This is a guest post from a pastor I greatly admire, someone who is leading the charge in the arena of domestic abuse issues, and someone who wasn’t scared to have me come speak to his MOPS’ group mid-divorce (so you can see why I like him). Enjoy…
Right above my Keurig, (or sermon life-support system, as I think of it) is my ordination certificate. It is not only a reminder of the call that God has on my life, but also a reminder that I said “yes!” I take my calling seriously…which means that I take people seriously. After all, ministry is all about people.
Since my ordination in 2002, a significant part of my ministry has been counseling. I never thought that with a master’s degree in counseling that I’d end up being a pastor, but I can say that it has served me well in all of my work with people in various settings. I’ve counseled many hundreds for nearly every issue that exists under the sun. Marriage counseling is probably the most common form of counseling that I’ve done, but it wasn’t until the 2007 disappearance of a woman that I counseled that the issue of domestic violence made its way onto my radar screen.
I counseled Stacy & Drew Peterson on many occasions, as they attended the church that I served in Bolingbrook, IL. Stacy disappeared in October of 2007, and Drew is still a suspect in her disappearance even as he sits in prison for his 2012 conviction for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Because of Stacy Peterson, I’ve immersed myself in the subject of domestic violence, and I’ve discovered some disheartening facts. Aside of the staggering number of women who will be abused (physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally) in their lifetimes (1 in 3), I was even more surprised by how few pastors have any grasp of the subject, and how they do not tend to handle these situations with extra care.
Many women have come to me for help over the last few years because I’ve promised to be a voice for them, and I’ve shown them that I’ll take them seriously. I do NOT “send” women back to their abusers. Unfortunately, most pastors will not do anything like that at all. Over half of the women whom have come to me have told me that the most common things that they were told by other pastors was that they “needed to be more submissive (to their abusers),” or that “this was their cross to bear.” Many of the women were told that once they said “I do,” that they were “in it for life.”
Sadly, I’ve found this to be true with many pastors that I’ve spoken with regarding abuse victims in their congregations. A few days before Easter, I received a call from a pastor of a large church in Texas. He told me that he needed some guidance because a woman in his church had come to him and told him that she was being abused by her husband. I was excited because the pastor took the step to call me. My excitement dissipated rapidly.
The pastor told me that the woman in his church had read my blog and was learning a lot about what the Bible actually says about domestic violence, and she brought the blog to him to read. I asked him what he thought about it, and he told me that he was pretty sure that what I wrote had little to do with the woman’s abuse at all. He said that she had only been hit “a few times,” and that her main complaint was that he was emotionally abusive and made her live in fear. He was confident that this was no reason to get divorced and he told her so.
Well…God hates divorce. Case closed. Right? Not so fast. Pastors frequently quote Malachi 2:16, but they leave out the rest of the verse which reads: “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence…” Divorce is a last resort, but it can still be necessary in extreme cases. And domestic violence in all of its forms, whether physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional, is a reason for it. Can the abusers change? With God, all things are possible, but I’ve seen exactly zero abusers truly change their stripes. It is very unlikely.
I’ve been discounted and ridiculed by some pastors right here in the Chicago suburbs because of my stance on divorce and domestic violence. I’ve been called a sham, and “not a real pastor.” You know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. As these pastors strip the heart right out of Jesus and the Bible and further victimize the victims of domestic violence, I’ll keep doing my best to love God and to love people well. I will always stand with the voiceless and I will continue to fight injustice. And when I do that, and I see women come back to real life that was taken from them long ago…I know that it is all worth it.
Pastors, please handle victims with care. Take them seriously. Do not use the Bible as a tool to further subject them and their children to household tyranny. Give them your time and your hearts. Be life-giving and never condemn. Remember Jesus when you look them in the eyes and care for them with his love.
If you would like to discuss how you can help me rescue women from their abusers, please email me: email@example.com. I need your help, and so do the 1.3 million women each year whom are being abused by their intimate partners. Feel free to read more about domestic violence on my blog: neilschori.com.
Pastor Neil Schori
Thank You. I went to my pastor for help, the same pastor who married us all those years ago. When I told him my children and I had been verbally and emotionally abused for years, his response was staggering. He said we’d become so busy with day to day living that we’d forgotten to make time for each other. He said, “God hates divorce. He wants you to stay married to each other.” He gave us some 20 year old VHS tapes on how to remember why we fell in love and how to bring the romance back. He did not hear me or see my fear as I sat shaking next to my abuser. I never went back. Thank You for truly knowing and truly helping.
This breaks my heart. I am so sorry to hear this. If you are still married, my friend, please find someone else who will hear you. And keep asking for help until you’re fully understood.
Great post, and thank you for helping so many women. Your comment about how zero abusers have changed their striped, really struck me. I wish I had known about your church when I lived in Chicago. That was the height of abuse for my marriage. May God bless the work of your hands.
Thank you for your comment. I wish that you had known about my church, too. I hope that you are safe now.
Please tell any abuse victims you know about my church. Spread the word!
Thank you, Pastor Neil. Thank you, Elizabeth.
Pastor Schori is a gift from God. Victims desperately need a pastor like him and all pastors should be willing to do what he is doing.
Thank you. My church will not support divorce. They believe that once a covenant is made, it can not be broken by divorce. He made a vow to love and honor me as Christ commands. What about the years of verbal, sexual and spiritual abuse? Has he not already broken that vow? I am God’s little girl. Is this how He wishes His daughter be treated?
I’m so sorry that your church has that stance regarding divorce. While I believe divorce is a last resort, I do not believe that Jesus would ask any woman to stay in a relationship with her abuser. It makes no sense in the context of how Jesus is revealed in the Bible.
Jesus was a great liberator of women. I hope that you are liberated from the emotional shackles of your church.
Pastor Schori, you are a breath of fresh air. May God continue to bless your magnificent work. I wish many more pastors were as knowledgable as you are about abuse in marriage.
While I was the target of emotional abuse when I was married to my former husband, our church pastor told me to stay open to what God could do with our marriage and by that, he meant not to actively continue towards the divorce. The church and pastor did not provide me with any further support of any kind although I continued my weekly counseling with a terrific Christian counselor during this entire time.
I went ahead with my divorce when it became obvious after years of his bad behavior, and then the porn and reaching out to other women, that he was not interested in changing and without that motivation, the Lord was not going to be able to do any real work with him.
Eventually I left that church because the body of Christ there did not know how to reach out to me, presumably because I was the one who filed. I fortunately was led by the Lord to another Bible-believing church where we have flourished, and have become very active and I married a wonderful man 8 months ago.
Thanks for your kind words! I’ll keep talking about this until pastors hearts begin to change and they start to grasp the seriousness of domestic violence. This is not “someone else’s” issue. This is OUR problem. In a church of 300 adults, over 40 of the women will be abused by their intimate partners (assuming 150 women in the church).
I’m so glad that you left and have found a church that treats you well, and has a true grasp of what the Gospel means for our lives. I pray that you have many satisfying years in your new marriage.
I only wish that there were more pastors who were willing to step up and guide abused women into a safe place. I practically had to go it on my own when my marriage was falling apart. I was being abused in all areas of the spectrum and felt trapped by my own ignorance. It was my family who helped me by taking me back in. My brother was/is a Bible student and told me that Jesus would not want me to be in such a dangerous situation. I believe to this day that Jesus would never want any woman to stay in such an abusive relationship. Should I have tried to save my marriage? Perhaps. And at one point I took it into my own hands to do couples therapy. BIG mistake! My therapist was shaking by the end of the session. But I agree. We need more pastors to take a stand and tell women it is okay to step out of such abuse. God cries when He sees one of His own suffering. Thank you for this article. God bless!
I’m so glad that your brother represented Jesus so accurately, and lovingly to you. He was right to do so!
So many pastors take a few verses, and then forget the person of Jesus. He was a liberator of women and against injustice everywhere. If you ever wonder what God’s heart is toward you, just think of the cross. He is FOR you!
I so wish that I had this counsel when I say in a room full of church elders and leaders who, though they knew of the abuse. … and even admitted that my only protection from further abuse was divorce unless God intervened, still insisted that divorce should not be am option. I stayed for another four years because of that guidance. I will always wonder what would have been if I hadn’t surrendered yet more of myself.
I thank God for your freedom, today!
What would you like to say to those church leaders and elders now?
I would like them to know that God took what a horrible situation and has used it in so many ways for good. Even though Good hates divorce, He also hates any sin that distances His people from Him and no one sin is worse than another. Regardless, God in His great mercy will draw those who desire to live and follow after Him to Himself and redeem them for His good purpose.
why divorce? …why not separation without divorce?
Great question! Divorce is a very serious action, and I do not recommend it often, whatsoever. Separation can certainly be a start for some, to see if there is any chance for repentance on the part of the abuser. Sadly, I’ve never once seen genuine repentance (demonstrated by positive action) on the part of an abuser.
Most of the women whom I have helped have been in life-threatening danger. One woman’s husband told her that what he was going to do to her would make Drew Peterson’s actions look like “child’s play.”
In cases such as these, I will 100 out of 100 times recommend divorce. The damage perpetrated upon these women and children will devastate their families for many generations to come. Separation is not a severe enough break from that kind of evil. The marriage vows before God were long ago broken by the abuser.
My husband has been abusive and adulterous; I have been to many counselors with him. In fact, one of the senior pastors at my church counseled me to “cry in my pillow and pray through it.” It’s nice to read your point of view, and read some of the resources here, but what can be done about the misogynistic practices that seem to pervade so many churches? I stopped going to church for a year after my husband finally moved out. I am back now, at the same church, letting the Lord give me strength to hold my head up when I feel so devastated by how they view me. I still haven’t gotten the courage up to file for divorce. The hurt from the church seems even worse that that from my husband.
This post made me cry. It’s the very first time I’ve ever seen a pastor publicly state that verbal and emotional abuse are legitimate grounds for divorce. I stayed married to my abuser for 25 years because he never hit me. Instead he destroyed me with his words. I probably never would have divorced him except that he also had an emotional affair AND he hit one of the children. When I realized that I was praying for ONE of us to die because I couldn’t live like that any longer, I knew it was time to get out.
Thank you. I have quit going to my home church because 5 years ago the head pastor gave me the book “sacred marriage” and said that I can’t change him, I can only change me and that if I follow the book, it will change both of us. He did say that if I felt that we needed to separate then the Bible allows me to do so, but not once did he or any of the elders ever approach my husband to hold him accountable. I did leave but after a year went back to my husband because he had “changed”. After 5 years of the abuse getting worse, I had to leave again for myself and my 2 girls who still live at home. Since I left, I have struggled with my church because they hold my husband in such high regard because he is their most committed volunteer (he’s an usher). They have made me feel like he’s the victim and I’m the abuser and they continue to let him volunteer. More churches need to be like yours. I see too many women like me who are told that they just need to love him more. I wish it was that simple.
It’s sickening to me that you (and many other women) were re-victimized by the people tasked with helping you feel safe and free.
I’ll pray for you, and if you’re in need of help, please contact me. Please share DocumentTheAbuse.com with anyone you know struggling to survive in their own faith communities.
Also, check out SafePersonProject.com and SafeFaithCommunity.com!