, Cluster B personality disorders (I believe all personality disorders are Axis II) cover a wide range of different feelings and behaviors, and doesn’t include only people without a sense of shame and empathy. Some of it’s extreme emotional volatility, and it’s best not to conflate them all with the pop-culture idea of a sociopath. Yeah, it’s easy and catchy to imagine a diagnostic category for remorseless evil, but it’s also inaccurate and hurting and stigmatizing people with mental illnesses. Please stop.

        • On a different blog, one devoted, perhaps, to pshychlogy, we could go ’round about diagnostic criteria and possible neurological underpinnings of various categories of “abnormalities”. (We could also discuss the question of how you distinguish between abnormality in the sense of “different from average” and in the sense of “deficient and/or diseased”.)

          But it seems to me that pinning semi-scientific labels on abusers is not particularly helpful in stopping them from hurting others, in helping their victims reclaim their lives, or in teaching the abusers how to change their behavior. And the point is, or ought to be, to understand situations in ways that allow us to prevent and alleviate suffering.

          Again, in your second paragraph you conflate several disparate attitudes. As the post quite clearly illustrates, abuse (and abbusers) are incredibly commonplace. And although nearly everyone insists that abuse is NOT acceptable, in practice, we all tend to ignore if not approve of some kinds of abuse. We may think it’s wrong for a man to threaten to shoot his wife, but fine for police to stop and frisk “suspicious” young men. We may think it’s wrong for a parent to “homeschool” by putting the girls nothing but housework, but it’s ok for business owners to hire third-world sweatshop factories to make our t-shirts.

          It seems to me that what is missing in all such cases is the recognition that human beings deserve human rights, including the right to choose their own goals. The recognition of the equal dignity and the unfathomable potential of every person OUGHT to be the central teaching of every religion. Sadly, that is not usually the case.

        • ako

          Could you not stigmatize everyone with a personality disorder. I have friends with borderline personality disorder who are thoughtful, troubled, compassionate people, do feel empathy and regret, and struggle to manage their emotional volatility, seek help, and do their best to treat other people well. They don’t need someone like you jump in and telling everyone their diagnosis makes them remorseless irredeemable abusers. The stigma is already more than bad enough.

          You seem like a well-intentioned person who wouldn’t intentionally seek to hurt a suicidally depressed abuse survivor, but you’ve just stereotyped, stigmatized, and hurt a big group of people that includes suicidally depressed abuse survivors. Please stop treating my friends like that.

          • I’m sorry that I communicated so poorly. I would never want to contribute to mental health stigma, and I’m sorry that’s what I’ve done here.

            What I was trying to say was along the lines of “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.”

            People are, of course, much more complicated than that. People with disorders like these are absolutely not guaranteed abusers, and having the disorder does not make you an abuser.

            However, abusers very frequently have a disorder like these, as well as have other issues involved, and these disorders can contribute to or exacerbate problems.

            But just because someone has a disorder like these doesn’t also mean that they don’t have the agency to NOT be an abuser. Having a mental illness is not free license to behave badly or to abuse.

            There’s just the unfortunate reality that many abusers can be described in the frameworks of disorders like these. For abuse victims like me, understanding and identifying patterns like how these disorders can present is very helpful.

  • First of all, lots of good stuff in your post.

    I think it is worth noting that My Fair Lady completely butchers the ending in the source material, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. This leads to the unfortunately common misunderstanding of the whole point of the play.

    Of course Higgins is abusive. Of course he makes women into objects. That is the point – and why GBH chose to reference the Greek legend of the sculptor who created his perfect woman. GBH did not intend to portray Higgins as a hero, but an anti-hero. He never gets the girl, and he doesn’t really reform either.

    Broadway and Hollywood couldn’t have that, though, and so the ending was modified. Actually, this was first done in London’s West End in 1914 during its first run. GBH was furious, and reportedly told the director, “Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot.”

    GBH maintained that Eliza needed to emancipate herself at the end. I rather agree. But, Hollywood wasn’t ready for that kind of story yet…

    • Yeah, I remember watching Pygmalion in high school and noting the difference, but didn’t understand why at the time.

  • Hello Samantha, do you currently go to a Church?

    The abusers you described here rather look like sociopaths. Otherwise it is my guess that the problems you describe happen mostly in Churches having a complementarian belief system.

    Best wishes from Europe.

  • Courtney

    THANK you so much for writing this. I used to work at a domestic violence agency, and not only do pastors typically stay silent on this subject, they often perpetuate the abuse. So many victims who came to our agency had been told by their pastors that they weren’t “submissive enough,” or they just needed to “love their abuser more.” The victim needed to “forgive as God had forgiven them,” and be “the manifestation of Christ’s love for that person” (their abuser).

    Many victims had also been guilt-tripped by their pastors (or other church members) in such a way that they were reluctant to take any measures to protect themselves. After all, they didn’t want to be responsible for breaking up the family, did they? One of my coworkers was invited to do a presentation on our services at a local church, and she was loudly confronted by a woman who was adamant that an abuse victim should never divorce his or her abuser. In fundamental and evangelical circles, divorce seems to be right up there with sexual “sins” on the Scale of Evil. No exceptions.

    After reading this, I think you’ve nailed the underlying problem. The pastors and church members in these stories all seemed to be under the impression that the abuser was “normal” and that with enough love and forgiveness he or she could be reformed (a major premise of the bible – everyone can be saved). The unfortunate truth is that this dangerous idea sometimes has fatal consequences. I’m so glad you got out.

    Thank you again for bravely sharing your thoughts and experiences. You are changing perceptions that have long needed to be changed (myself included).

    • AMEN!
      Everyone can be saved, indeed, but first comes REPENTANCE and there are consequences, even if there is repentance!

      Any pastor who tells a victim they shouldn’t leave so they don’t “break up the family” or that s/he “just needs to love him/her more” is as abusive as the abuser and is party to the abuse.

      Harsh? Maybe. But I’m talking to a friend just now who has been told (by another friend- not a pastor, just to be clear), that the fact that she was gang-raped, while being filmed, doesn’t matter because she was in prostitution and addicted at the time. She was seventeen.

      My heart is breaking… I honestly have no words for this level of pain. God hates abuse, indeed… and that is the rock upon which my faith rests.

  • This article gives me hope. I’ve just recently decided to take a ‘break’ from my church group for a few reasons… one of them being the reaction to abuse that was happening within my family a few years ago. My dad was fairly regularly beginning with hitting my brother, progressing to beating him whenever they had an argument that escalated beyond a normal volume. He also threatened and intimidated my mother and I. For SO GODDAMN LONG I prayed, I talked with my catechists, I begged them to help me. I called them every time it was happening, crying that we needed to tell someone or he wouldn’t stop. Mum comforted me only by saying that he knew it was wrong and he would stop… BUT GUESS WHAT?! He didn’t. So at 18 years old I told my school counsellor what was going on, I was so desperate for help and living in hell that it was that, or run away, or kill myself.

    What followed was a mere phone call from child protection services to ask what had happened. Dad was away at the time and mum was furious. I was made to feel like a traitor, an alien, and an abuser myself for having brought someone else in instead of ‘letting us solve it from the inside’. My catechists condemned my action. However, consequently, my father realised very quickly the threats now facing himself for his actions, and promptly did an about turn, changing his behaviour radically. Years later, though, my parents, even my brother and my catechists too, still say that what I did was literally ‘evil’ and ‘not loving my enemy’, not trusting in God etc. They have metaphorically pasted a label to my forehead and aren’t going to budge. They weren’t going to act on the abuse in our house because they were FRIENDS with the person committing abuse. It can be shoved under the rug, right?

    And that is one reason why I’m leaving this community… for all the points you made above about how abuse is excused and ignored, and the abused are shut up and put down for calling out for help. Now THAT is unChristian.

    • You did the right thing. They are wrong. From across the puddle…. ((hugs))

    • I am glad you got help and want you to know that this internet stranger condemns those who hurt you and is solidly behind you for doing what you had to do to cling to your sanity and life. I really can’t blame you for not wanting to be part of a group that allowed you to be hurt and victimized and blame you even one percent for what happened. I wish I’d been strong enough to leave over the abuse alone. I think if there is a god, and that god genuinely cares about justice, then s/he/it will care more about how you live and how you treat others than silly details like what name you give that god or whether or not you kiss his/her/its rear end the right way.

    • Katie

      You completely did the right thing. I’m so glad you did. More hugs!

  • Don

    You’ve got My Fair Lady / Pygmalion mixed up with your own life and while what it means to you may ring true, your characterization of it is anachronistic at best.
    I learned a long time ago not to judge literature and fiction from previous eras by the standards of this time and place. Huckleberry Finn remains a wonderful piece of literature despite its use — in perfect pre-Civil War context — of the dreaded N-word.
    Henry Higgins is an egotistical Son Of a Bitch (note how even that term manages to place the blame elsewhere) from late 19th century England. He doesn’t care a whit about Eliza because she is a plaything he has acquired in order to win a bet. No significant difference from the Duke brothers in Trading Places (which is in many ways a re-make of My Fair Lady with a touch of The Prince and the Pauper) who bet one dollar that they can turn Winthorp (Dan Akroyd) into a criminal and make Billy Ray into a gentleman. The crime that both the Dukes and Higgins/Pickering share is treating people like objects. The fact that Eliza gets manhandled by Mrs. Pearce and the staff indicates that Higgins views Eliza the same way he would a dog that had rolled in cow manure — except that he would more likely have Mrs. Pearce shoot the dog. Like any gentleman he would never soil his hands doing something he could pay someone else to do.

    • None of what you’ve said here disagrees with anything I wrote– your presentation of Higgins (an egotistical son of a bitch who treats a human being like an object, a plaything, and a dog covered in shit)… how is that not a description of an abuser?

    • Wow, Don way to miss the point by a country mile while setting yourself up to look like an intellectual snob! Been a while since I’ve seen someone try that hard. I mean really, using “doesn’t care a whit” in an actual sentence? Yep, that overshot the mark.

  • it helps so much to hear that other people are bothered by these older accepted versions of history. even if they are fine art, books, movies, etc, they do instruct how people view the world. the constant ‘pity this poor person’ who is in fact being abusive, is maddening.

    i have had such a hard time even feeling safe enough to say someone is abusive because of teachings like that. the whole ‘no one is perfect’ and ‘you’re probably a problem like that to someone else’ paired with being a woman and the submissive teachings, it’s a trap.

    being strong enough to say no takes courage and strength. reading these things gives me more courage to say no when i need to.

  • OMG. This. Throw in all the grumpy old mentors/coaches in every sports movie ever and you have even more people – kids! – now conditioned to accept abuse. I totally fell into that in and after college (for more reasons than just that, but that was one).

    As kids, we paused The Princess Bride nearly every time we watched it for a reminder that Inigo’s dead father did not, in fact, guide his sword, but I don’t remember a many comments on abusive authority figures in other movies. And the only kids sports movie that even comes close to addressing it (that I remember) is Air Bud. For someone driven like me it came across as a valid way to achieve excellence, and that is so unhealthy.

  • sunnyside

    A few months ago, SO and I watched 16 Candles. He was very disturbed by how casually the “romantic lead” passed off his drunk girlfriend to another boy, giving him permission to use her and the lead’s car. SO’s a good egg, but hearing him point out rape culture and abusive dynamics made me love him more.

    Last night my stepmom and I were talking about an acquaintance who is just amazing – kind, generous, assertive, very successful and well connected. She was also in a very controlling, unhealthy marriage in her 20s. So was my stepmom, who has come a long way as well – from fundy homeschool mom with only a HS education to a business owner with a master’s degree and a pretty egalitarian marriage. She said she just didn’t know that all men weren’t like her ex, that she was young and didn’t know she had other options. I said, “because that’s romantic.” There was a heavy pause before she responded, “yes!”

    I was raised on My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Disney Princesses, etc, etc – jealousy, control, power dynamics were presented as ideal, healthy, just the sort of thing attractive, romantic men do.

    My mom was a conflicted feminist – they adopted a fundamental type of lifestyle when I was a kid, but it was a stretch for mom and she gave me a lot of perspective other girls didn’t get. Like that it was ok and sometimes better to wait until later 20s for marriage and that men are the head, but that that means they don’t boss and control but that it’s their job to be servant leaders. Then she’d laugh at my gagging over even that bit of patriarchy. God, I miss her. She’d be so happy about my relationship – we take care of each other.

    • sunnyside

      Reading this I’m reminded that I have no idea why my parents were drawn to being fundamentalists, other than that they had friends who encouraged them and seemed to have such happy, peaceful, idyllic lives and kids. It was pretty much the opposite of how my parents had lived their lives previously and the worst life choice they ever made.

  • And this, of course, shades over into the patriarchal beliefs of the church. If you start by believing that some people are “better” than others, you end by allowing the “better” people to abuse the “worse.”

    “Why do you call me good? Only the Father is good.”

  • Hi Samantha, I’ve read your posts on No Longer Quivering and also wandered over here from Love, Joy, Feminism.

    One of the things you may have noticed about abuse stories, especially amongst clergy, is the disbelief. Frequently when stories break of celebrities involved in abuse the reaction is, no, that can’t possibly be true, he’s such a nice person! And even in the weight of overwhelming evidence there’s still sometimes a shred of disbelief. You get this even more with clerical abuse, probably because people put trust in their spiritual leaders, and don’t want to believe they are guilty. I think this is mostly because abusers don’t just groom their victims, they groom their entire community into looking the other way. There is much more awareness of how to recognise and treat an abuse victim; there needs to be more awareness of how to recognise an abuse perpetrator.

    Sorry if this is a rambling comment, it’s late here in Australia and I really need to be in bed. However this is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot recently and I just wanted to put my thoughts out there.

    • “abusers don’t just groom their victims, they groom their entire community into looking the other way”

      That was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. When my Evil Ex (a Pentecostal preacher) got done with spin-doctoring my leaving him and the religion, my entire church was convinced that I was an evil shrew who cheated on him constantly. That’s probably got a lot to do with why they dropped me like a hot stone when I deconverted, come to think of it. He even tried to get my parents on his side, but they’d hated him from moment one and weren’t fundie and had no reason whatsoever to do anything but laugh at him. Not one of my church friends even questioned anything he said. Not a single one of them. Even my non-church gaming friends immediately assumed he was telling the truth, which I didn’t realize till one of them hounded me to “give Biff another chance” and I exploded at him about the abuse I’d suffered; he hadn’t known at all. Biff had weirdly omitted all those details while outlining how terrible I was and how he just wanted us to “try again” because he was just that much of a loving, long-suffering husband.

      The big problem is that abusers are often terribly charming people. They have to be, or nobody’d put up with their abuse. They’re really good at getting sympathy and drumming up support among those who don’t see them clearly for what they are. The traits that make someone an effective abuser and predator are also the traits that make someone a charismatic and powerful church leader. Whoopsie! How’d that ever happen… So no, I don’t think churches are invested at all in learning how to spot predators. Hunters don’t teach deer how to spot blinds, either.

      • “When my Evil Ex (a Pentecostal preacher) got done with spin-doctoring my leaving him and the religion, my entire church was convinced that I was an evil shrew who cheated on him constantly….Even my non-church gaming friends immediately assumed he was telling the truth, which I didn’t realize till one of them hounded me to “give Biff another chance” and I exploded at him about the abuse I’d suffered; he hadn’t known at all. Biff had weirdly omitted all those details while outlining how terrible I was and how he just wanted us to “try again” because he was just that much of a loving, long-suffering husband.”

        This.is.my.story. Except my Ex was Southern Baptist Deacon.

        “The big problem is that abusers are often terribly charming people. They have to be, or nobody’d put up with their abuse.”

        Yes and yes. And the type you describe here are rarely motivated to change. The only thing they are motivated by is preserving their image. Either they truly believe they aren’t abusive or they know it deep in their soul and don’t want anyone else to know it. I haven’t decided which I believe it to be yet.

        • I know mine knew he was abusive. One night during the year or so he stalked me after I’d fled the whole country to get away from him, I cried out, “Why are you doing all this to me? Why the threats? Why the constant haranguing calls? Why are you doing this? This isn’t going to work! This isn’t going to magically make me fall in love with you again and go back to that hell! So WHY?”

          His reply:

          “I have to try something, don’t I?”

          Still chills me to the bone to remember it.

          • Mine went on for twenty years. I’m grateful he didn’t stalk me once I left. I stayed for over a month after I finally got the courage to say enough. That was a hellish month and a half.

            The entire time and even after I left he tried to convince me it wasn’t that bad. He never *hit* me after all. He had no idea that choking me and pulling my hair and knocking my head against things was abuse. “He had no idea why he did those things, he just lost control” and “didn’t he deserve *one more* one more chance?”.

            In the end I decided, looked him in the eye and told him, that either he didn’t lose control, he knew very well what he was doing, after all he hadn’t *hit* me, so surely he could control some aspect of it or he lost control and at some point wouldn’t be able to control how far he went. He either lost control or purposely used physical force to intimidate me. Either way wasn’t good enough for me and I was done.

            His reply: “I still just don’t know what I’ve done so terrible.”

          • .. egad, that is just mind-blowing. I am so glad you are out of that. That’s just shocking to me. You’d think after hearing so many women’s stories of abuse at the hands of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men, nothing’d render me speechless anymore, but you managed it.

            Mine’s still probably just totally confused about just what he was doing that was so bad. I left when he pulled out the threats of violence–I was already deconverted by that point, so I had no religious reason to put up with that kind of thing, and I knew already that abuse only escalates. But for a religious wife stuck with that kind of situation, it must be all but impossible to escape. D’ma, you’ve got my fullest and most sincere sympathy and commiseration here. I am glad you’re safe and out of harm’s way and I hope you’ve found whatever help you needed to recover from that shocking experience.

          • Thank you. It’s been nearly four years and most days I’m great. But I do have really bad days. Days where it just rushes back like it was yesterday. Ironically it isn’t the physical abuse that’s the most difficult to deal with, but the gas lighting and emotional and verbal abuse that really get to me.

            I was convinced by my religion and it’s teachers my only choice was submit, submit and submit more. Choose each day to try a little harder to make myself something he would love and respect. I cannot tell you how many Christian self-help books I’ve read on the subject.

            I will never forget my pastor, who I dearly loved and respected (and had no idea what I was going through-nor, I’m sure, countless others in his congregation), going through a series on marriage and divorce. His answer, hard as it was, was that the only “Biblical” reason for divorce was adultery.

            My husband, when finally confronted by me and told that we could try counseling, asked we not go to our own pastor because he was embarrassed and he was a deacon so I relented. We chose a pastor from another denomination – who was ill equipped for dealing with abuse, I might add – to counsel with. All the while, without me knowing, he was laying the groundwork with our pastor and church leadership for accusing me of adultery. He did. I knew he would.

          • Wow… that’s a number to do on someone’s head, you know. He demanded you do something you didn’t think wise to protect him and his image. He demanded you put your own emotional health and well-being aside to keep your abuser’s image and street cred intact. How cruel and absolutely vicious. He saw nothing wrong with such a demand, either, that much is obvious. Not for nothing do I say that nobody sane should ever go to a pastor for counseling. The very limited training they occasionally get does not constitute a real therapist’s credentials or qualifications, and they are not bound by the rules that real therapists are bound by–like confidentiality, as I discovered to my horror when Biff talked me into pastoral counseling right as I was leaving.

            BTW.. have you been screened for PTSD? “Flashbacks” are one of the symptoms. It stood out to me when you described it because I went through much the same stuff after my escape.

          • You know, sorry to double you here, but I also just thought of this: when someone is ruled by fear, it is very easy to think of fear as a tool to use to rule others. That’s very likely why your ex doesn’t get why his threats and violence are so bad: no less than his god does the same exact thing and this is considered just and good. Threats and violence are a huge part of most Christians’ ideology, let’s face it. I did not know a single person in either the SBC or Pentecostal churches (nor any of the other ones, like Maranatha and the weird little offshoots like the Seekers) who wasn’t absolutely white-knuckled terrified of Hell (or getting “left behind”–and this was before the book series was out) and who didn’t pull out vicious threats against non-believers. These sorts of threats are what work on the minds of those who are raised with threats, fear, and violence and who are taught that those are acceptable venues of human behavior. People like that are taught that sometimes you just “can’t help yourself” and you’ll lash out and hit things when you lose control and that’s just “sin nature.” Fear, threats, violence… they are wrought all up in the religion’s mindset from its very inculcation to its final iteration.

            Did you know that if you hit a child (even in the “disciplinary” way that criminals-against-humanity like Michael Pearl advocate) you totally rework its neural network and remove its ability to regulate itself and grow properly? And you teach that child that violence is a necessary and acceptable way to regulate others. I wonder what Christianity would look like if it refused en masse to advocate violence against its most vulnerable and helpless members.

            There are only a few of the 41,000 flavors of the religion that purposefully avoid those aspects of its brutal and barbaric source material and concentrate instead on the few humane passages (as was indicated here, avoiding all the atrocities and cruelties to focus only on Psalms and other “nice” passages that are way more humane and comforting than the main parts of the books). I’m okay with that, honestly. I’d rather see Christians who refuse to allow violence or abuse to occur to anybody in their ranks of any age or gender, and who emphasize “neither male nor female” over the more viciously misogynist “complementarian” model enjoyed so well by abusive predators all through the religion.

            People use the arguments they find personally compelling. When someone uses a threat, that person is saying that threats work on them–and that they find violence to be an acceptable means to reach a desired end. I’m going to be looking very suspiciously at those Christians who delight in threatening hellfire and damnation in their fire-and-brimstone exhortations, I think, now that I’ve realized that truth. I bet nearly every one of their wives and children have some interesting stories to tell about what these TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men are like behind closed doors, just like you and I do. We are not unique at all. A lot of women have suffered under violent men, and many children have grown up still bearing emotional and physical scars from their “loving discipline” and having to fight to escape that early conditioning. I have great hopes for Christianity to decouple itself from that legacy of violence and brutality. I hope that it can. I want Christians to be good neighbors for humanity. I think it’s possible. I hope it is. Hope the best and believe the best, right?

          • Wow you have a pretty stark image of Christianity. I’ve heard these arguments before, but I refuse to buy into them. It’s just as bad to blame “religion” for abuse as it is to excuse the behavior on religious grounds. It’s blaming a social construct for what is a PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY on the abuser.

            I think that if you spend more time reading the Bible in context, as Samantha repeats over and over and over again (with good reason), you’ll find that God is NOT a God of violence, but of love. The human heart is full of violence, yes. That’s part of the original curse, the “original sin”. We’re broken. That’s what the whole Jesus story is about.

            I don’t want to get into the whole theological debate over that, I just wanted to point out that these experiences, while heartbreakingly common, are NOT typical church up bringing. I’ve attended a lot of different churches. I grew up in a little fundy Baptist church, and attended different churches with friends and family. I heard a lot of different pastors speak and I interacted with families from different congregations. Every single one was different… and the number of abuser was about on par with what you’ll find in ANY organization.

            Church isn’t the problem. Abuse is the problem.

            The problem with some churches is the unwillingness of leadership to educate themselves about abuse. THAT is why those of us who are survivors must keep speaking out, and must keep speaking up, even when we’re told we’re wrong or just “stirring up trouble”. A church that does not offer strong support, protection and validation to an abuse survivor is not a healthy or loving environment, but it’s hard to blame pastors who have no experience with this sort of thing for not knowing how to handle it. It’s up to the survivors to speak up, to speak out, and to make our voices heard.

            On that note, THANK YOU Samantha, for this blog.

          • I’d like to share with you how hugely disrespectful and unloving your reply came off to me. I get that you’re feeling a bit stung by my rather stark assessment of your religion, but attacking me as a person and trying to negate the validity of my personal experiences and knowledge is really not a good idea. First, it will backfire, because I am, simply put, objectively in the right here. Secondly, you will only make your religion look more invalid to me because you are incapable of seeing the truth spelled out in your very own Bible in black and white.

            Often ex-Christians get accused of having just “done something horribly wrong” by Christians who are flailing around wildly trying to figure out how to negate us. Put us in a box, label it “read the Bible ALL WRONG (unlike how I read it)” or “went to the wrong church (one not like mine)” or “didn’t get the context at all (but I do)” or “wasn’t sincere enough (like I am).” It is so massively and cruelly disrespectful to do that to someone. I know why you do it. I used to do it too. It’s part of the idolatry around “the message.” “The message” is perfect and cannot ever be wrong, so if someone has something bad to say about it or left the religion, clearly that person is the problem, not the message itself. But what if the message can be wrong?

            Ever seen a group of 1950s housewives in movies or on TV who experience a divorce in the peer group? They all cluster together like hens to try to figure out what the divorcing wife “did wrong” so they can feel more secure. Whew, she wanted to work outside the home. Or she was disrespectful. Or something. She did something wrong that we’re not doing. Whew! We’re safe, we’re not doing that at all. That is what you just did to me in your desperate attempt to crush and invalidate me and what I have to say.

            I really truly get that you’re not able to see the atrocities contained in the Bible, the hopeless millions upon millions of humans that your god has murdered through his curses and his rage-filled drownings alone. I get that you still think there’s some magical “context” that makes it okay that millions of babies and women have died in childbirth, or that nearly every single human and animal on the planet got drowned to death in those two myths. I don’t think there is a context that excuses that. And this barbarity and cruelty informs modern Christianity to a startling and dismaying degree. The whole system is, to me, diseased and broken, lending itself to a shocking amount of predation, striving, and abuse–that as many Christians as there manage to be decent people despite their religion is, to me, the real miracle: the triumph of the human spirit.

            BTW: If anybody is broken, it is the person who thinks there is some way to magically square the circle of genocide and countless murders, not the person who rejects them and the fictional character who caused them. I don’t accept that humanity is broken, and I certainly do not buy the invisible “cure” that Christianity offers along with the invisible “disease” it has so thoughtfully diagnosed. And I wonder sometimes if that’s really the point: for Christians to come to grips with the atrocities in their Bible so they can address them and heal from them. But by denying them, you can’t even get started on that project.

            Forgedimagination and Mary Schneider, I apologize if I came off as tart here. I really, really hate it when Christians try to invalidate me. It happens to ex-Christians constantly and the cycle needs to end. I know no TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would ever want to treat someone like I was just treated and that this is just an accident caused by misunderstanding and ignorance, and I am happy to set the record straight.

          • This thread is getting so long and deep I had a hard time finding this to reply! lol

            First, I want to say that if I came off as disrespectful, I apologize. That was not my intention. I was at the end of a long and hectic day, and may have responded more harshly than I should have.

            In the interests of writing something you’ll actually take the time to read- because let’s be real, who wants to read a mini-novel every time they get involved in an online discussion?, I’ll try to be brief… but also thorough because I do appreciate that you’re dedicated valuable time as well. I can’t be the only who’s insanely busy. (Single mom here, raising teens, working full time, and full time college.)

            Please don’t assume that I’m ignorant. That’s what you do when you use words like “genocide” and wonder how any intelligent person can reconcile atrocities with a loving God. Not all of us have been spoon-fed the Bible since the cradle, and frankly it’s insulting to assume that I haven’t already wrestled with those questions myself. I think that the tone of this blog in general, and the depth of the discussion in the comments should give a clue that most of us here are actively studying for ourselves, not just sitting in the pews accepting whatever the big man in the pulpit (or woman, in some of our cases) tells us.

            I can not possibly even begin to tear down each individual Bible story in a post, explaining the context, or I’d be here for years and write that novel. There are many fine writers who’ve done that work already, and I’ll respect your ability to dig up that kind of discussion for yourself if you’re so inclined rather than try to recreate their work here. I will give only one example:

            When the Israelites were taking over the area in which Molech and Baal were the idols of the day, they were instructed to wipe out the population.

            Sounds harsh, right? Terrible, to go in and wipe out an innocent group of people… Unless you know that the worship practices included the sacrifice of live infants in a furnace to the gods. That’s only one of a long list of atrocities that were accepted practice in the people group. We’re not talking about innocent tent-carrying wanderers here, walking along and gathering flowers, just living their lives and minding their own business. Again, you can read for yourself, if you’re so inclined. I frankly avoid reading much more about those “worship” practices because they tend to give me nightmares.

            Ok, I know I said one example, but I can’t ignore Sodom and Gomorrah… The Bible lays that one out pretty clearly, and it wasn’t about homosexuality…
            That’s what I mean about context. Calling God evil for wiping out clearly violent, brutal, immoral, unrepentant people groups who were torturing and killing innocents is kind of like being angry with the cops for taking down a violent criminal who has raped and murdered a school full of children.

            I think that we think of God’s wrath against “sin” foolishly in some modern churches. We talk about “sin” and refer to things like stealing a pack of gum from the grocery store…. And in the leaders’ scramble to convince their congregations that every single one of us has that seed of evil in our hearts, they water it down and make it sound as if God is seeking out every little bad thing we’ve ever done… And ignore the huge glaring awful things that happen in this world every single day… like abuse, because they know that we, the average congregant sitting in the pews, thinks in our hearts, “well, I’m not one of THOSE kind of people… I’m not an abuser, I’m not a bad person”, so they focus in on our little sins instead of addressing the big stuff.

            However, there’s that novel I promised not to get into, right there in that whole discussion… so moving on.

            If you come into a group like this one, and throw around attacks on intelligence and assume you see something about “my religion” that I haven’t already seen… That’s kind of like coming into my house and pointing out the leaking faucet and the cracked window in the living room. Do you really think I don’t KNOW the church is flawed in places?

            And then telling me I’m disrespectful and hurtful for responding… Yeah. I won’t bother pointing out the obvious.

            Seriously, if you want to discuss these things further, if you have specific questions about how I can believe what I do, knowing what I know, feel free to e-mail me. MarySthewriter@yahoo.com.

            Just remember, you’re not the only one with scars, hon, especially not around here. I think you know that- which is probably why you’re hanging around on a blog about healing from spiritual abuse.

            Me, I left the church for 13 years when I was 17. My dad died… My world ENDED that year. Lots to tell there, but I won’t bore you with a lot of gory detail.

            So for 13 years, I wandered spiritually. I went to college. I studied religion during that time. I pursued paganism, eastern religions, new age, philosophy, humanism, atheism… Covered them all, some in more depth than others. I read the Bible critically, as literature. I was, and remain, a Campbell fan, although I find his rejection and harsh criticism of Christianity (while in the same breath praising the “naturalness” of some very violent tribal customs), both sad and hypocritical.

            Eventually, and it took years, I followed that little golden thread of truth that weaves through mythology and religion of all stripes, back to Christianity. I can tell you why, if you’re interested, but I’m trying not to assume that, either. I’m not that interesting of a person. lol And I have a feeling that this isn’t about MY story at all. Nor is it about the Bible. It’s about the journey you’re on to heal whatever wounds have been inflicted by a church, by someone you trusted, or by someone in authority. The same wounds many of us carry, but different, because no two scars are alike, no two lives are the same, no two set of experiences, and no journeys are parallel.

            I will leave off by wishing you luck in your journey, and saying God bless, whether or not you believe in him. I wish you peace.

            And if I’ve come over as condescending or harsh, again, I don’t mean to be. I’m trying to avoid “sounding” that way, but it’s not easy on the ‘net. More importantly perhaps, I’m trying to avoid BEING condescending or harsh, because I know I’ve been both in the past. I’m still journeying too, and don’t pretend to know everything… or anything at all, really. All I can do is keep moving forward, and keep learning, which is why I read this blog.

            Take care
            Mary

          • Everybody’s got their scars. I like ForgedImagination and her gentle attitude, and I like how she’s trying to rescue her religion from an increasingly cruel, misogynistic, and despotic mainstream. Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, John Shore, and a host of other Christians are doing similar things, and I’m all for Christianity becoming a good neighbor for the rest of us.

            I would like however to point out that I’ve done a fair bit of reading myself, and somehow my conclusions came out a lot differently than yours did. It is pure ignorant arrogance on your part to assume that I simply must not have done the required reading if I came to those conclusions. I was devastated when I realized that the god I was carrying around in my head did not match even 1% with the god depicted in the Bible, and I’d thank you not to belittle my years-long effort to find that god (and I did, but it wasn’t the Biblical god–go figure) by dismissing it all with an airy “oh you just don’t understand (like I do).” If you can manage to reconcile the atrocities in the Bible with a loving god, that’s your thing, not mine. I moved on because of what I found in the Bible and found the contortions of apologists unsatisfying. You found a way to make it work. That’s fine with me. I did not, so I left. That’s also fine. But please assume I know as much as you do before you throw around labels and try to put me in boxes to dismiss and invalidate me.

            I’d also ask you to please not be so arrogant as to tell me “God bless, whether or not you believe in him.” I don’t. You already know that. I thought I’d made that crystal-clear. You are putting yourself above me with that statement and it comes off as belittling and–again–arrogant. I’m detecting a trend here. Are you? Why does your faith depend on trying to find ways to belittle and invalidate non-believers? That’s something for you to ponder; too long and not the right place to delve into it here. But you’re not alone; most Christians, once you get past the overflowing declarations of love and the sweet smiles, turn out to be that way deep down. It’s almost as if there’s no god at all inside them, and they’re just people–people who react poorly to any criticism of their beloved hobby just like anybody else would. Isn’t that just weird?

            And isn’t it just the craziest thing that the Bible didn’t just make itself clear? Let’s take slavery. I find it mind-blowing that a god–who had authored the universe, by that book’s reckoning, who had already demanded his people mutilate and disfigure their babies for him, who had already demanded his people not eat an animal that was the backbone of the diet in that area at that time, who had already convinced them to sacrifice perfectly good animals to assuage his deep and abiding savage bloodlust, couldn’t just say “Hey. Y’all. Don’t own people. Ever. Never ever.” Instead, he set up dozens of rules about exactly how to own people, how long to wait to rape female slaves, how exactly to re-sell slaves one wasn’t “pleased” by, how hard one could beat slaves, and the like. Isn’t that just insane? And you think there’s some magic context that excuses that? I don’t. I think the reality is that the document is a record of the people at the time, and slavery was a thing happening at the time; like all societies, they were struggling to evolve and move forward, and that’s how they figured out how to run with slavery. As time went on, people figured out that slavery was a horror and not something good at all, and we stopped (except for the modern right-wing fundies who think slavery is something we should, quite literally, bring back–look up Joe Morecraft). But it was not a god who magically told us that it was wrong; rather, his document was used extensively by slave-keepers and governments to justify slavery all the way up to the American Civil War. We’re the ones who figured it out. We did. People. We did it despite the Bible, not because of it.

            Context is not a magic get-out-of-uncomfortable-verses-free card, though modern Christians use it as such. I admit, I’m really glad to be out of that religion. I am free to look at those myths and know them to be atrocities, rather than the old days when I bashed my brain out trying to find some way to reconcile the murder of an entire planet’s life with the idea of a loving god. It chills me to the bone to see a modern Christian chirping at me about how no no, really, it was totally fine to keep slaves and drown the planet, really it was… like excusing genocide and making slavery sound like the bonus plan, and all I can do is think of the Germans during World War II and the book 1984. Please stop trying to excuse and justify this stuff. It’s not working, because I already know the party lines and rejected them lonnnnng ago. Okay?

          • Wow.. Not sure how you took that as me trying to “put myself above you” or pretend I was superior in any way… I thought I was being pretty clear that I *don’t* believe that, at all, and that I respect your journey and your different conclusions.

            I shared my e-mail in case you wanted to know how I can remain faithful, and how I reconciled the issues you’ve brought up for myself, but I’ve avoided detailing how that works for me in my response because I have the impression that you don’t really want to hear it. (And now that impression is 10x stronger.) You’ve made up your mind. You’ve done your reading, and come to your conclusions, and you don’t want to hear arguments or ideas that are different from the conclusions you’ve come to. There’s nothing wrong about that. I disagree, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it just means that I disagree.
            I was not offering you an argument. I was leaving the door open if you wanted a conversation. Clearly, that’s not the case.

            Regardless, I’ll thank YOU to respect that *I* have come to very different conclusions, and not assume that I’m unintelligent, condescending, or arrogant, simply because I have expressed disagreement. You began this conversation using some very strong and harsh language, so you can hardly blame me for responding in defense of my own very strongly held beliefs.

            There definitely comes a time to agree to disagree, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s where we are in this conversation.

            If you take offense to “god bless”, then I will say instead, good luck.
            Take care.
            Mary

          • Dear Mary,

            Thank you for answering.

            You’re right: I’ve done the reading. I’ve done more than enough reading. I’m not even done with it. I still read apologetics materials sometimes because I’m an open-minded person, but since the religion’s had 2000 years to come up with some compelling argument for itself and hasn’t managed one yet, I don’t hold out a lot of optimism there.

            You’re right: I’ve talked to people. I’ve talked to more than enough people. You might also be interested in knowing: I’ve spent nights on my knees locked in prayer and weeping till my heart broke trying to make it all make sense, and it never did. I’ve got no interest in talking to yet another Christian convinced that s/he is the Magic Christian who will make it alllllll make sense, who will wipe away alllllll those problem verses with just the right bit of mental chicanery and pseudo-history. All you’ve done is demonstrate a remarkable ability to contort and compartmentalize your beliefs with reality to avoid a serious case of dissonance. I remember how that was, because I was the same way. And I forgive you for feeling defensive. You’re just a person, and people are what they are regardless of what religion they follow. If you felt stung, then of course you’re going to sound sharp. That’s okay. I was not deliberately trying to goad you or make you angry or upset, but intention isn’t a magic shield. I will remember this exchange in the future.

            You’re right: I have no interest in emailing because it sounds like it’s going to be a Magic Christian experience. I’ve had way too many of those already. It all feels like someone is regurgitating talking points gleaned from sermons and apologetics materials at me. Not interested. But thank you for offering. If you ever want to talk about other stuff, that’s fine, there’s a contact form right on my blog, I’m around a lot. But religion is a personal subject. I don’t talk about my religion online and I respect someone’s choice of religion. You can’t make yourself disbelieve your religion any more than I could make myself believe it.

            You’re wrong here though: I do respect that you have come to different conclusions. Uncertainty is part of the human condition, which means that either of us could be wrong (it’s unlikely that we’re both right, given that we have totally contradictory ideas). You and I sound like we have very similar educational backgrounds and personal stories. We’ve both done a lot of reading and listening. And yet here we are, both coming to totally different conclusions. I already respect that you have done your homework. I just wanted you to respect mine, and until now, it didn’t feel like you did. I have very good reasons for thinking the way that I do. My opinion was formed by evidence and by the best scholarship I could find to study–just as you feel yours is. I don’t have a lot of respect for Christian apologetics (I think it’s contortionist, manipulative BS all the way through), but as long as you respect it, which you clearly do, there isn’t going to be an easy way to dialogue past that.

            I’m glad we could clear the air a little bit, and I wish you well too. You must be busy this time of year, so this seems like a good place to stop till next time. Best wishes to you too–

            Cas

          • I agree with you 100% that Church nor Religion is responsible for creating an abuser. I firmly believe that abusers are drawn to fundamentalist religions because it validates their behavior. This is what happened to me: My spouse told me constantly I wasn’t worthy of him. Without him I’d be nothing. If I didn’t submit to him and love him and worship him I’d receive retribution whether it be physical, verbal, or emotional. Does that sound like love? Sounds a lot like the God of the Bible. Unless you don’t believe in a literal hell. And even if you don’t believe in a literal hell, throughout the Bible there are examples of God’s punishment and wrath. It’s hard to accept the parts of the Bible that speak to how much love God is without also realizing he is a God of Judgment and wrath.

            That the number of abusers in Church or Religion is on par with that of any other organization should be alarming. I’m not even convinced that they are on par with any other organization. It isn’t talked about so I’m not even sure where statistics for that would come from. If God is a God of love why is that so? You’d think that would be the opposite. People would learn to be kinder, gentler and more loving. Yet they don’t.

            This God of love of whom you speak is not very real to a lot of people, even people who truly believe in him. They are the ones on the receiving end of atrocities to horrible to even speak.

          • Actually, that doesn’t sound like the God of the Bible at all. I don’t remember reading anything where he says “worship me or I’ll destroy you”.

            That lie is one that has been constructed by organized religion, and is just one of many that don’t show up in the Bible, yet people blame God and the Bible for the twisted up crap that comes out of some churches.

            To be honest, Christians have a huge responsibility in all this- If we just assume because someone’s a Pastor, that they know the Bible, we’re nothing more than sheep following a cult leader.

            Human beings are not God. They are not even gods. Any man who uses the words “worship me”, either actually speaks them or implies them is NOT living a biblical life and does not have a biblical marriage. The Bible instructs husbands, just in one place, to “love your wife as your own body”. Wives are instructed to “be sure to respect your husband”. It does NOT say “worship, obey, and kiss his feet”. Respect is not the same as fear.

            Religion is a powerful social construct. Anything with power can be dangerous, if mishandled. That doesn’t make it evil. It just means that people are broken, which is pretty much the theme of the Bible, and the only way for an individual to be fixed is to understand why Jesus died the way he did, and to recognize what repentance and love really mean.

          • I will choose to respectfully disagree with some of your conclusions. There are many verses that explicitly conflate fear and respect as it relates to God.

            I did not say that having to worship, obey, and kiss your husband’s feet was a Biblical marriage. I know that’s pretty screwed up. But it mirrors the relationship between God and his people.

            “. I don’t remember reading anything where he says “worship me or I’ll destroy you”. “

            It is implied throughout scripture. “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. That love comes from believing Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb. The penalty for not believing, not loving God in this way, is death. Hell.

            I’m not going to argue you into understanding my position. And I’m not really even trying to. I understand yours. I just disagree with and reject it.

            The fact is we are all individuals. We read the Bible, or any other literature for that matter, and come away with different meanings. This is a major roadblock. I was simply trying to explain why what you’ve said comes across as disrespectful and dismissing to people like me.

            It comes across as “you’ve been reading the Bible all wrong”, “If you just read it my way you’d see I’m right.” What you don’t know is that I was fundamentalist. I stepped back and became more progressive and stepped back and became even more so. I have read it the way you attempt to spin it.

            Then I studied quite a bit about how it was actually put together and the differing views on the texts and their meanings and in the end have come to believe that it’s a wonderful piece of literature and largely mythology. This doesn’t mean I don’t think it has value. It just means I have a different idea about who Jesus was. It doesn’t change the violence in the Bible. It just means I can read it more objectively since I don’t have a desire for it to mean more than it does.

          • You speak of having a deeper understanding, having studied… and say I’m “disrespectful” for disagreeing and picking apart specific points, yet completely ignore that I have studied, too, and have gone deep myself. I’ve seen violence. I’ve lived it. I don’t know what you’ve lived, so I’m not trying to compare our journeys, and certainly not trying to discount your experiences or saying mine are “more valid”, absolutely not. I’m just explaining that I do know what violence is, and do have a deep, personal understanding of what we’re talking about. This isn’t just an intellectual discussion for me. It’s gut-level. I imagine it is for you, too, but again, I don’t want to assume without knowledge.

            I understand what you’re saying about expectation of worship. I just think it’s a mistake to confuse a God who is completely Other with flawed, failed human beings. Men are not gods. God is not a man. In fact, I’m not convinced that God is “male” as we understand it. After all, it does say that man and woman were both “created in His image”. Doesn’t sound like God’s standing while he pees to me… Again, misogyny is a human construct. Jesus didn’t partake in it, and in fact was berated for his “bad behavior” in interacting with women and children, but rebuked his disciples. “Let the little children come unto me…”
            “Peace, daughter.” (the fact that he called the woman with the “issue of bleeding” “daughter” in that passage has a whole huge significance, as well, but I’m TRYING to stick to the point and not to write a huge book-length post discussing details you may or may not be interested in or already aware of. Not easy for me sometimes. I’m a talker. lol)

            I think Samantha said it best, when she mentioned her reading of the Psalms, and God’s fury at the violence and abuse he saw happening. I can’t ignore that he gets angry… but what does he get angry AT? Because people don’t have the right color sheep when they sacrifice at the altar? Nope. He gets angry at the ugliness of what human beings do to one another. I think you’re making assumptions about what I believe, without knowing me, but again there’s a book I’m not willing to write in the comments. Like you, I don’t believe I could convince you “to my side”, nor do I feel it’s my “job” to do so.

            I do, however, respect your intelligence, and your right to come to different conclusions. It’s hardly the first time I’ve disagreed with anothers’ interpretation of literature, let alone religion. (lit major here).

            Agreeing to disagree is one of the fundamental concepts of civility in these kinds of conversations. I’m good with that.

            Have a good day.

          • I didn’t mean to say outright or even imply that I have any deeper understanding. That is obviously how it came across and I apologize. I have a different understanding, not a more enlightened one. That was simply an explanation of why I disagreed with your conclusions and certainly not meant to demean or belittle them. They are yours. That was my point.

            I also am making no assumptions about what you believe since I really don’t know. I think I took the long way around to say that there are 41,000 flavors of Christianity and that doesn’t really begin to scratch the surface of what each individual actually believes. So however many Christians there are there are that many different Christianities.

            I think that if you spend more time reading the Bible in context, as Samantha repeats over and over and over again (with good reason), you’ll find that God is NOT a God of violence, but of love.

            It was this particular phrase that gave the impression that if someone has a different understanding that it’s the wrong one. My comments had no bearing on what you believe about particular doctrines.

            Again, my apologies for making you feel disrespected.

          • Katie

            “His reply: “I still just don’t know what I’ve done so terrible.”
            My ex just recently said to me “I wasn’t so bad, was I?”
            I said, ‘yes, you were and are very much so’ I don’t think he realizes how abusive he is. He’s still pretty baffled as to why I divorced him.

          • It’s very hard for me to determine whether they realize it or not. My ex was smart, charming. I don’t know if he was convinced what he was doing wasn’t so bad or if thought he could keep me convinced of that fact. I’ve likened what he was/is to a black hole. He sucked all the air out of the room. It was, indeed, all about getting some need he had met at any cost. In his eyes that made it “not so terrible” because it was my fault for not meeting that need.

          • I think narcissists just aren’t capable of understanding their own abusive behavior because they just don’t have the empathy to understand the depth of the hurt they’ve inflicted… and frankly, they don’t care.

            If you really care about someone, you don’t hurt them, and if you do hurt them, either in a moment of anger or by accident, you regret it. That’s not how an abuser reacts. They try to excuse their behavior or pretend it didn’t matter.

            Speaking of ex’s… yeah. I get what you’re saying, on a personal level, too. So… (hugs).

          • I have done some reading about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This fit my ex pretty accurately. No matter who he was abusive to – he was fairly emotionally and verbally abusive to his mother and his children – he really never could see it as ‘all that bad’. And if anyone dared to challenge him on it he could somehow spin it to get sympathy for being so misunderstood. It’s enough to make those around them feel like the crazy ones.

            I completely agree. It is not normal behavior to hurt those you say you care for or, at least, not regret it and feel remorse that you did.

          • *nodnod* Yep. Mine too. He had several of our mutual friends convinced he was the “good guy”. He did just enough for me and the kids to build the reputation he wanted, and when something (one) else “better” came along… He took his chance and ran.

            I don’t think he was (is) a horrid person. Oh, I’ve called him my share of names, don’t get me wrong. I’m no all-forgiving, long suffering saint. lol! He did some pretty rotten things, and he’s a selfish narcissist. I see him as lost, as searching, as broken, and while I have no desire, at all, for him to become a part of my life again, on days when I’m stronger and not completely immersed in my own grief, I pray for him to find his way.

            He slid under my radar as an “abuser” because he didn’t fit the classic profile that I already knew- the hitter, the drinker, the yeller. He just has the mental and social restraints in place that kept him from being physically abusive when he didn’t get his own way. His weapon of choice was emotional manipulation and charm, rather than fists and physical control.
            I wonder sometimes, if I’d seen him interact more with his mom when we were first dating, if I’d have been warned. I’d already left one boyfriend in the dust by that point after he was mean to his mom. lol

            *sigh* there’s a lot of complex personality stuff that goes into understanding why some of us fall for abusive relationships… I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to figure it all out but I doubt I ever will, really… and while I might still search for insights, I’m ok with not knowing everything… I’m much more focused on helping my kiddos see the pitfalls and learning what IS healthy and good, so I can help them see the myriad of choices available to them, and hopefully fill up their cups so they have the resources to make the better choices for themselves as they go along. 🙂

          • Evelyn

            My ex says the same thing. Tells people he has no idea why I divorced him, after years of rape and emotional abuse and gaslighting. I lost a whole church full of “friends” when I chose to divorce him. It gets really awkward, from time to time, when people can’t figure out why a nice Christian like me would be so unforgiving. I’ve chosen not to talk publicly about what he did, because we have children. Oh, it sure is tempting to enlighten people sometimes!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy

            His reply: “I still just don’t know what I’ve done so terrible.”

            Sounds like he defined “abuse” as hitting and ONLY hitting so everything else — EVERYTHING — was OK and fair game. Letter of the Law, tithing mint and cumin, and all that.

            And redefining “abuse” like that — didn’t Screwtape write to Wormwood regarding semantic tricks, redefining words into their “diabolical meanings”?

          • ” didn’t Screwtape write to Wormwood regarding semantic tricks, redefining words into their “diabolical meanings”?”

            Indeed he did. Though my ex-husband’s reality seemed completely different from mine. Though he pulled my hair out by the roots, bounced my head off of various stationary objects, and had his hands around my throat on numerous occasions, in his mind all he ever did was grab me by both arms and shake me a little. He was proficient at gas lighting. And I’m not even certain he knew that’s what he was doing. Once I confronted the situation and was trying to decide what I could live with and what I couldn’t this conversation took place:

            EH: “Well, where do we stand here? I can’t stand this limbo anymore. I don’t know how much more of this I’m going to put up with out of you.”

            Me: “Wait…I’ve been putting up with things for twenty years, and this has only been a few weeks, and you don’t know how much more you’re going to put up with out of me?!? (Now, calming myself and in a kinder tone) You’re right. We both have decisions to make here. So, yes, I guess you will have to decide how much more you’re willing to put up with. We didn’t get here overnight and we aren’t going to get out of here overnight. But I’m going to say that if you want a decision from me right now, this very minute, I don’t think you’ll like it. So you need to decide if you really want me to answer that right now.

            EH: “Well, fine then! I think I have a right to know where I stand, though.” (Storming out of the room).

            The next day during our counseling session with the minister:

            MM(Methodist Minister):”Have you been practicing your communication skills? How are things going?”

            Me: Regurgitating the scenario above

            EH: “All I asked is if I’m doing better.”

            Me: :

            MM: “Even if that is all you wanted to know, you don’t get to ask her that question.”

            In his mind he was convinced that’s what he’d asked me, even though that wasn’t at all what he’d asked me, just like he was convinced all he’d ever done is “shake me a little”.

            In his world reality was completely different than the reality that I was experiencing. He was rewriting it in his head as it was happening and trying to convince me of his version of it.

          • Holy cow… Although I didn’t deal with the violent aspect, that last sentence… was so my ex. He has his own view of reality, and he’s very good at convincing others of it. Jarring, and sad, at the same time, to read that.

      • I read a book shortly after my abuser had dumped me called “The Charmer,” and it was very helpful for me to see the tactics he’d been using our entire relationship. He is incredibly charming, and very, very good at getting people on his side.

        He’s now a youth pastor. I’m still wrestling over what to do about that, because he is going to hurt a teenage girl at his church.

        • Oh man do I ever feel you there. Mine was a youth pastor too in a couple of different places–it was part of his lead-up to go into ministry. He was really into kids, which stopped being charming and started being chilling around about the time I woke up to his abusive nature. I know how hard it is to weigh “do I really want to wade into this beast’s orbit again?” versus “how dangerous is he and how necessary is a warning?” The other problem is that even if you say anything, remember: the culture of churches often refuses to even investigate allegations of wrongdoing. It’s like warning your BFF about a guy she’s dating who is really bad news: she’s not going to see the red flags you do, most likely, and she’s going to react poorly to the accusation.

          Without a sea change in culture, even the most evidence-laden heads-up is likely not going to protect the people who need protecting, and depending on how vindictive and too-clever-for-his-own-good your charming ex is, your good deed might even earn you a lawsuit (I’m at about eight threats of lawsuits and counting from Biff at this point and I fully expect #9 to toddle along when he figures out where my blog is, as careful as I’ve been to only say substantiated or legally-non-culpable things on it). I feel ya, sister. Wish there was some good answer for the concern we both feel.

        • Do you have a relationship with anyone in leadership in that church? Can you approach someone and share your personal experiences with him?

          You may want to consider confiding in a friend or advocate- even a professional counselor, who can assist or even accompany you. You shouldn’t have to face this situation alone.

          God bless you for speaking up. The only way the cycle can be ended is if the victims speak out. ((hugs))

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Something I keep telling people:

          Successful sociopaths (or pedophiles, or abusers) are masters at camouflaging what they really are. If they weren’t, they’d have been exposed and caught long ago. We only hear about the dumb ones who slipped up.

          I believe Jesus’ words about “Satan himself can transform himself into an Angel of Light” has application. I know the abuser in my past was The Sweet Angel of Light to everyone else.

  • “There but for the grace of God go I,” they say in pulpits and podiums all over the country, and the people listening to these sermons hear about how “aren’t we all capable of doing things to hurt each other?”

    That always sounded like such a cop out to me. I agree, this attitude perpetuates the abuse/victimization cycle to keep going. Thank you for being vocal. Keep writing! You have great insight!

    • Oh don’t ever think we’re not all capable of hurting someone we love.

      I never thought I would harm a child… In fact I was one of those kids who played with dolls and daydreamed about having babies… But when my daughter was… She must’ve been around 2, I once, in a fit of temper and frustration, slapped her so hard she fell down. Immediately horrified and remorseful, I reached to pick her up, and she shrank away from me… That is when I sought out counseling, parenting classes, and help to learn how to parent, because I recognized I had not had the upbringing to prepare me for motherhood. I love my kids, beyond reason, and my entire being is dedicated to their welfare, but I needed training and help in learning to relate in healthy ways to the ones I love most. Thankfully I was able to get that, and I’ll always be grateful for the people in my church who responded to my need for accountability and support, and for the community parent resource center that offered the classes in child development and effective, loving discipline techniques.

      There is NO excuse for abuse. When it happens, it needs to stop, and if the abuser doesn’t recognize it and stop it themselves, then people in the community, whether that’s a church, a family, or society at large, MUST step in and stop it. Pastors who use the “but for the grace” line as an excuse or pardon for unrepentant behavior, or who pretend that repentance should require anything in the way of forgiveness or reconciliation from the abused, are complicit with the abuser and just as guilty of perpetuating the abuse, IMHO.
      The lady I confided in first, when I sought counseling and help from my church, did NOT excuse my behavior. She wasn’t hateful or irate, but she was sad with me, and encouraged me while acknowledging that lashing out at a toddler was NOT ok.

      Just so I’m clear about repentance, while I do think it is a positive step forward in an abuser’s life, and the only good thing an abuser can do when they recognize what they’ve done is wrong, it is between the person and God, and does not excuse the behavior. It puts absolutely no responsibility on the abused, or anyone else, to excuse the damage that has been inflicted.

      Sorry to get into such a rant about that, but I used to be one of those people who thought “I’d never do that…” and I learned the hard way that it’s better to recognize our own potential for failure than to pretend we’re “not that kind of person”.

  • Pingback: Sometimes Church is the Problem | thetalkingllama()

  • As Shakespeare’s Sister has written: “When your gods are male, your men become gods.” In churches that follow even a vaguely “traditional” complementarian system where men lead and women follow (and give free labor and tithes, of course, and volunteer for those positions that don’t threaten male dominance *too* much), women have no power and no advocates. Any time a woman is abused–and this is distressingly often considering churches are supposed to be filled with people possessed by an all-powerful god who influences his followers–that abuse is a raised middle finger to the myths about men and women that churches tend to propagate. How can churches be good places when this happens? How can the complementarian system really be true or effective if this keeps happening? They aren’t always, and it isn’t. Rape Culture–that ideas that women are even a smidgin responsible for their victimization, that they are inferior to men inherently, and can be devalued by sexual activity–also plays into the constant drumbeat of abuse of women and children as well from church leaders who insist that men are ravening beasts who will rape anything, anywhere, for any reason, if given enough provocation and that women who are victimized clearly did “something” to at least partially deserve their abuse.

    I have heard all too many times about a woman Christian who got abused by someone “over” her–a husband, a pastor, a deacon, a father–and got told clearly it was her fault and she should pray more so her god would fix the abuser and make him a good Christian and she was experiencing this abuse for a good reason.

    I was one of them.

    A religion’s only as good as its people. Some of those people in Christianity are really great folks, and they’d be so no matter where they landed. Way too many others… not so much, and most flavors of Christianity just give them free license to prey upon those who are ill-equipped to defend themselves thanks to a pervasive system of inequality in most churches and a culture that blames victims to maintain its leaders’ dominance. If I were going to design a system that allowed predators to harm victims without a single bit of worry, I could not do it better than most modern churches.

  • I’m reading a book called “The Empathy Trap,” and it’s about sociopaths who target empathetic people with their abuse – and how to protect ourselves from those people. There are people who abuse habitually, and it’s sport for them. Everyone makes mistakes, hurts people they love, but the difference is the severity, frequency and lack of true remorse (vs. self-pity and “I’m sorry I got caught” remorse of abusers).

    I really enjoyed this article, and this is a really important topic. Thanks for writing it!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      ‘I’m reading a book called “The Empathy Trap,” and it’s about sociopaths who target empathetic people with their abuse – and how to protect ourselves from those people.’

      Predators go after easy prey.

  • Dani

    My husband was abused by his mother for years when he was younger. His dad left because she was emotionally and verbally abusive to him too. Deep fundie history. When it went to court she was found not guilty, despite pictures taken by police the last day he was in her custody. THey paraded people from the church through saying “oh she would never do that.” And she claimed her husband had abused her. So everyone sided with the pitiful wife and mother. To this day she is still manipulative and vindictive, but my husband thinks he still needs to spend time with her and her family (who all lied in court even though they knew what was really going on) because its “the right thing to do”

    • Dani

      *my kindle cut me off so this is continuation…
      “I have to honor my mother and that means her family to.” It drives me nuts. I hate being there, all the undercurrents of dysfunction, the subtle nit picking, the fact that his little brother can do no wrong and hither he, or I really, will ever do will be right.
      The comments above about abusers controlling everyone in their sphere really rang true. Learning to deal with hewe people that I married into the family has really been a struggle. We spend a lot of time with my husbands dad though and hes a really great guy.

      • Oh Honey…. No… Just no. Honoring one’s father and mother does NOT mean honoring her family too. And it sure does NOT mean that you allow abuse to continue, and it does not mean you have to stay in contact or put up with further abuse. That is one of the most damaging theological misunderstandings out there, and it hurts my heart to hear he’s still trapped in that lie.

        I’d recommend Captivating by Staci Eldredge, and, if he’s willing, Wild at Heart by her husband. It’d be a good place to start, at least.

        Good luck to you both. (hugs)

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          “Oh Honey…. No… Just no. Honoring one’s father and mother does NOT mean honoring her family too. And it sure does NOT mean that you allow abuse to continue, and it does not mean you have to stay in contact or put up with further abuse.”

          My Dear Wormwood,
          Remember my previous missive about redefinition of words into their diabolical meanings.
          Your Ravenously Affectionate Uncle,
          Screwtape

  • Jamie

    Wow, so many people on here have abusive exes who are pastors! The same with me! I wish we could all get together and talk in person.

    Things were good when my old boyfriend and I dated, and then things got crazy and bizarre after we broke up. I am so thankful I paid attention to the small red flags when we dated. I was stunned by all the craziness and emotional abuse after we broke up. I still panic years later when I randomly see someone who looks like him.

    I started reading some books about narcissistic personality disorder, and everything makes sense. The books talked about how narcissisic people are attracted to the ministry because they are good at creating favorable public impressions.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      “Wow, so many people on here have abusive exes who are pastors!”

      “Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as at the very foot of the altar!” — Screwtape

  • Melissa

    Is anyone here worried about their ex’s spouse? I worry about her…but I don’t want to get involved. I just feel sad knowing what she is probably going through, having personally experienced it myself.

    • I know exactly what you mean.

    • Yep. My sister went thru that when her scumbag pedo ex re-married… a woman with little girls, too. She tried to warn her, but he’d convinced the new wife that my sis was a drug-addicted pathological liar.

      She eventually left him, and I think that she caught on faster than my sister had, and before as much damage was done as he inflicted on his first family, but my heart still breaks for that family. I think that, even though it caused my sis a lot of grief to tell her, she did the right thing. The other mom might not have seen the signs when she did and gotten her kids away from him if she hadn’t.

    • Evelyn

      Yeah, sometimes I think my ex would give up on getting me back if he found someone, but I wouldn’t wish him on anybody in the world, ever.

  • Thank you so much for this important and thoughtfully worded post and thanks to my friend, Anais, for sharing it with me. I hope you’ll visit the website for the “We Will Speak Out” Campaign and perhaps be in touch with me about it. “Speak Out” Sunday was November 24th. The goal of http://www.wewillspeakout.us is to encourage faith leaders to preach, teach and speak out against sexual and gender-based violence. There are excellent sermon and teaching materials on the website. Planning is already underway for the 2014 campaign. Survivors of abuse are needed to spread the word. We are God’s wounded healers in this work. Blessings and peace to you.
    – Rhonda Case (Portland Liaison for the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence, http://www.saiv.org)