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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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