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#WhyIStayed: How some churches support spousal abuse

Domestic abuse silhouette via Birmingham Mail

Many have been understandably astonished and disturbed this week by the video of NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his fiancé in an elevator. As I was still processing this repulsive offense, I was came across dozens of heartbreaking tweets from abuse victims around the world using the #WhyIStayed, expressing why they had remained with the person who abused them. As I read these tweets, I began to realize how often I have heard abuse victims share that the Church was the reason #WhyIStayed.   I began remembering how often I have heard of women who wearily return to those who hurt them time and time again, because that is what their church told them to do. Here are three common dynamics I have witnessed in churches that contribute to #WhyIStayed:

Stop Violence Against Women - courtesy of James Brey via The Huffington Post

Stop Violence Against Women – courtesy of James Brey via The Huffington Post

#WhyIStayed. Abuse is not abuse. Many churches have created a distorted understanding of physical abuse that occurs within homes. It is defined as a “relationship” matter that should be addressed within the “church family”, instead of a criminal matter that should be handled by the authorities.  I recently listened to a well-known pastor answer a question about what to do if a wife is being physically abused by her husband. Not once during the pastor’s lengthy and seemingly empathetic response did he ever direct or even encourage the victim to contact the police. What this pastor probably doesn’t realize is that his silence about reporting this crime communicates that in fact this is not a criminal offense. Victims within these types of environments are often convinced by their abuser, or sometimes even by other church members, that being physically beaten is acceptable and sometimes even deserved. The police are seldom called.

Instead of helping vulnerable individuals understand the importance of reporting this criminal behavior, too many within churches prefer to push victims back into the arms of abusers as they congratulate themselves and praise God on another successful “reconciliation”.   These victimized spouses stay with those who hurt them, resigned to the hopeless belief that is what God wants them to do.

Redefining physical abuse as being nothing more than a “relational issue” ignores the law, puts lives at risk, and tells abusers that their criminal behavior is acceptable as long as it takes place within the home.

#WhyIStayed. Women just aren’t that important. In my years of addressing abuse issues within faith communities, I have discovered that male dominated churches tend to be the ones that are most dismissive of women who report being abused by a man. This can happen in subtle and not so subtle ways.  I was recently told about a wife whose husband would abuse her, and then blame it on an alleged sleep disorder.  At some point, this woman said something to a friend who brought the matter to the attention of the male church leadership. The husband was friends with many of these leaders and used all the correct “repentance” language as he also minimized the abuse. Satisfied that their friend was sorry, the leaders directed the wife to remain in the home with her attacker. At no time did the leadership report the violence to the police, or even encourage the victim to do so. Fortunately, this woman listened to wiser counsel and moved out. The leadership eventually threatened to initiate disciplinary proceedings against her for ignoring their “Godly” directive to stay.

Does this make any sense? An abusive husband gets caught and says the “right” words to his friends and is quickly embraced, as the wife is disciplined by his friends for taking steps to protect her life.   Too many wives within our churches are intimidated back into abusive homes by unsupportive male leaders, who exploit their authority and misuse scripture in directing them to “try harder” and “stop making him angry.” This is a form of spiritual abuse that re-victimizes the abused and grants permission to abusers to continue their violence against a child of God.

#WhyIStayed. Just don’t talk about it.   In her book, This Little Light, Christa Brown recounts a time her father had violently attacked her sister and the pastor was called to the house.   Instead of addressing the violent offense committed by her father, the pastor instructed the family not to talk about it, saying, “Think about others…think how they will feel if they learn that the police were called a family like yours.” Christa writes,

“A couple hours later, I left to go to the church for my piano lesson. We all acted as though nothing had happened. In my family, it just got lumped in with all the rest of the big pile stuff we never talked about.”

Appallingly, Christa’s childhood experience is not unique within many churches. Too many of us know abuse victims who have been instructed by a pastor or someone in their church to keep quiet about the abuse, and to stay with their abusive spouse in order to “work things out”. They convince these abused that doing anything otherwise is considered to be a “bad Christian witness”. The disgusting reality is that this has nothing to do with being a “bad Christian witness”, and everything to do with a church that worships itself as it sacrifices its vulnerable.  The “bad Christian witness” is proclaiming to love Jesus as you silence victims and push them back into the fists of their abuser. This is an abomination to the very Gospel proclaimed by so many of these churches.   Don’t they understand that Jesus gave his very life for the vulnerable and the abused? A church that silences abuse hasn’t encountered Jesus.

Any church that redefines abuse instead of stopping it, is not a safe place. Any church that devalues women instead of respecting them as equals to men, is not a safe place. Any church that silences the oppressed instead of protecting them, is not a safe place.

A safe church does not tolerate the abuse of women or anyone else for that matter. A safe church empowers and equips all victims to walk away from those who hurt them. A safe church is where the abused can leave the abuser being assured that is what God wants them to do.

It is time for those of us in the Church to turn our attention away from watching the Ray Rice video and to start focusing on how we may be contributing to #WhyIStayed?

We have much to confess and much to change.

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About the author

Boz Tchividjian

“Boz” Tchividjian is a former child abuse chief prosecutor and is the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Boz is also a Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, and is a published author who speaks and writes extensively on issues related to abuse within the faith community. Boz is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham.

He is a graduate of Stetson University and Cumberland School of Law (Samford University).


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  • No one should put up with physical violence at all. In the state where I live you call the police about violence in your home, and the perp spends the night in jail.

  • The story of why I stayed in my marriage 24 years. Excellent article! It reflects my experiences in the Evangelical community (I am in my 60’s). I would add that because violence against women is not talked about in most churches from the pulpit and with specific language used, it tacitly dis-empowers those women who are silently living with violence. Please church leaders wake up to the truth of what is actually happening in your churches!

  • “…you call the police about violence in your home, and the perp spends the night in jail.”

    That’s actually a reason many women don’t call the police. Partly, because he’s her beloved husband (yes, even through the blood and fear), not a ‘perp,’ and partly because she often doesn’t want him locked up (much less prosecuted) – she just want him to *stop hitting.*

    That makes a policy like mandatory arrest, or victimless prosecution, such a difficult judgment call: it further disempowers the abused person by taking from her the ability to influence what happens next, once the criminal justice system is invoked. Not to say is shouldn’t happen, but that’s a part of the dynamic that needs to be kept in mind.

    And, paradoxically, it’s a powerful argument for why neighbors and other witnesses *should* make the 911 call, and not leave it for the kids or the victim, who may be blamed for it the next morning, and perhaps pay dearly for it next time around.

    NB: calling someone a ‘perp’ conceptually makes him or her an object, a subhuman thing, not a person. That makes it easier to treat her or him in a way one wouldn’t treat a human being, Calling or referring to someone as a ‘bitch,’ or ‘the wife’ has the exact same function, as does all of the disrespectful ethnic names (‘nigger,’ ‘kike,’ ‘spick,’ ‘honky’). ANYthing that treats a human being as less than a human being is at least a mild form of the identical dynamic.

  • I feel like your three reasons, while excellent, missed an important one. Women stay for the sake of the ministry. Especially true in pastor’s wives who feel that their happiness is less important than their husband’s “skill” in delivering the Word.

  • I am a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and deal with the children in these families once these cases hit the courts. I wish you had brought into your discussion the traumatic affect spousal abuse has upon the children who witness these attacks. They are victims as well. Much research has shown that trauma affects the brain chemistry of children whose brain cells are still developing, making them vulnerable to emotional, educational, social and physical stunting for life. We can’t look at it as the breakup of a family, but as the saving of souls–because children must see that God’s Father love is not like their father’s warped “love.” These children will need reconstructive therapy/counsel and if the church closes its eyes, they will get nothing.

  • I am an instructor at the University of Kansas. Years ago, when I was teaching at a small private Christian school in Denver, a 7th grade boy came to class with a black eye and a broken arm. He said he had fallen off his skateboard, but he would not look me in the eye when he said it. Something happened in a class that afternoon that got him sent to the principal’s office. She told him that she was going to call his father and he took off. He was missing all night, but I was the only faculty member who was not informed.

    The next morning I went into school early to make copies of a test I was going to give that day. The phone rang and I was the only one in the office. It was the boys father. When he found out who had answered the phone he said, “I know where you live. I am going to go and take your children if you do not tell me where my son is.” It turns out the principal had claimed it must have been something I said in my class that made the boy run (because I was the only faculty member who had gone home before the police showed up at the school the night before, looking for the boy). She knew when she said it that that was not true. When the principal arrived, I told her that I had been threatened, and that I suspected that the boy had been injured because of abuse from his father and not a skateboard accident. She said she knew that was true, but that he had agreed to go to counseling with her pastor, so she was not going to report it to social services or the police. I warned her that the school could be shut down if it was discovered that we had covered up a known incidence of abuse, and that every teacher at the school who was involved could lose their certification. She refused to listen to me, so I drove home (over an hour away), found my children at the public school, took them out to a friend’s house in the country, and began to call the school board members, telling them I would not go back to school until they had dealt with the issue. From that moment on, anything that went wrong at the school was my fault. I did not continue to teach there the following year.

    I have always considered that the principal, the pastor and the school board should have been reported as accessories in the abuse. When a friend finally found the boy wandering a very rough neighborhood in Denver the next night, and the police asked the child if there was any adult he could trust that they could call, the boy gave my name. I believe I was almost as much a victim of his father’s violence and the school’s neglect as he was. I have not worked for a Christian school since that time.

  • I hope you called Child Protective Services yourself as soon as you suspected the abuse. That is a teacher’s legal obligation.

  • One important piece that wasn’t touched on is the Christian teaching of forgiveness, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel when Peter asks Jesus how many times one must forgive and Jesus replies “77 times” (or 70 times 7, depending on the translation). This has been twisted to lead some survivors of abuse to believe that God wants them to keep coming back for more. Since this text is the Gospel for this Sunday, I’m including in my sermon that forgiveness does not require sacrificing your safety, and that one can forgive and still seek a restraining order and press charges and choose not to be in a relationship any longer.

  • I have watched wives in my congregation being bullied by their husbands. Who knows what is happening at home. My church supports a domestic violence counseling center – the director, staff and half of the board are congregation members and the building is owned by the church. And yet these men continue, the marriages continue. I’ve said things to friends of the wives and they shrug their shoulders. In one case, an adult daughter is eating herself into dangerous obesity and her teenage brother is acting out violently. I don’t understand why this is not being addressed. My church is failing to take care of these people.

  • I am a survivor of domestic violence. I was extremely fortunate in that the church I attended in my small southern town was the only one in the county in which the pastor had received (pursued) training in domestic violence. Imagine my dismay a couple of years later when I was reading the website of one of my favorite teachers of Bible study. Under the Q&A section, a woman wrote and asked what she should do if her husband was abusing her. The female teacher’s response was to stay in the home and pray for the husband to have his heart turned by her submissive and Godly response to him. I thought, “Oh, no. She must have had someone else write that response. No one who has studied the Scriptures the way she has, and done as much for women learning the Bible as she has, would answer that way.” So I emailed her and respectfully asked her to reconsider the response. Her response to me was, in part, that she stood by her answer and that if the woman is harmed or killed as a result, then she will be glorifying God as a martyr. That broke my heart. I will never, ever read another book or study she writes or supports. So sad!

    If you are in an abusive relationship, whether you are male or female, you deserve to be safe. Talk to a Christian leader who understands the causes and dynamics of violence in intimate relationships. It is 100% a sin issue on the part of the person committing the violence. You will not be honoring God by staying. You will be allowing them to continue in sin. You should never be pressured into staying OR leaving. Someone who knows about DV won’t do that.

  • police out of all professions DO not have a very good track record of non abuse of there own family.s . Your much better off
    Leaving it to your Pastor that what he is there for, to pastor you.. IF HE THINKS THE POLICE SHOULD BE CALLED HE WILL TELL YOU THAT ..

    going to the police is a good way to destroy your whole family.

    This is the GOVERNMENT that even has kids threatening their parents if they dare To discipline them .. they will go to the police ..

  • Do you even realize the number of relatives who trusted the police with handling a family member only to find out the police
    killed there family member. yes the Police all ways have there back sides covered and reasons for killing ..

    Most pastors have to deal with all sorts of people and most are not packing a weapon either..

  • Rob, you sound like an abuser yourself who doesn’t want to be “found out”! There can be bad apples within the police force, just like there are bad men in any profession. Reporting an abuser and calling the police is still the right thing to do. It sure beats being killed by your abuser, having bones broken or having children see their mother being beaten up all the time.

  • This is such an important post. Churches and pastors are really, really bad at this for a multitude of reasons.

    And…they’re all inexcusable.

    Because of my experience as Stacy Peterson’s pastor, I’ve learned how to truly help victims of DV.

    Please use this site as a resource:

    call or email me if you need help.


    Neil Schori

  • Domestic Violence thrives on secrecy. It’s time to bring it out in the open and for the Church to begin speaking out AND for us as individuals to take action. We are the Church and we can take action by learning the spot the signs of abuse so we can reach out to the victim to let them know they aren’t alone and be willing to help in whatever way they need. Steven R. Tracey wrote a book called Mending the Soul. The book peels back the layers to see what an abuser and victim look like and what he/she looks like is your neighbor, co-worker, friend, sister or brother. 1 in 4 women are abused which means 1 in 4 are abusers.

    I was one who stayed in an abusive marriage for way too long. For all the reasons listed in this article and more. Fear was the biggest reason. Fear of him kept me trapped, thinking there wasn’t a way out. I am coming up on the 10th anniversary of leaving him and what I discovered is that God loves me more than He hates divorce. It isn’t His intent for women to stay in an abusive marriage. The abuser is the one who broke the covenant, I just did the paperwork.

    Make it safe for women to leave, help in any way God asks you to help. Don’t be passive and say it’s not my problem. We are the Church.

  • I am so sorry that has been your story. I too worked for a Christian school, and had a child come in with open wounds on his hand where he had tried to shield himself from a belt whipping. I called my boss who told me I was not allowed to report it and that I just didn’t understand the situation because of the ethnic culture those people came from. Thankfully, I knew the law, and made an anonymous report once I got home. But I still feared for my own safety if anyone found out what I had done. Looking back, I realize that Christian schools often perpetuate abuse and become abusers themselves. Whether its corporal punishment done by a principal or teacher or the denial of learning disabilities and mental illnesses, they often don’t make safe environments for vulnerable children (or teachers).

  • Actually in most states its required that teachers tell “proper authorities” – AKA the principal or school counselor. You can get in trouble if you skip the chain of command.

  • According DCFS mandated reporter training, reporting to your principal is neither required nor does it fulfill your legal responsibility. Teachers and pastors are legally required to report directly to DCFS and possibly the police and suspected (not confirmed) cases of child abuse.

  • Are you paranoid or brainwashed? You NEVER stay in a harmful situation. Staying teaches kids it’s okay and when the boys grow up they abuse and the girls get abused. What you talk about kids getting parents in trouble for punishing is rare. Whete I live it takes forever for a child to be taken, even with all the evidence. You likely an abuser yourself how that sounds. Yes our system is ineffocent but they can’t do anything if they don’t know.

  • #whyIstayed :because i didn’t believe in myself anymore and somehow it was my fault things were like they were (I’m out now and it’s been 15 years but it’s like a deep pit of heartbreak and torcher when the memories come). If I could say anything to someone in an abusive relationship it would be. “Today is a new day…it is a day to make a change. Refuse to be abused!”
    And wouldn’t you know….this year… my ex-abuser is trying to get a hold of me… this causes me distress and there will be NO CONTACT. #whywon’tyouleavemealone

  • Thank you this was an excellent article with one thing missing, Why I stayed needs to address the fact that violence in all its forms escalates when the woman decides to leave, as she is preparing and steps out the door, if she makes it and has children, she now shares children with an abuser/a criminal. In family courts today children are being taken from the safe mother and placed with the batterer and molester. Just like churches ‘Family Courts’ blame women, ignore women, try to discredit her make a case for her or her children lying. While the science tell us that only 2% of the time are false allegations made of abuse the courts choose to protect the father. The courts are inhospitable to women, in a strange desire to keep fathers in the lives of children in the name of best interest children are placed with dangerous father. Its a mixture of patriarchal rule, and patriarchal economics. Men make more money, they can afford attorneys, the courts are improperly trained to understand the dynamic of Family Violence and they get it wrong more often than not. Domestic Violence services must be improved to protect the civil rights of women once they hit the courts, because more damaging than bruises etc, is the loss of contact with your children as a result of seeking shelter. We are seeing a system that rewards the bully and leaves the victim out in the cold. Women lose their church, friends, and families. A mother I work with experienced events related to the church and writes about it. Like many mothers of lost children -Coral had her children taken away when she cried rape- “How I Became a Brood Mare and Egg Donor for the Church & State: Rape is Torture

    More articles about the how churches support abusers/rapist and perpetrators by abusing and blaming victims of domestic violence and rape:!personal-story–articles/cy03

  • Thats why many women are staying they are rightfully scared that the abuser will get custody, Coersive controllers are very successful at convincing others to help them, to either keep the family together or make the mother look crazy. My exhusband threatened me that he would destroy me and take our daughter, I had no idea that that was really going to happen – Some 58,000 Child victims a year are taken from safe mothers and placed with known perpetrators.

  • Actually he sounds pretty par for the course for a fundamentalist. You know, the type who are fully interested in perpetuation this sort of abusive culture in the first place? I can often spot the type immediately based entirely upon the lack of grammar, apparent non-education, and generally idiocy of view points.

    This article is about people JUST like Rob.

  • I STAYED because I was afraid to leave.Statistics show that spousal murder most often occurs when one has left the home or filed for divorce.If I can’t have you no one can,You aren’t getting half of my money,you can’t take my children.

  • With wise King Solomon, after receiving wisdom from the Lord saying that beating your kid with a rod is cool, certainly beating a misbehaving adult wife can’t be that bad.

    King James Bible
    And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.

    1 Kings 4:29

    King James Bible
    Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
    Proverbs 23:13

    Is now the time for Christian marriage vows to change and incorporate guidelines that will be taken by each party should spousal abuse occur?

    In the name of Jesus, I ___ take you, ___, to be my (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live. If there is spousal abuse I will call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). This is my solemn vow.

  • I don’t have a problem calling the guy a “perp” Scott. Assault is a crime. people who commit crimes are criminals. Not only is a guy who beats up his wife or kids a criminal, he is also deserving of the epithets “bully” and “thug”. Let’s cut the politically correct sugar coating, shall we?

  • I am not sure if the law/practice varies between places in the USA. I am from Canada, and the relevant laws are provincial…. We have more federal law than you do.

  • I appreciate the way the author dealt with physical abuse in the home and the deplorable way that the church has turned its back on the victims.
    I just wish he had addressed the other forms of abuse that occur as well. During my 21 year marriage, my husband was verbally, emotionally, mentally, financially, spiritually, and sexually abusive as well. His physical abuse would be considered mild. He never hit me, but rather, would hold me down, restrain me, chase me, lock me in rooms or the garage, take my keys, etc.
    When I went to my church for help, I was told to pray more. Be more submissive. Be more respectful. I was told that if I left, I would be in sin. I was told to just “suck up” my husband’s behavior. I was told that God loves my children even more than I do, and if He hasn’t chose to remove us from this situation, I had no right to do so.
    It was made clear to me that if my husband physically hurt me, I could leave to protect myself, with the goal of returning, but all the other abuses, I was to tolerate. Allowances would be for me to protect my physical body from imminent danger, but what he did to destroy my soul was something I was something I was expected to endure.
    My husband very carefully drew the line at hitting me, because he knew that was the only abuse people care about.

  • And abuse is not just physical. It’s leaders not taking other leaders to task for emotional manipulation. A finger may never be laid on a person, but the verbal and emotional abuse given is damaging, too. Leaders who don’t care enough to stand up for the “little ones” i.e. young Christians, teenagers and younger, are just as guilty of perpetuating that sort of abuse as well as those who abuse their power over women and families.

  • This is an excellent point. I’d like to add that emotional safety is also very important and most often overlooked and ignored (hard to see and often only the one abused can know this) If you are taking a stand I’d ask you to please consider more than physical violence. Emotional abuse is insidious ( partly because it’s so unseen) and just as damaging to ones well being and safety ( and sanity )

  • Rob, Bob, Robert, Bobert, if someone is abusing members of their family, the family is already destroyed. Everything else is just damage control.

    You sound like someone who is making excuses for bad behavior. Really bad excuses. Not even remotely credible excuses.

  • Better to be wrong about abuse and cause a little social faux pas by reporting it than to do nothing and let people continue getting their lives destroyed.

    “Do you even realize the number of relatives who trusted the police with handling a family member only to find out the police killed there family member.”

    Not too many. Maybe 1 or two. Compare that to the tens of thousands of justifiable calls for domestic abuse. You are taking one of the most ridiculous positions possible in order to justify ongoing domestic violence.

  • There also needs to be a better caliber of Bible interpretation. “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 2:16). This passage is loved by many pastors, but it gives absolutely no cover for an abuser. Jesus prohibited divorce, but again, that is not a cover for doing evil. When abuse happens, that is moral destruction of the marriage and the family.
    We know that continuation of the relationship or marriage almost never motivates the abuser to change. There is nothing in the OT or the NT that validates using good commandments/teachings for the purpose of covering, maintaining, and validating evil.
    The more apposite biblical reference is Paul’s casting out of the immoral person at Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 5. Whatever that person had done, it was both illegal according to the state’s laws and immoral. So Paul himself exorcised him and then commanded the church to carry it out: Remove the wicked man from among yourselves!

  • Abusers are charming and cover their tracks extremely well- even using helpers, including pastors, as allies.

    Most pastors are NOT educated on the dynamics of abuse and manipulation nor personality disorders. In this enormous expanse of well meaning ignorance- abuse and abusers thrive. I know of many who have accused their victims of physical abuse…and carried out a successful “snow job.” Abuse in the evangelical church itself is a MAJOR unreported problem. Think Catholic sex abuse big. I recommend Jeff Crippen’s “Cry for Justice” and Barbara Roberts “Not Under Bondage” and Leslie Vernick’s blog for an education on abuse and the ideology that keeps it in place. I am also an evangelical survivor. Many of the marriage books and teachings I read at that time- decades- were not helpful and actually re-enforced the abuse.

    We stay because of trauma bonding, Stockholm Syndrome, loyalty, love, and hope. We recognize that upon leaving we will often be destitute…rejected by our families, considered pariahs, regarded with suspicion by married people in churches. We find it hard to trust and have deep wounds of grief, pain, and rage. Many of us even have PTSD and c-PTSD.

    I thank God and Jesus Christ, for being willing to open my eyes to the abuse, and be leading me out. (psalm 23) God bless the ones who helped on the way. Your reward is GREAT in Heaven because He knows just how much you ministered to a broken person.

  • First hand experience…IF the abuser is on a staff of some churches, they are “let go” as soon as they are divorced. But if they use, abuse, and yet do their job, they keep right on working. The wife, in my case, if she tells, –automatic answer–forced counseling as if…then home to abuse more..then worse, then if she files for protection or divorce, he’s still employed till divorce is final. If he wants back in another church—watch out for the reversal of the abuse stories and blaming the victim. same ole story. so, in this case as always, if the Christians don’t lead in righteousness, God will raise up non Christians to do so.NFL. as far as abusive brother, I just stay away and relate on an as needed basis. You can see why staff wives stay…income from husband is often the only income b/c men sometimes forbid wife from working–isolation tactic. sad and scared.

  • I know exactly what you are talking about. People believe what they want to believe and if they have been a part of the problem, You better believe they will side with whichever one validates THEM the most. Especially if they want back in a church as a staff person. and the rumors!! wow. I have often joked, if it were true that I had that kind of reputation, I would at least like to have had the fun of earning it. (LOL) Amazing also how after 30+ years of church work as a volunteer, faithfulness to friends and family and two kids, I would have wishy washy friends who believe the most immoral stuff about me.. almost funny, really…but husband wanted back in his sanctuary…and me, out.

  • I stayed initially because I didn’t believe in divorce and I was ashamed to admit that this man everyone thought was a wonderful Christian would scream and cuss at me, sexually abuse me and otherwise mentally and emotionally abuse me. When I went to my pastor for the emotional, mental and sexual abuse I was experiencing, he told me that while he could not condone divorce, if he ever hit me, he and the men of the church would hide me so that my abuser never found me. Shortly after that my ex moved us a couple of hours away. When things got even worse, I called that same pastor as well as a missionary friend who both had the courage to tell me “Get out. Now!! Do NOT tell him you’re leaving until someone is there to get you or he will either kick you out and keep the kids (I had a 9 month old and almost 2 year old and was currently pregnant), or we will never find your body.” I found great support. I think the thing that helped me the most was when the mom of one of my oldest friends heard I had left him, she said, “I don’t have to know what happened. I know —– and if she left, it was BAD!” That meant the world to me. I am now married to the most amazing man in the world who would take out anyone that hurt me or my kids. GET HELP!! There is life after abuse!

  • RayLene, I, too, was in the same situation. As long as my husband didn’t leave a mark, I was counseled that God demanded I stay in the abusive relationship. I stayed for 15 years before I realized that no one in the church cared about me or was going to protect me and my kids. They obviously worshiped a different God that the Jesus of the bible who taught compassion and justice. I had to throw out decades of patriarchal interpretations of the bible to save myself and my kids. I am now struggling to find a church that does not believe in the perpetuation of spousal abuse in the name of God. Thank you for sharing and reminding me that I’m not alone.

  • Thank you for a well done article.
    It would be greatly appreciated if there were a article written that drew attention to the mental & emotional abuse that precedes physical abuse. No abuser I’ve encountered was physically abusive from the start.
    In fact they are a dream come true.
    Too good to be true.
    Being a preacher’s kid, we are taught to be an example of kindness, compassion, forgiving & forgetting, etc., but never standing up for ourselves or say no.. never show your teeth so to
    Hard to be a warrior when you’re instructed to be a pushover.
    I’m personally on the other side if that now, and letting my little light shine with my armor ON!
    Looking forward to more from Boz!

  • Because of sin, this carnal world will always see abuse of others. And adult women have the legal right to decide on their own to leave or not to leave an abuser. Sadly, no one, not a pastor, not a counselor, nor a deacon, nor a relative or friend, and not even the police can legally force a woman to leave an abusive relationship even if her abuser has beaten her almost to the point of death. It is heartbreaking but true. Yet, churches can help their people to recognize when they need to leave a bad situation, how to do so and help them with subsequent support. Plus, it would be most helpful if churches could teach our young people how to recognize a potentially abusive partner before they marry one of them and have to endure the major heartbreak and tragedies that occur in those marriages. And, yes, churches are avenues for people to obtain help, yet not he only ones. Parents and other relatives and true friends are also a means of obtaining help for an abused woman…or man. My hope is that I have taught all three of my children how to recognize an abusive person either in a “friend” or a potential mate. It is worth taking time to educate our young people on this serious subject.

  • I certainly agree that there is a place for calling the police in emergency situations. But has anyone thought of Matthew 18:15-17 to serve as means for holding an abusive husband accountable for his actions – a procedure in which the final course of action would remove him from the church and also remove him from the woman’s life. Just beginning this process, knowing that there are further recourses available, can help women to stand up for themselves. I could write an article about this, but to put it concisely:
    Step one: “You have no biblical basis for treating me this way!” If he doesn’t stop, then:
    Step two: Have family members, neighbors, or church friends (including the pastor) confront him. If he still doesn’t stop, then:
    Step three: Tell it to the church so he is put to shame. If he still persists, then:
    Step four: Excommunication – out of the church and out of her life.

  • If it could only be that easy. That’s assuming the abuser (& his family, who take it as a reflection on them), just cooperates, puts his/their hands up & says yes I did it and repents. Maybe it happens, but that’s rare. It’s not the way it usually goes.
    Next the abusers 150 closest family members, co-workers, friends and church friends step in to be character whitnesses for the guy.
    Then they all start a verbal smear campaign by gossiping untruths, slanders to everyone and anyone who will listen. Take my word for it, way to many people in the church love some juicy gossip. They do everything to make the person reporting the abuse out to be a liar, mental case or trouble maker. Or worse that it was deserved and not really all that bad because of some terrible thing she had done asking for it.
    They reach out to any of the persons family members who might be sympathetic to their cause. Believe me brothers, sisters, cousins etc often turn on the abused person for reporting abuse.

  • Please also consider that abusers isolate. That the women trying to report the abuse probably has very few if any other people left in their lives who care at all.

    Their own family members don’t like how messy it all is. Don’t want their lives to be impacted. They don’t want to be put out. Are the ones embarrassed by any public airing going on – as all the gossip starts to flow their names are brought up and drug into it.

    Take my word for it. It’s rarely that easy.

  • Another way the church will protect the abuser is if the woman DOES leave him, and divorce him, then you have that “divorcee” stain on you forever. So say you find someone else who does treat you right and you want to re-marry, MANY pastors will not perform the ceremony because you have been divorced. Doesn’t matter why. You are divorced and therefore stigmatized.

  • At the blog A Cry For Justice we are trying to awaken the evangelical church to domestic abuse in its midst. And we have lots of resources for victims/survivors.
    cryingoutforjustice DOT com

  • I am doing a paper on Domestic Violence and why i feel a pastor who know a lady is being abused and does nothing. Then the victim dies, how pastors should be charged with some type of murder.

  • What about an abuser who divorces his wife, because he wants to be with someone else, (the wife never committed adultery, and in fact just had a baby with the abuser.) And continues to attend the church, that was in fact the wife’s church first. Well, the abuser’s plan didn’t pan out, so is still single. He manipulates and emotionally abuses the ex wife, in the church. And the pastor has been informed, numerous times, but let’s him continue to do it. The abuser has even reconciled intimately with the ex, with the promise of remarriage, but keeps stringing her along. This is definitely trauma bonding. I can not heal because I have to see him every church service. That is my primary base for friendship as I have no family to speak of. I’ve been at that church for 30+ years. I feel so hopeless and depressed as I can not escape this oppression.