I am a very grateful girl. My pleas for help were misunderstood for a dozen years. And now, in this safe place, I can honestly say that I am grateful that they were.  Hear me out.

Because my experience is one of not being helped and being helped, I know both sides of the continuum because I experienced both sides of the continuum firsthand.

I do not wish it on anyone else, of course. I wish every pastor and church leader and adult ministries director and small group leader understood the difference between marriages going through a rough patch and marriages that are characterized by abuse or addiction issues. But that is not the case.  I hear stories all the time of women who went to their church for help, thinking it was their safest place, and not getting it.

In fact, I’m reading Jeff Crippen & Anna Wood’s A Cry for Justice right now. These people get it.  This is an all-too-familiar cycle that already-abused women suffer through at the hands of their church leadership. Please read this with an open mind and heart…if you are a church leader, does this sound like you?

“1. Victim reports abuse to her pastor{/church leader}.
2. Pastor{/church leader} does not believe her claims, or at least believes they are greatly exaggerated. After all, he “knows” her husband to be one of the finest Christian men he knows, a pillar of the church.
3. Pastor{/church leader} minimizes the severity of the abuse. His goal is often, frankly, damage control (to himself and to his church).
4. Pastor{/church leader} indirectly (or not so indirectly!) implies that the victim needs to do better in her role as wife and mother and as a Christian. He concludes that all such scenarios are a “50/50” blame sharing.
5. Pastor{/church leader} sends the victim home, back to the abuser, after praying with her and entrusting the problem to the Lord.
6. Pastor{/church leader} believes he has done his job.
7. Victim returns, reporting that nothing has changed. She has tried harder and prayed, but the abuse has continued.
8. Pastor{/church leader} decides to do some counseling. He says “I will have a little talk with your husband” or “I am sure that all three of us can sit down and work this all out.” Either of these routes only results in further and more intense abuse of the victim. This counseling can go on for years! (One victim reported that it dragged on for nine years in her case).
9. As time passes, the victim becomes the guilty party in the eyes of the pastor{/church leader} and others. She is the one causing the commotion. She is pressured by the pastor{/church leader} and others in the church to stop rebelling, to submit to her husband, and stop causing division in the church.
10. After more time passes, the victim separates from or divorces the abuser. The church has refused to believe her, has persistently covered up the abuse, has failed to obey the law and report the abuse to the police; and has refused to exercise church discipline against the abuser. Ironically, warnings of impending church discipline are often directed against the victim!
11. The final terrible injustice is that the victim is the one who must leave the church, while the abuser remains a member in good standing, having successfully duped the pastor{/church leader} and church into believing that his victim was the real problem.”

In my first twelve or so years of asking for help, this was my cycle, and it happened several times.  I can gratefully say that I did eventually get the help that I (and my marriage) so desperately needed, but I need you to hear me.  The above cycle is real. The above cycle happens more than you want to believe. The above cycle absolutely MUST STOP.

If you are a pastor or are in church leadership, I believe that God is counting on you to wake up and to get this right.  His children are in need of your help, your intervention, your wisdom, your prayer, your support.  If this sounds like how you’ve handled these situations in the past, it’s not too late to make living amends by doing research and changing your approach.  Please. On behalf of every woman who is dying (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) in her marriage, I am begging you to do things differently from this point forward. Marriages and hearts and lives are at stake.

Two questions I’d like to leave you with from A Cry for Justice:

Do I see abuse in the same light as the Lord does, or have I been guilty of minimizing or even denying it?

Have you ever considered that the Pauline exception of abandonment just might include the emotional, spiritual, or financial abandonment often faced by victims of domestic abuse?

Please allow me to pray for you as you lead and counsel and offer support:

Jesus, I lift up every pastor and church leader who comes in contact with a woman in an abusive or addiction-fraught marriage. Please open their eyes and minds and hearts to the realities of these women. Please give them the humility to admit if they’ve been wrong and the courage to course-correct. Please give them the wisdom they need to stand up and fight for these women, for their children, even for their husbands. Please do something, Jesus. We need you.  These women and children need you.  Amen.

Recommended resources:
A Cry for Justice by Jeff Crippen & Anna Wood
Divorce and Remarriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer
Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage by Elisabeth Klein
The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick
No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence by Catherine Clark Kroeger

To see my complete list of recommended resources, click here. And if my work has encouraged you and you’d like to partner with me as I reach out to help hurting women, click here for more information.

Life isn't always how we want it. When change seems elusive, and we're stuck in old routines, a gentle push or some self-reflection can make a difference. Let these questions be that nudge to get you moving.

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